MLB Playoffs 2017: Latest Odds Guide, Ticket Info and Bracket Predictions

There will be no day off for baseball fans Friday as the Houston Astros host the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the 2017 American League Championship Series.

Houston took an early 2-0 series lead but New York responded with three straight wins at home to get one game away from its 41st American League pennant. If the Yankees win, it will be the second straight series from which they've advanced after dropping the first two games.

Houston and New York will be fighting for the right to face off with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who claimed the National League pennant with their 11-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night.

                    

ALCS Schedule

Game 6: Friday, Oct. 20, at 8:08 p.m. ET, FS1

Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8:08 p.m. ET, FS1

                     

Ticket Info

Tickets for Games 6 and 7 are available on StubHub.

                    

Odds Guide (via OddsShark)

Game 6 Odds: Astros -140, Yankees +120

World Series Odds: Dodgers -110, Yankees +190, Astros +500

                     

ALCS Prediction

Justin Verlander was masterful in his last start, allowing one earned run over nine innings in the Astros' 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Yankees. Houston may need a similar performance if it's going to stay alive in the ALCS.

Offense wasn't a problem for the Astros in the ALDS. They scored eight runs in each of their first two wins and then put up five runs—including two on Chris Sale—in their series-clinching Game 5 victory.

In the ALCS, however, Houston has crossed the plate a combined nine times.

Jose Altuve is 5-for-18 in the ALCS but hasn't registered an extra-base hit. Marwin Gonzalez is 2-for-15 without a single RBI after leading the team in the category (90 RBI) during the regular season. George Springer is only 2-for-18, and the trio of Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran have one hit in 39 at-bats.

"The playoffs, as we talked earlier today about advanced scouting and exposing weaknesses, if they get you to crack a little bit outside of your game plan then they've got you," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after the team's Game 5 loss, per MLB.com. "We haven't stayed in our game plan quite well enough to make adjustments."

Getting to Luis Severino early will be vital for Houston.

Game 5 was essentially New York's best-case scenario. Not only did the Yankees win, but Masahiro Tanaka also went seven innings, thus saving the team's bullpen for Game 6. Tommy Kahnle was the only reliever New York used as he pitched the final two innings.

That means Chad Green, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman should all be rested and ready to go Friday night. Even taking Betances out of the equation after his underwhelming postseason so far, Green, Robertson and Chapman could pitch the final four or five innings of Game 6.

Severino had an ignominious postseason debut, allowing three earned runs in a third of an inning in the American League Wild Card Game. ESPN.com's Buster Olney noted that Yankees starters—Severino included—have been largely excellent since then:

Returning home could be what the Astros need to reinvigorate their offense, and Houston is helped by the fact New York finished a game under .500 (40-41) away from Yankee Stadium.

Game 6 could go either way. Houston's bats have to wake up sooner or later, and the Astros will feel confident with Verlander on the mound. But the same was said of the Cleveland Indians heading into Game 5 of the ALDS, and they exited the playoffs following their 5-2 defeat to New York.

The Astros will experience a similar fate as Severino is just good enough to hand over an early lead to the Yankees bullpen, which seals the deal on a Game 6 win and sends the team to the World Series.

Prediction: Yankees win series 4-2

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Ron Gardenhire Reportedly to Be Named Tigers Manager

Ron Gardenhire is returning to the American League Central, with the Detroit Tigers set to hire him as their next manager, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday.

Gardenhire managed the Minnesota Twins from 2002 to 2014, compiling a 1,068-1,039 record. Under his watch, the Twins won six division titles.

     

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

     

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Latest Rumors, Predictions for Top Sluggers This Winter

The 2017 MLB postseason is still underway, but the focus for some fans is already on the free-agent market this winter.

Next year's free-agent class receives a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado could all hit the open market after the 2018 season. Still, more than a few impact players are available to the highest bidder this offseason.

Below are the most up-to-date rumors and predictions for two of the top free-agent sluggers and another star who could become a free agent as well.

          

Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer picked a great time to have a career year. The Kansas City Royals first baseman had a .318/.385/.498 slash line to go along with 25 home runs and 94 RBI. His .882 OPS was over 100 points higher than his career average (.781).

Hosmer is one of four Royals players instrumental to the team's recent success entering free agency. He, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain all shared a moment at the end of Kansas City's 14-2 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks to end the regular season.

That felt like the end of an era for the Royals, but the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger reported the team plans on making a strong push to re-sign Hosmer. If the Royals successfully retain the 2016 All-Star, then they'd shift their focus toward re-signing Moustakas and Cain as well.

It will be interesting to see what contract Hosmer ultimately receives. He's not all that young, turning 28 Oct. 24, and he has never finished with a WAR higher than 4.1, according to FanGraphs. Between 2011 and 2017, Hosmer's 9.9 overall WAR ranks 17th among qualified first basemen, per FanGraphs.

Mellinger reported Hosmer's deal could total as much as $150 million.

Free-agent sluggers struggled to find homes last winter. Mark Trumbo got $37.5 million over three years from the Baltimore Orioles, while Edwin Encarnacion turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Toronto Blue Jays before signing with the Cleveland Indians for $60 million over three years.

Hosmer is seven years younger than Encarnacion and four years younger than Trumbo. Still, he hasn't displayed a ton of consistency from year to year, and asking for over $100 million could turn off some potential suitors.

At the same time, Hosmer's desire to maximize his earning power now makes sense since he's unlikely to be in a position to command a bigger contract.

The sentimental pull of staying in Kansas City could be alluring, but it's hard to see him potentially turning down more money as well as a better opportunity to contend in order to re-sign with the Royals.

Should the New York Yankees, who need a first baseman, come calling, the Royals may stand no chance of re-signing Hosmer.

Prediction: Hosmer signs with Yankees

              

Carlos Santana

Few position players set to hit free agency can boast the same level of offensive consistency Carlos Santana can. Santana once again had a solid season at the plate, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 79 runs and earning 88 walks.

A few years ago, Santana leaving Cleveland would've been a foregone conclusion and the Indians may have traded him before he could see out the duration of his contract with the team. That's the approach the franchise took with CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

Instead, ownership showed last offseason it's willing to spend in order to capitalize on the Indians' championship window.

