2015 MLB Division Series Preview — Which Teams Will Advance to LCS?
After two dominant pitching performances in the Wild Card games, the final four teams in each league are set to battle to take the next step toward the World Series. Here’s a preview of the 2015 American and National League Division Series:
American League Division Series
Toronto Blue Jays (93–69) vs. Texas Rangers (88–74)
How They Got Here: Ending a 22-year playoff drought, Toronto surged to the American League East title after acquiring starting pitcher David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in July. Even prior to adding the all-star talent at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays were a dangerous team led by heavy hitters and experienced starters.
Coming from nine games back in the A.L. West on July 22, the Texas Rangers made an incredible second-half surge to win the title and return to the postseason for the first time since 2012. Texas traded for ace Cole Hamels in late July, and he rewarded their faith with a 7–1 record down the stretch, including a complete game win over the Angels in Game 162 to clinch the division.
Season Series: Toronto won four of the six games between the teams in 2015.
Why the Blue Jays May Win: Big bats and big mouths. Toronto thinks they will win, and they’ll get in your face and tell you so. With a powerful core of Tulowitzki, third baseman Josh Donaldson, outfielder Jose Bautista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays can crush a pitching staff. Experienced arms like David Price and R.A. Dickey should be able to make all those runs stand up.
Why the Rangers May Win: Momentum, karma and hits. Texas is playing very well and could easily push favored Toronto to five games. Plus, after the nightmare that was the 2011 World Series collapse, the baseball gods owe the Rangers a break. Capable hitters like Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltré and Shin-Soo Choo mean no lead is insurmountable. If Texas can capitalize on the Blue Jays' suspect defense and sometimes shaky bullpen, they could advance.
Game 1 Texas: Yovani Gallardo (13–11) at Toronto: David Price (18–5)
Game 2 Texas: Cole Hamels (13–8) at Toronto: Marcus Stroman (4–0)
Game 3 Toronto: Marco Estrada (13–8) at Texas: Derek Holland (4–3)
ALDS Schedule (best-of-five):
Game 1 Thu. Oct. 8 Texas at Toronto; 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Fox Sports 1
Game 2 Fri. Oct. 9 Texas at Toronto; 12:30 p.m. (ET) on MLB Network
Game 3 Sun. Oct. 11 Toronto at Texas; 8:00 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 4* Mon. Oct. 12 Toronto at Texas; TBD on FS1
Game 5* Wed. Oct. 14 Texas at Toronto; TBD on FS1
* if necessary
Kansas City Royals (95–67) vs. Houston Astros (86–76)
How They Got Here: Building on last season’s surprise World Series appearance, the Kansas City Royals won their first division title since 1985 in dominating fashion behind a lockdown bullpen and a balanced lineup. Manager Ned Yost’s defending American League champions were never more than a game out of first place in the American League Central all season, and they pulled away from the Twins and the Indians with a surge in July.
Making their first postseason appearance since 2005, the Houston Astros became the American League’s most surprising team this season. Fueled by overachieving pitchers and a nucleus of young hitters, they led the A.L. West for much of the year before fading (though not all the way) in September. Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel pitched them past the Yankees, 3-0, in the A.L. Wild Card game on Tuesday.
Season Series: Houston won four of six games against the Royals in 2015.
Why the Royals May Win: Home field advantage and a solid bullpen. Kansas City has home field advantage through the World Series, meaning they can host Game 7 for the second year in a row. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are as good at the plate as they are in the field. The K.C. bullpen is a little less intimidating with the loss of former closer Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery, but unhittable set-up man Wade Davis has filled the void.
Why the Astros May Win: High energy and the long ball. Unlike the Royals, who often manufacture runs, the Astros like to swing for the fences; they were second in the majors in home runs to the Blue Jays this season. First baseman Chris Carter, third baseman Luis Valbuena and designated hitter Evan Gattis are all power threats, while second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa are budding young stars with tons of energy. If Houston can get to the slightly suspect Kansas City starters — and stay away from the deadly bullpen — they could steal this series.
Game 1 Houston: Collin McHugh (19–7) vs. K.C.: Yordano Ventura (13–8)
Game 2 Houston: Scott Kazmir (7–11) vs. K.C.: Johnny Cueto (11–13)
Game 3 K.C.: Edinson Volquez (13–9) vs. Houston: Dallas Keuchel (20–8)
ALDS Schedule (best-of-five):
Game 1 Thu. Oct. 8 Houston at Kansas City; 7:30 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 2 Fri. Oct. 9 Houston at Kansas City; 3:30 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 3 Sun. Oct. 11 Kansas City at Houston; 4:00 p.m. (ET) on MLBN
Game 4* Mon. Oct. 12 Kansas City at Houston; TBD on FS1
Game 5* Wed. Oct. 14 Houston at Kansas City; TBD on FS1
* if necessary
National League Division Series
St. Louis Cardinals (100–62) vs. Chicago Cubs (97–65)
How They Got Here: The Cardinals are always here, aren’t they? Clearly MLB’s best team all season, St. Louis steamrolled opponents en route to the best record in baseball. Using consistent starting pitching, a deep lineup and exceptional fundamentals, the National League Central champs beat back the Pirates and the Cubs, the teams with the second- and third-best records in MLB this season. The Cards are making their fifth straight playoff appearance and have finished under .500 just once since 2000.
