While baseball often takes a backseat to American Football in the U.S., this year’s post-season has given MLB fans reassurance that the game’s popularity remains healthy. Consider the four recently completed league division series. Between the wild card games and the LDS tilts, American viewership is up 22 percent from last season and is averaging its highest TV ratings since 2010. The inclusion of the Toronto Blue Jays in this playoff fiesta has boosted numbers in Canada as well. Ratings are up 38 percent and the ALDS between the Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers represented the five most-watched programs in the history of the Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet. With the two championship series (effectively baseball’s semi-finals) off to dramatic starts expect more of the same. Here are some thoughts on week 29 (week three of the post season):
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals (ALCS): No doubt Toronto fans were sullen after their club lost the first two games of the ALCS in Kansas City. But fear not, the Blue Jays are not done in this best-of-seven series. First, don’t forget the resiliency of Toronto. Canada’s only MLB club became just the third team in playoff history to win a five-game series after dropping the first two games at home. While one’s inclination might be to think that a return to Toronto isn’t a good thing in this current series (after all they did lose two out of three there in the division series), think again. Toronto pitchers are pretty masterful when throwing at the Rogers Centre. As a result, look for the Blue Jays to prevail at home over the Royals on Monday in game three of this series.
Much of this expectation is due to game three Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman’s incredible comfort there. While Stroman had a 4.83 ERA in 2015 away games, he posted a 2.35 ERA at home. He also had an astounding 16.9 percent more strikeouts than walks in Toronto and gave up a minuscule 0.36 home runs per nine innings there. Now I know the Royals carry great momentum after their comeback versus Toronto in game two on Saturday (Kansas City dug themselves out of a 3-0 hole late in the game against one of the game’s best pitchers David Price). Still, Stroman has proven to be the Blue Jays’ ace down the stretch, getting the start in the decisive game five of the ALDS.
As for the Royals game three starter, Johnny Cueto, I’m not convinced yet that his late-season swoon isn’t over. In 13 starts for Kansas City after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds, Cueto posted a 4-7 record and a 4.76 ERA. So far in the post-season, the right-hander has had one good start and one sub-par performance. Combining those data points suggests there’s a good chance he’ll have a less-than-stellar outing.
Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets (NLDS): It’s a glorious thing to see post-season baseball this late in October being played at Wrigley Field. For any neophytes, the Chicago Cubs, who last won a World Series title in 1908, are the longest-suffering franchise in Major League Baseball. All that said, I’m afraid that I don’t have good news for the hometown fans for the first NLCS game held in Chicago’s Northside since 2003.
In Tuesday’s NLCS game three, look for the New York Mets to prevail on the road against the Cubs. This choice is based almost solely on the fact that Jacob deGrom gets the pitching assignment for the Mets, while Kyle Hendricks is the choice for the Cubs. Quite simply, deGrom is one of the best aces left in this post season. Not only did he deliver a 14-8 record with a 2.54 ERA in the regular season, but he has also showed a steely mastery of other aces so far in this post-season. In two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, he went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. That’s impressive enough, but if you throw in the fact that he got those victories by outdueling Clayton Kershaw in game one and Zack Greinke in game five (in other words, two of the game’s best), and you have to really tip your hat to him. It’s not that Hendricks is a terrible pitcher, but when deGrom can dominate with the type of pressure that accompanies going up against Kershaw and Greinke, he should cruise in this game.