We’ve finally narrowed the World Series field down to four teams in two divisions.  With the ALCS and NLCS matchups set, let’s break down each one and make some series predictions and Game 1 previews.

This postseason has become a tale of four teams, two who were expected to be playing this in the Championship Series and two who certainly were not.

The Houston Astros and New York Yankees made good on their favorite status and emerged from the ALDS alive.  The Astros just barely.  The Yankees are coming off a dominant sweep of the Minnesota Twins while the Rays took the Astros to five games in what was expected to be the easiest sweep of the playoffs.

On the flip side, we bore witness to yet another Clayton Kershaw meltdown, which robbed LA and its fans of a World Series run for yet another season.  It’s really quite amazing to think that Kershaw, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, currently owns the second-worst ERA in postseason elimination games in history, behind just Tim Wakefield.   It is also the second time he has given up two home runs on two consecutive pitches, the last being Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS.

So, another meltdown by Kershaw and a hard-fought series against the Braves and we have an NLCS between the St.  Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals.  Unexpected to say the least.

Now that we’re up to speed, let’s break down each series and try to prediction the two teams that will be facing off in the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals (+100) vs Washington Nationals (-130)
Series starts October 11th at Busch Stadium in St. Louis Missouri | 8:08 PM ET

Now only one but two underdog teams made it out of the National League Division Series this season.  The Cardinals will be hosting the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLCS which has to surprise most MLB fans and bettors.  The Dodgers, who won 106 games this year and would have had home-field advantage through the World Series got roughed up by the Nationals after taking a 2-1 series lead.

Frankly, the Nats looked lifeless after an abysmal start to the season and after losing their best player in Bryce Harper, but they certainly turned it on the 2nd half of the year.  They again looked dead in the water after slipping to a 2-1 deficit in the series, but again, they just found ways to win.  They rallied to beat Milwaukee in the Wild Card game and rallied from three runs down to beat the Dodgers 7-3 to win the ALDS series in five games.

On the Cardinals end of things, they did their winning in slightly less dramatic fashion, but just as impressive.  They beat the Braves badly 13-1 in their fifth game, becoming the first team in league history to plate 10 runs in the first inning of a postseason game. While it’s been some time since the Cardinals made it out of Division play, they rank second in World Series titles with 11 to the Yankees 27.  The Nationals, on the other hand, have finally made it to the Championship Series after years of playoff heartbreak.  They have won just a single playoff series, and that was back in 1981 when they were still the Montreal Expos.  So, I don’t even count that.  This is the first playoff win for Washington since becoming a team and boy, do they look hot.

Washington has chosen to give the ball to veteran righty Anibal Sanchez to get them that critical game one victory, especially if he can do it on the road in such a hostile environment.  This might be part of the reason for using him as he is cool as a cucumber under pressure after spending nearly 15 years in the bigs. On the season he spun 166 innings which resulted in a very palatable 11-5 record with a 3.84 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

In the postseason so far, he has given up just one earned run off a Max Muncy home run in game three of the NLDS.  The Nationals issue this season has been pitching, but that of their bullpen not their starters.  They have turned things around the last two weeks so far, but it’s a ticking time bomb.  It was the main reason I picked them to get beat by the Dodgers in fact.

Their bullpen ranked dead last in ERA this year and set a record for the lowest projected win rate.  So, when will this monster rear its ugly head again?  Maybe not at all.  They have used both Strasburg and Scherzer out of the bullpen to try and combat this, but just how much work can they reasonable take on this deep in the season? Scherzer is expected to pitch game two so don’t expect him out there tonight, probably.  I think the Nationals would far prefer each Scherzer and Strasburg will be available to make two starts in this series if need be.

As far as series history goes, the Cardinals have faced the Nationals one time in the playoffs since they came over from Montreal.  The Cardinals won the 2012 NLDS from Washington in 2012 in five games after going down 6-0 early in that elimination game. The Cardinals also hold the advantage this year, going 5-2 against the Nats, including 2-1 at Busch Stadium.  The Cardinals are overall 7-2 in their last nine matchups and St Louis is 21-9 int heir last 30 games at home.

So, game one best bet?  This is a real toss-up with both teams coming off rough five-game series and also playing very very well right now.  I’m going to lean toward the Cardinals in game one due largely in part to the tumultuous week the Nationals have had.  Sure, both series went to five, but they were very different Division series.  The Nationals not only had to come back in epic fashion in the Wild Card but also in game five.