According to Spotrac, the Indians had the 18th-highest payroll in MLB with a little over $139 million committed in player salaries. While that still puts Cleveland in the bottom half of the league, it's a jump from 2016, when the team had a total payroll of roughly $114 million, good for 22nd.

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners will both make a run at Santana. The ball may ultimately be in Cleveland's court, though.

"This will be tough for me after the season, but I'm going to have to make a hard decision about my career," Santana said in September, per Cleveland.com's Paul Hoynes. "I love it here. I don't want to go anywhere. Everybody knows. My teammates know. The front office knows. But that's not something I can control."

Santana is a career .249 hitter who turns 32 in April—two factors that could ensure he doesn't slip out of the Indians' price range. Cleveland may also be shedding $11 million from its payroll if it doesn't pick up Michael Brantley's $12 million option for 2018 and instead gives him the $1 million buyout.

Brantley has appeared in 101 games between 2016 and 2017 and no longer looks like the hitter who finished third in the 2014 American League MVP voting. If push comes to shove, then jettisoning Brantley to free up money to re-sign Santana would be a smart approach.

Warding off the Red Sox and Mariners won't be easy. Both teams have more financial resources at their disposal than Cleveland, and Boston can sell Santana on playing for a contender after making the playoffs the last two years.

The 2017 season shouldn't be the Indians' last real shot at a title, and that will give ownership enough incentive to sign off on an expensive extension for Santana.

Prediction: Santana re-signs with Indians

              

Justin Upton

Justin Upton isn't a free agent just yet. He's signed through 2021 but can opt out at any point beginning this winter.

When a player has an opt-out clause, conventional wisdom is he'll exercise that opportunity in order to chase more money in free agency. Upton may be an exception.

Some inside the Los Angeles Angels organization told FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman they believe Upton could opt out or use the clause as leverage in order to get a better deal. Heyman added that "most see it as a very close call."

According to the Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher, Angels general manager Billy Eppler confirmed he had a "positive conversation" with Upton and his agent, Larry Reynolds. Eppler also said he and Upton have had an ongoing dialogue.

Following a somewhat-disappointing 2016 season, Upton returned to form in 2017. He hit 35 home runs and drove in a career-high 109 runs between his time with the Angels and Detroit Tigers. His .901 OPS was a career best as well.

Upton is set to make a little more than $22.1 million over each of the next four years.

If he's ever going to opt out, then this is likely his best opportunity. He turned 30 in August, and he's unlikely to hit any better than he did this past year.

The Angels have a strong incentive to keep him around. Mike Trout is under team control until 2020, giving Los Angeles a ticking clock that puts a premium on winning now. Having missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, the Angels can't keep wallowing in mediocrity with the best player in baseball.

Upton will opt out, but the Angels will pay what it takes to re-sign him. 

Prediction: Upton opts out; re-signs with Angels

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Former MLB Pitcher Daniel Webb Dies at Age 28 in ATV Accident

The sheriff's office in Humphreys County, Tennessee, confirmed former Chicago White Sox pitcher Daniel Webb died Saturday night in an ATV accident, according to the Associated Press (via WPSD in Paducah, Kentucky).

The White Sox provided a statement about Webb's death:

The AP reported authorities confirmed Webb suffered head trauma in what was described as a "tragic accident." Webb's wife and two others were injured.

Webb appeared in 94 games over four years with the White Sox. He posted a 4.50 ERA and a 4.46 FIP, according to Baseball Reference.

Webb underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2016, and the White Sox released him in November.

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Former MLB Pitcher Daniel Webb Dies at Age 28 in ATV Accident

The sheriff's office in Humphreys County, Tennessee, confirmed former Chicago White Sox pitcher Daniel Webb died Saturday night in an ATV accident, according to the Associated Press (via WPSD in Paducah, Kentucky).

The White Sox provided a statement about Webb's death:

The AP reported authorities confirmed Webb suffered head trauma in what was described as a "tragic accident." Webb's wife and two others were injured.

Webb appeared in 94 games over four years with the White Sox. He posted a 4.50 ERA and a 4.46 FIP, according to Baseball Reference.

Webb underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2016, and the White Sox released him in November.

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Joe Maddon to Discuss Slide Rule with Joe Torre Following NLCS Game 1 Ejection

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he spoke with Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer, and will meet with Torre to discuss the slide rule at home plate following the Cubs' Game 1 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

"We talked on the phone. We just have to sit down face-to-face about what I said last night," Maddon said, per ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers. "The only thing I'll say about yesterday is it was a tremendous baseball play on our part."

     

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

     

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Corey Seager Out for NLCS vs. Cubs with Back Injury

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager will not be with the team as it plays the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. 

Per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, Seager is not on the Dodgers' 25-man roster for the NLCS due to a back injury. 

Shaikin added that Joc Pederson has been put on the Dodgers' NLCS roster in the event Chris Taylor and/or Enrique Hernandez need to play shortstop. 

Joshua Thornton of MLB.com noted Seager has been held out of team workouts the previous two days due to a muscular issue in his back. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reported Seager injured his back in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks

Following up on his Rookie of the Year-winning campaign a year ago, Seager continues to be one of MLB's best shortstops. The 23-year-old hit .295/.375/.479 in 145 games during the 2017 regular season. 

On almost any other team, losing Seager would be a big blow to the lineup. Not only does he boast power, he helps set the table with his ability to draw walks and get on base.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have no shortage of offensive firepower, even without Seager. Cody Bellinger is the runaway favorite for National League Rookie of the Year, while Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner also help make up the heart of the order. Los Angeles even acquired Curtis Granderson in August to further solidify the offense.

If Taylor ends up as Seager's replacement at shortstop, he's not a bad fallback. He hit .288/.354/.496 during the regular season and played five different positions for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. 

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Edwin Encarnacion Will Play in Game 5 vs. Yankees After Ankle Injury

The Cleveland Indians will have one of their best hitters available as they face a must-win game against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series on Wednesday night. 

