The 2018 MLB playoffs have finally arrived! We kick off the action tonight with the National League wild-card game between the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies. After an exciting day yesterday, that saw both teams forced to play a game 163 for their respective division titles, these teams will now matchup attempting to play themselves back into the playoffs after coming up short yesterday.
The Rockies lost on the road yesterday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their one-game playoff. The Rockies were looking to win their first ever National League West Division title. But in the end, they just didn’t have the offense to hang with the Dodgers. German Marquez pitched well but let the long ball get to him, and Walker Buehler for the Dodgers had a no-hitter going late into the game. All told, the Dodgers picked up the 5-2 win and won their sixth consecutive division title.
For the Cubs, they came up short on their home field to the Milwaukee Brewers. The game was a tight one throughout and it was tied 1-1 heading into the eighth inning. The Brewers took the lead in the eighth on a Lorenzo Cain RBI single, and Ryan Braun played add-on two batters later, to give the Brew Crew the 3-1 lead. Josh Hader was called on to make the six out save for Milwaukee, and he took care of business, and the Brewers won the National League Central crown.
That leaves us with two teams reeling right now, both trying to put the pieces back together and get back into the playoff picture. Starting tonight for the Rockies is Kyle Freeland (17-7 2.85 ERA), and for the Cubs, it is Jon Lester (18-6 3.32 ERA). The Cubs are -137 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at seven runs. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 PM PST from Wrigley Field in Chicago.
The Colorado Rockies finished the season winning at a furious pace just to be in the playoffs at all. They won nine out of their last ten games. But when the games that really mattered kicked in, they were outmatched. They started German Marquez yesterday and although the guy had been pitching really well recently, I knew the Rockies had better starters avialable. Namely, tonight’s starter Kyle Freeland.
Freeland has really been the ace of this staff this season for Colorado. In September, when the Rockies needed him the most, he went 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts. The guy has a total of one losing decision going back to June 10th! In the second half of the season, all the Rockies have done is win with Freeland on the mound. Colorado is 15-2 with Freeland on the mound in the second half of the year.
One interesting stat for Freeland is the fact that he actually likes to pitch in Colorado. Most pitchers hate homer-happy Coors Field, but Freeland loves it as his home ERA is 2.40 and his road ERA is nearly an entire run higher at 3.23. Freeland hasn’t seen much of the Cubs this year. He has one start against Chicago this season, and it came in April. In that game, he pitched seven innings, gave up three runs and was a hard-luck loser.
The Cubs will turn to Jon Lester today to get them back into the divisional round. Lester has made his career off of winning big games in the playoffs. Whether it was with the Boston Red Sox or with the Cubs, Lester is a guy that has been reliable in October for a lot of years. Lester started out his season looking like a Cy Young Award winner as he was 11-2 with a 2.25 ERA at the All-Star break. Lester cooled back down quite a bit in July and August but really turned it on down the stretch. In September, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA.
Lester is pitching his best ball when it matters, and I expect big things out of him tonight. In his last two home starts, he has pitched a combined thirteen innings and has not allowed a single run. Lester has just one start against the Rockies this year, and he pitched well. On April 30th, Lester pitched five and two thirds and didn’t allow an earned run, and the Cubs won the game.
These wild-card games are tough to nail down. In the playoffs, as a general rule, the home team always seems to get the best of things. But in the wild-card game, since its inception in 2012, that hasn’t always been the case. In the NL, the home team is just 2-4 in the one-game wild card and in the AL, the home squad is just 3-3. So, home field advantage might not be as important as one would guess.
That being said, I see the Cubs taking care of business at home tonight. There just aren’t many pitchers I would rather have on the mound in a playoff game that matters than Jon Lester. He has been getting the job done in huge games for over a decade now, and I don’t see him letting this one slip away. I hate to bet against Kyle Freeland, the kid has been light’s out this season. But I am not sure he is ready for what will be undoubtedly the biggest game of his life tonight in Chicago.
The Rockies surged up the standings by beating up on out of contention teams. The Rockies record in September against out of contention teams was 18-4. Against playoff teams? 1-6. I just don’t think they are going to have enough to win on the road in what should be a crazy environment. The Cubs seemingly held back in yesterday’s one-game playoff as Quintana was clearly not their best starter that was available to use. They saved that for tonight, in Jon Lester.
I think the Cubs win a tight, low scoring affair. Despite the fact that these are two of the best offenses in the National League, I see this one as a 3-2 type of game. Runs are going to be hard to come by, and you are going to have to earn each and every one of them. Give me the Chicago Cubs as small home favorites tonight at home at -137!