It’s October! Let’s all go down to the pumpkin patch and see which appears first, the Great Pumpkin or Zach Britton…


1. Standing in the Shadows of October

They’ve won Cy Young awards. They’re earning hundreds of millions of dollars.

But will Boston’s David Price and Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw dominate in one of these postseasons the way they’ve dominated in the regular season?

The spotlight will burn hotter on these two than anybody else this month for a similar reason: Heroes are made during the regular season, but immortals emerge in October.

Price, whom Boston signed for $217 million last winter, comes into this month with a career postseason record of 2-7 and a 5.12 ERA in 14 appearances (eight starts). He will start Game 2 of the American League Division Series against Cleveland. The Red Sox are going with the hotter hand, Rick Porcello, in Game 1.

Kershaw, who is in the midst of a seven-year, $215 million deal and missed two-and-a-half months with a back injury this summer, checks in with a record of 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA in 13 career postseason appearances (10 starts). He will start Game 1 against the Nationals.

“I think in Kershaw’s case, a lot of it’s been, if you just went six innings with him, his postseasons would look so much different,” one major league executive told Bleacher Report. “It’s the seventh and eighth innings that have skewed his numbers. I think Kershaw will be fine.”

Indeed, scan Kershaw’s postseason history, and you can point to a handful of instances that stand out like random auto accidents.

Take Game 6 of the 2013 National League Championship Series when the St. Louis Cardinals ambushed Kershaw for seven runs and 10 hits in four innings. Or Game 1 of the 2014 division series against the Cardinals when he gave up a 6-2 lead in the seventh.   

Then there was St. Louis’ Matt Adams slamming a three-run homer against Kershaw in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS that erased the Dodgers’ 2-0 lead and led them to another elimination.

In the first six innings of his 10 postseason starts, Kershaw hasn’t exactly been untouchable, but he’s been fine: He has a 3.81 ERA in those instances, according to the scouting service Inside Edge.

As for Price, it is hard to argue with Boston manager John Farrell for choosing Porcello in Game 1 simply because the right-hander has been the Red Sox’s best pitcher all season.

“And, maybe by starting Game 2, Price will relax more,” the executive said. “Of course, if the Sox lose Game 1, he’ll have plenty of pressure on him. But I think he’ll handle it. He’s professional.”


2. Best Matchups

Are you crazy? That one is easy:

Toronto vs. Texas: This is a cage match. These two teams hate each other. Jose Bautista’s bat still hasn’t come down after that epic flip following his home run in Game 5 of the division series with Texas last year.

The beer that Toronto fan fired at Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim during the Wild Card Game the other night? It was only last year when a Jays fan heaved a water bottle onto the field during the ALDS against Texas in that emotional Game 5, a scene that turned really ugly.

This May, when the Blue Jays were in Texas, the battle continued. Texas reliever Matt Bush drilled Bautista in the ribs, Bautista slid hard and late into second base, and then Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor popped him in the jaw. Odor is no stranger to fighting, as we told you in-depth here.

During the AL Wild Card Game Tuesday night, one fan in Toronto held up a sign reading, “We Want Odor.” You bet they do, and if we get through this division series without a bench-clearing incident or four, it will be the upset of the century. Gentlemen, lace up your boxing gloves, er, play ball. The only thing missing will be the ring girls.

Dodgers vs. Nationals: This is a battle between two clubs that have disappointed far more often than not over the past five years. The Dodgers only made it past the first round once in the last three postseasons. 

The Nationals produced baseball’s best record in 2012 but then were eliminated in the division series by St. Louis. They returned to the playoffs in ’14 but were cuffed in the division series by San Francisco. One of these two has to advance to the NLCS this year. Added bonus: Nationals skipper Dusty Baker continues trying to win his first World Series by getting through the team for whom he played much of his big league career, the Dodgers.

Red Sox vs. Indians: The spotlight is on the managers in this one. Cleveland skipper Terry Francona managed Boston to World Series titles in ’04 and ’07, and Red Sox pilot Farrell was Francona’s pitching coach in ’07. Before that, Farrell spent five years as Cleveland’s director of player development (2001-2006).


3. Worst Matchup for the Cubs

Look out, it’s coming right away: The San Francisco Giants, who defeated the New York Mets in Wednesday night’s NL Wild Card Game.

