Recapping the MLB Postseason
The Major League Baseball season came to an end on Saturday, Nov. 5th as the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 4-1. A great World Series capped off a terrific postseason that was different from any other postseason in history. For the first time, six teams from each league were allowed into the postseason, so we had more games, rounds, and teams than ever before. This October certainly proved how unpredictable playoff baseball can be.
The World Series went a total of six games. The Phillies came in as a heavy underdog according to Vegas odds and in the minds of most fans outside Philadelphia. Philly came back after being down 5-0 in Game 1 with five runs off future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander and a JT Realmuto home run in the 10th inning. Houston dominated Game 2 with five runs off Phillies ace Zach Wheeler and a superb start by Framber Valdez.
The series moved to Philadelphia with a 1-1 split in the series. Philadelphia had its first World Series game since 2009 and they delivered with five home runs to win 7-0. Philadelphia had the advantage once again in the series with two more games in Philly. Unfortunately, the Astros would win the next three games to win the Fall Classic. Game 4 was dominated by the Astros as the Phillies could not come up with a hit. Game 5 was an extremely close game where every out mattered. Chas McCormick made a spectacular catch in centerfield as he caught a ball that was sure to bounce off the wall and put the tying run on base in the ninth.
The Series returned back to Houston with the Astros needing just one win at home. Houston only needed one game to do so as they won the final match 4-1. Framber Valdez had another elite start and the bullpen dominated (a bullpen consists of a team’s relievers or the pitching staff that does not start games). Yordan Alvarez hit a monster three-run shot 450 feet to dead center field to give the Astros the lead. That was all the bullpen needed as Pressly came in to shut the door and clinch the championship.
The dominance of the Houston Astros in this postseason can not be overstated. This team came in with the highest fangraphs odds of winning the championship at 17.5 percent and they absolutely delivered. Their record in the playoffs was a cool 11-2 as they swept both the Mariners and Yankees; eventually taking down the Phillies in six games. Their bullpen was historically good, boasting a 0.83 Earned Run Average (ERA) over 54.1 innings. This was the lowest bullpen ERA ever for a bullpen that threw more than 40 innings. Ryan Pressly was an all-world closer with a number of other elite bullpen arms. They also set records for lowest walks and hits per inning (WHIP), opponents' batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Their offense came up in big moments and they consistently hit off their opponent’s big time pitchers. Yordan Alvarez had three separate home runs that would give his team the lead and eventually the win. One of those was a three-run walk-off homer that was shot into the second deck of Houston to steal Game 1 from the Mariners in Houston. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña won both ALCS MVP and World Series MVP, which makes him the first rookie position player to do so. He had an incredible postseason slash line of .345/.367/1.005 after a decent regular season. They also had starting pitchers such as as Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Justin Verlander step up to help the Astros win some huge games.
It also cannot be forgotten that Cristian Javier threw six no-hit innings in Game 4, which kickstarted the Astros' combined no-hitter in Philadelphia. This was only the third no-hitter in postseason history and it was a huge momentum swing for the Astros. Houston has been shrouded in the cheating scandal of 2017 since it was revealed. It seems some of those demons have now been settled with this new championship cementing them as a dynasty. They have been to six straight American League Championship Series and four World Series in the last six years. It is also hard not to root for Dusty Baker and Trey Mancini. Dusty Baker is a very well-respected person in the baseball world as a long-time manager who finally gets his World Series title. Trey Mancini heroically beat cancer just a few years ago and he is now a World Series champion. The Astros will never be viewed the same until all the players from that 2017 season are gone, but you have to respect their consistent dominance as an organization. In a postseason full of upsets, they stood strong and dominated the competition.
The team on the other side of the World Series was the Philadelphia Phillies. While the Astros won 106 games and were the number one seed of the American League, the Phillies only won 89 games and were the sixth seed of the National League. Their improbable run started on the road in St. Louis. They were down 2-0 to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth when they sparked a six-run inning to take the lead. From there on, they did not look back as they beat the Cardinals, 101-win Braves, and the Padres in five games. The Phillies went 7-0 at home until Game 4 of the World Series as the raucous Philly crowd roared during the big moments. Philadelphia was especially hungry as they held the longest postseason drought in the National League.
