We’re ten games into the 2016 MLB playoffs (if you count the pair of Wild Card showdowns), and there’s already plenty to discuss — from bullpen management to unsung heroes to the benefits of home-field advantage. Out of the many conclusions one can take from this opening week of the postseason, here are the most noteworthy.
8. Corey Seager is becoming a face of baseball
Yes, being a promising player in Los Angeles does get you on the fast track to stardom. But succeeding in the pressure cooker known as the postseason can take you a step further. Seager is most certainly going to win the NL Rookie of the Year thanks to 26 home runs and a .308 batting average. His offense, amid all the injuries that surround the Dodgers this season, should also lead to some MVP votes. The initial two NLDS games show the 22-year-old is not slowing down — belting a solo homer in the first inning of each contest.
7. Some unlikely catching heroes
Wilson Contreras is among the most promising catchers in baseball, yet probably doesn’t register must interest outside of Chicago. He jumped to the forefront in Game 2 of the Cubs’ NLDS against San Francisco — going 2-for-3 with a run scored. His backstop teammate, veteran David Ross, picked off Conor Gillaspie drifting off third base during the third inning of Game 1. Also exceptional on defense was the Indians’ Roberto Perez, who made a nice tag at home plate to prevent an additional Red Sox run. He also added a pair of hits and an RBI. Jose Lobaton gave his Washington Nationals a jolt by taking a Rich Hill curveball and depositing it into the Dodger bullpen in left field. The three-run homer put the Nats in the lead — one they wouldn’t relinquish.
6. Despite wins, Chicago hitting standouts struggling
It’s a credit to the Cubs’ amazing depth and diversity of talent. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the two premiere hitters in Chicago’s batting order, have been held in check. Over the first two games at Wrigley Field, Bryant is 2-for-7 with a double. Meanwhile, Rizzo is 0-for-7. This is of little consequence right now, as great starting pitching from Jon Lester, exceptional efforts from the relief staff, and some timely hitting place the Cubs in prime posititon for a return trip to the NLCS.
5. Rangers can’t shake playoff funk
After Game 2 of the 2015 ALDS, the Texas Rangers held a commanding lead over the Toronto Blue Jays — just one win away from an appearance in the LCS. We’re still waiting for the next postseason win. It didn’t happen last year, as Toronto dramatically recovered to take the series with the help of some dreadful Texas defense. And, in this year’s rematch, the Jays rocked a Ranger starting pitching staff that struggled to end the regular season and once against took advantage of a defensive miscue to sweep the series.
Bad throw by Andrus, bad throw by Odor, bad catch by Moreland. Second straight year Rangers go out on bad infield defense.
— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) October 10, 2016
4. David Price’s postseason nightmare continues
A change in teams can’t change his personal history. It’s yet another October to forget for Price, who was tagged for six hits and five runs over 3.1 innings on Friday afternoon at Progressive Field as his Red Sox fell into an 0-2 hole. This only adds to the continuing narrative of his postseason failures. As it stands, his playoff pitching line looks this way: a 2-8 record with 68 hits over 66.2 innings and a 5.54 ERA.
David Price has lost 8 straight postseason decisions as a starter, the longest streak in MLB history.
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) October 8, 2016
3. Blue Jays are hot, but will the wait hurt?
A prevailing theme after Toronto beat Texas on Sunday on Josh Donaldson’s mad dash was “you don’t want to play the Blue Jays right now.” With four consecutive victories over six days, that statement holds true. Fortunately for either the Red Sox or Indians, they won’t be suiting up again until Friday (when ALCS Game 1 is scheduled to be played). That delay could cool off a club that’s sizzling in many phases. However, should the Jays maintain their balance on offense as well as the solid pitching from their starters and closer, it might just carry them even further.
2. Cubs aren’t weighed down by pressure
For now, the theory of even-year magic is being debunked by Chicago prowess — with nary the inclination of any curses. The Cubs are picking up where they left off during the regular season, looking very much like the club that attained a league-high 103 victories. A Game 1 pitching duel between Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester was decided by a Javier Baez home run in the bottom of the eighth. In Game 2, the Cubs jumped on Jeff Samardzija — and the bullpen did the rest. But the real challenge comes on Monday, as Madison Bumgarner looms.
1. Throw ‘the book’ away
There’s yet to been official literature of how a manager should handle relief pitchers, but the baseline of bullpen implementation was turned on its head. Playoff baseball can lead to unusual decisions, each of which have had varying results recently. It began in the AL Wild Card Game, when Buck Showalter inexplicably failed to utilize the dominant Zach Britton. Then, in Thursday’s ALDS opener between the Indians and Red Sox, Terry Francona went in reverse. Not wasting any time, he removed starter Trevor Bauer in the fifth and summoned left-hander Andrew Miller. The result was two innings of one-hit ball and the Tribe took early control of the series. The latest instance came on Sunday, as Rangers skipper Jeff Banister let Matt Bush work a third inning in relief — only to see the season end just a few minutes later with him still on the mound.