They are on a rollercoaster of emotion, almost pushed to a manic state as a team.  They also had to fly from LA out east while the Cardinals enjoyed a more relaxed series and got to avoid any travel lag or hassle before game one.  I had the Nats as the second-worst team in the postseason behind the Rays, they have proven me wrong so far but I still am willing to be against them once again to drop game one in a tough spot on the road.
Best Bet: St. Louis Cardinals win Game 1 (-120)

New York Yankees (+130) vs Houston Astros (-170)
First off, let me say that the Yankees priced at +130 to win the series is a fantastic number.  With the Yankees sweeping the Twins in a dominant fashion they were afforded the luxury of rest.  On the other hand, much like the Nationals, the Astros just finished a butt-puckering five-game series which saw them embarrassed twice by the Rays, a team that I was surprised even made it to the playoffs. While this was the ALCS matchup we all saw coming and were hoping for, it really came close to not happening at all.

But, much like death and taxes, this ALCS showdown was inevitable.

The two best teams in the AL will have a 2017 ALCS rematch with both teams in desperate need of a World Series title. Make no mistake about it, this is going to a real battle of goliath and goliath, with no debate these are the best teams in the American League this year.

With the departure of the Dodgers, they are also clearly the best two teams left in the race.  Barring any crazy injuries, whoever wins this will be a heavy favorite to win the World Series. Each team is so well rounded it’s hard to find any significant flaws in their game.  Sure the Astros won the season series 4-3, but those three losses came in a series sweep in June, their last games face to face.

The Bronx Bombers are looking to go full endgame and avenge that 2017 in the ALCS and then having to watch the Astros win it all.

So can the Yankees make it past and further their chase of an astonishing 28 franchise championships? The real question here comes down to their starting pitchers I believe.  Between James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, things look great on paper.  But each come with a different and unique reason to have some worry.

Paxton has been shaky in the early innings, not something you can recover from with the Astros ace arms.  Severino did an amazing job working out of some hairy situations in game three, but he did pitch himself into those corners, to begin with.  Luck is fleeting and as skilled as he is, stranding that many runners consistently is a pipe dream.  Eventually, that pipe will burst.  And Tanaka has been great early in games but really struggles when pitching with the lead and runners on base, not the best time to get a case of the yips.  On offense, the Yankees are world-class and probably the best offense in baseball.  While the regular season stats don’t quite show that across the board, they were mired in injuries to a historic level and still managed 3rd best record in the league and became one of two teams to hit over 300 home runs in a season.  With the breakout season by DJ LeMahieu, they have a true contact hitter to compliment Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius. Outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton bring the big bats, and along with Gleyber Torres give the bombers a potent lineup which few teams have been able to deal with.  The Yankees have a clear edge on offense, but will it be enough to combat a pair of Cy Young hopefuls?

Sure, the Astros division series left a lot to be desired on the pitching side of things, there is no denying the talent is there in droves. Gerrit Cole pitched a historically impressive ALDS, with a record-breaking 25 strikeouts and reaching back to hit 99mph on the gun on his 100th pitch in game five.  Win or lose, that ALDS performance locked up the Cy Young for him in my opinion.

Oh yea and let’s not forget about Justin Verlander, former Cy Young winner and no-hitter thrower, he is all-time and a sure first ballot HOF inductee.  In his first ALDS start, he went seven scoreless innings and gave up just a single hit while striking out eight batters.  Oh right, there is also former Cy Young winner, 6x all-star and twice leading the MLB in ERA.

Sure, he hasn’t had the best postseason record, but he’s still Zack Greinke and that means a lot.  Not putting down the Yankees rotation, but this might be the best 3-man starting trio the playoffs have seen since the live-ball era begun.  Oh, they have an amazing bullpen to boot.  So the Astros easily take the pitching side of things here and take a clead advantage on the mound in this series.

So, where does this leave us?

Well, you take the best offense in baseball and best pitching staff and what do you get?  I series for the ages hopefully.  Sure, we can see a meltdown on either side and even a sweep, but I think this game reeks of a hard-fought 6-7 game slobber knocker. With Greinke and Tanaka slated to start game one I predict it to be the highest scoring out of the first three games at least, with both Greinke and Tanaka shaky-ish in the postseason, at least for them.  These teams are truly as evenly matched as any teams in the league but in this first game, I like the Yankees to jump on Greinke early and get the bullpen warming up by the third inning.  Just as long as Tanaka can hang out, I like the Bombers to steal game one on the road before Verlander and Cole make life a bit more hellacious for Bronx’s finest.

Truly, no matter how this game or series shakes out, I’m expecting a historic battle between these two powerhouses and for whoever wins to go on and take out the NL world series opponent quite easily.
Best Bet: Yankees win Game 1 (+145)