The Indians announced their starting lineup for Game 5 and Edwin Encarnacion is the designated hitter batting fourth:

     

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

     

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Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees Blank Indians in Game 3 of ALDS Behind Greg Bird Homer

The New York Yankees live to fight another day after defeating the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Sunday night in Yankee Stadium. The Indians remain ahead 2-1 in the series.

Both starting pitchers did more than enough to put their teams in a position to win.

Carlos Carrasco went 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out seven. Carrasco left with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the sixth, and Andrew Miller got Starlin Castro to fly out to Francisco Lindor to end the inning.

Miller remained in the game for the seventh, and the normally dominant left-hander allowed the go-ahead home run to Greg Bird to open the inning. Bird's mammoth blast landed just short of the third deck in right field.

MLB provided a second look at the homer:

ESPN.com's Buster Olney noted Miller had only allowed a home run to one other left-handed batter this year.

Former Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez praised how well Bird has hit the ball of late:

That one run was enough after the gem Masahiro Tanaka delivered for the Yankees. Tanaka went seven innings and finished with seven strikeouts. He also held the duo of Lindor and Jay Bruce—two of the Indians hottest hitters—without a hit in their first six combined at-bats.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer thought the Japanese right-hander brought a little something extra to the mound Sunday:

Tanaka could thank Aaron Judge for keeping the game tied 0-0 in the top of the sixth. Roberto Perez led off the inning with a single, and Lindor hit a drive to right field that looked destined for the seats. Instead, the 6'7" Judge reached his left hand up and robbed Lindor of a two-run home run.

MLB shared a replay of the catch:

After Tanaka exited the game, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman combined to pitch the final two innings. Robertson went 0.1 innings and Chapman handled the rest.

Chapman's five-out save wasn't without drama. He allowed one-out singles to Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez to put runners on first and second. From there, the four-time All-Star struck out Bruce and got Carlos Santana to fly out to center field and end the game.

The fact that Yankees manager Joe Girardi was able to rest most of his relief options undoubtedly helps New York's chances of coming back from a 2-0 series deficit.

Game 4 is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET Monday night in the Big Apple. Luis Severino will start for the Yankees, and Indians announced Trevor Bauer will take the mound for Cleveland.

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Hanley Ramirez Leads Red Sox Offense in Blowout Win over Astros in ALDS Game 3

The Boston Red Sox remain alive in the American League Division Series following a 10-3 victory over the Houston Astros in Fenway Park on Sunday. Houston still maintains a 2-1 series lead.

David Price was excellent in relief for the Red Sox after a poor start by Doug Fister forced manager John Farrell to go to the bullpen early in the game. Price pitched four scoreless innings and struck out four batters on 57 pitches.

MLB.com's Mike Petriello thought Price's strong effort dismissed the notion the 2012 Cy Young Award winner couldn't get it done in October:

Entering the postseason this year, Price had allowed 41 earned runs in 66.2 playoff innings. 

He pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless relief in Game 2 and on Sunday night, he became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw four-plus innings out of the bullpen since Pedro Martinez in the 1999 ALDS, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

While Price silenced some of his skeptics on the mound, Rafael Devers had what's likely to be the first of many big playoff performances at the plate. The rookie third baseman went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored.

He gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead with a two-run home run to right-center field in the bottom of the third. MLB shared a replay of the homer:

Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan noted how the rookie third baseman is in select company:

Hanley Ramirez was a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only two other Red Sox players have ever gone 4-for-4 in a playoff game.

The Astros got off to a hot start, as they scored three runs in the top of the first and chased Fister out of the game after 1.1 innings. Josh Reddick singled to give Houston a 1-0 lead and Carlos Correa hit a two-run homer two batters later to put the Astros ahead 3-0 before the Red Sox even stepped to the plate.

Boston may have been staring at a six-run deficit in the second, had Mookie Betts not made the defensive play of the game.

With two outs and runners on second and third, Reddick hit a Joe Kelly slider deep to right field. Betts chased down the fly ball and caught it was he was approaching the right-field fence. The Red Sox shared photos of the grab:

NBC Sports Boston's Evan Drellich thought the catch did more than save three runs:

The Red Sox got their first run a half-inning later when Sandy Leon singled home Mitch MorelandMoreland scored again on a single by Hanley Ramirez in the third before Devers put Houston behind for the first time in the series. 

A six-run explosion by the Red Sox in the bottom of the seventh extinguished any chance of an Astros comeback. Ramirez got the offense started with a two-run double before Devers plated Moreland with a bloop single. Jackie Bradley Jr. capped off the scoring with a three-run home run to right field.

The Red Sox provided a great response with the season on the line, but Fister's short start meant putting even more innings on what's an already taxed bullpen. Boston will need much more from its starting pitching in order to extend this series to a decisive fifth game in Houston.

The two teams will stay in Boston for Game 4, which is scheduled for 1:08 p.m. ET Monday.

Charlie Morton will get the start for the Astros, while the Red Sox have yet to name a starting pitcher. Morton went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts during the regular season. He allowed two earned runs on four hits in 5.1 innings in a 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Sept. 29.

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MLB Playoffs 2017: Odds, TV Schedule, Predictions for Friday’s Division Series

The 2017 MLB postseason continues Friday, with four games scattered throughout the day.

The American League Division Series got underway Thursday, with the Houston Astros defeating the Boston Red Sox 8-2 and the Cleveland Indians winning 4-0 over the New York Yankees.

The National League Division Series, on the other hand, opens Friday as the Washington Nationals host the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers welcome in the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.

Below is a schedule and preview for each of the four games.

         

Friday Playoff Schedule

2 p.m. ET: Boston (+142) at Houston (-164), FS1

5 p.m. ET: New York (N/A) at Cleveland (N/A), MLB Network

7:30 p.m. ET: Chicago (+105) at Washington (-135), TBS

10:30 p.m. ET: Arizona (+220) at Los Angeles (-260), TBS

(Note: Game odds are courtesy of OddsShark)

             

Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

The fact the Astros chased Chris Sale out of the game after he allowed seven earned runs in five-plus innings shouldn't have been a huge surprise. Sale was excellent during the regular season, but Houston was also excellent when facing left-handed pitching.

That may not bode well for the Red Sox, who are throwing out another lefty, Drew Pomeranz, for Game 2.

