Last four MLB teams providing thrilling march to Series pennant

And then there were four. After Last Thursday’s thrilling game five between the Nationals and the Cubs, now begins the League Championship Series.

The Yankees pulled off the seemingly impossible by coming back from down 2-0 against the favored Indians, a team that broke the AL record for consecutive wins, but couldn’t win one more.

Joe Girardi gets to keep his job, and the Yanks head to Houston. On the other hand, Chicago has a nice long flight to Los Angeles after taking a wild high scoring affair against the Nationals.

Both series have vastly different success stories, but both also have very even competition. The Yanks are hot, and the ’Stros are hot. The Cubs are hot, and the Dodgers are hot. It all comes down to who is the hottest.

ALCS

The Astros handled the Red Sox better than anyone thought they would, and now they just have to do the same one more time. The Yankees, on the other hand, are riding high. Their confidence is through the roof. The only thing they need is for Aaron Judge to get on base more.

Impact Players: Just like all season, all eyes will be on Judge. The future face of the Yankees had an abysmal division series. He hit under .100, going one for 20. Judge struck out 16 times, setting a new record.

The Bronx Bombers surely missed his power but did have other players like Didi Gregorius step up in huge moments.

Judge has been a luxury all season; his 52 home runs were most by a rookie ever. He was only overshadowed by Giancarlo Stanton’s 59. Judge is a hit-or-miss type of batter. His biggest weakness is his ability to get on base effectively, including his high number of strikeouts.

All he needs to do is get on base. If Judge only hits a .200 BA for the series but walks at least once per game, the Yankees chances to win will grow exponentially. Judge is the heart and soul of the Yankees lineup. Other players are stepping up and taking over some of the heavy load put on the rookie, but Gregorius, Sanchez and other hot hitters can’t stay lit forever. The Yankees are hot now, but things can change drastically as long as Judge stays cold and runs start to fall off the board.

For the Astros, their offense is not the problem. Altuve is hitting great, both the bottom and top are getting on base and they are getting runners in scoring position to go with it, so instead of one player, I’m going with the entire bullpen.

Watching the Nats and Cubs series, it reiterated how important a good playoff bullpen is. The bullpen ERA during the regular season was a 4.27, and the pitching ERA for the division series was a 4.63. The Astros have two ace pitchers in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, who most likely will keep the offense at bay for at least four innings.

However, if Verlander or any of the other pitchers has an off day, they need the bullpen to pick up the slack. In the one game the Astros lost in the ALDS, they gave up 10 runs. How that happened was not because of the long ball. Houston only gave up two home runs. They lost because they got to the starting pitching early. The Red Sox got runners on base.

Most of their hits came from the bottom of the order. The first four batters only went three for 18, while the rest of the order hit safely 13 times.

Houston needs sufficient bullpen help to help sustain the fire that is the Yankees lineup. I’m going, to be honest, New York is a wildcard. No one expected them to beat the Indians, and no one really expects them to beat the Astros. The only thing the Astros should focus on is getting guys out at the plate and not letting the game ever get out of hand.

NLCS

After that thrilling conclusion to the Cubs Nationals series, things shift all the way across the country to Los Angeles. The Dodgers handled the Diamondbacks with a certain ease, not letting Arizona ever getting too comfortable at the plate and giving the pitching staff a run for its money. They are well rested and know what to expect coming from this Cubs team.

Impact Players: The Cubs bullpen was anything but rusty against the Nationals. The bullpen gave up several leads during the five-game series.

During game five, the Cubs had several chances to keep that strong lead they had over a struggling lineup.

Joe Maddon, rightly so, did not trust enough in the bullpen to use a majority of the pitchers. He went to Jose Quintana for the setup, making closer Wade Davis through for six outs, something Davis hadn’t done all season for the Cubs.

The Nats played terrible defense, giving the Cubs the game, which they almost lost. The impact player has to be Carl Edwards Jr. He was the setup guy all year for the club and only had a hiccup during the first part of August and June. Carl had been clutch all season, easily lifting the Cubs to the rest of their bullpen. He was a big part of their second-half run.

Edwards Jr.’s career month of September gave fans hope in a questionable bullpen. However, in the series, he completely fell apart. He gave up six runs in 3.2 innings, including a crucial home run in the bottom of the ninth in Washington to save the Nats home field advantage.

He is the most important person in the pen alongside Davis.

His command was off, his speed was down, everything was on the slide and because of that, the Cubs should not have won the series. If the Cubs think they have any chance to beat the Dodgers, it rests on Edwards Jr.

The Dodgers have a great pitching staff, a great bullpen and a great overall roster. It is hard to pick one player who needs to stand out. The Dodgers have a hot Yasiel Puig, a hot Kenley Jansen and a better rotation than the Cubs.

It was tough, but I think Justin Turner will be the difference maker. He has been hot all season, and he’s been a leader both on the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse. He batted a .322 during the season with 71 RBIs, and he averaged with the best in the league.

In the NLDS, he hit a .462 with five runs batted in and one home run in three games. He’s just starting to get hot for the remainder of the postseason.

Turner bats right in the middle of the lineup, where the Cubs did not have an easy time during the regular season. He is the heart and soul of the lineup, and his ability to get runners home and get himself home will be a large difference maker in the series. Turner has the key to this Los Angeles offense, and right now, he is twisting it in the keyhole.

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