M.L.B. Playoffs 2018: Our Picks to Win the Division Series

It took an extra day of the regular season, plus the usual wild-card games, but Major League Baseball’s division series have finally arrived. The National League is up first, on Thursday, with two Game 1s, but the most compelling matchups will be in the American League.

The difference between the leagues is stark: The Yankees won 100 games and still could not win the American League East. But in the National League, no team hit the century mark. It took only 90 wins for the Atlanta Braves to win the weak N.L. East. In any other year, the division series clashes between the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians or the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox would suffice for a satisfying A.L. Championship Series.

Having the best regular-season record is often a curse, as it has often meant little in the playoffs. But last year, the Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers met in the World Series in a showdown of teams with two of the best three regular-season records. The year before, the Chicago Cubs claimed the best record and ended their 108-year World Series title drought.

This fall, could that mean a Red Sox-Milwaukee Brewers World Series?

We’ll see. Baseball is hard to predict. Managerial orthodoxy used during the 162-game season is thrown out the window. Starting pitchers come out of the bullpen. Sputtering players are given less leeway in a five-game series. Strategy and urgency are paramount.

Of the eight teams remaining, the Colorado Rockies, in existence since 1995, have appeared in one World Series, in 2007, and did not win. The Brewers’ lone World Series visit was in 1982, when they were in the A.L. and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Indians fell to the Cubs in seven games in the thrilling 2016 World Series, and their last championship was 1948. Since then, every other team remaining in this year’s playoffs has won the World Series at least once.

Yankees (100-62) vs. Boston Red Sox (108-54)

The reasons the Red Sox set a franchise record with 108 wins are obvious: They possess the highest scoring offense in baseball, a strong starting rotation, a capable bullpen and solid defensive play, which is particularly exceptional in the outfield. Designated hitter J.D. Martinez (1.031 on-base plus slugging percentage) may be the team’s most valuable player, but right fielder Mookie Betts (1.078 O.P.S.) may win the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award.

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CreditOmar Rawlings/Getty Images

Despite so much regular-season success, the Red Sox face some questions. Chris Sale, their ace starting pitcher, returned from a nagging shoulder injury late in the season only to see his velocity drop alarmingly in his final start before the playoffs. David Price has unconquered playoff demons. The bullpen regressed in the second half. Few relief pitchers proved to be a reliable bridge from the starting pitcher to closer Craig Kimbrel (42 saves).

Colorado Rockies (91-72) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (96-67)

Based on advanced metrics, these teams’ pitching staffs were basically even, which is hard to believe given the well-known difficulties of pitching in Denver’s high altitude. But through trades, international signings and drafts, the Rockies built a rotation around Kyle Freeland and German Marquez that provided the third-most innings during the regular season. The Brewers, on the other hand, massaged just enough out of their rotation after injuries and turned often to a dazzling bullpen led by Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader (.132 batting average against).

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