According to FanGraphs, the Astros tied for second in OPS (.814) and ranked fourth in isolated power (.189) against left-handers. Compare that to the Red Sox, who were 11th in OPS (.759) and 27th in isolated power (.139).

Dallas Keuchel finished with a 2.90 ERA, which was a significant improvement over his 4.55 ERA in 2016. His FIP, however, was only slightly better (3.79) than a year ago (3.87), per FanGraphs.

Of Friday's four games, this could be the highest-scoring affair. There isn't much to separate Pomeranz from Keuchel, either, so it should be much closer than Game 1.

Thursday wasn't the Red Sox's night—as evidenced by Jackie Bradley Jr. coming inches away from a great diving catch that instead ended in a Josh Reddick single. Boston's luck should turn around Friday.

Prediction: Boston 7, Houston 5

     

New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians

Indians manager Terry Francona surprised many when he named Trevor Bauer the starter for Game 1 and pushed ace Corey Kluber back to Game 2. The move ensures Kluber will have plenty of rest, with his last start coming Sept. 30 against the Chicago White Sox.

As long as he gets enough run support, it's hard to bet against the right-hander, who is a strong contender for the American League Cy Young Award. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian shared where Kluber ranks in a variety of categories:

Kluber also allowed three earned runs in 17 innings against the Yankees during the regular season, with both of his starts ending in a win.

The Indians still own one of the best bullpens in baseball as well. Cleveland's relievers combined to post an MLB-best 3.20 FIP, according to FanGraphs.

Between Kluber and Francona's available options in high-pressure late-inning scenarios, the Indians should earn a victory in Game 2.

Prediction: Cleveland 4, New York 2

      

Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper returned from his knee injury in time to get a few games under his belt before the postseason began, but how much he can provide the Nationals offense remains a major question. Harper had a .317 on-base percentage and slugged .486 in 10 games in August before suffering the injury, and he went 3-for-18 in his final five games in September.

Washington can still count on the trio of Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, so the Nationals could survive if Harper isn't himself in October.

The Cubs have a dynamic offense themselves, one that tied for first in OPS (.811) in the second half of the regular season, according to FanGraphs. They were also first in weighted runs created (414). 

Too much can be made of how a team is performing in the days and weeks leading up to the playoffs. At the same time, the Cubs look much different from the team that was 25-27 to end May and lost its final six games that month.

Prediction: Chicago 5, Washington 3

       

Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

The Diamondbacks are riding a six-game winning streak over the Dodgers entering the NLDS, but Arizona went 0-2 when Clayton Kershaw was on the mound for Los Angeles. 

Not only did Kershaw earn a victory in each of those two games, he did so in dominant fashion, allowing one earned run and striking out 19 batters in 15.1 innings.

The Diamondbacks didn't have J.D. Martinez in either of those games, though. Martinez hit 29 home runs and slugged .741 in his 62 regular-season games with Arizona. And Baseball-Reference noted Martinez's 2017 season as a whole has him on par with some baseball legends:

The veteran outfielder has teed off against left-handed pitching. He batted .376 and slugged .892 in 110 plate appearances against lefties.

Martinez can only do so much on his own, though, especially when Arizona ranked 21st in on-base percentage (.321) and 16th in OPS (.739) against left-handed pitching, according to FanGraphs.

The Dodgers should be able to successfully defend their home field with their ace on the mound.

Prediction: Los Angeles 5, Arizona 1

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MLB Playoffs 2017: Odds, TV Schedule, Predictions for Friday’s Division Series

The 2017 MLB postseason continues Friday, with four games scattered throughout the day.

The American League Division Series got underway Thursday, with the Houston Astros defeating the Boston Red Sox 8-2 and the Cleveland Indians winning 4-0 over the New York Yankees.

The National League Division Series, on the other hand, opens Friday as the Washington Nationals host the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers welcome in the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.

Below is a schedule and preview for each of the four games.

         

Friday Playoff Schedule

2 p.m. ET: Boston (+142) at Houston (-164), FS1

5 p.m. ET: New York (N/A) at Cleveland (N/A), MLB Network

7:30 p.m. ET: Chicago (+105) at Washington (-135), TBS

10:30 p.m. ET: Arizona (+220) at Los Angeles (-260), TBS

(Note: Game odds are courtesy of OddsShark)

             

Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

The fact the Astros chased Chris Sale out of the game after he allowed seven earned runs in five-plus innings shouldn't have been a huge surprise. Sale was excellent during the regular season, but Houston was also excellent when facing left-handed pitching.

That may not bode well for the Red Sox, who are throwing out another lefty, Drew Pomeranz, for Game 2.

According to FanGraphs, the Astros tied for second in OPS (.814) and ranked fourth in isolated power (.189) against left-handers. Compare that to the Red Sox, who were 11th in OPS (.759) and 27th in isolated power (.139).

Dallas Keuchel finished with a 2.90 ERA, which was a significant improvement over his 4.55 ERA in 2016. His FIP, however, was only slightly better (3.79) than a year ago (3.87), per FanGraphs.

Of Friday's four games, this could be the highest-scoring affair. There isn't much to separate Pomeranz from Keuchel, either, so it should be much closer than Game 1.

Thursday wasn't the Red Sox's night—as evidenced by Jackie Bradley Jr. coming inches away from a great diving catch that instead ended in a Josh Reddick single. Boston's luck should turn around Friday.

Prediction: Boston 7, Houston 5

     

New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians

Indians manager Terry Francona surprised many when he named Trevor Bauer the starter for Game 1 and pushed ace Corey Kluber back to Game 2. The move ensures Kluber will have plenty of rest, with his last start coming Sept. 30 against the Chicago White Sox.

As long as he gets enough run support, it's hard to bet against the right-hander, who is a strong contender for the American League Cy Young Award. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian shared where Kluber ranks in a variety of categories:

Kluber also allowed three earned runs in 17 innings against the Yankees during the regular season, with both of his starts ending in a win.

The Indians still own one of the best bullpens in baseball as well. Cleveland's relievers combined to post an MLB-best 3.20 FIP, according to FanGraphs.

Between Kluber and Francona's available options in high-pressure late-inning scenarios, the Indians should earn a victory in Game 2.

