Dansby Swanson has every right to be overjoyed right now. Not just because his Braves battered Sixto Sanchez and the Marlins to claim a spot in the NLCS for the first time since 2001. But because the Atlanta Braves may soon be the only interesting team left in the playoff arrangement.
Folks. The fun, oddball teams are all dying out. The Marlins are done. The Padres are done. The A's are done. And even if the Yankees were to somehow make it, that wouldn't be fun for most of you. This is looking like an Astros-Rays ALCS and a Braves-Dodgers NLCS. Woop-de-doo. You honestly could have guessed that in February, before any of this horseshit year even happened. "Uhhh, I dunno...the Braves and Dodgers are gonna be good this year. So are the Astros and Rays". If it's obvious at the beginning AND the end, the same outcome, that's not exactly a gripping race.
The Braves have the most character and spontaneity to them. Their rotation is incredibly young, the bullpen is strong, the lineup has a sort of piecemeal, anyone-can-hit-here sort of quality [Pablo Sandoval is still on the roster!], and everyone's playing well. They're also the least predictable of the four teams [likely to] make the next round, and therefore I have to root for them.
The odd part is that any other year, a team finishing below .500 and still making the playoffs, and the ALCS, would be a feel-good, underdog story.
But because it's the friggin Astros, it's the worst thing ever.
The A's and Twins were supposed to keep this team down, using their status as division leaders and above-500 teams, as well as using their non-disappointing averages following seasons where they didn't cheat. Somehow, the Astros got to the A's pitching ONCE AGAIN, overpowered Oakland 11-6, and now are sitting comfortably in the ALCS for the umpteenth damned year. It pisses me off to no avail, and of all the teams in this next playoff rung, I want them to win the least.
Mostly because they've won most recently, as opposed to everyone else, who've been waiting 20, 30 years. But also because, you know, of the cheating thing.
The Yankees also won, which I was not expecting whatsoever. Especially considering the start by Jordan Montgomery, which gave up a run in a silly way. Somehow, the Yankees bats prevailed, and home runs from Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres kept us alive against a bullpen day from the Rays.
And yet...this gives me a strange, conflicted feeling. If the Rays win, they have a better chance of beating the Astros. Yet, if the Yankees win...it could potentially mean a SECOND consecutive drubbing by Houston in the ALCS for us, and we do not want the Astros to get to the World Series again. Houston is very good at illuminating lackluster pitching, and we certainly have that. I fear if the Yankees win tomorrow, it won't be any different from how we usually fare against the Astros in October. There's a chance, but...I know our luck.
It does mean we have to get past the Rays first, which is difficult enough. I have no idea who Tampa's starting tomorrow. I have no idea who NEW YORK is starting tomorrow. Are we on enough rest that Gerrit Cole can start for us again? Does that also mean Blake Snell is good for that start? Is it a bullpen day for both of us? Either way, I'm predicting a bloody fight to the finish, a lot like the Yankees' series with Cleveland.
And thanks to a 12-point drubbing of the Padres' bullpen, the Dodgers, the team that has been fantastic all decade yet somehow has yet to get a ring since 88, seem to be heading back to glory with a return trip to the NLCS against Atlanta. Will Smith, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and AJ Pollock led the charge, and Julio Urias went five innings without allowing a run, more proof that the once-forgotten prospect has officially made it, and is kicking ass this postseason.
As sad as it is that the Padres' ascent had to end here, the Dodgers are still looking like the most powerful team in baseball, and their clash against the Braves is gonna be epic.
Tonight...Yanks-Rays for all the marbles. Either outcome means something different. I'm still rooting for my Yankees, but I'm also rooting for the Astros to not figure out the Yankee rotation.