By Matt Citak
The calendar has officially flipped to October, meaning postseason baseball has finally arrived.
We were fortunate to get a little extra playoff baseball this season after both the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West and the Brewers and Cubs in the NL Central finished tied for the division lead, resulting in a tiebreaker game for each respective division title.
Los Angeles and Milwaukee came out of those games on top, leading to a Rockies vs. Cubs NL Wild Card showdown at Wrigley field, which had its fair share of excitement.
Over in the American League, the Yankees welcomed the Athletics to the Bronx for the AL Wild Card battle, which did not result in nearly as much drama as the NL’s contest.
If the first few games of October have shown us anything, it’s that we are in for an exciting month of playoff baseball! Let’s get right in to the divisional series matchups.
NLDS: Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers
While MLB would have certainly preferred a rematch between the Cubs and Brewers, the league will have to settle for this matchup instead.
These two clubs faced off seven times throughout the regular season, with the Brewers winning five of the seven.
Colorado features a lineup with several big bats, led by NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. Arenado paced the NL with 38 home runs while his 110 RBI fell one short of Baez for the league lead. Oh yeah, he is also probably the best defensive third baseman in MLB…
Joining Arenado in the MVP discussion is Colorado shortstop Trevor Story, who finished the season with 37 home runs and 108 RBI. These two provide the Rockies with quite possibly the most talented left side of the infield in the league in all of baseball. The Rockies’ third big bat in the lineup is that of center fielder Charlie Blackmon, whose 119 runs scored led the league.
Colorado has the arms to go with their big bats as well. The 25-year-old Freeland is coming off a strong season, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA, but his outing on short rest in the WC game could limit his availability in the NLDS. And although he gave up the tying run to the Cubs, reliever Adam Ottavino is one of the best in the game. He tossed 77 innings this season, earning a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 112 strikeouts.
Milwaukee comes into the NLDS with the best record in the NL, thanks to a combination of great hitting and pitching.
Outfielder Christian Yelich had an amazing season in his first campaign with the Brewers. The 26-year-old is one of the favorites to take home the NL MVP Award after hitting .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs, 110 RBI and 118 runs scored.
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain put together quite the year himself, hitting .308 with 30 stolen bases in 141 games. And you can’t forget about first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who had the best season of his career with 35 home runs and 108 RBI.
The Brewers have some great starting pitching, but it’s their bullpen that really stands out. Josh Hader was likely the best reliever in all of baseball this season, earning a 2.43 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 81.1 innings, while leading all MLB relievers with a whopping 140 strikeouts. He is joined in the bullpen by right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, who pitched to a 1.29 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 76.2 innings. Jeffress, who was named to his first All-Star team this season, was not scored upon in 63 of his 73 regular season appearances.
NLDS: Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles outplayed the Braves in their season series, with the Dodgers taking five of seven games. But that doesn’t matter now as the two prepare for an exciting NLDS matchup.
Atlanta is led by first baseman Freddie Freeman, who had himself quite the year, hitting .309 with 23 home runs and 98 RBI. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis had one of his best seasons in years for the Braves, hitting .297 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI.
But possibly the most exciting player on Atlanta’s roster is rookie outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. In 111 games during his rookie campaign, the 20-year-old (you read that right, 20. YEARS. OLD.) hit .293 with 26 home runs and 64 RBI.
The Braves have quite the starting rotation between Anibal Sanchez, Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran, which could cause the Dodgers some problems in this series.
The talent up and down the Dodgers roster is insane. From Justin Turner to Matt Kemp to Manny Machado and all the way down to Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger, there simply are no easy outs in this LA lineup.
Kemp’s strong come-back season came out of nowhere, as the veteran was thought to be one of the last guys to make the team back in March. Yet the 34-year-old worked hard throughout the season, and wound up hitting an impressive .290 with 21 home runs and 85 RBI, providing the Dodgers with yet another big bat in their deep lineup.
Los Angeles’ pitching is just as talented as its lineup. Led by Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, their entire 2018 pitching staff earned a 3.38 ERA on the year while holding opponents to a .230 batting average.