Prediction: Cleveland 4, New York 2

      

Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper returned from his knee injury in time to get a few games under his belt before the postseason began, but how much he can provide the Nationals offense remains a major question. Harper had a .317 on-base percentage and slugged .486 in 10 games in August before suffering the injury, and he went 3-for-18 in his final five games in September.

Washington can still count on the trio of Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, so the Nationals could survive if Harper isn't himself in October.

The Cubs have a dynamic offense themselves, one that tied for first in OPS (.811) in the second half of the regular season, according to FanGraphs. They were also first in weighted runs created (414). 

Too much can be made of how a team is performing in the days and weeks leading up to the playoffs. At the same time, the Cubs look much different from the team that was 25-27 to end May and lost its final six games that month.

Prediction: Chicago 5, Washington 3

       

Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

The Diamondbacks are riding a six-game winning streak over the Dodgers entering the NLDS, but Arizona went 0-2 when Clayton Kershaw was on the mound for Los Angeles. 

Not only did Kershaw earn a victory in each of those two games, he did so in dominant fashion, allowing one earned run and striking out 19 batters in 15.1 innings.

The Diamondbacks didn't have J.D. Martinez in either of those games, though. Martinez hit 29 home runs and slugged .741 in his 62 regular-season games with Arizona. And Baseball-Reference noted Martinez's 2017 season as a whole has him on par with some baseball legends:

The veteran outfielder has teed off against left-handed pitching. He batted .376 and slugged .892 in 110 plate appearances against lefties.

Martinez can only do so much on his own, though, especially when Arizona ranked 21st in on-base percentage (.321) and 16th in OPS (.739) against left-handed pitching, according to FanGraphs.

The Dodgers should be able to successfully defend their home field with their ace on the mound.

Prediction: Los Angeles 5, Arizona 1

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Trevor Bauer Shuts Down Yankees Offense to Give Indians ALDS Game 1 Win

The Cleveland Indians opened their American League title defense with a 4-0 home victory over the New York Yankees at Progressive Field on Thursday in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. 

Entering the game, many questioned whether Indians manager Terry Francona was making a mistake by waiting to start his ace, Corey Kluber, until Game 2 of the ALDS. Francona instead gave the Game 1 start to Trevor Bauer, who had a career-best 3.88 FIP in the regular season, per Baseball Reference.

The gamble paid off in spades as Bauer pitched 6.2 scoreless innings and struck out eight batters. The right-hander had a no-hitter through 5.1 innings before Aaron Hicks doubled in the sixth. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the longest no-hit bid in Indians postseason history.

FanGraphs' Travis Sawchik thought Bauer's dominance demonstrated the need for patience with young pitchers:

Indians pitchers combined to allow three hits in the game.

Francona had the magic touch, as his decision to play Jason Kipnis in center field led to the best defensive play of the game. Kipnis, who played in the outfield 11 times in the regular season after spending all of his career at second base, made a diving catch in the top of the third to rob Chase Headley of a leadoff double.

MLB provided a replay of the catch:

MLB.com's Jordan Bastian shared the Statcast data behind the play:

Jay Bruce produced the bulk of the offense for Cleveland. The veteran outfielder nearly ended up with the Yankees before he landed with the Indians in a trade from the New York Mets, and the Indians couldn't help but get in a dig during the game:

Bruce led off the bottom of the second with a double to left field and later scored the Indians' first run when Roberto Perez grounded into a double play. In the bottom of the fourth, he hit a two-run home run over the right-field fence to put Cleveland ahead 3-0.

MLB shared a replay of the homer:

Bruce brought the Indians' fourth run home in the bottom of the fifth when he hit a sacrifice fly that plated Jose Ramirez.

The four runs were more than enough run support for Cleveland. After Bauer exited the game in the seventh, Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless inning and Cody Allen came on to make a four-out save.

The series stays in Cleveland for Game 2, with the first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Friday evening. CC Sabathia, who won a Cy Young Award with the Indians in 2007, will oppose Kluber, who's a strong candidate to earn his second Cy Young this year.

Sabathia finished the regular season 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts and has yet to face Cleveland in 2017. Kluber went 18-4 with an MLB-best 2.25 ERA. He made two starts against the Yankees in the regular season, holding them to three earned runs in 17 innings.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Schedule 2017: Dates, Wild-Card Matchups, Picture and Bracket

With the Pittsburgh Pirates' 11-8 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday, the 2017 MLB regular season officially drew to a close.

Baseball fans won't have to wait long for the postseason to get underway with the American League Wild Card Game scheduled for Tuesday night.

In 2015, the Kansas City Royals won a title after losing the World Series in seven games the year prior. The Cleveland Indians could follow the same trajectory. The Indians have the highest World Series odds (23.8 percent) on FanGraphs, and Cleveland will look to atone for dropping Game 7 at home last year to the Chicago Cubs.

The 2017 Indians are essentially the same team as last year with two big exceptions. Jose Ramirez has ascended to become one of MLB's best players, and Cleveland's starting rotation isn't decimated by injury. The Indians won't need Corey Kluber to start three times in the World Series if it comes to that.

Whether the Indians can repeat as American League champions and get over the World Series hump is one of a few burning questions heading into the MLB playoffs.

Below is the full postseason schedule, followed by three storylines to follow over the next month. The MLB playoff bracket is available on MLB.com.

