By Matt Citak
Both the American and National League Championship Series are now set, and boy are we in for some exciting matchups.
It didn’t come easy, but after a close call in the Bronx Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox were able to emerge from Yankee Stadium with a victory, solidifying their spot in the ALCS against the Houston Astros in four games.
Unlike the Red Sox, the Astros cruised through their Division Series battle against the Cleveland Indians. Houston swept the Indians in the best of five series, outscoring Cleveland 21-6 along the way.
Over in the NL, things couldn’t have gone much smoother for the Brewers after they beat the Chicago Cubs in the tiebreaker game last week to give them the NL Central title. Milwaukee took care of business against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, winning the first three games of the series and allowing Colorado to score just two runs total (including two shutout victories).
Things were a tad bit more difficult for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who needed four games to defeat the Atlanta Braves. However, the Dodgers pitching showed what they’re made of against the Braves, pitching two shutouts to open up the series.
Buckle your seatbelts, folks. The MLB Playoffs are just getting started.
ALCS: Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox
The American League Championship Series will be a battle of Major League Baseball’s top two teams from the regular season.
Boston stormed their way to 108 wins this season, setting a new franchise-record while holding off the Yankees’ and their 100 wins for the AL East title. Meanwhile the defending World Series champion Astros played their way to 103 wins, also setting a new franchise-record, and held off the Oakland Athletics and their 97 wins for the AL West crown.
This matchup will represent just the third time since the Wild Card era began in 1995 that MLB’s two top teams from the regular season will face off in a LCS round (and the first since 2009) with a trip to the World Series on the line. The two clubs’ 211 combined wins ties a record for LCS opponents, matching that of the 2001 Mariners (116) vs. Yankees (95) ALCS.
Both teams consist of deep lineups filled with MVP-caliber hitters.
2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve and his .315 batting average lead the way for the Astros, but the reigning MVP has plenty of help in this Houston lineup. Altuve is joined by the likes of Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and George Springer, not to mention Carlos Correa.
In fact, in the three games against the Indians last round, Bregman hit to an astounding .556 average with two home runs and four RBI, while Springer smashed three solo home runs while hitting .429.
While the Astros have a ton of talent up and down their lineup, it pales in comparison to that of the Red Sox.
Houston may have the reigning AL MVP, but the Red Sox have this year’s likely winner in Mookie Betts. Betts lead the league with a .346 average to go with his 32 home runs and 80 RBI. The talented outfielder added 47 doubles and 129 runs scored.
The only way Betts doesn’t win the AL MVP is if his teammate J.D. Martinez takes the honor from him. Martinez enjoyed quite an impressive campaign himself, hitting .330 with 43 home runs and a whopping 130 RBI.
Betts and Martinez form quite a powerful punch at the top of Boston’s lineup, but they are joined by guys like Andrew Benitendi and Xander Bogaerts, who both had the best seasons of their careers in 2018.
Boston may have the slight edge on offense, but the Astros have the clear advantage when it comes to its starting rotation.
Houston boasts one of the league’s most talented pitching staffs, with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top of the rotation, followed by Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel.
Verlander struck out 290 hitters this season while going 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA. Cole was almost as good, going 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 276 strikeouts.
Chris Sale is the clear ace of the Red Sox staff after earning a 2.11 ERA in 27 starts this year (12-4 in 158.0 innings), but things get a little dicey after the talented southpaw.
David Price has enjoyed a lot of success throughout his career, but the 33-year-old tends to crumble when it comes to the postseason. In 75.0 career postseason innings spanning 18 games, he is just 2-9 with a 5.28 ERA. Alex Cora may find it difficult to trust Price against the Astros, and will likely lean on Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello in the ALCS.
These two clubs met seven times in the regular season, with the Astros coming out on top in four of the seven.
This will also be a rematch of last year’s ALDS matchup in which Houston defeated Boston in four games.
