One of the recurring themes on the Cuppa Cubbie Blue podcast this season has been the emergence of super-teams in MLB. There are a handful of teams that spend money, extend talented players and seem to have no end of talent in their farm systems. The rest of the league just has to scrap and hope they catch those super teams on a bad day to have a chance. And look, baseball gonna baseball, so the upset can happen. We all saw a rebuilding Cubs team sweep the Mets. The Padres bested that same Mets team in the best two of three Wild Card Series to advance to the Divisional Series, although as I write this I can’t help but wonder if this is more an indict as the Mets as one of those super teams than anything else.
The Division Series are basically all super teams against the rest of the best of the league, hoping they can channel their inner Padres to knock off Goliath. So with no further ado, let’s take a look at one Cubs fan’s guide to the Divisional Series.
Phillies over Braves — The can Jed learn from Atlanta bracket
It seems weird to say that the defending World Series Champion Braves are the weakest juggernaut team of destiny in the Divisional Round, but the FanGraphs playoff odds agree:
The Braves always had more than a 50 percent chance to make the playoffs, but unlike the Mets (and some other teams we’ll look at below) there were moments where that dipped into the 60’s. What I’m saying is, at times the Braves looked mortal.
And then they called up Michael Harris II.
If I were placing a bet on the Rookie of the Year I’d bet on Harris. He put up 4.8 fWAR in 114 games playing solid defense in centerfield while hitting 19 home runs and stealing 20 bases. Gone are the Pederson/Duvall/Soler platoons that defined the 2021 Braves championship team. With superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. and Harris, the Braves have a fierce outfield tandem that can anchor that lineup for years to come.
As far as the oddsmakers are concerned, the only competition Harris has for Rookie of the Year comes from his own teammate, 23-year-old righthander Spencer Strider, who signed an extension with Atlanta Monday, ensuring the following core going forward according to Jeff Passan:
Few teams have cores as good as Atlanta. No team is close to so locking up its core.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 10, 2022
Austin Riley through 2033
Michael Harris II, 2032
Matt Olson, 2030
Spencer Strider, 2029
Ronald Acuña Jr., 2028
Vaughn Grissom, 2028
Ozzie Albies, 2027
William Contreras, 2027
Kyle Wright, 2026
This Braves team is fun. I like them. I want only good things for Willson Contreras and good things for his brother obviously count. If they were to repeat as World Series Champions I wouldn’t complain about it at all. Unfortunately they are going up against one of my all-time favorite postseason heroes:
I’m cheering for Schwarber and Castellanos to keep that Phillies magic rolling in this round, but honestly if the Braves win I’ll be cool with it. Sort of like the Mariners/Blue Jays match-up in the Wild Card round.
Mariners over Astros — The dancing in Seattle bracket
Speaking of the Mariners, this is my new temporary, lifelong favorite team in the playoffs. That comeback against the Blue Jays to sweep them out of the Wild Card round wasn’t merely fun, it was epic. It was the biggest comeback win in postseason history and resulted in this:
The Mariners are dancing their way into the ALDS pic.twitter.com/UEQOC054Hg— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) October 9, 2022
Okay, that’s obviously amazing, but so is the fact that this is the first Mariners playoff appearance in 21 years. Everything they do in the postseason is something that hasn’t happened in over 20 years, by definition. Some unassuming Yankees fan is going to pretend they deserve sympathy because they haven’t won the World Series since 2009, and honestly, we should all scoff at them and tell them we are cheering for the Mariners because Seattle fans clearly need this. Check out this footage from a Toyota service center as the Mariners clinched their win:
My dad drives for Toyota of Seattle and works with these guys in the service center. This was caught on camera Saturday when the M’s finished off that comeback. (Wait for the guy at the end ) pic.twitter.com/0vsQxHMQQg— alexSSN (@alexSSN) October 10, 2022
The Astros are whatever to me at this point. Did they cheat? Yes. Did other teams, including ones we probably never heard about also steal signs? Also yes. They are fine. They’ve won a lot lately. No one is surprised they are here. I dare you to look at this chart, the above videos and cheer for anyone other than the Mariners:
Padres over Dodgers — The you’ve gotta beat the big boss bracket
For years the Cardinals owned the NL Central and if you’ve spent any amount of time at Bleed Cubbie Blue, you remember the feeling of doom, like the Cubs could just never muster enough of whatever it is they needed to muster to finally defeat the Devil Bird magic. That changed in 2015 when the Cubs bested the Cardinals in a best of five NLDS three games to one. As a reminder, that Cardinals team won 100 games and the division. It was no sure thing that red-hot, upstart Cubs team could beat the team that owned the division, but it had to happen.