     

2017 MLB Playoff Schedule

American League Wild Card Game

Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, Tues., Oct. 3, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

     

National League Wild Card Game

Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks, Wed., Oct. 4, 8 p.m. ET (TBS)

     

American League Division Series (AL Wild Card Game Winner vs. Cleveland Indians)

Game 1: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Thurs., Oct. 5, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 2: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 3: Cleveland at AL Wild Card; Sun., Oct. 8, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 4*: Cleveland at AL Wild Card; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (FS1)

Game 5*: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Wed., Oct. 11, TBD (FS1)

     

American League Division Series (Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros)

Game 1: Boston at Houston; Thurs., Oct. 5, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 2: Boston at Houston; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 3: Houston at Boston; Sun., Oct. 8, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 4*: Houston at Boston; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (FS1)

Game 5*: Boston at Houston; Wed., Oct. 11, TBD (FS1)

     

National League Division Series (NL Wild Card Game Winner vs. Los Angeles Dodgers)

Game 1: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Sat., Oct. 7, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Los Angeles at NL Wild Card; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (TBS)

Game 4*: Los Angeles at NL Wild Card; Tues., Oct. 10, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Thurs., Oct. 12, TBD (TBS)

       

National League Division Series (Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals)

Game 1: Chicago at Washington; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: Chicago at Washington; Sat., Oct. 7, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Washington at Chicago; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (TBS)

Game 4*: Washington at Chicago; Tues., Oct. 10, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: Chicago at Washington; Thurs., Oct. 12, TBD (TBS)

     

American League Championship Series

Game 1: Fri., Oct. 13, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 2: Sat., Oct. 14, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 3: Mon., Oct. 16, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 4: Tues., Oct. 17, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 5*: Wed., Oct. 18, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 6*: Fri., Oct. 20, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 7*: Sat., Oct. 21 TBD (Fox/FS1)

     

National League Championship Series

Game 1: Sat., Oct. 14, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: Sun., Oct. 15, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Tues., Oct. 17, TBD (TBS)

Game 4: Wed., Oct. 18, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: Thurs., Oct. 19, TBD (TBS)

Game 6*: Sat., Oct. 21, TBD (TBS)

Game 7*: Sun., Oct. 22, TBD (TBS)

     

World Series

Game 1: Tues., Oct. 24, TBD (Fox)

Game 2: Wed., Oct. 25, TBD (Fox)

Game 3: Fri., Oct. 27, TBD (Fox)

Game 4: Sat., Oct. 28, TBD (Fox)

Game 5*: Sun., Oct. 29, TBD (Fox)

Game 6*: Tues., Oct. 31, TBD (Fox)

Game 7*: Wed., Nov. 1, TBD (Fox)

      

Biggest Questions

Will the Houston Astros Fulfill the Prophecy?

Sports Illustrated placed George Springer on the cover of its June 30, 2014, edition and proclaimed the Houston Astros would be 2017 World Series champions. The cover reflected the general sentiment around the Astros, who hadn't won more than 56 games between 2011 and 2013 but began showing progress in 2014.

Houston reached the American League Division Series in 2015—the franchise's first postseason appearance since 2005—which was cause for further optimism.

Some may have begun losing faith in the Astros last year when they went 84-78 and missed out on the playoffs, but the team is poised for a deep run this October.

Springer is enjoying his best offensive season—boasting a .283/.367/.522 slash line along with 34 home runs and 85 RBI—while Jose Altuve is the front-runner for the American League MVP Award. Altuve is second among position players in WAR (7.5), per FanGraphs, and led MLB in batting average (.347).

The Astros have a great offense, but their pitching will make or break their World Series hopes. Houston ranks sixth in team FIP (3.92), according to FanGraphs, which puts it behind the Indians, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL.

     

Will Clayton Kershaw's Playoff Luck Turn Around?

Clayton Kershaw best sums up the Los Angeles Dodgers' inability to reach the World Series since the team's ownership committed to spending whatever's necessary to win a title.

The Dodgers have spared no expense to build the best roster and front office possible. Yet having the best players and smartest minds doesn't guarantee success in October.

Kershaw is one of the top pitchers on the planet but has been inexplicably mediocre in the postseason. He has a 4.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a 3.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 18 playoff appearances. Compare that to Kershaw's career regular-season numbers: 2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a 4.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Nobody should blame Kershaw for the Dodgers' falling short of the Fall Classic in the last four years, nor are his postseason struggles a damning indictment of his overall legacy. He could retire right now and have a strong Hall of Fame resume.

But the absence of a World Series ring or a dominant postseason similar to Kluber's last year is glaring for a pitcher who has achieved everything Kershaw has on the mound.

      

Will the Washington Nationals Finally Advance Past the NLDS?

Speaking of postseason disappointment, no fanbase has experienced more playoff heartache in recent years than those who follow the Nationals.

Washington won the most games in MLB in 2012 (98), tied for second-most in 2014 (96) and tied for second again in 2016 (95). Three appearances in the National League Division Series are all the Nationals have to show for that regular-season success.

Once again, the Nationals have the pieces necessary to win a World Series. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are two of the best aces in baseball, while any lineup anchored by Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy is capable of putting a lot of runs on the board.

Whereas Nationals fans could still look ahead to a bright future when the team exited the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, a stronger sense of urgency surrounds the team now—as it did last year.

Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and most notably Harper can become free agents in 2019. Losing Gonzalez and Murphy would hurt, but failing to re-sign Harper would be a significant blow to the Nationals offense. His potential free agency adds urgency for Washington capitalize on its championship window while he's still under contract.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Schedule 2017: Dates, Wild-Card Matchups, Picture and Bracket

With the Pittsburgh Pirates' 11-8 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday, the 2017 MLB regular season officially drew to a close.

Baseball fans won't have to wait long for the postseason to get underway with the American League Wild Card Game scheduled for Tuesday night.

In 2015, the Kansas City Royals won a title after losing the World Series in seven games the year prior. The Cleveland Indians could follow the same trajectory. The Indians have the highest World Series odds (23.8 percent) on FanGraphs, and Cleveland will look to atone for dropping Game 7 at home last year to the Chicago Cubs.

The 2017 Indians are essentially the same team as last year with two big exceptions. Jose Ramirez has ascended to become one of MLB's best players, and Cleveland's starting rotation isn't decimated by injury. The Indians won't need Corey Kluber to start three times in the World Series if it comes to that.

Whether the Indians can repeat as American League champions and get over the World Series hump is one of a few burning questions heading into the MLB playoffs.

Below is the full postseason schedule, followed by three storylines to follow over the next month. The MLB playoff bracket is available on MLB.com.

