Is Chris Sale healthy?
Boston finished the regular season with the most wins in MLB, yet there is one question that is making New Englanders lose speed. Is Boston’s ace, Chris Sale, healthy for the playoff? The right-hander has thrown only 17 innings since the start of August after two DL stints for shoulder issues, and his velocity was notably down in his last outing. Sale claims that the velocity is due to mechanical issues. Whether that’s actually the case or he’s hiding an injury, it’s clear that the Red Sox have reason to be concerned. Boston has a deep rotation, but no one else in it has held a candle to Sale’s ability.
Does Oakland have any chance to compete with the big boys?
The A’s had the lowest payroll in baseball entering the year, and most didn’t expect them to make a playoff appearance. They’ve been a pleasant surprise from top to bottom, showing big power in their lineup and getting surprising years from the likes of Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, and Brett Anderson in their rotation. Not many are giving them a chance in the loaded American League, especially with ace Sean Manaea out following shoulder surgery. Though, this wouldn’t be the first time that the team surprised everyone.
Was the Rockies late surge for real?
Colorado has made the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history, a credit to the emerging pitching staff and manager Bud Black. They did it in truly impressive fashion with a late-season surge, seemingly refusing to lose after they were swept at the Dodgers in mid-September. It certainly helped that the Phillies all but played dead in a four-game series at Coors Field, but there’s no overlooking how well the Rockies rotation pitched down the stretch. Kyle Freeland and German Marquez have likely earned Cy Young votes, and Jon Gray also posted a sub-4.00 ERA since recharging in the minors in early July. With a National League that looks wide open, the Rockies are playing well at the right time.
Do the Yankees have enough starting pitching?
Yankees GM Brian Cashman added J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn at the trade deadline, but it remains to be seen if that was enough to advance in the playoffs. New York has been concerned about ace Luis Severino, who had an ERA well above 5.00 during the second half, and Masahiro Tanaka also struggled in his last two starts. The starting rotation finished the season in the middle of the pack in ERA, and the great lineup and bullpen might not be enough to overcome stacked rotations like Houston, Boston, and Cleveland.
Will Milwaukee’s roster composition work in the playoffs?
Milwaukee has a roster unlike any other in the playoffs, in both the pitching staff and in the field. The team played all of 2018 without last year’s ace, Jimmy Nelson (shoulder), and No. 2 starter Chase Anderson also struggled for most of the year. Despite those issues, the team made due with limited innings before turning to a stellar bullpen that finished top five in ERA this season. It’s cliche that pitching wins in the playoffs, but does pitching still win if most of it comes on in relief? The lineup is also unique, showing great depth after acquiring Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, and Curtis Granderson, but the team has experimented with playing Schoop and Travis Shaw out of position to keep their names on the lineup card. GM David Stearns could be starting a revolution if the Brewers are able to pull off playoff success.
Has Cleveland adequately solved their bullpen issues?
Cleveland’s bullpen couldn’t have pitched much worse during the first half of the season. It was a major 180 for a team that had dominant bullpens over the last two seasons, but the loss of Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller’s injury issues were a major hindrance this year. The team went all-in by trading elite catching prospect Francisco Mejia to San Diego for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, and the Indians pen has made strides since that point. While Cody Allen and Cimber have struggled lately, Miller, Hand, and Oliver Perez have been lights out for Cleveland’s pen since the break.
Are Atlanta’s young players ready for prime time?
The Braves farm system has been hyped for years, but their success came even earlier than the prognosticators expected. Elite youngsters like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Mike Foltynewicz have been a great complement to the veteran core of Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Julio Teheran. Atlanta will need those young stars to continue to produce like they have during the regular season to have playoff success, and they’re fortunate that the National League looks wide open.
Does Houston have the ability to repeat?
Houston managed to win more than 100 games the year after winning the World Series, a credit to their brilliant roster and the front office’s aggressiveness in the offseason. They remain one of the favorites to win the World Series this year, but they’re also facing more scrutiny. The American League is even more loaded this year, and star shortstop Carlos Correa’s health is in question as he battles and back injury and Lance McCullers is also stuck in the bullpen following elbow trouble.
Will the Dodgers play up to their potential?
The rich got richer when the Dodgers front office acquired Manny Machado in July, giving a tremendous roster even more firepower for the stretch run. However, the Dodgers really didn’t improve much with Machado, struggling in August (14-13) and letting Colorado back into the NL West race late in the year. The team finished with easily the best run differential in the NL and are stacked on paper, but this year’s squad finished the year well behind their 104 wins from 2017. There’s little debate that the Dodgers are the most talented team in the NL, and anything short of another World Series appearance will be a disappointment.