Though the Giants did not play well in the second half of the season, they present a tough combination: rotation depth and postseason experience. Madison Bumgarner will not be available until Game 3, but Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore are capable of pushing storm clouds into Chicago’s sunny season.

“I know one thing,” a veteran scout told B/R before the NL Wild Card Game. “If I’m the Cubs, I don’t want to face the Giants. If the Giants win, look out. They’ve been there, done that so many times in October.

“Bruce Bochy, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey are still there, they’ve got leadership and they’ve got starting pitching. I’m not ruling out the Giants at all.”

The Cubs won four of the seven regular-season games against the Giants, going 3-1 in Wrigley Field and 1-2 in San Francisco. They’re going to need every bit of their A-game in this series.

Added intrigue: Jon Lester, the Cubs’ Game 1 starter, was San Francisco’s No. 1 target on the free-agent market two winters ago before Lester finally picked the Cubs (six years, $155 million) over the Giants and Red Sox. San Francisco sent a recruiting contingent to Lester’s Georgia home that included Bochy, general manager Bobby Evans and Posey.


4. Best Potential World Series Matchups

Cubs vs. Red Sox: Where do we start? With Theo Epstein, of course. He was the architect who whipped The Curse of the Bambino and put together Boston’s first World Series champion team in 86 years in ’04. Now, he’s built these Cubs, and if they end their 108-year drought against anybody, Epstein will go straight to the Hall of Fame. But if they end it against Boston? Whoa.

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and farm director Jason McLeod all once worked in Boston. Cubs ace Jon Lester helped Boston win the ’07 and ’13 World Series, and Chicago beat out Boston for him on the free-agent market two winters ago. Cubs pitcher John Lackey has “Red Sox” on the back of his baseball card. Boston slugger David Ortiz would be playing in his final games before retirement.

Bonus: two of the most picturesque parks in the majors for your viewing pleasure, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

Dodgers vs. Red Sox: Dave Roberts’ iconic stolen base in Game 3 in ’04 helped turn that ALCS around and send the Red Sox storming toward their first World Series title since 1918. To this day, he continues to get fan mail from Red Sox fans. But now he’s managing the Dodgers, and if they meet Boston in the World Series…well, you can bet that fan mail will slow down this month.

Cubs vs. Indians: You don’t have to be Bill Murray or John Cusack to know that the Cubs have the longest-running World Series drought in existence, not having won since 1908. But did you know that Cleveland ranks second at 67 years? The Indians haven’t won since the glory days of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Larry Doby. Bet ya Drew Carey knows that.

Nationals vs. Rangers: Really, the Nationals vs. anybody qualifies here. The last time there was a World Series in the District of Columbia, it was 1933. Yeah, it’s been a while, eh? The reason the Rangers would present a cool matchup: The club moved to Texas from Washington, D.C., in 1972. Plus, the Rangers’ 55-year World Series drought ranks as baseball’s third longest, behind the Cubs and Indians. The Rangers organization has never won a title since coming into the majors as the Washington Senators in 1961.


5. It Only Hurts When I Smile, Doc

Suddenly, an overwhelming story of the postseason involves ice, Ace bandages, cortisone shots and old-school tears: injuries.

One month ago, I would have told you Cleveland is the team to beat in the AL. As you know, the postseason is all about pitching, and the Indians had the best starting rotation in the game. But then right-hander Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA) suffered a fractured hand and right-hander Danny Salazar (11-6, 3.87) suffered a forearm strain. And making matters even worse, right-hander Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14) suffered a quad strain.

Bottom line: Carrasco is out for the season, Salazar will not pitch against Boston but may be available as a reliever if the Indians advance to the ALCS, and Kluber will start Game 2. Francona is left seeking rabbits to pull out of his cap.

In Toronto, easy to lose in the excitement of the thrilling AL Wild Card Game, was the fact that Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna left in the 10th inning with shoulder fatigue. His status going forward is important, especially because Toronto also is without veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit, who suffered a torn calf muscle while running in from the bullpen to join a brawl with the Yankees during the last week of the season.

In Washington, ace Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.60) is out for the division series against the Dodgers and questionable after that. Catcher Wilson Ramos (knee) is done for the season. And second baseman Daniel Murphy is hampered (upper leg) but expected to be ready for Game 1.


6. The Irony of the Dodgers

While many other teams suddenly are fighting the battle of attrition, Los Angeles is mostly healthy. This after the Dodgers set disabled-list records during the year.

