by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

  (Editor’s note: The MLB Playoffs begin this week and THE GOLD SHEET baseball selections finished the regular season with a rush, winning 18 of its last 27 releases.  As always for the postseason, we continue our daily releases online, which can purchased for $10 on TGS Top Choice or $25 for multiple picks on TGS MLB Top Choice Plus (+) at www.goldsheet.com) .

   Following is a quick preview of how the playoffs shape up in both the American and National Leagues.  Pennant win prices are included next to each team’s name; our predictions refer to which round of the playoffs we believe each team will reach...except for our projected eventual winner, which will be duly noted.  

   The Boston Red Sox (2/1) are presenting an awfully compelling case this October.  Many MLB insiders consider the Bosox offense one of the best of the modern era, filled with plenty of contact hitters, power sources (adding J.D. Martinez in the offseason was a stroke of genius), and smart baserunners.  But we know about the depth of the lineup, the emergence of RF Mookie Betts as an MVP candidate, and the potential dominator at the top of the rotation in a now-healthy Chris Sale.  So, are we going to pull the trigger for once on a favorite?  Well, let’s do our usual and instead look for a few chinks in the Beantown armor.  The bullpen, perhaps?  Getting to closer Craig Kimbrel has been a bit of an issue the past month, and then there’s Kimbrel, whose implosion last Wednesday vs. the Orioles is hopefully just a one-off (or that’s what manager Alex Cora is banking on).  Drill a bit deeper into this spectacular season, and note that the Bosox feasted upon the dregs of the AL East; they were a combined 31-7 against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Meanwhile, they were sub-.500 vs. the four other AL playoff foes.  Good news?  They were 16-4 in interleague play (this season all vs. the NL East).  We suppose Bill Belichick and other Bosox fans will be looking at the NL marks and feeling good about any potential matchup in the World Series.  It’s getting there that might be the problem.  Prediction: ALCS.
   Can the Houston Astros (2/1) succeed where all others World Series winner the past 17 years have failed, and actually repeat?  Any chance the Astros were going to cruise into the playoffs as AL West champ was interrupted by an unexpected challenge from the upstart A’s, who at least forced Houston to remain focused and sharp into the last week of the regular season.  Sensing a need to plug a leak in the bullpen when Ken Giles wasn’t handling the closer role, the ’stros made controversial move at the deadline for Toronto’s Roberto Osuna.  But after a brief media firestorm over the addition, Osuna settled in and answered the one nagging question many had into mid-summer about a Houston repeat; Osuna has a 1.99 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, plus 12 saves, since his move from Blue Jays, suggesting the bullpen is in good hands.  The rotation is even deeper than it was last season thanks to the offseason addition of Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, allowing manager A.J. Hinch to deal with a slight reduction in offensive output this season.  Yes, it was a bit puzzling that the team played so much better on the road (57-24) than at home (46-35), but if Houston hooks Boston and its home-field edge in the ALCS, that suddenly doesn’t seem like much of a problem. Prediction: World Series.
   Can we say this was a disappointing season for the Cleveland Indians (5/1)?  Barely getting to 90 wins from a division in which no one else was close to .500, and indeed nearly had three teams record 100 losses, might not be a great accomplishment.  To wit: the Tribe played almost half (76) of its games  against the Twins, Tigers, White Sox, and Royals.  Then again, why push things when the path to the playoffs was clearer than it was for the Cavs when LeBron was still in town?  And the Indians proved last season that having a long win streak in September doesn’t guarantee postseason success.  Cleveland still became the first team with four different 200-strikeout pitchers, while Francisco Lindor,  Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion combined for 109 homers and 305 RBIs.  And while the Indians weren’t able to land Manny Machado at the deadline, they were able to add Josh Donaldson; we’ll see how that pans out in October.  What we’ve avoided to talk about, however, is a bullpen that has often been erratic, with an ERA a lot higher than a year ago (4.48 vs. 2.89 in 2017).  That might make it tough to get past the Astros in the ALDS.  Prediction: ALDS.
   A fresh start with new manager Aaron Boone lit the fuse for the New York Yankees (6/1) out of spring training in Tampa, and while the Yanks eventually lost contact with the Bosox in the East, they‘ve always known they’ll have a chance to take care of business in the postseason. Which is why Boone and GM Brian Cashman didn’t mind RF Aaron Judge spending a bit more time than he might have needed on the DL in August and September.  But the Yanks still rely an awful lot on the long ball (even though Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez were not  as prolific as expected), and while pickups like Lance Lynn and J.A.Happ added depth to the rotation, will they make a difference in October?  And can Boone continue to squeeze effective innings out of a rotation that always seems on the verge of breaking down?  Including LuisSeverino, who looked to be the staff ace before a cool-down since the start of July, when his ERA began its climb from 1.98 to 3.39.  Prediction: Wild Card.
   It’s fine with the Oakland A’s (7/1) that no one seems to be taking them seriously.  But underestimate these guys at your own risk; since mid-June, Oakland has a better record (63-29) than any team, even the Red Sox.  The rotation seems a bit jerry-rigged, but manager Bob Melvin swears the A’s have the best collection of arms he’s ever seen on a staff.  And the Oakland clubhouse rejuvenated the career of journeyman Edwin Jackson, in whose last ten starts the A’s won nine.  Mostly, however, Oakland is defined by a deep bullpen with a lights-out closer in ex-Nat Blake Treinen and a lineup that grinds out at-bats and wears out opposing pitchers by fouling off pitch after pitch before getting the right one.  That’s what helped Khris Davis win the AL homer crown (48).  The best storyline of the year might just hang around a little longer than most realize in October.  Prediction: ALDS.
                                                       NATIONAL LEAGUE 

