Story Lines from First Weekend of MLB Postseason

American League Playoffs

1) Acquiring David Price cannot be deemed a success

The Blue Jays entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in baseball due to their impeccable offensive firepower and Cy Young candidate David Price as their ace. Although the offense has not been the same as the regular season, averaging two runs per game less, the biggest reason why the Jays are facing elimination is David Price. During the trading deadline, Price was the biggest fish in the sea and the Jays traded valuable prospects for the former Cy Young winner. Even though he was by far the Jays best pitcher in the second half, 9-1 2.30 ERA, he could not meet expectations by allowing five runs over 7 innings and recording the loss. The Jays hoped that Price could resemble Madison Bumgarner from last season and lead their iffy rotation to a championship. If the Rangers are able to end the series in game 3, the Jays would have traded too much of their future for only 1 lackluster postseason start.

2. Texas Rangers are legitimate, underrated championship contenders

During spring training, many believed that the Rangers were destined to finish last in the AL West, especially after ace Yu Darvish went down for the season. Due to injuries from the previous season, the entire rotation was in shambles and lacked front end starting pitching. However, Jeff Banister did an incredible job with the team and they now believe that they can win a World Series. The Rangers are extraordinarily dangerous because they can win in many different ways. After acquiring Cole Hamels, the Rangers have a deep veteran staff that has pitched in the postseason, Gallardo and Lewis. On offense, they have been the team that has received contributions from all over the lineup, like third base replacement Hanser Alberto.

3) Kansas City Royals lack the starting pitching to win

The acquisition of Johnny Cueto at the deadline was suppose to end the Royals search for a front end and add depth to the weakest part of their team. However, the pitching has worsened and Cueto has been a disaster in the royal blue. Through the first two games, nothing has changed as Cueto and Verdano Ventura has allowed 7 runs over 8 innings of work. Although the offense is dangerous with very good hitters throughout the lineup, they will not be able to make up for their starting pitching. In addition, the Royals bullpen will be unable to remain effective if they are required to pitching more than 3 innings each game.

4) Colby Rasmus is channeling his best Carlos Beltran impersonation

During the regular season, Rasmus had a quality season with a .240 average with 25 home runs and 61 RBIs. Through the first three games, Rasmus has been the MVP of the playoffs with 3 home runs, 5 RBI, .444 average, and 14 total bases. The Astros have not seen this performance in the playoffs since Carlos Beltran lead them to the NLCS with 8 home runs and 14 RBI. Although the Stros have many capable offensive weapons, they will need Rasmus to maintain his hot streak to outscore the equally talented Royals.

National League Playoffs

1) John Lackey maintains his dominance in the postseason

Even though Lackey is nearly 40 years old and has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, he has always been a great postseason pitcher, which has netted him 2 World Series rings. During Game 1, Lackey was able to shut down one of the best offenses in baseball. Since Jaime Garcia left early in Game 2, Lackey could pitch on short rest in Game 4, but nobody should question his desire for the ball or ability to produce.  Due to the youth and relative inexperience of the Cardinals’ staff, it will be necessary for Lackey to assume the role as ace if he is going to add another ring.

2) Jake Arrieta could be this season’s Madison Bumgarner

After pitching one of the best games in MLB postseason history against the Pirates, like Bumgarner, he will be starting the biggest game of his career in Wrigley during Game 3. However, we have no reason to believe why Arrieta will not put together another masterpiece on Monday. Arrieta is statistically having the most dominant second half in the history of MLB with an ERA under 0.75. Since August 15th, Arrieta has allowed accumulated more shutouts than earned runs. Even though the Cardinals are an elite hitting team, he has allowed 2 runs or fewer while pitching 6 2/3 innings in 3 of his 4 starts this season against the club. Arrieta has the potential to be like Bumgarner because he is one of the best strikeout artists and has the trust from his manager to complete games.

3) Mets’ starting staff has been as good as advertised

During the first two games of the series, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndagaard have totaled 13.1 innings pitched, 22 strikeouts, and only 3 earned runs. Although the Dodgers were suppose to have the advantage at home with Kershaw and Greinke, the Mets’ started equalled their counterparts and kept the series tied at 1 going into Flushing. While the Dodgers’ starting rotation will experience a massive drop off to number three starter Brett Anderson, the Mets will improve by starting the Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, in game three. Although Harvey has been involved in controversy over his innings limit, he is one of the best starters in baseball and has the temperament to start the first postseason game in Citi Field and the first home game for the Mets in 9 years.

4) Clayton Kershaw may only be a 6 inning postseason pitcher

Like last season’s performance against the Cardinals, Kershaw pitched a great game until the seventh inning. In the seventh inning last season, Kershaw allowed a home run to Matt Adams. This season, Kershaw again unraveled in the 7th inning as he allowed two runs. Although they may seem small,  the Dodgers were not going to score three runs against Jacob DeGrom. If Kershaw could have kept the game at 1-0, they would likely have tied the game in the 8th against the Mets’ bullpen. This will be a major problem for the Dodgers in the future because they need to win everyone of Kershaw and Greinke’s start to win the World Series due to their lack of rotation depth. In addition, they need the two starters to give them length since their middle relief does not scare opposing offenses.

