This is a story, I wrote for the student paper over a month ago. My predictions are terrible.
As the seasons change from summer to fall, the search for baseball’s Mr. October begins, as the players seek immortality through their play in baseball’s Fall Classic the World Series.
October 18th 1977, Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate at Yankees Stadium in the bottom of the fourth inning. After hitting homeruns in game four and five, the Yankees were looking to win the series in front of 56,000 screaming fans. After walking on four consecutive pitches in the first inning, Jackson came to the plate with a runner on. Los Angeles Dodgers starter Burt Hooton threw the first pitch to Jackson who smashed the pitch over the outfield fence to give the Yankees their first lead of the game. Jackson came up for his third at bat in the fifth inning with a runner on again. Jackson would see just one pitch, as he sent the pitch into the bleachers. By the time Jackson came to the plate again in the eighth inning, chants of “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” could be heard audibly from the Bronx faithful throughout the stadium. Knuckleballer, Charlie Hough readied and threw the first pitch to Jackson. With a loud crack of the bat, the ball rocketed off the bat of Jackson and landed 475 feet from the plate. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series behind the MVP performance of Jackson, whose legend was created as “Mr. October.”
The 2015 Major League Baseball playoffs are searching for one player to lay claim to the title of Mr. October and carry their team to postseason glory in the same manor Jackson did in 1977.
Following 162 games, there is no denying that each team is tremendously talented, but each team also carries a potentially fatal flaw. The question will be which team will protect their flaws and expose another team’s fatal flaw.
In the American League it’s a three team race. The Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas Royals clinched the division and avoid the one game wild card playoff. While the third team in the race, the Yankees must first win the one game elimination playoff before moving on. In the National League it is a wide open race among the five teams, with no clear favourite.
The Blue Jays have relied on a heavy hitting offense that features three potential Mr. October candidates in homerun sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and likely AL MVP Josh Donaldson. If the Jays are to make a deep run this year, it will be based off the strength of their offense that scored over 800 runs. The fatal flaw will be the starting pitchers not named David Price. Former Cy Young winner, Price is the one known quantity in the Jays’ rotation. The Blue Jays’ are depending on three of Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada. Buehrle’s shoulder has been a question mark for his late season starts as he has had starts pushed back and struggled to log innings. While Stroman has made only a handful of starts following March ACL surgeries is far from a guarantee. Dickey is in his early 40s and prone to giving up big innings and long balls. Estrada has the lowest upside of the three and relies on generating weak contact to gets outs. If the pitching staff can win two games each series on days that Price does not pitch, the Jays are poised for a deep run.
The Royals’ have led the AL Central from start to finish, but have faded near the end of the season. The biggest strength of the Royals was their bullpen that was able to turn games into six inning affairs by shutting down opponents from the seventh inning onward. However, injury to closer Greg Holland turns the Royals’ biggest strength into a question mark as depth will now be an issue as everyone is pushed up an inning. The offense scored over 700 runs, despite getting below average offensive contributions from catcher, second base, shortstop and right field. With a shaky starting rotation lead by Edinson Volquez, pitching will ultimately prove to be the fatal flaw for the Royals. If the Royals are to make a deep run it will be on the shoulders of homegrown talent such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain who all have on base plus slugging percentages over 800.
The Yankees must overcome a one game playoff before advancing, but there is a strong possibility the Yankees make a deep run into October. The Yankees’ Mr. October could prove to be a player they wanted nothing to do with for the past two years, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod has turned from hated cheater to cheered anti-hero for his ability to hit the ball out of the park. The Yankees offer perhaps the most balanced team, a dependable, but not spectacular pitching staff and a similarly described offense. The biggest flaw the Yankees have is their age and the negative consequences related to injury that come with starting an everyday lineup with only one regular starter younger than 31.
In the National League wildcard game, the Chicago Cubs travel to Pittsburgh for one game showdown. The Chicago Cubs have succeeding based on the strength of their pitching staff lead by Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta. But the flaw the Cubs have is their inexperience and dependence on young talent. If the bright lights and national spotlight get to the rookie tandem of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber the title draught will continue in the windy city. If the 107 year Curse of the Billy Goat is to be broken it will be behind one of Bryant or Schwarber’s Mr. October performance.
The Pirates are built in a similar pitching first model of the Cubs. The Pirates rotation starts with former top pick Gerrit Cole, but backend of the rotation of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano must overcome past postseason failures. The Pirates candidate for Mr. October is former MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates offense will go as far as McCutchen carries it.
While the Cubs offer young talented bats, the New York Mets offer young talented starting pitching which will determine their postseason fate. If Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom pitch well the Mets postseason stay could be prolonged. The problem for the Mets is their offense. It was a tale of two halves for the Mets, who struggled in the first half, before coming alive in the second half to over take the Washington Nationals for the NL East title. Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes was a revelation when he was traded to the Mets at the trade deadline. If the power surge Cespedes provided in the second half continues, the Mets Mr. October candidate will be the reason why.
The Dodgers are built around perennial Cy Young candidates and past winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. However, for all of his regular season success, Kershaw has struggled in past playoff appearances. If the Dodgers are to advance they need Kershaw to play the role of Mr. October. The Dodgers highly paid lineup only surpassed the 600 run total this season, but if Kershaw and Greinke dominate like they can, offense will be less of an issue.
If there is a favourite in the National League, it is the St. Louis Cardinals, who from the lowest levels in the minor leagues to the majors are baseballs best run team. Built around a strong pitching staff the Cardinals had the best record in the majors from start to finish. The flaw of the Cardinals is their offense which only averaged four runs a game. The offense and pitching staffs could both take a hit if catcher Yadier Molina’s late season injury prevents him from playing. If Molina is healthy he could be the Cardinals’ Mr. October.
Wild Card Winners: Yankees and Cubs
ALDS Winners: Yankees and Blue Jays
NLDS Winners: Dodgers and Cubs
ALCS Winner: Yankees MVP: Alex Rodriguez
NLCS Winner: Cubs MVP: Jake Arrieta
World Series: Yankees MVP: Masahiro Tanaka