The arrival of the baseball postseason greatly lessens the amount of teams that can still dream of a World Series. In turn, the level of drama and second-guessing is ratcheted up (just look at Tuesday’s Orioles-Blue Jays game for proof). The number of narratives are also plentiful. Here are ten of the most significant as the Division Series is set to begin.
10. Marquee pitching duels await
Game 1 always bring out the best among those that take the mound — and this postseason is no different. The LDS opens Thursday with likely AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello (22-4 with a 3.15 ERA) taking on Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer, who’s trying to shake off a rough September. But it’s Friday’s NL premieres that provide the most firepower. First in D.C., it’s Clayton Kershaw (and his 1.69 ERA) opposing Max Scherzer (and his MLB-leading 284 strikeouts). Then, Johnny Cueto looks to pick up where he left off last October when he clashes with Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) at Wrigley Field.
9. Texas better prepared for October?
The Rangers’ exit from the 2015 playoffs was painful mainly because the wounds that caused their ultimate demise were self-inflicted. If these past few months are any indication, however, Texas is more apt to handle the pressures of the playoffs. In addition to having seasoned lefty Cole Hamels, the rotation includes Yu Darvish — who missed all of 2015 with an injury. Bolstering a lineup of veterans Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus were the recent acquisitions of Ian Desmond (in the offseason) and Jonathan Lucroy (at the trade deadline). The Rangers cruised to the AL West title and the league’s best record (95-67), and did so by going 36-11 in one-run games.
8. David Price’s postseason demons
Things often don’t go as planned. For Price, he’s no longer the No. 1 starter in the Boston rotation — an honor automatically bestowed upon him when he signed with the Red Sox this past off-season. Rick Porcello holds that title now, but the onus remains squarely on the 31-year-old southpaw. Despite a Cy Young Award, a career 3.22 ERA and a regular season winning percentage of .651 over his nine-year big league career, Price must now shake the specter of an 2-7 playoff record and a 5.12 ERA.
7. Will injuries doom the Nationals?
Washington was rarely tested when it came to the NL East race. Thanks to contributions from newcomer Daniel Murphy, Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, and manager Dusty Baker, the Nationals won 95 games and the division by eight. Unfortunately for D.C. fans, the team they have now isn’t fully equipped to compete for the title. Murphy isn’t 100 percent healthy, Ramos is out with a knee injury, Stephen Strasburg likely won’t return, and Bryce Harper isn’t at MVP level. Instead, a bulk of their hopes shift to Scherzer and rookie spark plug Trea Turner.
6. Giants ready for another?
As Madison Bumgarner mowed down the New York Mets on Wednesday en route to a complete game shutout in the Wild Card Game at Citi Field, two discussion points began to arise. First is the one that suggests that perhaps MadBum is the greatest postseason pitcher ever — and his ridiculous stats back it up. Secondly, is the idea that the San Francisco Giants might be poised for the same run they embarked on in 2010, 2012 and 2014 (sense a pattern?). If Bruce Bochy’s club gets past the team with the best record in the upcoming Division Series, then we might start to buy in further to the even-year magic.
5. Terry Francona’s Red Sox reunion
He has the distinction of being the manager of the team that exercised the “Curse of the Bambino.” For that, he probably never has to pay for a meal in Boston ever again. But for these next few days, he and his current club are the enemies. Francona departed the Red Sox after 2011 only to pop up in Cleveland less than two years later. Since then, he’s led the Indians to two playoff appearances, while his protégé, John Farrell, was skipper of a Sox championship in 2013.
4. Jays-Rangers ready to rumble again
When each game in this series begins, it should be done with the same bell you’d find near a boxing ring. Rougned Odor’s right hook to the jaw of Jose Bautista is unquestionably the signature moment in this brief rivalry, which began with last year’s Division Series Game 5 craziness at SkyDome. It’s a guarantee that the intensity level in this LDS will be higher than any of the other three. But considering what’s at stake, it’s doubtful that we’ll see a similar free-for-all like we witnessed in Arlington this May.
3. Sizing up the ideal World Series match-ups
Of all the dream scenarios, none elicits more nostalgia than Cubs-Red Sox. Granted, this wouldn’t be the apocalyptic clash of curses like we nearly had in 2003 – before Boston ended its 86 years of misery. But the chance of seeing Chicago try to finally win it all against a franchise once known for championship misfortune would be fascinating theater – on top of other great headlines that would come from it. Other possible encounters would pale in comparison, yet would still be compelling: Indians vs. Cubs (a battle of the two longest droughts) and Red Sox vs. Dodgers (a pair of classic teams) being foremost among them.
2. Big Papi seeks storybook farewell
David Ortiz’s long goodbye is getting even longer. After 151 regular season games, the 40-year-old’s final year could not be going much better: 38 home runs, 127 RBIs, a .315 batting average, and what seems like hundreds of ceremonies in his honor. We now arrive at the potential of the ultimate sendoff for Red Sox Nation’s designated hero. Could Ortiz — a man who has performed at the highest level in such high-leverage October situations before – provide one last postseason memory?
1. A title 108 years in the making
This sentimental World Series favorite is also the logical one. The Chicago Cubs are at or near the top in nearly every way teams are measured. After 103 wins during the regular season, just 11 separate the Windy City from breaking a hex that’s lasted since 1908 and setting off a celebration that will make every other before it seem tame. On paper, the Cubs are the obvious pick. However, there are too many examples from the past — both old and recent — to suggest that a World Series triumph is far from a guarantee.