For the past six weeks, every Wednesday, I've been previewing the 2018 Major League Baseball season by looking at the most pivotal players in each division, and then making predictions. You are heretofore encouraged to go back and read all those previews right here:
NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West
Included in each of those previews -- as is constitutionally mandated by the Athletic Pundit Accords of 1984 and ratified at subsequent conventions and global assemblies -- is a set of predictions. One fundamental shift between the way baseball is played now and the way it was played when, say, your parents were growing up is that the postseason is far more important than the regular season now. The whole point of a baseball season was once to have the best regular-season record; now it is merely to reach the big tournament. In 2015, the Cardinals won 100 games and no Cardinals fan cared because the Cubs waxed them in the National League Division Series. Think those 104 wins last year mean anything to Dodgers fans right now? The only win they care about is the one they didn't get in Game 7 of the World Series. It's not the regular season anymore: It's merely the qualifying round.
Thus it occurs to me that I spent all this time previewing each team in each division, and all most of you probably wanted was a postseason play-by-play. So, fine. Thus, here, seven months out, is a day-by-day prediction of how this year's postseason will play out. Please read with caution: These predictions are so certain to be 100 percent correct that I should probably start with a spoiler alert. I hope I didn't ruin the season for you.
So before we begin, a look back at the predictions:
Washington Nationals: 93-69
New York Mets: 88-74
Philadelphia Phillies: 83-79
Atlanta Braves: 77-85
Miami Marlins: 58-104
Chicago Cubs: 93-69
St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74
Milwaukee Brewers: 86-76
Cincinnati Reds: 78-84
Pittsburgh Pirates: 68-94
Los Angeles Dodgers: 102-60
Arizona Diamondbacks: 86-76
San Francisco Giants: 83-79
Colorado Rockies: 78-84
San Diego Padres: 71-91
American League East
New York Yankees: 92-70
Boston Red Sox: 90-72
Toronto Blue Jays: 82-80
Baltimore Orioles: 74-88
Tampa Bay Rays: 69-93
Cleveland Indians: 98-64
Minnesota Twins: 82-80
Chicago White Sox: 76-86
Kansas City Royals: 64-98
Detroit Tigers: 59-103
Houston Astros: 103-59
Los Angeles Angels: 85-77
Oakland A's: 78-84
Seattle Mariners: 76-86
Texas Rangers: 70-92
That sets up the following postseason matchups:
Wild Card: Mets at Cardinals
Wild Card winner at Dodgers
Cubs at Nationals
Wild Card: Angels at Red Sox
Wild Card winner at Astros
Yankees at Indians
So let's speculate -- and by "speculate" I mean "be correct about everything that will happen."
Tuesday, October 2
Freed up by the lack of ties, the NL Wild Card Game starts on time at Busch Stadium, with Carlos Martinez facing Noah Syndergaard, a rematch of their Opening Day battle back on March 29. The Mets take a 3-1 lead into the eighth, but after Syndergaard gives up a walk to Tommy Pham and a single to Matt Carpenter, New York manager Mickey Callaway pulls him for AJ Ramos. Ramos strikes out Marcell Ozuna, but Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Machado hits a three-run homer into the Cardinals' bullpen. Alex Reyes shuts down the Mets in the ninth, and the Cards advance.
Wednesday, October 3
Michael Trout is back in the playoffs for the first time in four years! Unfortunately, his team has to face Chris Sale at Fenway Park. The Red Sox win, 6-1, and Trout's postseason record falls, astoundingly, to 0-4. Overrated!
Thursday, October 4
The NLDS begin, and the Dodgers, in particular, are eager to get some revenge on the Cardinals, a team that has knocked them out of the playoffs twice in the last five years. Clayton Kershaw throws a shutout in Game 1 and makes sure to strike out Carpenter on three pitches, just so that doesn't happen again. Meanwhile, the Nationals' postseason terrors continue with a 6-2 home loss to the Cubs.
Friday, October 5
One of the best days of the year, a day when there are four playoff games. The ALDS kicks off in Cleveland, and once again there are midges, but this time they don't bother the Yankees one bit (though somewhere Joba Chamberlain is shuddering). Giancarlo Stanton hits two homers in a 5-2 win, and Indians fans fear the Yanks are going to do this to them again. In Houston, the Astros jump all over a pitcher who is not named Sale to take a 1-0 lead.