     

2017 MLB Playoff Schedule

American League Wild Card Game

Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, Tues., Oct. 3, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

     

National League Wild Card Game

Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks, Wed., Oct. 4, 8 p.m. ET (TBS)

     

American League Division Series (AL Wild Card Game Winner vs. Cleveland Indians)

Game 1: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Thurs., Oct. 5, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 2: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 3: Cleveland at AL Wild Card; Sun., Oct. 8, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 4*: Cleveland at AL Wild Card; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (FS1)

Game 5*: AL Wild Card at Cleveland; Wed., Oct. 11, TBD (FS1)

     

American League Division Series (Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros)

Game 1: Boston at Houston; Thurs., Oct. 5, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 2: Boston at Houston; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 3: Houston at Boston; Sun., Oct. 8, TBD (FS1/MLBN)

Game 4*: Houston at Boston; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (FS1)

Game 5*: Boston at Houston; Wed., Oct. 11, TBD (FS1)

     

National League Division Series (NL Wild Card Game Winner vs. Los Angeles Dodgers)

Game 1: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Sat., Oct. 7, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Los Angeles at NL Wild Card; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (TBS)

Game 4*: Los Angeles at NL Wild Card; Tues., Oct. 10, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: NL Wild Card at Los Angeles; Thurs., Oct. 12, TBD (TBS)

       

National League Division Series (Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals)

Game 1: Chicago at Washington; Fri., Oct. 6, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: Chicago at Washington; Sat., Oct. 7, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Washington at Chicago; Mon., Oct. 9, TBD (TBS)

Game 4*: Washington at Chicago; Tues., Oct. 10, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: Chicago at Washington; Thurs., Oct. 12, TBD (TBS)

     

American League Championship Series

Game 1: Fri., Oct. 13, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 2: Sat., Oct. 14, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 3: Mon., Oct. 16, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 4: Tues., Oct. 17, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 5*: Wed., Oct. 18, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 6*: Fri., Oct. 20, TBD (Fox/FS1)

Game 7*: Sat., Oct. 21 TBD (Fox/FS1)

     

National League Championship Series

Game 1: Sat., Oct. 14, TBD (TBS)

Game 2: Sun., Oct. 15, TBD (TBS)

Game 3: Tues., Oct. 17, TBD (TBS)

Game 4: Wed., Oct. 18, TBD (TBS)

Game 5*: Thurs., Oct. 19, TBD (TBS)

Game 6*: Sat., Oct. 21, TBD (TBS)

Game 7*: Sun., Oct. 22, TBD (TBS)

     

World Series

Game 1: Tues., Oct. 24, TBD (Fox)

Game 2: Wed., Oct. 25, TBD (Fox)

Game 3: Fri., Oct. 27, TBD (Fox)

Game 4: Sat., Oct. 28, TBD (Fox)

Game 5*: Sun., Oct. 29, TBD (Fox)

Game 6*: Tues., Oct. 31, TBD (Fox)

Game 7*: Wed., Nov. 1, TBD (Fox)

      

Biggest Questions

Will the Houston Astros Fulfill the Prophecy?

Sports Illustrated placed George Springer on the cover of its June 30, 2014, edition and proclaimed the Houston Astros would be 2017 World Series champions. The cover reflected the general sentiment around the Astros, who hadn't won more than 56 games between 2011 and 2013 but began showing progress in 2014.

Houston reached the American League Division Series in 2015—the franchise's first postseason appearance since 2005—which was cause for further optimism.

Some may have begun losing faith in the Astros last year when they went 84-78 and missed out on the playoffs, but the team is poised for a deep run this October.

Springer is enjoying his best offensive season—boasting a .283/.367/.522 slash line along with 34 home runs and 85 RBI—while Jose Altuve is the front-runner for the American League MVP Award. Altuve is second among position players in WAR (7.5), per FanGraphs, and led MLB in batting average (.347).

The Astros have a great offense, but their pitching will make or break their World Series hopes. Houston ranks sixth in team FIP (3.92), according to FanGraphs, which puts it behind the Indians, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL.

     

Will Clayton Kershaw's Playoff Luck Turn Around?

Clayton Kershaw best sums up the Los Angeles Dodgers' inability to reach the World Series since the team's ownership committed to spending whatever's necessary to win a title.

The Dodgers have spared no expense to build the best roster and front office possible. Yet having the best players and smartest minds doesn't guarantee success in October.

Kershaw is one of the top pitchers on the planet but has been inexplicably mediocre in the postseason. He has a 4.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a 3.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 18 playoff appearances. Compare that to Kershaw's career regular-season numbers: 2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a 4.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Nobody should blame Kershaw for the Dodgers' falling short of the Fall Classic in the last four years, nor are his postseason struggles a damning indictment of his overall legacy. He could retire right now and have a strong Hall of Fame resume.

But the absence of a World Series ring or a dominant postseason similar to Kluber's last year is glaring for a pitcher who has achieved everything Kershaw has on the mound.

      

Will the Washington Nationals Finally Advance Past the NLDS?

Speaking of postseason disappointment, no fanbase has experienced more playoff heartache in recent years than those who follow the Nationals.

Washington won the most games in MLB in 2012 (98), tied for second-most in 2014 (96) and tied for second again in 2016 (95). Three appearances in the National League Division Series are all the Nationals have to show for that regular-season success.

Once again, the Nationals have the pieces necessary to win a World Series. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are two of the best aces in baseball, while any lineup anchored by Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy is capable of putting a lot of runs on the board.

Whereas Nationals fans could still look ahead to a bright future when the team exited the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, a stronger sense of urgency surrounds the team now—as it did last year.

Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and most notably Harper can become free agents in 2019. Losing Gonzalez and Murphy would hurt, but failing to re-sign Harper would be a significant blow to the Nationals offense. His potential free agency adds urgency for Washington capitalize on its championship window while he's still under contract.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Chicago Cubs Clinch 2017 NL Central Title, Postseason Berth

The Chicago Cubs are back in the MLB playoffs for the third year in a row after they clinched the National League Central with Wednesday's 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.       

It's the first time the organization has gone to the playoffs for three straight seasons since 1906-08, per ESPN Stats and Info.

The 2017 season hasn't gone quite according to plan for the defending World Series champions. After winning 103 regular-season games and ending their 108-year title drought in 2016, the Cubs returned all of their key players and appeared poised to maintain their place atop baseball.

Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer projected Chicago to win an MLB-best 96 games in March, but in his season preview, he made an observation that proved prescient.