It’s true: A total of 28 different Dodgers spent time on the disabled list this summer, the most of any MLB club in 30 years. The Dodgers used a total of 55 players to win their fourth consecutive NL West title, including 31 different pitchers and 15 different starting pitchers.

All are Dodgers club records.

Take left-handed hitting outfielder Andre Ethier, for example. Because of a fractured leg, he played in just 16 games this season and had 24 plate appearances (.208/.269/.375, one homer, two RBI). Yet, he’s back, and the Dodgers will have him available off their bench because they like his experience.

Kershaw is healthy and dealing. Slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who started slowly because of neck soreness, received an epidural injection during the season’s first week and steadily improved. And for now, Rich Hill’s blister issues are under control, and he will start Game 2 against Washington.


7. One Key Player (Mostly) for Each Team

B/R polled a handful of scouts and…

Boston: Koji Uehara, setup man. Closer Craig Kimbrel has had an uncomfortable relationship with the strike zone lately, which should make all of New England nervous. Earlier in the season, the Sox were having difficulty even getting the ball to Kimbrel. Hello, Koji. Scout: “He’s had a nice last month, but he’s been up and down this season.”

Cleveland: Trevor Bauer, starting pitcher. With Kluber coming back from a strained quad and the team being down Carrasco and Salazar, the Indians’ fourth starter gets the Game 1 nod against Boston. Scout: “He’s got to pitch well. There’s no way you think of him as a No. 1 starter, and he’s going to have to pitch twice in this series.”

Texas: Sam Dyson, closer. Dyson (38 saves this year) has just 3.2 innings of postseason experience (all last year). Also, it was Dyson who served up the home run that sparked Bautista’s Bat Flip Heard ‘Round the World last fall. Scout: “There’s a lot of pressure on him. He’s never been in the spotlight before, and they’re going to need him pitching well in the ninth innings of close games.”

Toronto: Roberto Osuna, closer. He was removed from the AL Wild Card Game in the 10th inning with what the Jays called “shoulder fatigue.” Scout: “The status of Osuna is a…tell-all, end-all. If he’s not able to pitch, the Blue Jays’ chances are diminished immediately. Joaquin Benoit is hurt. Jason Grilli had a chance to save a game last week (Sept. 26), and he gave up four runs.”

Chicago Cubs: Setup men Pedro Strop, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon. Scout: “They’re loaded. I think their one Achilles’ heel is their setup guys getting the ball to Aroldis Chapman.”

Los Angeles: Rich Hill, lefty starter. At the age of 36, Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA) experienced an awakening this summer. He also battled a blister on one of his pitching fingers that limited his innings and caused his removal during a perfect game last month after seven innings and just 89 pitches. Scout: “There’s a lot of uncertainty around him. He needs to come up big, no doubt.”

Washington: Trea Turner, center field. Turner hit .342/.370/.937 in 73 games with the Nationals this season, transitioning from shortstop to center field in the majors when the club developed a need. He swiped 33 bases in 39 attempts and was named the NL Rookie of the Month for both August and September/October. Scout: “People don’t do anything anymore. Nobody hits and runs. Trea Turner is the one guy in the league who runs. He could make a big difference.”

San Francisco: Sergio Romo, closer. The Giants led the majors with 30 blown saves, and beleaguered, deposed closer Santiago Casilla helped lead the charge. Romo must excel in the ninth, and Casilla as a setup man. Scout: “This time of year, it’s the closers, man. They’re going to make the difference. Every team is going to have to get tough outs in pressure situations, and if you can’t, you’re in trouble.”


8. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Wild-Card Format: Do not change it. Starting the postseason with a pair of Game 7s (essentially) is terrific. Turning the series into best-two-of-three would make division winners sit around too long. And teams not winning their division should be handicapped.

2. Rick Renteria: Manager who was squeezed by Cubs for Joe Maddon gets a second chance in same city with the White Sox. Priceless. You go, Rick.

3. Wrigley Field/Fenway Park: Never before have these two iconic parks been featured in the same World Series. This year?

4. NL West: The Dodgers and Giants must be rolling on the floor and giggling in their executive offices: The Padres general manager is serving a 30-day suspension. The Diamondbacks whacked GM Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale, and Arizona, including interim GMs, has had seven GMs in the past 11 years and counting. And in Colorado, Walt Weiss flees as manager after the relationship between him and arrogant GM Jeff Bridich reached the point of no return. Cue The Three Stooges theme.