But the real drama is in the NL, where the Cubs look like they're about to do something extremely mean to the Nationals, jumping out to a 4-0 first-inning lead en route to a 12-2 Game 2 victory. Can you imagine what the vibe at Nationals Park is when they fall behind 4-0 in the first in Game 2 of an NLDS they're already trailing? In the late game, the Cardinals get a dominant performance from Luke Weaver to even their Dodgers series and take home-field advantage back from a team they finished 14 games back of in the regular season.
Saturday, October 6
There's a huge Florida State-Miami game, but who's watching that? They're too busy watching the Indians even their series with the Yankees and the Astros pound the Red Sox once again. Even though Boston won 90 games, in the wake of the 2-0 series deficit, some random local radio yahoo announces a sit-in at Fenway Park for the upcoming Game 3, demanding that he will not leave his spot atop the Green Monster until the Red Sox "stop sucking." (Police arrest him without incident.)
Sunday, October 7
Before Game 3 of the NLDS, Washington wags lose their minds when Bryce Harper poses for pictures with his old friend Kristopher Bryant in front of the Wrigley Field ivy in right field, posting it to Instagram with the hashtag #squadgoals. It turns out to be perhaps the last game for Harper as a National -- the Cubs sweep the series, and yeah, that's not going to go over well in D.C. Back at Busch Stadium, Adam Wainwright pulls out an old-school dominant performance, pitching seven innings before handing the ball over to Reyes for the last two of a 4-1 Cardinals win.
Monday, October 8
To avoid elimination, the Dodgers start Kershaw at Busch, and he's brilliant; that series is now tied. Back at Yankee Stadium, Trade Deadline acquisition Lance Lynn enjoys two Gary Sanchez homers as the Yankees take a 2-1 series lead on the Indians. And yes: It's a morgue at Fenway, as the Sox go down in a sweep, and every radio in Boston spontaneously bursts into flames.
Tuesday, October 9
Corey Kluber saves the Indians with a masterful eight innings at Yankee Stadium, with Andrew Miller finishing it off, and that series is now tied. The Division Series features two sweeps and two win-or-go-home Game 5s. That'll work.
Wednesday, October 10
Bottom of the ninth, 3-3 score. Reyes strikes out the first two hitters he faces, but then Yasiel Puig steps to the plate. Reyes hangs a curveball. Puig launches it deep into the Chavez Revine night. A photo of Vin Scully celebrating circulates on Twitter. The Dodgers are off to their third consecutive NL Championship Series. Will Leitch has a lousy 43rd birthday.
Thursday, October 11
Remember when Albertin Chapman couldn't throw any fastballs during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and still somehow the Indians couldn't win in the bottom of the ninth against him? It happens again this time, except he can throw the heat this time. The Yankees win, 5-4, at Progressive Field, and the Tribe sees another opportunity crawl away.
Friday, October 12
Even though the Dodgers took five games to win their series to the Cubs' three, it's the Cubs who have to travel across the country for Game 1 of the NLCS. They were that close to hosting the Cardinals. That's a long way to go to deal with Rich Hill, and the Dodgers take a 1-0 lead in a series that feels like a referendum on the present, and future, of the NL.
Saturday, October 13
Welcome to Minute Maid Park, where Justin Verlander is eager to put a couple more notches on his Hall of Fame resume belt -- in this theoretical world, there are resume belts -- by smoking the Yankees in Game 1. Meanwhile, Yu Darvish makes Dodgers fans crazy by having a postseason start in which no one is stealing his signs, and the NLCS is now tied 1-1.
Sunday, October 14
This is the "let's see what Stanton-Judge-Sanchez-Bird can do in that pinball machine of a baseball stadium" game, as the Yankees' offense finally explodes for a crazy 15-8 win. This series is going to have some football scores. Maybe some NBA ones.
