By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service
A clean sweep. A first-inning implosion. Another Clayton Kershaw appearance gone wrong. A reverse sweep comeback that fell short.
In a game where only ten out of the 30 teams make the playoffs — as opposed to the NBA’s 16 of 30 and the NHL’s 16 of 31 — it is certain that the hearts of optimistic fans will be torn to shreds.
The National League Division Series and the American League Division Series crushed the dreams of several playoff teams that wanted to prove themselves worthy of being called a World Series favorite. Let’s go over some of the teams that saw their hopeful October run end in the first round.
Minnesota Twins – Lost 0-3 to Yankees in ALDS
The Minnesota Twins broke out to a 101-win season this year after faltering from the playoff picture in the middle of last season. Rightfully dubbed the “Bomba Squad,” the Twins broke home run records left and right.
The team had five players hit over 30 home runs: designated hitter Nelson Cruz with 41, right fielder Max Kepler with 36, third baseman Miguel Sano with 34, left fielder Eddie Rosario with 32 and catcher Mitch Garver with 31.
Most notably, they broke the single-season home run record on Sept. 2, when there were four more weeks left in the season. As a team, they passed the 300 home run mark and finished the year with 307 total home runs, which is good for first place in MLB.
Coming in at second for team home runs was the New York Yankees, with 306. These two opponents were slated to go up against each other in the ALDS. A match-up like this one was sure to be a slug-fest. Right?
The Yankees actually swept the series with relative ease. This sweep marks the 16th straight postseason loss for the Twins and 13 of those 16 losses have come to the hands of the Yankees. There’s just something about the Yankees that seems to make the Twins run away and hide in a corner when it comes to the playoffs.
Curse theories and superstitions aside, the Bomba Squad just did not have the offense that got them 101 wins when they needed it.
The Twins started out well in game one, having the Yankees tied 3-3 after five innings. However, once Twins starter Jose Berrios got pulled out of the game, it was all trouble for the Twins. The Yankees would jump out 5-3 at the end of 5 and not look back. The Yankees bullpen locked down an offense that was boasted as unstoppable, and the Yankees took the first game.
Game two saw the Yankees take an 8-0 lead off the Twins in after three innings, leading to an 8-2 Yankees win. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius highlighted the offensive rout with a monster grand slam that had Yankee Stadium ready to burst at the seams.
Game three would see a gem from Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino for a 5-1 New York win to clinch the sweep.
Twins fans were hyped up all year just by how historic and masterful their team’s offense has been. Once again, the Twins witnessed their promising team get kicked to the side and embarrassed by their playoff rival from The Bronx.
Atlanta Braves – Lost 2-3 to St. Louis Cardinals in NLDS
One may think by looking at the series score that this series was close and hard-fought.
They would be correct, at least for the first four games. Both the Atlanta Braves and the Saint Louis Cardinals had highlights and lowlights that led this series to be tied 2-2 heading to game five.
With game five taking place at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, this was the year for the Braves to spark that 1990s magic and stop their trends of early playoff exits that have plagued them this decade. Instead, they only added another early exit in an extremely embarrassing loss.
Although it wasn’t technically over, the game, series and season were basically over for the Braves before the top of the first even ended. A combination of Braves pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried surrendered ten runs to the Cardinals in the first inning of the game. Here’s a rundown of all the at-bats that the Cardinals went through in the first inning:
At the end of the top of the first, the Cardinals had a 97.9% chance to win before the Braves had a chance to attempt at-bats.
As was probably expected, the Cardinals went on to win the game. With a final score of 13-1 Cardinals, the Braves were sent packing early once again. A team that struggled through a tough division and had young stars such as left fielder Ronald Acuña Jr and second baseman Ozzie Albies break out will just have to hope that their window of opportunity for future playoff success isn’t shutting soon.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Lost 2-3 to Washington Nationals in NLDS
Ever since 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the National League West division and have taken a trip to the playoffs. In all of those seven years, the Dodgers have not won a single World Series.
In a year where the Dodgers were looking to redeem themselves after losing in the World Series for the second straight year, their historic 106-win season went down in flames in just about the worst, yet most predictable, fashion.
Dodgers ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who is a three-time Cy Young Award Winner, an NL MVP Winner in 2014 and sports a 2.44 career ERA, just can’t figure it out in the playoffs. In years past it would be fair to just say that Kershaw gets unlucky in the playoffs, but game five of this series proved that it’s not just bad luck, it’s Kershaw.
In the top of the seventh in game five, with the Dodgers up 3-0, Kershaw gave up two straight home-runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto to tie the game up at three apiece.
The Dodgers would never be able to take the lead back, and the Nationals would win the game 7-3 in ten after a dagger grand slam from veteran third baseman Howie Kendrick.
After this game, Kershaw’s postseason ERA would climb to 4.33. Sure, Rendon and Soto have been some of the National League’s best hitters this season. But when you’re a decorated, star-studded pitcher like Clayton Kershaw, you’re just not expected to falter in these moments, no matter how much you’re known for choking.
For Dodgers fans, this is just about the worst way to go out this season. So many expectations, so much pressure for success, and for the seventh year straight, the Dodgers still can’t prove themselves to be the best in MLB.
Tampa Bay Rays – Lost 2-3 to Houston Astros in ALDS
It seemed like the heavy World Series favorite Houston Astros would sweep through the Tampa Bay Rays with ease after two gems from Astros aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole that put the Astros up 2-0 in the series.
Not backing out, the Rays brought the series back to Saint Petersburg in an attempt to keep their season alive.
In game three they scored five runs in three innings against Astros starting pitcher Zack Greinke and sent him packing early. The Rays would rout the Astros in this game, 10-3.
In game four the Rays ambushed Justin Verlander in the first inning and put up three runs in the first inning. The Rays bullpen would lock down the Astros offense for seven straight innings en route to a 4-1 win to tie the series at 2-2.
The pitching was electric. The offense showed no fear against what is considered the most perfect team in MLB. An unstoppable force was heading into Houston for a win-or-go-home game five.
Unfortunately, all unstoppable forces will eventually meet an immovable object. Gerrit Cole was that immovable object.
Cole continued his hot streak of pitching mastery against the Rays, pitching eight innings and giving up only one run on two hits. He has now pitched 11 consecutive games with ten strikeouts or more.
Aside from giving up a home run to Rays second baseman Eric Sogard, Cole cruised through the Rays lineup like it was a spring training game. The Rays offense did not create any havoc or stress for Cole to deal with.
All season the Rays have been doubted, just to prove everyone wrong. Everyone thought they would fall short of the playoffs again. Then they made it. Everyone thought they would never beat the Athletics in a Wild Card game if it was in Oakland. Then they did it.
Sadly, the Rays would fail to prove MLB fans wrong again. It’s certainly sad that they’ve overcome a lot of adversity only to fall short, but they fought close against a team that everyone and their mothers have winning the trophy. The Tampa faithful still has a lot to be proud of with this team.