Some Wild Predictions

Since I handed out end of the year awards already, let’s take a few minutes to discuss the wild card games.  Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the inherent unfairness of the play in game and how six months of baseball shouldn’t come down to one game.  Oddly enough there wasn’t a lot of boo-hooing over the AL game since the Astros being there somehow proves that the wild card format is fantastic for allowing upstarts a chance at postseason glory, and we’re all secretly hoping the Yankees lose.  Hey, super, the Yankees made it.  Too bad those pinstriped jerks lost to those spunky ‘Stros.
No.  Everyone is upset because the Pirates will now play their third straight wild card play in game, and with Jake Arrieta starting for the Cubs this might as well be three on a match for the Bucs.  Emotionally, I think people are still conflicted here because the Cubs are back in the playoffs and if there’s a chance to see more Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo we’ll take it.  The Cubbies are lovable.  They’re the guys in the old stadium that just can’t stop tripping over their own history and we love ’em for it.  Also I guess there’s that little matter of Arrieta owning a 0.75 ERA over the second half of the season while allowing 55 hits in 107.1 innings.  He’s been so good that of course it’s fait accompli the Pirates will miss out on the fun again.  Is this what we’re hoping for?  Not because we hate the Pirates (I think most people secretly love pirates in general, so it can’t be that) but because we want to point and show the system is broken.
This isn’t a post about the system.  I think it’s stupid that a team plays 162 games and has one game to prove their worth and all the random nonsense that goes into it.  Breaking end of season ties are different.  One game I’m okay with.  The three best records in the major leagues belong to the Cardinals, the Pirates, and the Cubs, and two of those teams play one game to play the third.  The wackiness of this isn’t necessarily unfair because dear Lord the Mets might have to see Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke three or four times while the Dodgers have to face the trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey.  That’s not unfair either.  That’s unfortunate.  Same goes with the Central Dilemma.  It’s unfortunate that it worked out this way.  It’s unfortunate that the Pirates have to face Arrieta and the Cubs have to face Gerrit Cole.  It’s unfortunate that one of these fan bases will be angry after Wednesday night because their team got one stupid game to prove that 162 games wasn’t a fluke.  Do you know what can happen in one game?
The wild card play in game proves absolutely nothing except maybe God loves one team more than the other.  It’s true.  Listen to the post game interviews.  But, I’m not here to justify the ways of God to man.  I’m here to discuss baseball and predictions.
American League
The Houston Astros take their feel good story to the Yankees who are suddenly answering questions about C.C. Sabathia that seemingly came out of nowhere. The winner of this game gets the pleasure of facing the Kansas City Royals, and that’s probably for the best since nobody wants to play the Blue Jays.  Let the Texas Rangers do their best to win three out of five.
If there’s one benefit to having Dallas Keuchel pitching against the Yankees, other than he’s one of the frontrunners to win the AL Cy Young award, is that the Yankees don’t hit lefties as hard as they do righties.  On the season, the Yankees have hit 147 home runs against righty starters but only 65 against lefties.  Oh, wait.  I’m wrong.  That’s only because the Yankees, like everyone else, haven’t faced as many lefties.  By plate appearance, the Yankees blast a home run once every 30.7 at-bats against lefties but hit one every 29 at-bats against righties.  So, basically even, and Keuchel has been notably worse on the road.  He’s allowed a .253/.297/.401 slash line on the road as opposed to.186/.232/.242 at home.  Against the Yankees he’s done particularly well.  In one start at Yankee Stadium this year he allowed a lowly three hits over seven shutout innings while striking out nine.
Masahiro Tanaka, however, has faced the Astros one time this season and allowed six earned runs in five innings.  That game was at Houston and Tanaka allowed three home runs.  Tanaka comes into this game allowing four earned runs to Boston in his last start, though in the three starts prior he’d allowed three earned in 21 innings against the O’s, the Jays, and the Mets.  Two of those teams won their respective divisions.  In my mind, the Astros have the advantage in this matchup, but Keuchel’s struggles on the road worry me a little.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Keuchel is my pick for the Cy Young.  He’s grown a fancy beard.