   It took the Los Angeles Dodgers (2/1) an awfully long time to wrap up a sixth straight playoff berth that seemed a mere formality in spring; indeed, the Blue had to wait until the last weekend to do so.  A slow break from the gate, which roughly coincided with 3B Justin Tuner’s wrist injury coming out of the Cactus League, put LA in scramble mode early, as the record had dipped to 16-26 in mid-May. Since then, the Dodgers have been the NL’s hottest team, with the emergence of ex-Vandy man Walker Buehler as at least a co-ace next to Clayton Kershaw (who wasn’t nearly as overpowering this season) a main development. Even more than the Yankees, however, the Dodgers relied on the long ball this season; LA set a franchise record for homers, and was not as good at manufacturing runs, or hitting in the clutch, as a season ago.  Moreover, there have been a few bumps along the way for closer Kenley Jansen, who also didn't look too sharp in Monday NL West playoff vs. the Rockies when surrendering a pair of hoemrs in the 9th inning.  A return to the World Series is hardly a guarantee.  Prediction: NLCS.
 The masses are still fixated on the Chicago Cubs (11/4), but we suggest some caution.  Yes, adding lefty Cole Hamels from the Rangers at the deadline was a good bit of business, and Joe Maddon is now feeling a lot more comfy about his 1-2-3 in the postseason rotation (Hamels, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks) than he was around the All-Star break.  But the recent administrative leave for SS Addison Russell while MLB decides what to do about abuse charges from his former wife will have implications for the postseason, as Russell’s glove at SS was missed more than a bit by the staff in late September.  Meanwhile, key reliever Pedro Strop was dealing with a balky hamstring the last two weeks of September, and his status for October is a concern.  The Monday Central playoff loss to the Brewers could be ominous.   Prediction: Wild Card.
   The Atlanta Braves (4/1) arrived a bit earlier than anticipated this season, helped along by the underachieving ways of the Nats and a collapse by the Phillies the last six weeks of the season.  We suppose lightning could always strike, but at this stage we just don’t see the Brav-os lasting too long in October.  Atlanta played in streaks for much of the season, and when things went bad they usually really went bad, such as a recent stretch of 29 walks by the staff over a 4-game stretch, including a ghastly 14 in one game vs. the Nats.  Corresponding recent bullpen issues are another concern.  While the likes of rookie LF RonaldAcuna, Jr. and young SS Dansby Swanson figure as fixtures for a long while, they have plenty of years to make noise in the postseason.  We’re just not sure 2018 will be one of those.  Prediction: NLDS.
   The Milwaukee Brewers (9/2) have continued to fly under the radar, for what reason we can’t figure.  The Brew Crew put the bit between its teeth down the stretch in an attempt to chase down the Cubs in the Central, and enters October with the look of a team to avoid.  The offseason heist of possible MVP Christian Yelich from the Marlins fire-sale, plus adding ex-Royals CF Lorenzo Cain, added more bite to the 2018 lineup.  But it’s an underrated staff and bullpen, with either Jeremy Jeffress or Corey Knebel (very hot in September) capable of closing games, giving manager Craig Counsell various good options in the late innings.  If unexpected help continues from an underrated rotation into October, Milwaukee might just sneak up on everybody.  Ask the Cubs, who couldn't shake the Brew Crew down the stretch, and were shut down by Jhoulys Chacin and the Milwaukee bullpen in the Monday Central playoff.  And wouldn’t it be cool for Bob Uecker to get a chance to call a World Series on Brewers radio for the first time since 1982?  Prediction: Winners.
   While it seemed as if the Colorado Rockies (6/1) got to the postseason with mirrors, it wasn’t all that surprising, given that the team qualified as a wild card a year ago.  Those focusing on run differential tended to pooh-pooh the Rocks, but in fact most of the damage was done to those numbers when the team was slumping badly in June.  Bud Black was able to pull Colorado out of its funk with help from the rotation, specifically rejuvenated starter Jon Gray, who was demoted just before the All-Star break but returned with a vengeance.  Meanwhile Kyle Freeland emerged as a legit ace and peripheral Cy Young contender. Colorado has its usual sock and can win shootouts with bats like Nolan Arenado’s and Charlie Blackmon’s and Trevor Story’s in the lineup, but Black’s staff is capable of winning pitching duels too, especially since closer Wade Davis seems beyond his case of the yips in August. Prediction: NLDS.

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