"If there's a reason to be concerned about the 2017 Cubs, it's that they don't have much depth underneath a starting rotation that was worked hard last season," he wrote. "But like with the [Cleveland] Indians, the names in said starting rotation are too good for doubts to rule the day."

The Cubs haven't dealt with a significant number of injuries to their starting rotation, but the respective workloads of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks may have played a part in the trio taking a step backward from 2016 to 2017.

In 2016, Cubs starters collectively ranked fifth in FIP (3.77), third in strikeouts per nine innings (8.88) and 15th in walks per nine innings (3.05), according to FanGraphs. This year, Cubs starters are 12th (4.34), ninth (8.25) and 10th (2.99) in those three categories, respectively.

Chicago's rotation remains solid, and Jose Quintana has been as good as advertised after the team acquired him in July. The southpaw has gone 7-3 with a 3.50 ERA in his 13 starts with the team since arriving from the Chicago White Sox.

Still, the margins for error become much smaller in the postseason. When the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation goes six-deep and the Washington Nationals boast the trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the road to the World Series could be treacherous for the Cubs.

History isn't on Chicago's side either. In the last three decades, only two MLB teams have successfully defended their title. The Toronto Blue Jays went back-to-back in 1992 and 1993, and the New York Yankees won three World Series in a row between 1998 and 2000.

Of course, nobody would consider the Cubs underdogs in the postseason. Hendricks and Lester were instrumental in winning the Fall Classic a year ago, and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo anchor a dangerous offense.

FanGraphs give the Cubs an 12 percent chance of winning the World Series, which is second-best in the National League. FiveThirtyEight, meanwhile, lists the Cubs behind the Dodgers and Nationals with a 10 percent chance of winning a title.

Few would be surprised if Chicago brings home its fourth World Series title in franchise history. By the same token, the discussion of the Cubs as the next great MLB dynasty may have to be put on hold until 2018 depending on how the 2017 postseason shakes out.

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Derek Jeter-Led Group Unanimously Approved to Buy Marlins by MLB Owners

MLB owners unanimously approved the sale of the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria to an ownership group led by New York businessman Bruce Sherman and former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday.

Sherman and Jeter reached an agreement in August to purchase the Marlins for $1.2 billion. Rosenthal added the pair still need to close on the deal and that they're expected to do so "within next week."

     

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

     

Get the best sports content from the web and social in the new B/R app. Get the app and get the game.

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A’s Bruce Maxwell on Kneeling During Anthem: ‘I’m Going to Continue to Do It’

Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell confirmed he plans to continue kneeling during the national anthem after becoming the first MLB player to do so prior to last Saturday's game against the Texas Rangers.

Maxwell explained his decision to carry the protest on with Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan:

"I'm going to continue to do it. This isn't a one-day thing. If things really don't change, I'll roll into it next season. This is an ongoing issue. This is happening across the country. It might take a few more people. It might take a little while. Racism has been going on since this country was founded. But stepping up and recognizing the fact that people in this country are being treated unjustly is a big problem when it comes to mankind, and I’m pretty sure people who died for this country fought so I could do this."

After the A's beat the Rangers 1-0 on Saturday, Maxwell said he was "kneeling for the people that don't have a voice," per MLB.com's Jane Lee:

Passan noted Maxwell's father served in the military and that Maxwell was born on an American military base.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the national anthem last season to raise awareness about police brutality and racial injustice. The protests gained traction throughout the NFL, and President Donald Trump brought more attention to the cause through comments he made last week at a rally and on social media.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'" Trump said to supporters in Alabama Friday.

Trump echoed the sentiment on Twitter a day later:

According to NPR's Doreen McCallister, about 200 NFL players engaged in some form of protest during Sunday's games. Some teams opted against walking onto the field altogether for the national anthem.

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Zack Greinke to Start Diamondbacks NL Wild Card Matchup

Although a week still remains in the 2017 regular season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are already looking ahead to the National League Wild Card Game.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said Monday he expects to start Zack Greinke in Arizona's first postseason game, MLB.com's Steve Gilbert reported.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have already clinched the National League West, but the Diamondbacks assured themselves of home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game with J.D. Martinez's walk-off base hit Sunday against the Miami Marlins.

The NL Wild Card Game is scheduled for Oct. 4.

Greinke is an obvious choice to take the mound for Arizona, even if doing so means he couldn't start Game 1 of the National League Division Series should the Diamondbacks get that far. Given the stakes, Lovullo can't afford to keep his best starting pitcher on ice.

Following an underwhelming 2016 after signing a six-year, $206.5 million contract with the Diamondbacks, Greinke is again among MLB's top aces. He's 17-6 with a 3.18 ERA and a 3.25 FIP through his first 31 starts, and his 5.1 WAR is sixth-highest among qualified pitchers, according to FanGraphs.

Greinke is also 3-3 in nine postseason starts. He has allowed 23 earned runs and struck out 54 batters in 58.1 playoff innings.

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Aaron Judge Hits 50th Home Run to Break Mark McGwire’s MLB Rookie Record

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hit his 50th home run of the season Monday against the Kansas City Royals, setting a rookie record for most homers in a single season.

The Yankees and MLB celebrated the achievement:

Mark McGwire owned the previous mark, having hit 49 home runs for the Oakland Athletics in 1987.

Judge tied McGwire with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 3-0, and he went yard again in the bottom of the seventh with a solo blast that gave New York a 7-3 lead.

MLB shared a replay of the record-setting shot:

Judge increased his lead in the American League home run race over Athletics left fielder Khris Davis, who had 41 homers entering Monday night's game versus the Seattle Mariners. Catching Giancarlo Stanton for the MLB lead will be difficult, though, since the Miami Marlins right fielder had 57 homers.

Judge endured a rough stretch after the All-Star break. He batted .207 with 80 strikeouts in 223 plate appearances between July and August. The presumptive Rookie of the Year has righted the ship in September, though.

He had a .296/.436/.831 slash line this month prior to Monday, and as a result, he has re-emerged as a strong contender for the American League MVP Award. According to FanGraphs, Judge is tied with Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in WAR (7.3) among position players.

Whether or not he bests Altuve and others for MVP, Judge's prodigious power already has put him in the MLB record book.

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