With the marathon that is the regular season now complete, the focus of the baseball world now turns to the 2019 MLB Playoffs.
An MLB record four teams won 100 games this season. All of them, however, have some concerns. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers both enter the playoffs with recent postseason failures fresh on everyone’s minds. What issues persist for them? Ronald Acuna Jr. nearly became a 40-40 man this year. With the playoffs starting, we have to wonder how sharp he is.
While don’t know how the 2019 MLB Playoffs will go, how these questions are ultimately answered will go a long way in deciding who wins the World Series.
Did Mike Rizzo make the right move?
The Nationals made a splash in the offseason not by re-signing Bryce Harper but by signing Patrick Corbin. The addition of Corbin provided something that Washington lacked during its ill fated postseason runs of 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017 — three genuine aces.
Of course, there’s a chance that Corbin may not even see the field in the playoffs. Max Scherzer will start the NL Wild Card Game and if that doesn’t go well, the Nats postseason could last all of one game. If Scherzer does deliver, Washington will be set up in a series will a top three of Scherzer, Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg in some order. Good luck to the team that has to beat that trio.
Does 2018’s magic still exist for the Milwaukee bullpen?
The Milwaukee Brewers rode a dominant bullpen to within one game of the World Series in 2018. While Josh Hader has been great in 2019, the rest of the bullpen has been iffy. That’s a problem. If the Brewers are going to get anywhere near as deep as they got a season ago, the bullpen is going to have to be spectacular. Ryan Braun may be back for the postseason but we don’t know how good he’ll be. Even if he’s great, it’s still hard to imagine Milwaukee slugging its way to a deep run without Christian Yelich.
If the Brewers are going to play into deep October, the bullpen is going to need to be significantly better in the playoffs than it was in the regular season.
Can Khris Davis turn it on?
Which Davis will show up in the playoffs? Will it be the man who hit .220/.293/.387 with only 23 home runs in 2019? Or will it be the man who hit .247/.323/.534 while averaging 44 home runs a year from 2016-2019.
We can wonder about the Oakland Athletics pitching staff all we want. But assuming they defeat the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, they’ll need to beat the Houston Astros and either the Minnesota Twins or New York Yankees to reach the Fall Classic. The A’s aren’t shutting down those offenses over the course of a series. To win, they’ll need to score a lot of runs. If Davis is swinging a good bat, that’s possible. If not, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a deep playoff run from Oakland.
Is Tyler Glasnow ready to give the Rays big innings?
The spotlight will be on Charlie Morton, who will take the ball for the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card Game. If the Rays can get through that game, the focus will have to be on what Glasnow can do. He’s pitched very well since returning from injury, posting a 1.46 ERA, 0.811 WHIP, and a 15.3 K/9 in September. The problem is that he hasn’t gone beyond 4.1 innings in any of those outings. If he can at least pitch into the sixth, he can give a bullpen which will surely be tested some rest. If not and the Tampa bullpen is tired against these offenses, watch out.
While it won’t be easy, we can at least imagine a scenario where the A’s outslug the AL division winners and reach the World Series from the Wild Card Game. That won’t happen for the Rays. But if Glasnow can pitch effectively deep into games, Tampa can run the brutal AL gauntlet.
Which Kenley Jansen will show up?
Over the last six postseasons, we’ve wondered if Clayton Kershaw’s regular season brilliance would translate to the playoffs or if the bridge to Kenley Jansen was good enough. While we can’t say those aren’t concerns for the Dodgers this year, Jansen himself is the biggest question. He’s coming off of disappointing performances in each of the last two World Series. Worse, his numbers were down across the board in 2019.
Despite the struggles, Jansen is still the man at the end of the Los Angeles bullpen. If he can’t shake off the subpar regular season and the poor Fall Classics, this season can end much earlier than it should for the Dodgers.
Can the Cardinals manufacture enough runs to keep up with the bashers?
In terms of home runs and slugging percentage, the St. Louis Cardinals are among the worst teams in the league — not just the playoff teams. That’s not to say that St. Louis won’t hit the occasional home run or extra-base hit with men on. Earlier in the decade when teams like the Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, and Kansas City Royals were reigning supreme, we’d like St. Louis’ chances.
Times have changed. Power has been an absolute necessity in each of the last three postseasons. Given what we saw this regular season, there’s no reason to think the 2019 playoffs will be any different. For the Cardinals to go on a long playoff run, it will have to be via a more station-to-station approach, with runners taking 90 feet whenever possible. It’s doable, but St. Louis will need to be very opportunistic.
Can the Twins keep the Yankees off of the bases?
While the Yankees and Twins hit more home runs than any team in MLB history in 2019, it would be overly simplistic to say that the team that wins the power battle will win the series. Minnesota pitchers surrendered easily the most hits of any of the 10 teams in the playoffs. If that trend continues in the ALDS, it’s a problem. The team that wins that series will be the one that does the most damage with those homers. Heading in, that benefits New York.
The Yankees are going to hit home runs in this series. If the Twins can keep New York’s hitters off of the bases and keep those homers as solo shots, they have more than enough power to offset the Yankees’ power. If it turns into a battle of home runs with men on, Minnesota will be in trouble.
Is Ronald Acuna Jr. ready to go?
The Atlanta Braves star was shut down for much of the final week of the season with a groin injury. By and large, it was a precautionary measure. Nothing was really at stake for Atlanta. So, why risk Acuna? It makes sense. Still, by the time the Braves open the NLDS, their best player will have been sidelined for more than a week.
If Acuna is at 100%, Atlanta should be considered the heavy favorites over the Cardinals. If he’s at all rusty, this series has a much different feel. There’s not a lot of margin for error in the playoffs, especially in a best-of-five series.
Who will step up after Houston’s top three?
Wade Miley had a dismal September for the Houston Astros. While he’s been a good pitcher in the past (and through much of 2019), we just don’t know what he’ll bring to October, if he even makes the postseason roster. If he doesn’t, whoever does emerge as the No. 4 will also be a question mark. Now, if worrying about a No. 4 starter (especially one that will follow Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke) seems picky, it is. There aren’t many glaring flaws on the roster. If the Astros win the World Series, they’ll be remembered as an all-time great team.
That said, this isn’t just about trying to find a flaw in a virtually flawless team. Verlander, Cole, and Greinke will be going against the opposition’s best starters. They’ll also be going against great offenses. A reliable No. 4 starter may be relevant beyond just whether Houston wins a series in four or five games.
Can the Dodgers get the monkey off of their backs?
Los Angeles is looking for its first championship in 31 years. This is despite reaching the World Series in each of the last two years and winning now straight. The only teams in recent memory that compare are the 1991-2005 Braves and the 1995-2007 Yankees. Both of those teams, however, had already won at least one championship by this point of their respective runs.
Of course, this isn’t a now or never situation for the Dodgers. They are loaded with young talent and always have the payroll to sign high priced stars or land them on the trade market. Still, every year that goes by without a championship only increases the pressure.