MLB Division Series over, World Series race heats up

October is undoubtedly the best sports month. For only one month out of the year, all the major sports are forced to share a bit of the spotlight. Football season is nearing its halfway point, and the opening days of both the NBA and NHL loom. Even NASCAR and Formula One approach the climax of their seasons (for those who care about such sports).

On top of all that noise comes the MLB Playoffs, the only sporting event named after the month of October itself. In baseball, October is more than just a month. It is when history is made, and players are immortalized. It is when predictions and status quo mean nothing, and when even the sport that plays 162 games per season can come down to a single pitch.

Last year, the Houston Astros won 101 games during the regular season to win their division, and as favorites in the American League, strolled to the World Series. Led by MVP second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa and newly acquired pitcher Justin Verlander, the team boasted an array of talent at every position. In the World Series, they met the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, after winning an MLBbest 104 games, were many fans’ pick to take the title.

Led by all-time great Clayton Kershaw as well as Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers had the personnel to match Houston. Going all seven games, the 2017 Series was one of the most exciting of all time. Games 2 and 5 in particular became instant classics. By Game 5, the two teams had already broken the record for home runs in a World Series, producing—if we ignore rumors about altered baseballs—an awesome display of power and offense for a league craving excitement.

This year, despite multiple injuries, the Houston Astros won 103 games, enough to easily repeat as Division Champions, and in the playoffs have already swept the American League Central champion Cleveland Indians to advance to the ALCS. However, the Astros are not the favorites to win the World Series. That honor goes to the Boston Red Sox, who, with 108 wins, blitzed all of baseball and established themselves as the team to beat.

Newly acquired slugger J.D. Martinez has turned himself into one of the best players in baseball, and the likely MVP finished the year with an unbelievable 130 runs batted in and 43 homers to go along with a .330 batting average. Alongside his teammate Mookie Betts—the other candidate for MVP—and surrounded by a supporting cast of strong talent, Martinez makes the Red Sox the most feared lineup in baseball.

Boston’s American League East rival New York Yankees also impressed this season. With the Yankees winning 100 games, this is the first time three teams in the same league have each won 100+ games in the same year. The Bronx Bombers did it by slugging 267 home runs, more than any team in the history of the game. The Yankees also became the first team ever to have 25 or more home runs from every single spot in their lineup. Boston’s division dominance forced the Yankees to take the dangerous path into the playoffs through the Wild Card single elimination game, but Aaron Boone’s squad handled the red-hot Oakland A’s.

While the American League has clear playoff favorites this year, the National League is a very different story. Last year’s World Series–losing Dodgers won only 92 games despite their acquisitions of star infielders Manny Machado and Brian Dozier and the emergence of Max Muncy. It was the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs who ended the regular season tied with 96 wins, the most in the National League, after playing a rare tie-breaking game number 163 for the top seed in the National League.

The Dodgers and Colorado Rockies also played a game 163, illustrating how close the top National League teams were heading into the playoffs. With no team over 100 wins, every National League team has their strengths and weaknesses, making each play all the more important. Many analysts considered the Cubs’ roster the most promising, but, after losing their tie-breaker, the Cubs promptly fell once again in the Wild Card game, this time to the Rockies.

The Atlanta Braves won their division with a record of 90-72, identical to the American League East’s distant third-place team, the Tampa Bay Rays, demonstrating the difference in quality between the two leagues this year. Many fans, including myself, predict that the winner of the American League will go on to win the World Series.

The Dodgers have already beaten the Rockies, and the Brewers have dispatched the Braves. In the NLCS, while I like the Brewers’ lineup over that of Los Angeles, and the Brewer bullpen can be a dominating force, their lack of starting pitching worries me. So given their recent postseason experience, I’ll pick the Dodgers to win the National League.

On the other side, the Astros have beaten the Indians in three games, and the Red Sox have beaten the Yankees in four. In beating a strong Yankees team, Boston showed off its offensive firepower and excellent starting pitching. Ultimately, however, with a group of players who all seem to step up and perform when it matters most, my pick for the World Series is a Houston Astros repeat. But after all, it’s October—and anything can happen in October.

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