Under new manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs have reignited the hopes that the denizens of Wrigley Field will actually win their first World Series since 1908 someday soon. Teeming with young talent all over the field, Chicago pushed the Cardinals and the Pirates all season. Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta shut out the Pirates, 4-0, in Wednesday night’s N.L. Wild Card game to get the Cubs to their first NLDS since 2008. It was the team’s first playoff win since 2003.
Season Series: The Cardinals beat the Cubs 11 of the 19 times the teams played this season. This is the first time these longtime rivals have played each other in the postseason, after more than 2,000 regular season contests.
Why the Cardinals May Win: Culture and consistency. Despite injuries to aces Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright as well as catcher Yadier Molina, St. Louis just keeps winning. Third baseman Matt Carpenter and right-fielder Jason Heyward are the best hitters on a deep roster filled with good batsmen. Molina will play with a splint on his injured left thumb. He’ll catch pitchers like Michael Wacha and John Lackey, who throw strikes. Always.
Why the Cubs May Win: Great arms and dangerous young bats. Anyone watching Jake Arrieta pitch since August 1 would have to admit the Cubs would win the World Series if he could pitch every game. Since he can’t, other teams have a chance. In addition to having Arrieta and experienced ace Jon Lester, Chicago sends a scary parade of hitters to the plate, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. They can put runs on the scoreboard fast.
Game 1 Chicago: Jon Lester (11–12) at St. Louis: John Lackey (13–10)
Game 2 Chicago: TBD at St. Louis: Jaime Garcia (10–6)
Game 3 St. Louis: Michael Wacha (17–7) at Chicago: TBD
NLDS Schedule (best-of-five):
Game 1 Fri. Oct 9 Chicago at St. Louis; 6:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 2 Sat. Oct 10 Chicago at St. Louis; 5:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 3 Mon. Oct 12 St. Louis at Chicago; TBD on TBS
Game 4* Tue. Oct 13 St. Louis at Chicago; TBD on TBS
Game 5* Thu. Oct 15 Chicago at St. Louis; TBD on TBS
* if necessary
Los Angeles Dodgers (92–70) vs. New York Mets (90–72)
How They Got Here: Built to win now behind pitching aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers led the National League West for most of the season and held off the defending World Series champion Giants for the title — their third straight division crown. The Dodgers have seized the reputation in the National League that the Yankees enjoy in the A.L.: they’ll develop talent and buy or trade for the rest no matter the price.
Using a stable of stud pitchers grown in their farm system, the Mets stayed close to the Washington Nationals in the N.L. East before trading for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for the pennant run. A torrid 20–8 record in August allowed New York to reach its first postseason since 2006.
Season Series: The Mets won four of the seven games between these teams in 2015.
Why the Dodgers May Win: Pitching and experience. If Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke throw three games or more in this short series, it’s hard to believe the Dodgers won’t win. With young bats like Enrique Hernandez, Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig setting the table for hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and a locker room full of other veterans, L.A. should be able to get the Mets’ starters’ pitch counts up and get to New York’s shaky bullpen.
Why the Mets May Win: Kershaw and Greinke struggle in October. If past performance foreshadows future results, the Mets might win. Kershaw is 1–5 with a 5.12 ERA in the postseason, while Greinke is an average 2–2, with a 3.63 ERA. If Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and David Wright give the Mets some offense, their exceptional starting pitching must take the leads deep into the games and keep the bullpen quiet until the eighth or ninth innings.
Game 1 N.Y.: Jacob deGrom (14–8) vs. L.A.: Clayton Kershaw (16–7)
Game 2 N.Y.: Noah Syndergaard (9–7) vs. L.A.: Zack Greinke (19–3)
Game 3 L.A.: Brett Anderson (10–9) vs. N.Y.: Matt Harvey (13–8)
NLDS Schedule (best-of-five):
Game 1 Fri. Oct. 9, New York at Los Angeles; 9:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 2 Sat. Oct. 10 New York at Los Angeles; 9 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 3 Mon. Oct. 12 Los Angeles at New York; TBD on TBS
Game 4* Tue. Oct. 13 Los Angeles at New York; TBD on TBS
Game 5* Thu. Oct. 15 New York at Los Angeles; TBD on TBS
* if necessary