5. Korn Ferry: The executive search firm whose motto might as well be: “We place young executives from the Cleveland Indians wherever we can, even if the Indians haven’t won a damned thing since 1948 and there are far better candidates elsewhere.” Ugh. The latest: Minnesota Twins hire Derek Falvey, 32, as chief baseball officer, even though Falvey has never run a department before.


9. One if by Land, Two if by Sea, Three if by Long Ball

Look out, Cleveland. The Red Sox are coming! The Red Sox are coming!

Two of the past three times the Indians have gotten past the AL Wild Card Game, Boston has knocked them out (2007 ALCS, 1999 AL Division Series). And with a crippled rotation, John Farrell’s club presents a big challenge for the Indians.

“Their lineup is a tough lineup to navigate,” one admiring AL scout said. “They take such good at-bats from top to bottom.”

Not only did these Red Sox lead the majors with 878 runs scored, but their total was 101 runs more than the AL’s next-highest club, Cleveland at 777. The Red Sox, behind MVP candidate Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Co., also led the majors in batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.348), OPS (.810), extra-base hits (576) and doubles (343).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Red Sox are the first club to go from last place in its division to first place twice in a five-year span. Not exactly a badge of honor, except the last time the Sox did it they won the World Series in 2013.


10. Welcome Back to October, Young Cubs

Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and all of you other young Cubs, here’s what you do on Friday before Game 1: step onto the Wrigley Field grass. Inhale the breeze from Lake Michigan. Maybe Snapchat someone a photo of the ivy. And enjoy. Because if you look at the all-time list of those who played the most games in major league history without ever having set foot in the postseason, here’s a brief snapshot of the rankings:

1. Ernie Banks, Cubs, 2,528 career games over 19 seasons (1953-1971).

5. Ron Santo, Cubs, 2,243 career games over 15 seasons (1960-1974).

11. Don Kessinger, Cubs for most of his career, 2,078 career games over 16 seasons (1964-1979).


11. Bringing the Heat in Texas

The Rangers might be the most battle-tested club in the postseason. Their 49 come-from-behind wins led the majors and were three more than the next closest, the Dodgers (46). The Rangers were 36-11 in one-run games, the highest win percentage in one-run games of any team in the modern era (1901-2016).


12. Matching Up in October

We’re not just talking about Snickers vs. Kit Kats on the trick-or-treating trails…

These numbers of postseason note are from the Inside Edge scouting service:

• Lefties Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper will be keys against the Dodgers in the first round, especially against Clayton Kershaw in Game 1: Lefty hitters have an OPS of just .150 against Kershaw this season, according to Inside Edge. The league average is .327, and Kershaw ranks first.

 Boston’s Mookie Betts has not struck out in his past 78 plate appearances, the longest streak in the majors.

 Washington’s Max Scherzer, lined up to face Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLDS, has a strikeout percentage of 37.8 percent against right-handed hitters this year, which ranks second among qualifiers. The league average is 20.6 percent.

 Cleveland’s challenge will be to get the ball to closer Andrew Miller. Opponents have fanned 123 times in 275 plate appearances against him (44.7 percent). Yes, Miller ranks first in the majors among qualified relievers. The league average is 22.7 percent.

 Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez, who will start Game 2 against the Dodgers’ Rich Hill, will be a key in the series: The Dodgers have struggled against left-handed pitching this season, going 22-24 against lefty starters.


13. Moneyball: Playoff Payrolls

What’s the range of this year’s postseason teams? Right here, according to USA Today‘s MLB payroll database:


14. So Who’s Going to Win?

Being that I went with the Chicago Cubs in my season preview coming out of spring training, I have to stick with them. They clearly were the best team over 162 games, both the strongest overall and the least flawed. Their pitching is built for the playoffs: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. Their lineup is potent and versatile with Kris Bryant playing third base, left field, right field and first base, allowing defensive whiz Javier Baez to slide in at third base (look for him there during Game 1 against the Giants when Lester starts). And they have a prime-time closer in Aroldis Chapman.

So whom do they play? Well, the other part of my World Series prediction coming out of spring training wasn’t so good: the Houston Astros. So looking at the AL field now, I’m going to go with the Boston Red Sox. Their lineup is relentless, and they’re pitching better now than they did during the first part of the year.

So book it: Cubs over Red Sox in six games.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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