The Phillies had a different formula to get to the Fall Classic. Their offense went ballistic in the playoffs as they mashed homers left and right. Led by the $330 million man, Bryce Harper, who slugged a number of big-time homers. Kyle Schwarber continued his career postseason success with six home runs and a 488 foot missile deep into the night of San Diego. Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez were elite starters while Zach Eflin, Seranthony Dominguez, and Jose Alvarado were key out of the bullpen. Their bullpen had a poor reputation in the past, but was a strong suit in the postseason.
Philadelphia being in the World Series wasn’t predicted by many, including myself. I included them on my lowest tier of playoff teams, as I said they could only make a splash. I also stated this about the San Diego Padres who then made it to the NLCS. There were three teams in the National League who won more than 100 games, and they all garnered just one win each in the postseason. I had the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets all as championship contenders, but all of them were ousted by “lesser” teams.
The 89-win Padres upset the 101-win Mets in the Wild Card round and the Dodgers in the Division Series. The Dodgers were expected to make a deep postseason push after 111 wins, but they were straight-up beaten by the Padres. The Padres have always been considered a little brother to the Dodgers, but they exorcised those demons by beating the Dodgers three games to one. The Padres beat the Dodgers 5 out of 19 times in the regular season, but they truly flipped the script in the postseason. The Dodgers had their chances, but the Padres simply stepped up when it mattered.
Manny Machado continued to lead the charge on offense and the rotation of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove had big start after big start. The back end of their bullpen was absolutely dominant as Robert Suarez and Josh Hader shut down elite hitters. Players such as Austin Nola, Ha-seong Kim, and Jake Cronenworth were unsung heroes in the lineup. The postseason is all about unexpected players stepping up in big spots. Although they were cut down by the Phillies, they had a great season and the city of San Diego was electric.
The New York Yankees had a very interesting season, as they were the best team in baseball for the first three months. Then, they had a mediocre second half full of injuries and fan disappointment. The Yanks would hold off the other AL East teams to clinch the division and beat the Guardians in the first round. A third matchup with the almighty Astros in the ALCS meant they could seek revenge. This was not the case. The Astros swept the Yankees in four games. The Yankees offense was effectively stifled, and even after scoring five runs in Game 4, the Astros put up six runs of their own to seal the win and the pennant.
There were also high expectations for defending champs Atlanta Braves upon entering the playoffs, but they were downed by the Phillies. The Phillies' offense dominated the Braves' pitching by putting up 25 runs in only four games. These upsets of the top two seeds in the National League raised some questions, as some people said that the five-day layoff for the higher seeds was actually a disadvantage. This was also immediately disproved as the Astros and Yankees won their division series. There is some truth to a team getting hot and staying hot, but we will need more data to really see how these higher seeded teams truly fare after a bye.
Some other playoff teams to note were the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Guardians. They both won their Wild Card series against the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively. The Mariners swept the Blue Jays in two games, highlighted by an enormous comeback down 8-1 in Game 2. Unfortunately, they were swept by the Astros in the Division Series, but they did have their first playoff game at home in over 20 years. Game 3 in Seattle went 18 innings, which tied the longest playoff game ever, as well as set the record for most scoreless innings to start a playoff game at 17 innings. The Astros somehow outlasted Seattle off a solo shot by Jeremy Peña in the 18th, which again shows how dominant their pitching staff were in the playoffs. The Mariners look to be a competitive squad in the near future.
The Guardians beat the Rays in two exciting games in Cleveland. Game 1 was one of the shortest playoff games in history, featuring an incredible pitching duel between Shane Bieber and Shane McClanahan. Game 2 was one of the longest playoff games in history, as they went 15 innings of scoreless baseball until a walk-off homer by the young Oscar Gonzalez. They took the Yankees to five games, but came up just short. Oscar Gonzalez had another walk-off hit and their young rotation shined. The Guardians were the youngest team in baseball, so it will be interesting to see if their young core can continue to shine in the future.
October baseball is always unpredictable and that was certainly proven this year. I imagine barely a few foresaw that three 100-win teams in the National League would all miss out on the Championship Series. On the other side, the Astros finished the job with 106 regular season wins and an eventual World Series title. The baseball season is over and we now wait until April to see Major League Baseball once again. The offseason should be enticing with a great free agent class as each team hopes to revamp their squad to see if they can win that last game of the season in 2023.