In video games there are big bosses, the monster or character at the end of a level you have to beat to advance. If you can’t beat that boss, you can’t move further. It may take five times, or ten, or twenty, but it has to be done. The Cardinals were the big boss of the NL Central, the Dodgers are the current big boss of the NL West, and they have let the Padres know it, time and time again.
San Diego went 5-14 against the Dodgers in 2022, and while their path to the postseason looks more like the Braves than it does like the Mariners, they are not a super team. They have all the component parts of a super team, but now it’s time to beat the big boss if they want to level up:
Guardians over Yankees — The beat the evil empire bracket
With the Cardinals out of the postseason (God bless you, Kyle Schwarber and your Cardinals beating goodness) the most evil empire left is the Yankees. They simultaneously beat you over the head with their 27 World Series titles and want you to feel bad for them for not winning one since 2009. It is laughable, and exhausting. I hope everyone in Cleveland, which last won a World Series in 1948, gives Yankees’ fans some serious side-eye every time they go off.
But it’s not just numbers of championships and previous victories here — the Yankees are Cleveland’s big boss, too. Cleveland.com describes the matchup this way:
Should I tell you about the Yankees and their $250 million payroll vs. the $69 million for the Cleveland Guardians?
How about all the labels that will be used for the Yankees and Guardians in the playoffs? David vs. Goliath?
Maybe SpongeBob SquarePants (Oscar Gonzalez) vs. Godzilla (Aaron Judge and his 62 home runs).
How about New York starter and strikeout out machine Gerrit Cole vs. Cal Quantrill, one of the least appreciated starting pitchers in baseball?
The Yankees barely flinched on their way to the postseason, but I’m sure that day in April when they only had an 85.3 percent chance to make it was rough:
Now, let’s look at the Guardians:
Look, if you grew up wearing black pinstripes and want to cheer for the Yankees, I get it. But the rest of us will be unapologetically pulling for the underdog Guardians. Our SBNation Guardians site Covering the Corner put it a slightly different way:
This series will be a chance for the Guardians to flip the narrative about their budding postseason rivalry with the Yankees. Since going up 2-0 in the 2017 ALDS, the Guards have lost five straight postseason games to the Yankees. In other words, two of their last three postseason runs were ended by the Yankees. A good series here goes a long way toward wiping that out.
In short, the Yankees went from an unbeatable Death Star in the first half of 2022 to, well, still a Death Star — but one with its exhaust port showing. Which one will show up in the ALDS, and can the Guardians capitalize?
I will always be cheering for the rebel alliance to blow up the Death Star.
Some of you rightfully pointed out that a Cubs fan could decide to cheer for Anthony Rizzo without guilt when I posted my cheering interests on Twitter. I suppose it’s true, my mom, a Cubs fan since 2015, is totally fine cheering for the Yankees now that Rizzo is there.
To be clear, I want great things for Rizzo. I just want them to happen while the Yankees get swept in four games.
Who will win the Braves/Phillies series?
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Who will win the Astros/Mariners series?
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Who will win the Dodgers/Padres series?
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Who will win the Guardians/Yankees series?
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