Major League Baseball’s 2015 Postseason is the year of the underdog.
Several series are stacked with small market teams with long-suffering fanbases. Of the ten teams with a shot at the World Series, the Yankees and Cardinals stand out as the only perpetual contenders. From Houston to Chicago to Toronto people will find themselves in the nervous, spellbound state of finally, honestly, having something to root for this Fall Classic.
“If you want to become a fan of baseball, this is the right time to watch it,” Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez said an interview with BuzzFeed News. “These are teams that are very exciting, and their fans are very thankful. That’s what makes a loyal fan, and that’s what builds a loyal fanbase all over baseball.”
Martinez, who appeared in the playoffs five times during his 18-season career, won a World Series with the 2004 Red Sox. He will make yet another postseason appearance this week, this time as a studio analyst for TBS during the National League Wild Card, Division Series, and Championship Series.
Over the last year, Martinez has honed his skill as an analyst on MLB Network. A baseball legend who has earned rare near-universal affection, Martinez’s pitching expertise will serve valuable in a postseason that’s certain to be dominated by exciting, punishing performances on the mound.
In the postseason, pitchers appear in games on only a few days rest to carry their teams through October. This year, the National League in particular is stacked with young, exciting pitchers whose teams will sink or swim on the strength of their performances.
For Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, the opportunity to break down pitching mechanics and strategies for fans at home is the most exciting part of his role as an analyst.
“It allows me to see exactly what I love to see, which is little details about the game,” Martinez said. “I love to see all those things and then come up with my own conclusions, and I’m able to tell people what I see and what I feel. I think it’s interesting to actually reach out to the people who are not in the actual field, and those kids who are at home and want to be a baseball player. They can sit down in their parents’ lap and hear exactly how baseball should be played, and I love to be able to teach from the tv and the studio.”
He’ll have plenty to pick apart in the National League. On Wednesday, Jake Arrieta of the Cubs will face the Pirates in Pittsburgh, led by Gerrit Cole on the mound. The Cubs and Pirates, both in the NL Central, each could have easily won division titles, but were relegated to the Wild Card behind the 100-win Cardinals. Waiting for the winner of the Wild Card game will be John Lackey, Michael Wacha, and potentially, 2014 ace Adam Wainwright. Behind the plate, commanding their pitches, is looking to be Yadier Molina, the best catcher in baseball, back after two weeks away with a thumb injury. With Yadi behind the plate, Cardinals’ pitchers’ total ERA is 2.79, versus 3.48 when backup catcher Tony Cruz is behind the mound.
Still, the starting pitching staffs of the Mets and Dodgers is shaping up to be the premier showdown in the National League. The Mets’ pitching roster is stacked deep with 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey, whose first year back from Tommy John surgery has resulted in a 2.71 ERA and a dazzling average of 1.000 walks and hits per inning. Toward the end of the season, Harvey’s agent tried to restrict the Mets from using him for more than an arbitrary number of innings, but it appears — and Mets fans will certainly hope — that Harvey is all in for October.
But waiting for the Mets in Los Angeles on Friday night will be Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who are riding into the postseason with four Cy Young Awards between them. The Dodgers have appeared in the playoffs for the last three years, but the strong regular season leaders have had devastating meltldowns before even reaching the World Series. Though the Dodgers have become a postseason staple, their most recent World Series victory was in 1988, and their eight postseason appearances since have wound up fruitless.
The Mets, who they beat in the 1988 NLCS to go to the World Series, have only made four postseason appearances since their last World Championship. But for all the Dodgers’ dazzle, the Mets’ last win came only two years before theirs, in 1986.
With his postseason experience, Martinez offered pitchers one piece of advice: “Whoever keeps their composure will find success.”
“In pitching it’s all about repeating and repeating and being able to locate your pitches at the time you need to,” Martinez said. “When I was in the playoffs I was already maturing to know the height of the situation and the things I had to do mechanically, and then after that it was just getting through. The pitchers who will find success will command the ball when it’s loud, when it’s critical, and when it seems tight.”
The American League will kick off its postseason series on Tuesday night with the Wild Card game between the Astros and the Yankees in New York. The Astros, whose streaking success came as a surprise to fans and experts who predicted them to be contenders in 2017 at the soonest, will try to make their way through to their first World Series since 2005, which they lost to the Chicago White Sox when they were still members of the National League. In the 54 years of franchise history, the Astros have never won a World Series.
Out of the Wild Card, though, the Astros or Yankees will have to face the reigning American League Champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals, whose own miraculous run through an unbelievable Wild Card game, and to the World Series, have seen a re-energized fanbase in the one year since their first playoff berth since 1985. To say in 2013 that the Royals would enter the 2015 postseason as anything other than an underdog would likely be met with disbelief. But the team dominated the AL Central and hopes to return to the seven-game series to win their first World Series since 1985.
Not to be forgotten, of course, are the Yankees, whose 27 World Series victories need no introduction. The boys from the Bronx carry an older lineup, including 40-year-old slugger Alex Rodriguez, but lost an arm on the mound Monday afternoon, when veteran lefty CC Sabathia announced he would miss the playoffs to enter rehab.
The Yankees could not hold on during the race for the AL East title, though, and the Toronto Blue Jays will enter the postseason dominant on the mound and at the plate. With their playoff berth in October, they snapped their own record for the longest playoff drought for a North American sports team, which they inherited after the Royals made their 2014 run. It is hard to look past the Jays with incredible trade-deadline acquisitions on both sides of the plate with pitcher David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The Jays have emerged as the clear favorite to win the American League, and have high odds to win the World Series.
The Jays will first have to face the Texas Rangers, whose late season surge past the Astros for the AL West title sent them comfortably to the division round. A Rangers win over the Jays in the division series would be hard-won, even behind mid-season addition Cole Hamels on the mound. But a World Series win for the Rangers is long overdue, as their fans have endured consecutive World Series losses in 2010 and 2011.
“I think this is one of the best times for baseball in postseason,” Martinez said. “I absolutely love it! And the variety of teams that are making it to the playoffs without any expectations like this, it’s a great time for baseball.
“Some people spend their entire careers trying to make it to the postseason, and they never do,” he added. “Having that opportunity is so unique and how much you appreciate the moment that you’re getting will lead to success.”
For fans, Martinez offered one piece of advice: “Stay tuned. It will be a lot of fun.”