The MLB playoffs have started, so the mind and chess games have begun. Each team has built their respective team in a certain way that they feel suited best, but sometimes that leaves for things to be desired elsewhere. No team is perfect; each has a weakness or two that could be exploited and end their postseason. Here they are for each of the eight teams still standing.
Lack of Experience and Bullpen Depth
Amongst their starters, the Atlanta Braves have a combined 41 games and 98 plate appearances of experience with playoff baseball. And on the bench, Lucas Duda has 54 plate appearances spanning 14 games. Yeah, they’re really young. Experience can be overrated at times, but in playoff baseball, it’s an asset. It’s an entirely different animal, and the Braves are in for a learning experience.
Keeping composure and maintaining your nerves is easier said than done. The atmosphere and adrenaline are incredibly different. Palms get sweaty, heart rates get fast, and throwing a baseball isn’t as easy. Neither is keeping your plate discipline.
And coupled with that, the Braves do not have the bullpen necessary to make a deep run. They have some top-end guys, but not much depth behind them, evidenced by the below-average ERA. And it’s the depth that makes a bullpen so good.
Hitting on the Road
We all know of the “Coors Effect” with hitters, but Rockies fans are always quick to defend their players. However, there is no doubt that it’s a legitimate thing, and this year is no different. They will mash against anyone at home, with an MLB-best .852 home OPS, which makes it such a scary place to play. However, they are less than mortal on the road, with a .665 OPS away from Coors, which is the fourth-worst mark.
Trevor Story has a 1.044 OPS at home but .780 mark on the road. Charlie Blackmon’s OPS drops almost 200 points to .768 away from Colorado. David Dahl goes from 1.052 to a pathetic .598. Nolan Arenado goes from 1.105 to .772. And in Game 1 of the NLDS, they mustered up just one hit over the first eight innings in a hitter-friendly Miller Park in Milwaukee before striking for two run in the ninth. If they can’t hit in any other ballpark, they won’t last long.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clutch Hitting and Bullpen
The Dodgers were one of, if not the least, clutch teams in baseball this season. When they would get guys on base, they struggled more than usual to bring them home, in large part to their home run-hitting mentality. They hit just .213 with runners on base and two outs, and that number drops to an MLB-worst .199 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Depending on the long ball is a risky strategy, and this year showed that. You have to be able to manufacture runs by getting guys on base and getting them home.
And the bullpen has been up-and-down all season long. The bridge to Kenley Jansen has been hot and cold, and streakiness like theirs is the last thing you need in high-leverage situations. And the Big Man has become untrustworthy at the back-end, and if you can’t trust the rock of your bullpen, you’re in trouble.
Starting Pitching and Lineup Depth
Starting pitching was the question mark heading into the season, and they bent but did not break. It looks like they will be leaning more heavily on the bullpen during the playoffs because it is a strength and showed that in Game 1. But, at the same time, you don’t want to wear the pen out.
And outside of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers lineup is not that scary. They are closer to average than they are to the top. Jesus Aguilar cooled off a lot after a hot first half, and Ryan Braun is solid at best. Travis Shaw had 32 home runs, but his .825 is far from scary. They need to support Yelich and Cain if they want to be able to score runs.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox will score runs on anybody; it’s the pitching that is shaky. Chris Sale and David Price are strong at the top but are far from proven in the playoffs. Sale has given up nine runs in 9.2 innings while Price has a 5.03 ERA in over 70 innings. And after them, no one is a calming presence. Rick Porcello is back to being mediocre, Eduardo Rodriguez is a good number four at best, as is Nathan Eovaldi. But that’s not what you want from your starters.
And the bullpen isn’t any more reassuring outside of Craig Kimbrel because there are a lot of unproven arms and no one you can trust in high leverage situations.
We all know that the teams with the best bullpens are usually the ones that go deep into October, while you won’t have much success with a bad one. And every so often you’ll have a team make the playoffs with a lousy bullpen, and that is the Cleveland Indians this season; they just lucked out to be playing in the bad AL Central.
After years of the relief corps being a strength, it’s been the Achilles heel, dropping all the way to the fifth-worst bullpen in baseball with a 4.60 ERA. Closer Cody Allen has been inconsistent and bad all season while Andrew Miller dealt with injury during the season and has yet to find his form. If the unit can hold the fort, the Indians will be swept out quickly from the playoffs.
The Astros inconsistencies can be mainly attributed to the injuries. Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer all missed time and had down years in certain respects. The starting staff has been great, but Dallas Keuchel has been a bit of a liability at times, Justin Verlander hit a rough patch about a month ago, and Gerrit Cole has been prone to the long ball at times. But other than that, it’s hard to find any real weakness for the playoffs. They are the closest thing to a perfect team.