Monday, October 15
Back at Wrigley Field, both candidates in a hotly contested gubernatorial race show up to shake hands before Game 3. They are each mercilessly booed. You know who's due for a big Cubs postseason moment? How about Jason Heyward? He makes a diving catch to keep the tying run from scoring, and the Cubs take a 2-1 series lead.
Tuesday, October 16
The NLCS is the afternoon game here, which means Dodgers fans basically have to watch an NLCS game on their lunch hour. They are rewarded with a vintage Kershaw performance, who says after shutting down the Cubs, "If there's a Game 7, I want the ball." Back at Yankee Stadium, Carsten Sabathia hangs in for five innings, but the Yankees can't recover from a 4-0 deficit and lose, 4-3, giving the Astros a 2-1 series lead.
Wednesday, October 17
They switch the order of the games this time, which leads to some crazy Yankee Stadium shadows. That makes it even harder to hit Verlander, which is plenty difficult enough already, and the Astros take a commanding 3-1 series lead. After an hour of questions from the New York media afterward, manager Aaron Boone drops a text to his old ESPN producer: "Just checking in, no big deal, how are things over there?"
Meanwhile, at Wrigley, Bryant has his big Cubs postseason moment -- well, other than that little ground ball back in 2016, anyway -- with a three-run walk-off blast onto Waveland Avenue against Kenley Jansen, giving the Cubs a 4-3 win and a 3-2 series lead. No one leaves a single Wrigleyville bar for 48 hours.
Thursday, October 18
If you can't clinch a trip to the World Series at home, you might as well do it at Yankee Stadium: Chris Devenski gets to do the honors, striking out Didi Gregorius to finish off an 8-3 victory and a five-game AL Championship Series win. Boone is asked about both Harper and Machado in the postgame news conference.
Friday, October 19
Fifty thousand nervous fans fill Dodger Stadium: They wouldn't come short again, would they? They don't tonight: Justin Turner gets that Animal Scoreboard rolling with a three-run third-inning homer and the Dodgers are never threatened afterward: We're going to a Game 7.
Saturday, October 20
Kershaw. Darvish. The Dodgers and Cubs, two of baseball's jewel franchises, playing a Game 7 on a Saturday night. That's about as perfect as baseball gets … until the Dodgers pounce on Darvish for five runs in the first two innings and never look back. And just like that: We have the first World Series rematch in 40 years.
Tuesday, October 23
The best two teams in baseball, the only ones to win 100 games, replaying their breathtaking World Series from 2017. Maybe they'll get the ending right this time. The Series starts in mostly pedestrian fashion: Hill is fine, Verlander is better, and the Astros' crazies at that park celebrate a mostly straightforward 5-3 victory.
Wednesday, October 24
The Dodgers didn't get to celebrate a World Series title at Dodger Stadium in 2017, and they won't get to this time either: A three-run blast from Carlos Correa in the seventh inning provides the Astros the winning margin in a 7-4 win. Some Astros fans actually are seen grumbling when they leave the park: Will we have to clinch at Dodger Stadium again? Sure would be nice to do it at home.
Friday, October 26
You won't hear any more "What about Kershaw in the postseason?" talk after this year, not that you ever should have in the first place. Kershaw saves the Dodgers once again, pitching eight shutout innings in a wipe-the-brow 7-1 win.
Saturday, October 27
Avoid the 110 tonight: The Dodgers have a World Series game at Dodger Stadium and USC has a night game against Arizona State at the Coliseum. (The schedule isn't out yet, but it's even possible the Lakers or Clippers would have a game at Staples Center, exactly in between both stadiums.) The Astros take advantage early; it's clear they're thinking about legacies and repeats and historical prominence. And they are one game away from doing something no team has done since 2000.
Sunday, October 28
Vin Scully comes back to do another introduction before the game, and the place is going nuts in spite of the 3-1 lead. But then Jose Altuve hits a two-run homer in the top of the first and the place goes silent the rest of the night. For old times' sake, Charlie Morton pitches the bottom of the ninth again at Dodger Stadium. He gets another ground ball to Altuve. And the Astros get another championship.
I hope this takes all the suspense out of the season for you so that you can now just sit back and enjoy the baseball rather than being stressed out about how it all turns out. You are welcome.