The final push for the playoffs

In this week’s edition of Beyond the Arc, the staff will be discussing the MLB playoffs. As of press time, eight teams have clinched a postseason berth and just four days of baseball remain to be played. Joining the discussion are sports reporters Jacob Rayyan (JR), Sanjay Annigeri (SA) and Andrew Ford (AF), as well as Sports Editor Eddie Kerekes (EK) and Web Editor Shounak Bose (SB). The transcript has been lightly edited. All stats are entering the day of Sept. 27, unless otherwise noted.

JR: The World Series favorite has to be the Cleveland Indians. If you all take a moment to read my recent article you’ll know that I’m a Chicago Cubs fan, so it gives me no pleasure in saying that the Indians are the team to beat.

The run that they went on, despite injuries to several key players, was nothing short of amazing. I think they’re built the best for the long haul.

That being said, I don’t know how anyone can argue against the Boston Red Sox. Talk about a loaded team. Obviously David Price getting bumped to the bullpen hinders them, but there are definitely worse players that I can think of to shut the game down in the late innings. The Red Sox have talent all over the field and in every facet of the game. I would not be surprised if they easily take care of the American League in the playoffs and represent the league in the World Series.

SA: Since I’m from the city of Houston,  I’m really all in for the Houston Astros to win. The Astros have the best offense in the MLB, lead by AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve. They just recently acquired [starting pitcher Justin] Verlander from the Detroit Tigers and have former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

However, injuries have plagued the team and they have seen their lead in the standings taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers and [their] lead in [the] AL surpassed by the Indians. Earlier in the season, Dodgers vs Astros was the World Series matchup everyone wanted to see, a duel between best offense and best defense. But the Dodgers have really fallen in the National League, winning only eight of their last 24 games.

Overall, the team in best shape to win it all are the Cleveland Indians. They just went on a historic 22 game win streak and their offense has been clicking on all cylinders. They have excellent pitching also. The Indians are the team to beat this year.

My sleeper team would be the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have shown excellence in their pitching, lead by Zack Greinke, and a high powered offense, led by Paul Goldschmidt. They have been trending upward as the Dodgers have fallen and the Washington Nationals just recently got Bryce Harper back from injury. Watch them shock the NL and be a true World Series contender.

AF: Everyone seems to think the Indians are now the absolute favorite to win it all because of their impressive win streak; however, let’s not forget about great regular season teams that failed to bring home a championship: the 2007 New England Patriots who went 18-0 but lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl; the 2016 Golden State Warriors won an NBA record 73 games and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers; the 2015 University of Kentucky Wildcats were 32-0 to start the season but lost to the University of Wisconsin in April.

I predict the Indians will fall into this category of great teams who don’t win titles. As for the favorite, it has to be the defending champion Cubs. Most importantly, they are still technically the champions of baseball. However, that is not all. Yes, they got off to a slow start this season. But they have the second best record post-All Star break (after the Indians) at 45-23. In that stretch they have the [second] best slugging percentage [behind the Minnesota Twins] and on base plus slugging (OPS) (.466 and .822, respectively). And their pitching ranks in the top 10 in ERA and walks plus hits over innings pitched over that same time frame. In addition, they do not have the media hounding them like [the] Indians do. Watch out for the Cubs to slide under the radar and make a deep run.

As for my sleeper, it is my favorite team, the New York Yankees. Like the Cubs last year, they are filled with youthful enthusiasm in combination with experienced veterans. They have a manager who has won a World Series before. And they are getting hot at the right time, winning 17 out of their last 23. They have the most strikeouts and opposing teams are hitting a league-low .216 since the All Star break. In September, they are in the top three in home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. The Bronx Bombers have a legitimate shot to do something the New York Knicks have no hope of doing: bringing a title to New York City.

One storyline to watch is the performance of the Dodgers and specifically Clayton Kershaw. They have historically done well in the regular season but fail to live up to expectations in the postseason. We’ll see if this year is different.

EK: I would have to agree with Sanjay in that the Diamondbacks are the team to watch. Few paid attention to their long winning streak that coincided with the Indians’, showcasing how they are a complete team. Even though they have to survive the one game Wild Card playoff, I think they have a legitimate shot to upset the Dodgers.

One of the main story lines last postseason was the Indians’ use of relievers, particularly Andrew Miller, in a completely different role on the way to the AL pennant. Do you expect to see other teams copying that strategy this season or will we see typical reliever usage (one inning, save closer for the end)?

SB: Although I’m from the Boston area, and am a diehard Red Sox fan, my World Series favorite is the Cleveland Indians. Baseball, especially playoff baseball, has always seemed to be a streaky sport. Teams that get hot at the right time can go for incredibly deep runs – just look at the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who won 14 of their final 15 regular season games, and then swept their way into the World Series. On the flip side, teams that have the raw talent and dominate during most of the regular season can completely fall apart at the endlook at [the] infamous 2011 Red Sox.

The Indians have the raw talent necessary to win, and they are hot at just the right time, with absolutely no signs of slowing down. Additionally, they did not just win during their streak, they dominated. The offense batted .306 during the steak, and their team ERA was an absurd 1.58, which allowed for a positive 105 run differential. All of which happened without Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley or Miller, meaning the team can only get stronger when those players return to full strength.

I really like Houston’s young and exciting offense, but I don’t think they have a deep enough pitching staff with postseason experience, even with Verlander.

Regarding my hometown Red Sox, as good as Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and the bullpen have been, the Sox have suffered way too much of a power outage without David Ortiz. With the exception of Andrew Benintendi, virtually everyone on last year’s high octane offense has underperformed, and the team basically rode Benintendi, Eduardo Nunez, Rafael Devers and the pitching staff for most of August. I’m uncomfortable with the starting pitching depth past Sale and Pomeranz, and expect the offense to fall apart under any good rotation like the Indians’. I am however, excited to see Price in the bullpen because I feel he could turn into a dominating Andrew Miller-like force.

My sleeper team to look for is also the Yankees. I think Andrew’s stats do a very good job of showing how well they’ve been performing of late. Overshadowed by Sale and Corey Kluber, Luis Severino has been quietly putting together a dominant season on the mound, and Aaron Judge is starting to heat up again and has the potential to put on a show during the playoffs.  

The story line I’m looking forward to watching is the AL Cy Young Award race. Kluber has looked excellent recently, but Sale recently dominated the Baltimore Orioles with 13 strikeouts (including his 300th) and zero earned runs in eight innings pitched. I would love to see a potential ALCS matchup between the two as a fight for the crown.

SA: Also quite overlooked, another storyline to consider is if the defending champion Cubs will be able to repeat. Most of the media coverage overlooked the Cubs after they started dealing with injuries and their starting pitching rotation, led by former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, started to post dismal numbers. The team was hovering around .500 most of the season, but a late season push got  them on top of their division. Can they pull off last year’s magic and win again?