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The Greyhound

American League Playoff Preview

American League Playoff Preview

Photo via Flickr

It took until the last day of the regular season to determine who was playing who, but the American League playoff field is finally set. It’s a noticeably different cast from last year: only one team, the defending league champion Kansas City Royals, are returning. The rest of the bunch is very different, and should make for some intriguing matchups. How will they go down? Here’s my take:


American League Wild Card Game: Astros vs. Yankees
Two teams few people expected to see in the post-season will square off here: the young, scrappy Houston Astros — who only two years ago lost 111 games in a season — are taking on the over-achieving New York Yankees, making their first playoff appearance since 2012.
This game will be played at Yankee Stadium, much to the dismay of the Astros, who were a middling 33-47 on the road this season. However, they have a bonafide ace up their sleeve: Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel handcuffed the Yankees both times he faced them this season, giving up nine hits and no runs over 16 innings in two starts. Furthermore, in a series at Yankee Stadium in August between the two clubs, the Astros won two out of three games. The Yankees are also stumbling into the playoffs, having lost six out of their last seven games, while the Astros have been a comfortable 4-2 since that date. There’s little doubt that Keuchel will dominant once again and the Astros will move on.
Winner: Astros in one game

American League Division Series: Rangers vs. Blue Jays
On Memorial Day, few people would have predicted that these two teams would wind up in the post-season. The Texas Rangers, fresh off a dismal last-place season in 2014, were sitting at 22-23, 6 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West. The Toronto Blue Jays were even worse off, going 21-26 to start off the season.
However, both teams rebounded strongly. Texas went an impressive 65-51 after that date to clinch the West on the last day of the season. Toronto, meanwhile, went on an absolute tear, going 48-22 after the All-Star break. The additions of pitcher David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki at the July 31 trade deadline only bolstered an already dangerous Blue Jays team.
In the view of this writer, it won’t even be a contest. The Blue Jays hold the edge in almost everything. They have by far the best offense in the league, leading in runs scored, home runs, and runs batted in. Their starting pitching has also been strong, anchored by Price and Marcus Stroman, who has gone 4-0 since returning from an ACL tear in September. The final piece of their rotation is Marco Estrada, who leads in the team in strikeouts.

Outside of Cole Hamels, whom Texas acquired at the trade deadline, the Rangers lack a definite “ace” pitcher to match up against the Blue Jays’ string of aces. The Texas offense, including strong bats such as Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre, is impressive, but it pales in comparison to the murderer’s row of Toronto. It’s not often that a sweep is predicted, but the Blue Jays look just too strong here, and will win their first-ever division series easily.

Winner: Blue Jays In three games

American League Divisions Series: Astros vs. Royals
Unlike last year, when the Kansas City Royals came into the post season as the scrappy, wild-card underdogs, this year, they enter as the best team in the American League. This matchup looks a lot closer than the Rangers-Blue Jays one, and it looks to go the distance.
The Royals’ major flaw is their pitching. Johnny Cueto, who was supposed to be their ace when acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in July, has been less than impressive with the Royals, going 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA. Edison Volquez (13-9 with a 3.58 ERA) and Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.03 ERA) have both been respectable this season, but when compared with Collin McHugh — who won 19 games for the Astros — and Scott Kazmir — with a solid 3.21 ERA — they don’t stack up quite as well. Combined with Dallas Keuchel pitching at some point in the series (likely in game 3 or 4), the Royals will be up against it on that front.

Batting is mostly a wash, with each club having three men who hit more than 20 home runs (Houston, tied with Toronto, leading the league in home runs). Beyond that, the Royals have an edge, with three players who drove in more than 80 runs compared to the Astros who only have Even Gattis eclipsing that mark. The Royals also have three players who hit above .290, while the Astros only have second baseman Jose Altuve.

Ultimately, who will prevail? It will be close, but I give the edge to the Royals, who were a better team than the Astros during the second half of the season, and are a more well-rounded bunch.
Winner: Royals in five games

American League Championship Series: Blue Jays vs. Royals
Before the 2014 season, these two teams had the longest active playoff droughts in baseball: the Royals had not been to the postseason in 29 years, the Jays in 21 years. Now, there’s a good chance these two will play each other for the American League championship.
I call Toronto winning this series. As good as Kansas City has been — that is, very good, all season—Toronto is coming in with all of the momentum. They have their ace pitcher in David Price, something that the Royals lack, and the more potent offense. Kansas City may put up a bit of a fight, but for the first time since 1993, expect the American League flag to be raised north of the border.
Winner: Blue Jays in six games

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American League Playoff Preview