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Sunday, May 26, 2024

MLB Postseason Preview

Regular season filled with new historical milestones and countless homeruns comes to an end

From the year 1900 until 1916, there were fewer home runs hit in Major League Baseball than the 2019 season alone. This season, the league-wide home run record was not only broken, but utterly obliterated, as teams amassed an unprecedented 6,776 dingers, almost 700 more than the previous record of 6,105 set in 2017. 

Although the league never officially confirmed that any changes were made to the baseballs, fans and analysts have been rather skeptical of the sudden barrage of four baggers. Many games this season ended with the only scores coming from homeruns, posing the question of whether or not “small ball” still has a place in the league. The coming years will reveal if this year’s nonstop moonshots was an anomaly or simply the new norm.

Luckily for the game, overall pitching quality ceases to decline, as many top-tier pitchers have continued to succeed despite the changes hitters have made. Most notable among this upper-echelon is Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros right-handed ringer, who just implanted his name all over MLB record books in his final outing of the season. 

In Verlander’s final start of the season, he became the 18th pitcher in history to record 3,000 strikeouts in a career, joining the likes of the legendary Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan and more. In a 12 strikeout night against the Los Angeles Angels, Verlander also incredibly threw his 300th strikeout of the season. In the sixth inning, Verlander struckout Kole Calhoun to earn his 300th K, doing so for the first time in his career. 

The only other player in the MLB to do so this season was teammate Gerrit Cole, who led the league with 326 strikeouts. The only time this has ever been done in league history was in 2002, when Hall of Fame pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling accomplished the miraculous feat. This puts the duo in elite company, showing that the Astros are the team to beat in the playoffs, just two years removed from when they were crowned World Series champs. 

Cole and Verlander led the Astros to a league best record with 107 wins, securing home field advantage for the duration of the postseason. Not only did the Astros have one of the strongest pitching staff this season, but they also ranked third in the league in home runs hit with 288. 

Adding to the broken records, prior to the season beginning, the previous mark for the most home runs hit by a team in a single season was 268, set by the New York Yankees last year. Before that, the record since 1997 had been 264. This season, four teams trumped that total: the Yankees (306), Minnesota Twins (307), Houston Astros (288) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (279). All four teams proved that the style of power hitting is the most effective way to win — each team won its respective division and they were the only four teams to surpass 100 wins. 

The Yankees and Twins are the only teams thus far in MLB history to hit 300 bombs in a season and will meet in the ALDS in what is sure to be a fireworks-filled series. Of course, before the division series, the opponent for the league-leading Astros must be decided. The wild card game in the American League will feature the Oakland Athletics hosting the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams boast impressive defensives and bullpens, making for what is likely to be a low-scoring duel. The Rays have allowed the fewest home runs in the league this year (181), while the Athletics have hit the fifth most (257). Whichever team comes out victorious will be a worthy opponent for the Astros. 

In the National League, the Wild Card game will feature the Milwaukee Brewers and the Washington Nationals. The two teams are both very well-rounded and have gotten hot at certain points of the season, showing they’re certainly capable of going the distance. The winner will then spar with the NL leading Dodgers, who broke their all-time franchise season record with 106 wins. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ previous record of 105 had been held by the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers team that consisted of Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. 

This year’s Dodgers were led by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who led all of baseball in ERA (2.32), Clayton Kershaw, who went 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA and Cody Bellinger, who batted .305 with 47 home runs and is one of the front runners for NL MVP. 

In the other NL Division Series will be the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. The Cardinals and Braves have the best and third best team fielding percentage respectively, making for a series with no room for error. Neither team has been especially hot, but one player surely has and that’s Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, who has devastated batters since the All-star break, garnishing a 0.97 ERA. He’ll look to lead the Cardinals past the Braves in the second round, hopefully securing a spot in the National League Championship Series. 

Given that the reigning champions, the Boston Red Sox, are out of the picture for this year’s playoffs, the World Series is once again wide open. Will the Dodgers finally break through and win a World Series after two-straight Fall classic losses? Will the Houston Astros return to the throne? Although these questions are still unknown, but if there’s one thing MLB fans can count on, it’s that there will be a bombardment of home runs. Happy playoffs!

Written by: AJ Seymour — sports@theaggie.org


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