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MLB Division Series Preview

Oct. 7, 2023

Morgan Killian-Moseley 

The Wild Card Series has come and gone. One home team in each league held serve, one road team in each league secured themselves at least one home game, and no series went to Game 3.

So now comes the Division Series. Who will take their best-of-5 series and find themselves one step away from the World Series? Let's break things down.

American League

Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros

The Twin Cities faithful certainly did their job, as Sonny Gray gave them credit for distracting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. enough on the critical Game 2 5th inning pickoff play that essentially doomed the Blue Jays' season.

So now that the Twins have finally broken their long losing streak in playoff series (hanging an L on their former ace Jose Berríos in doing so), their reward is a battle with the defending champions, who have given the Twins fits in postseasons past.

If Minnesota wants to pull off the upset, their pitching will have to continue to perform at an outstanding level. And it starts with Game 1 starter Bailey Ober. The Houston offense is known to be resilient, and Ober's 1.07 WHIP and 3.43 ERA in the regular season will be put to the test.

Offensively, the top of the lineup needs to work the count against Houston's pitching staff. With Justin Verlander on the bump for Game 1 and Framber Valdez slated for Game 2, the opportunities may be few and far between the Twins; so they need as much intel on the opponents' stuff as possible in order to take advantage of those chances.

On both sides of the ball, the most important man in the Minnesota dugout is likely Carlos Correa. Having won the 2017 World Series with the Astros gives him some inside info on them which the Twins can use to their advantage.

The Astros brought Verlander back for exactly this situation, and last year's AL Cy Young Award winner is more than up to the task. With a 1-2 punch like Verlander and Valdez at the top of the rotation who could come back on short rest if necessary, the champs have a good foundation to work on in their quest to repeat as World Series Champions- something no team has done since the 1998-2000 Yankees three-peat.

The Astro bats are known to grind out at-bats, and grind down opposing pitchers. Alex Bregman has been a prime culprit for Houston this season. And having gotten five days worth of rest definitely does the likes of Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez good.

But the performance of Jeremy Peña will be in the spotlight here. Last year's ALCS and World Series MVP has experienced a bit of an injury-fueled sophomore slump. But if he can recapture last year's playoff magic, look out.

Prediction: Minnesota may surprise some people, and they'll definitely hold their own. But the Stros have stayed resilient, despite their late-season struggles. This will be a gritty series, but the champs aren't crashing yet.

Astros in 4

Texas Rangers vs. Baltimore Orioles

The Rangers had no trouble whatsoever dismissing the 99-win Rays, and now head to Birdland to face the 101-win Orioles. 

The Rangers' offense made their mark in the regular season hitting with runners in scoring position. They'll need to do so again to take down Baltimore. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager will continue to be dangerous at the top of Bruce Bochy's lineup, but it may take a clutch hit from Evan Carter or Leody Taveras to shake up the O's pitching staff.

Texas will need their pitching staff to step up as well. Andrew Heaney will be at the very least the opener for Game 1, and getting a good outing from him will do wonders for both him and for Rangers fans.

The Orioles lineup is well-balanced 1-9, but for most of them this is their first time playing in October. If the O's want to continue their excellent season, they could use a spark from the one guy who has been here before: Aaron Hicks. After being cast off by the Yankees, Hicks had respectable numbers in Baltimore. And considering that and the fact that he hasn't performed well in October in his career, this playoff run is personal for Hicks.

The O's rotation may not have that many big names, but Game 1 starter Kyle Bradish has quietly been one of the best starters in the Majors all season. Not having Felix Bautista, who is on the season-ending IL, at the back end of their bullpen hurts, but the O's have more than enough arms to pull through.

Prediction: In a series where the teams are so similar, it may come down to which manager performs best. Brandon Hyde has been outstanding this season, and deserves to win AL Manager of the Year. But Bochy's impact with the Rangers had been immeasurable this year. And it's just too much to expect of Hyde to match Bochy move for move. Hyde may win a pennant in the future, but it's near impossible to bet against the Hall of Famer this time.

Rangers in 5

National League

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Both NL Division Series will feature division rivals squaring off, something that wasn't allowed until the institution of the second Wild Card in 2012. Prior to that, the Wild Card winner in each league wasn't allowed to take on a division rival unless both made it to the LCS.

If any team has the pitching to hold the L.A. offense at bay, it's the Snakes. The duo of Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen have done wonders for Torrey Lovullo this season, and their continued excellence is vital to the D-Backs' success.

If Arizona wants to steal one at Chavez Ravine, Corbin Carroll will have to keep doing what he's done. He went 4-7 against the Brewers in the Wild Card Series with 2 RBI and he'll be facing plenty of Dodger lefties, as he had in the regular season.

Foremost of those Dodger southpaws, Clayton Kershaw is still Clayton Kershaw, even in what seems like the twilight of his career; and there's no one Dave Roberts would rather have to take the ball in a playoff opener. And though the Dodger rotation has been riddled with injury this season, the sheer depth of their pitching staff has been enough to compensate. Roberts has done an excellent job at using his bullpen pieces, and the Dodgers seem to have found another back-end gem in Evan Phillips.

Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman may be the best 1 & 2 hitters any lineup has seen this century. Not only can they slug and produce, they set the table for the likes of Will D. Smith and former Diamondback J.D. Martinez.

Speaking of former D-Backs, one has to wonder how this series feels to David Peralta, who spent his entire career in Arizona until being traded to the Rays at the deadline last season. Peralta has enjoyed a bit of success in L.A. this year and he would love to provide the Boys in Blue a bit of antivenom against his former team.

Prediction: Again, it comes down to playoff experience. The Dodgers simply have more of it than the Diamondbacks do.

Dodgers in 4

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves

As ESPN analyst David Cone said during Game 2 against Miami, "there's home-field advantage, and then there's Philadelphia."

But in order to steal home-field advantage, the Fightins will need to win at least one at Truist Park, against an Atlanta offense that looks like the 21st Century Murderers' Row. (The 1927 Yankees, for those not in the know, who featured the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig). Philadelphia stunned Atlanta in 4 games in last year's NLDS on their way to the pennant, and the Bravos will definitely be out for revenge.

The Phils will need to keep getting key hits from their role players. Christian Pache delivered early in Game 1, and Bryson Stott's grand slam in Game 2 has gone viral.

Game 1 starter Ranger Suarez will have a versatile role as long as the Phillies are in the playoffs, and it wouldn't be surprising for Rob Thomson to use Mr. Ranger out of the bullpen later in the series. And of course, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola delivering performances similar to the ones they turned in against the Marlins will have the Phillies in good shape.

Of course Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson have provided the lightning and the thunder for Atlanta all season; with Olson leading the Majors in home runs and runs batted in, and Acuña having his historic 40 homer-70 steal season. But of course, the entire Braves lineup can punish mistakes from opposing pitching.

Spencer Strider may not exactly be a fan of excessive crowd noise, if his recent comments are to be taken seriously (most likely not), but the likely NL Cy Young winner has dominated the Phillies in his short career. Philadelphia did get to him in last year's Division Series, but the already outstanding Atlanta ace has stepped up his game even more.

For both teams, the performances of their bullpen may make or break them. Ex-Brave Craig Kimbrel would love to get the chance to shut his former team down, like he did in May to lock his 400th career save. For the Braves, Raisel Iglesias has been every bit the lockdown closer Brian Snitker has wanted.

Prediction: The Phils will fight with all they have. It will be a tough series, and it will go the distance. But at the end of the day, the Braves simply have too much talent up and down the roster to fall here. Atlanta will have their revenge, and the Phillies' dance party will come to a disappointing end.

Braves in 5


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