A Game 1 matchup of Justin Verlander vs. Chris Sale, along with a battle of last year’s AL MVP (Altuve) vs. this year’s likely AL MVP (Betts), in addition to MLB’s two top teams clashing leaves us with a TON to be excited about in this tantalizing ALCS matchup.
Schedule: Game 1 @ BOS Saturday, 10/13. Game 2 @ BOS, Sunday 10/14. Game 3 @ HOU, Tuesday 10/16. Game 4 @ HOU, Wednesday, 10/17. Game 5 @ HOU, Thursday 10/18. Game 6 @ BOS, Saturday 10/20. Game 7 @ BOS, Sunday 10/21. Games 5-7 if necessary. All Games On TBS
NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers
They may not be the two best teams in Major League Baseball, but the Dodgers vs. Brewers NLCS matchup should be quite the show.
The Brewers enter the NLCS having won 11 straight games, including the team’s late-season surge to overcome the Cubs for the NL Central title. Not only has Milwaukee not lost in 11 consecutive games, but they have done it in an impressive fashion, outscoring opponents 80-34 during that span.
The Dodgers are on a hot streak themselves, with wins in seven of its last eight games, dominating their opponents, 47-15, during that stretch.
Milwaukee’s offensive success starts with outfielder Christian Yelich, whose amazing 2018 campaign has him poised to take him the NL MVP Award. The 26-year-old played 147 games this season, finishing the year hitting .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs, 110 RBI, and 118 runs scored.
The outfielder was even more impressive against lefties, hitting .337 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI in 192 at-bats, which should come in handy against Los Angeles’ lefty-dominant rotation.
Yelich isn’t the only hot hitter in the Brewers’ lineup, as both Lorenzo Cain (.308 average) and Jesus Aguilar (35 home runs and 108 RBI) put up strong numbers in 2018.
The Dodgers have quite the deep lineup of hitters, with talent from top to bottom.
Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Manny Machado are the big names in LA’s lineup, and all three have the power and talent to change the momentum of a game with one swing of the bat.
However, it’s been the play of veteran Matt Kemp that has made a significant difference in Los Angeles this season. Kemp hit .290 with 21 home runs and 85 RBI in 146 games, after being a possible roster cut heading into spring training.
The strength of the Brewers’ pitching staff rests in the bullpen, whose 3.47 ERA ranked second in the NL and fifth in MLB. The team’s relievers also combined for a 7.1 WAR, which ranked fourth in the majors.
Milwaukee’s bullpen enjoyed so much success thanks to the performance of Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Joakim Soria, all of whom pitched very well in 2018.
Hader put up jaw-dropping numbers for the Brewers, racking up 143 strikeouts, 2.43 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 81.1 innings. To put it simply, Hader was absolutely amazing this year, finishing as the top reliever in Major League Baseball.
While Milwaukee’s strength is in its bullpen, the Dodgers rely on its starting pitching to shut down its opponents.
Clayton Kershaw (2.73 ERA) is the ace of the staff, but Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu both played vital roles in helping Los Angeles reach 92 wins. The 24-year-old Buehler went 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 24 games (23 starts), while Ryu was amazing in his 15 starts, pitching to a 1.97 ERA.
Not to be forgotten is the Dodgers’ stud in the bullpen, closer Kenley Jansen. Jansen racked up 38 saves in 71.2 innings this season, pitching to a 3.01 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 82 strikeouts.
The Dodgers took the season series 4-3, but five of the seven games were decided by three runs or less. With the amount of talent in both of these dugouts, we should be in for one wild NLCS battle.
Game 1 @ MIL, Friday 10/12. Game 2 @ MIL, Saturday 10/13. Game 3 @ LAD, Monday 10/15, Game 4 @ LAD, Tuesday 10/16. Game 5 @ LAD, Wednesday 10/17. Game 6 @ MIL, Friday 10/19. Game 7 @ MIL, Saturday 10/20. Games 5-7 if necessary. All Games On FOX
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.