Storylines from Week 2 in the NFL

1) New York Jets’ defense is scary

After an effective and busy offseason, the Jets have an all new defense, especially in the secondary. In the secondary, the Jets possess the best corner in the league, Revis, along with an impressive supporting cast, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, Calvin Pryor, and Marcus Gilchrist. However, these Jets are unlike the Jets that went to two AFC Championship Games because they have a pass rush that can rush the quarterback. On the front four, the Jets are led by Muhammed Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, Quinton Coples, and Calvin Pace. The scariest part of the Jets is that their best defensive end, Sheldon Richardson, remains sidelined due to a suspension.

2) The Philadelphia Eagles’ rushing game is an embarrassment

During the offseason, the Eagles remade their running unit by letting go Le’Sean McCoy and signing DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews. The Eagles were suppose to boast a better rushing attack because Le’Sean McCoy was coming off of a down year, Murray had one of the best running seasons in the history of the NFL, and Matthews has performed well as long as he stays on the field. During the first two weeks, the Eagles have rushed for 70 yards, which ranks last in the NFL by 37 yards, on 33 carries, 2.1 yards per carry, which ranks last in the NFL. In addition, DeMarco Murray is averaging 0.5 yards per attempt after averaging 4.7 yards per carry last season. The blame cannot lie solely on the running backs because the offensive line is failing to produce holes.

3) It is true that anything can happen on any given Sunday

This week in the NFL was one of the craziest in recent memory as the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to win. During week one, each of these teams looked like they were vying for the worst record in the league as they lost by a total of 80 points. However, this week, each team took a step forward because of young quarterbacks. Derek Carr had one of his best games of his career, 351 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Amari Cooper showed why he was the best playmaker in the 2015 NFL draft, 109 yards and 1 touchdown. Blake Bortles was able to have an efficient game, 273 yards and a touchdown, while leading the Jags to a late game winning field goal. Johnny Manziel was given a spot start by Mike Pettine and displayed that his reckless style of play can be successful. Jameis Winston rebounded from his disastrous debut and threw the ball for 207 yards and accounted for 2 touchdowns, one passing and one rushing.

4) The Arizona Cardinals’ offense cannot be overlooked

During the 6 games that Carson Palmer played under center for the Cardinals last season, the team went undefeated and scored over 23 points in each contest. Although Palmer tore his ACL, he continued his hot play this season and the Cardinals are averaging nearly 40 points per game. The Cardinals have an abundance of offensive skill players like Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd, and David Johnson. After three straight down seasons, Fitzgerald looks to have regained his previous form, 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, which made him one of the best receivers in the league. The emergence of rookie David Johnson gives the Cardinals a home run threat out of the backfield. During his first two games, he has scored through rushing, receiving, and a kick off return.

5) Injuries may have derailed the Cowboys’ season

After two weeks, no team has been hit harder by the injury bug than the Boys. The Cowboys have lost their starting quarterback, Tony Romo, one of the best receivers in the league, Dez Bryant, one of their starting corners, Orlando Scandrick, and their starting middle linebacker, Rolando McLain. The situation has gotten so bad that even Jason Witten, who has played in 189 straight games, may miss this week’s game. Unfortunately, many of the Cowboys’ injuries are not small and will cause their best players to miss significant time. However, the Boys still have a chance because their starting offensive line is still healthy and is the best in the entire NFL.

Can any team catch the Packers in the NFC North?

1. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have been the class of the NFC North since 2010, the last time they did not win the division. Last season, the Packers lost an absolute heartbreaker to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game. However, this year, they have returned all of their key offensive players, Aaron Rodgers, Eddy Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams. As long as the group remains healthy, they should be one of the three best offenses in football. On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers lost corner back Tramon Williams, but return BJ Raji and drafted Jake Ryan and Damarious Randall. If the Packers want to win the Super Bowl, which is certainly a possibility, they must return to forcing turnovers and become a top flight defensive unit.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Last season, the Vikes showed significant improvement and their momentum should carry over to this season. The Vikings’ offense will be the biggest question mark for the team this season. Last season, they ranked toward the bottom of the league, but they should significantly progress due to the experience of Teddy Bridgewater, return of Adrian Peterson, and the addition of Mike Wallace. The Vikes will be built around their strength, which is their defense. The Vikings have talent all over the defense, like Xavier Rhodes, Harry Smith, Trae Waynes, Shariff Floyd, Anthony Barr, and Everson Griffin. The combination should lead the Vikings to fight for a playoff spot.

3. Detroit Lions

Last year, the Lions had one of their most successful seasons in years, but this season will decide if they are the same old Lions or a team that can harness their talent. On offense, they should improve with a healthy Megatron. In addition, the running game should significantly enhance the offense because Laken Tomlinson will better the line and Ameer Abdullah has home run talent. On defense, the Lions have to answer many questions without Suh or Fairley in the middle of the D-Line. If the Lions are going to pick up where they left off, they need improvement from Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah.

4. Chicago Bears

If the Chicago Bears cannot shock analysts, they may be fighting with other teams for one of the worst records in the league. On offense, they have the possibility to be dynamic, but it will all hinged on the play of Jay Cutler. If Cutler plays like last season, the Bears’ offense will be extremely frustrating and worse than last season, especially without Brandon Marshall and possibly Kevin White out for the season. On defense, the Bears are no longer the Monsters of the Midway. If the unit can even play at an average level, many will be surprised.

The NJ Sports Guys