The Braves will have to bring their A-game in this series to keep up with the depth of this Dodgers roster.
ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Is there anything more exciting than the Yankees and Red Sox taking each other on in the postseason?
I didn’t think so.
Boston took the season series over the Yankees, but not by much, going 10-9 in their 19 regular season matchups. 2018 served as the first time both clubs finished with at least 100 wins, and it will also be the first time the two rival clubs battle each other in the playoffs since Boston’s curse-breaking run to a World Series title back in 2004.
New York boasts quite the powerful lineup, as its 2018 squad set the MLB record for the most home runs hit by a team in a season with 267. The Bronx Bombers also made history by having 12 different players reach double digit home runs- quite the impressive feat.
Stanton led the Yankees with 38 home runs and 100 RBI, and combined that with a respectable .266 average in 158 games. Judge, Gregorius, Aaron Hicks and Miguel Andujar were next up on the team leaderboard, each having hit 27 home runs this season.
On the mound, New York doesn’t have the strongest rotation, but they certainly have enough guys that can get the job done.
Severino leads the way with a 19-8 record, 3.39 ERA and 1.14 WHIP to go with his 220 strikeouts in 191.1 innings. Joining Severino in the rotation are veterans CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, who both enjoyed solid 2018 campaigns.
While New York’s rotation may not be anything to write home about, the same cannot be said about the team’s bullpen. The Yankees’ bullpen pitched to a 3.38 ERA on the season, trailing the Athletics by .01 for the best in the American League.
On the other side, the Red Sox became just the 12th MLB team since 1900 to win as many as 108 games in a regular season.
Mookie Betts led the majors in hitting with a .346 average, becoming the first Red Sox player to achieve that accomplishment since Wade Boggs in 1988. But Betts may not have even been the best all-around hitter on his own team this season! That honor belongs to J.D. Martinez. The veteran outfielder hit a career-high .330 in 150 games, smacking 43 home runs and an incredible 130 RBI along with 37 doubles and 111 runs scored.
Boston’s pitching staff is captained by none other than Chris Sale, who led the rotation with a 2.11 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 237 strikeouts in 158.0 innings. The left-hander has logged just 17 innings after July 31 because of two separate stints on the DL, but appears to be healthy enough to take the ball for Game 1 of the ALDS.
ALDS: Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros
The Indians will have their hands full in this matchup as they take on the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros in the ALDS, with Houston winning the season series 4-3.
Cleveland has several big bats in the lineup that Houston’s pitchers will have to watch out for, starting with 3x All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor hit 38 home runs and 92 RBI to go along with his 129 runs scored, all of which set new career-bests.
Third baseman Jose Ramirez led the club with 39 home runs and 106 RBI, but saw his average drop below .300 for the first time since he became a regular starter in 2016 (.272 batting average on the year). However his 34 stolen bases crushed his previous career-high of 22. Edwin Encarnacion is the third member of the Indians to cross the 30-HR threshold, smashing 32 long balls and 107 RBI.
Cleveland has an oustanding starting rotation, as Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco all finished with ERAs below 3.40 and over 205 strikeouts. Bauer led the way with a 2.21 ERA in 27 starts, which included 20 quality starts and a 12-6 record.
Kluber will be taking the mound for Game 1 of the series, which should come as no surprise after the 2x AL Cy Young Award winner went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 33 starts, recording a quality start in 25 of his outings.
Houston finished with the second-best record in MLB this season with 103 wins, thanks in part to a deep lineup consisting of studs such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer.
Altuve is a 6x All-Star and hit .315 in 137 games. Bregman had himself a breakout year. In 157 games, the 24-year-old third baseman out of LSU finished with career-highs in runs scored (105), hits (170), doubles (51), home runs (31), RBI (103), walks (96), batting average (.286), on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.532).
This ALDS matchup should feature some awesome pitching duels, as the Astros’ have quite a strong rotation themselves with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel.
Verlander is the ace of the squad, going 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a jaw-dropping 290 strikeouts in 32 outings, 26 of which were quality starts.
Verlander vs. Kluber in Game 1… get ya popcorn ready!
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.