Baseball, Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: Breaking down each Division Series matchup

With the Red Sox taking down the Yankees and the Dodgers taking down the Cardinals in their leagues’ respective Wild Card games, the 2021 Division Series matchups are now set. Here’s a breakdown of each of the four series, along with a prediction for which team will come out on top.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

Chicago White Sox (AL Central champions) vs. Houston Astros (AL West champions) 

This series is a matchup of the new kids on the block against the seasoned veterans. The White Sox have a young hitting core that led the way in 2021. Between Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Luis Robert and many others, Chicago’s offense seemed like it couldn’t be stopped. They also have Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Liam Hendriks leading the way on the mound. 

The Astros have been playoff contenders for many years now, and their loaded lineup and solid pitching core are back at it again in 2021. The quintet of Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez makes this lineup terrifying to face. Add a rotation led by Lance McCullers Jr. along with rookie Luis Garcia and lefty Framber Valdez and a good enough bullpen, and this Astros team can put up quite the fight. 

Houston’s real advantage comes in their experience and Chicago’s bullpen having many major collapses in the second half of the season. 

My prediction is that Houston takes the series and advances to their second straight ALCS.

Boston Red Sox (AL Wild Card) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (AL East champions)

The Red Sox dominated their division rival, the New York Yankees, in the Wild Card Game to advance to the next round. Thanks to a brilliant start from Nathan Eovaldi, homers from Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber, plus the home-field advantage of Fenway Park, Boston cruised to the 6-2 win.

The offense that got them through that game will be what makes or breaks their playoff run. Boston has a shaky rotation behind Chris Sale and Eovaldi and a very shaky bullpen. Manager Alex Cora has been known to bring starters out of the bullpen in the playoffs, but without production from the lineup, no amount of creativity or smart pitching moves will matter.

Tampa Bay is both well-coached and a well of young talent. A rotation dominated by rookies, including Game 1 and Game 2 starters Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz, a deep bullpen and a lineup led by homegrown talent like Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco prove how well the Rays develop talent and how they were able to cruise to a division title in 2021. 

Tampa Bay’s well-rounded talents will be too much for Boston in the series, so the Rays will take it and bring us a rematch of the 2020 ALCS where they will once again face Houston.

Atlanta Braves (NL East champions) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (NL Central champions)

This matchup is almost perfect since it’s a battle of Atlanta’s great hitting against Milwaukee’s great pitching. Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley played like MVPs, while Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall and a resurgent Jorge Soler slugged the Braves into October. Combine this with a good enough bullpen and a rotation led by Max Fried and veteran Charlie Morton, and the Braves clearly have the talent for a deep playoff run.

Milwaukee’s starting pitching carried them to the division title this season. With five starting pitchers having an ERA below 3.30 and the three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Cy Young hopeful Corbin Burnes leading the way, Milwaukee’s pitching prowess cannot be understated. Their bullpen depth, led by Brent Suter, Hunter Strickland and Josh Hader, adds another strong layer to this pitching core.

The two big questions are whether or not Atlanta’s hot lineup can best Milwaukee’s elite pitching and whether Milwaukee’s lukewarm offense can do enough against the Braves’ decent pitching. 

The Braves will hit well enough to get past the Brewers, take this series and advance to their second straight NLCS.

Los Angeles Dodgers (NL Wild Card) vs. San Francisco Giants (NL West champions)

This is the first time in MLB history that two teams from the same league won 105 or more games. The only shame of this matchup is that it will be a five-game series instead of a seven-game series.

The Giants’ team of veterans and unknowns stunned the baseball world by winning 107 games this season. Brandon Crawford, Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb and Buster Posey all played like All-Stars while the rest of the lineup, rotation and bullpen got the job done. There may not be too many recognizable names on this Giants roster, but everything clicked, and never stopped clicking, in 2021.

On the other hand, the Dodgers have more flashy talent than any other team in the league. With Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and veteran Max Scherzer leading the rotation and Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Trea Turner leading the lineup, this team looks unbeatable. However, the Giants went 21-6 in September, won the season series 10-9 and have not gone away all season long.

This series will go to the Giants. Whatever kept this team rolling in the regular season will keep going through October, and the Dodgers have many past NLDS collapses to their name. They can certainly win this series, but it will be quite a battle between these two heavyweights.

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