Interestingly enough, the Astros are a top 10 offensive ball club by Fangraphs, yet if you look at their home and road splits they don’t necessarily feast one way or the other.  They’ve hit about 26 more homers at home, but it’s not as though they’ve piled up big numbers in a hitter’s park.
In a game like this, where anything can happen, I’d say go with the best starting pitcher, which makes it the Astros.  Because this is the Yankees, however, I can’t get over the feeling that they’ll somehow figure out a way to eke out a 3-2 win or something.  I hate to say this, but I think the Yankees win this one, and we can spend the winter discussing how this one playoff failure will teach those Astros a lesson.  They’ll come back stronger.  Also, they need more starters.  Not for this game.  Keuchel is more than enough for the Yankees.
Oh, I’m so conflicted.  I want to go with the Astros here, but this feels like one of those games where Alex Rodriguez goes for 2-for-4 with a couple of doubles and some obnoxious hand clapping.  Also, Carlos Beltran will fight off all those Keuchel sliders and hit a few singles that lead to a big inning somewhere.  Even though he’s in the Bronx, I’m rooting for Beltran to summon his 2004 self and get a couple of big hits.  Okay.  I’ve gone back and forth enough here.  I’ll make a pick.
My pick:  Yankees, 6-2
National League
Like everyone else in the NL, the Pirates struggled against Jake Arrieta.  In five starts against the Pirates, Arrieta allowed three earned runs in 36 innings all on 18 hits.  The Pirates were the last team to actually score on Arrieta, which is great, except that was about three weeks ago when Arrieta was having something of a rough stretch of games where he allowed two earned runs in 16 innings.  Apparently, two games in the great state of Pennsylvania didn’t sit well with him.
Gerrit Cole has been equally impressive against the Cubs.  Well, not equally.  Not Arrieta unstoppable impressive, but impressive nonetheless.  In four starts against the Cubs, Cole has allowed six earned runs in 25.1 innings while striking out 32.  You would think that an ERA of 2.13 and a batting average against of .225 would make you something of an ace in this matchup, but such is the season that Arrieta is having.  In his last start against the Cubs, Cole was extremely impressive as he allowed one earned run in seven innings and earned the win against Jon Lester.  This will be the first time Cole pitches against Arrieta on the season, so if nothing else, we’re going to see a matchup between two of the best starters in the majors.
The Pirates aren’t going to hit a lot of home runs.  They’re near the bottom of the majors (24th) in that particular category, and 15 of those home runs are sitting on the disabled list after the Cubs Chris Coghlan went all Billy Zabka and swept Jung Ho Kang‘s leg in a takeout slide.  The slide was enough to make everyone question both Coghlan’s intent and whether hard slides into second are warranted in today’s game.  Of course, if there’s a rainout, everyone nowadays wants to argue whether every stadium should be a dome and have a retractable roof, so that’s not surprising.  So, the Cubs have a clear advantage in hitting home runs, but the Pirates are no slouches in terms of actually scoring runs (outscored the Cubs by a whopping eight runs this season) with their ability to hit for a decent average and get on base.  These two clubs are pretty even when it comes to the offensive side with the exception being the Cubs clear advantage in hitting balls a long way.
I don’t know if the normal rules apply here.  We’re discussing Arrieta who’s been on such an insane run over the last few months that discussing the Pirates ability to hit homers and string together hits seems like a waste.  I understand why people have already written the epitaph on the Pirates season.  This one feels over. Arrieta is in one of those Orel Hershiser in ’88 zones, and there doesn’t seem to be too much that the Bucs can do to counteract that.  Okay.  I get that.  That would make sense if this game wasn’t being played in Pittsburgh where the crowd is notoriously loud and unsettling.  If Cole pitches well it won’t take five runs to beat Arrieta.  It might only take one mistake to Pedro Alvarez or Andrew McCutchen to do the trick.  The Pirates are the best team in the major leagues, and they’re the one team that scares me if the Mets make it to the NLCS.  I think they win this game, and if it’s a 2-1 ballgame that still counts as a win.
My pick:  Pirates, 2-1

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