Deep breath, Rockies fans. We made it through 2021. It went better than expected, but that does not necessarily mean it went well. The highs and lows of the season were covered well earlier, but with the Rockies failing to return to the playoffs and finishing well below .500, the season was not a success.
For the ten teams moving onto the postseason, their seasons have yet to be deemed successes or failures also. For the perennial powerhouses that continually qualify for the playoffs, anything less of winning it all can be considered failure. While the games are never as enjoyable without the Rockies competing, we can at least enjoy some incredible baseball with less of a stake in the matter. The race for the postseason ended in a lean, and while we didn’t get a four way tiebreak, we’re set up for some classic series. Here’s a quick look at each of them.
AL Wild Card Game, Yankees at Red Sox (Tuesday, first pitch 6PM MT)
The Mariners’ and Blue Jays’ seasons ended in heartbreak on Sunday as Boston and New York locked up the two wild card positions with late inning rallies to win. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that most baseball fans aren’t jazzed with the status quo continuing and the Sox and Yankees playing playoff baseball again, but at least we can take solace that one of them will be following the Rockies into the offseason on Tuesday night.
The Red Sox boast a balanced offensive lineup with four players (Rafael Devers, Kiké Hernández, JD Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts) putting up 3.0+ WAR seasons. They boast a solid rotation, recently buoyed by the return of Chris Sale. They also have old friend Adam Ottavino in the bullpen, who will try his hand against the present day Yankees after making headlines last offseason for saying he’d strike out Babe Ruth.
The Yankees are led by the usual suspects. Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole are each enjoying another All-World season, and trade deadline acquisitions Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo are quickly endearing themselves to the Bleacher Creatures of the Bronx. Former Rockie DJ LeMahieu has experienced a down year after his top three MVP, pandemic shortened 2020. It was recently announced that he has a sports hernia, but will play through it and undergo surgery to treat it after the season.
AL Division Series, WC Winner at Rays (starting Thursday)
Last years AL Pennant winners await the Wild Card winner in the Division Series. An anomaly as always, the Rays rank 26th in the league in payroll but still managed to win 100 games. After the injury to Tyler Glasnow, they no longer have a true ace but still lead the American League in ERA. And with super rookies Randy Arozorena and Wander Franco mashing the ball, their offense should be able to provide plenty of help for the pitching staff. Old friend DJ Johnson is now with the Rays, but won’t be making any appearances after landing on the IL with a shoulder sprain earlier this year.
AL Division Series, White Sox at Astros (starting Thursday)
Carlos Correa is back. An All-Star this year for the first time since 2017, his monster season has been a big reason why the Astros were able to run away with the AL West. The rest of the team has also been there before, making this one of the most experienced groups in the postseason.
The White Sox won the AL Central this year for the first time since 2008 and while the Astros are led by veterans with plenty of playoff experience, the White Sox are countering with a youth movement. After returning from injury, Luis Robert has proven himself to be another cornerstone for this team to build on this year and going forward. Add that to one of the most well rounded and dangerous rotations in the league, and the White Sox look primed to avenge their Wild Card series exit last year.
NL Wild Card, Cardinals at Dodgers (Wednesday, first pitch 6PM MT)
Through no fault of their own, the Dodgers wound up in the NL Wild Card game where they’ll face off against the Cardinals. When was the last time a 106-win team ended up in the Wild Card game? Never. Their trade deadline acquisitions of Trea Turner and Max Scherzer will make them hard (well, harder) to beat but as we all know, anything can happen in a one game playoff — especially when you run into a hot team.
The hot team in question: the devil magic Cardinals, who have been taking full advantage of the renaissance that has been the seasons of Paul Goldschmidt and Adam Wainwright. Recently winning 17 games in a row in a run reminiscent of Rocktober, Goldy has had his best year since leaving the Diamondbacks, scoring 102 runs while hitting 31 homers and 99 RBI. Wainwright, who recently turned 40, won 17 games this year for the Cardinals. Every time he’s won 17 or more games, he’s ended in the top three for NL Cy Young voting. The Cardinals also have a certain All-Star third baseman who hasn’t missed a beat since leaving Coors, and will look to welcome any Rockies faithful looking for a postseason bandwagon to join.
NL Division Series, WC Winner at Giants (starts Friday)
The Giants locked down the NL West on Sunday, winning their 107th game on the year and forcing the Dodgers into the win or go home playoff. The story in the Bay Area has been Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey, enjoying renaissances of their own and pretending it is an even year in the early 2010’s. Add in Colorado-native Kevin Gausman living up to his prospect pedigree and pitching like an ace, and the Giants have continually found ways to continue winning games.
NL Division Series, Braves at Brewers (starts Friday)
The Braves climbed out of the NL East, even without having Marcell Ozuna or Ronald Acuña Jr. for any of the second half. Perennial All-Star and defending NL MVP Freddie Freeman has been hitting as always and is leading the league in runs, but it’s been third baseman Austin Riley who has led the team this far — hitting above .300 with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI.
In one of the more surprising collapses in recent years, Christain Yelich has followed up his disappointing 2020 season with a similarly bad 2021. However, no one told the Brewers that they shouldn’t be winning without their MVP. Corbin Burnes made up for the vacuum and has led their pitching staff all year, starting the year with 58 strikeouts before he walked a batter, and has continued his dominance despite the unavoidable uptick in walks. Expect to see him lined up to throw twice in the Division Series, and the Braves will hope to figure him out.
Is it sacrilegious to root for other teams in the playoffs when your team doesn’t make it? If not, who are you rooting for? If so, do you just ignore baseball and hope everyone loses? October baseball is the best baseball, even if the Rockies won’t be competing this year.
Who are you rooting for this postseason?
This poll is closed
Nobody, see you in 2022
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Patrick Saunders takes a look at some of the problems the Rockies are facing going into the offseason. He notes the Rockies have hope for 2022, but that hope will be that the Rockies have such a way to improve in multiple areas in the offseason — namely their bullpen and power hitting numbers.
Saunders also notes one of the bright spots of this year, their home success, and the Rockies desire to continue that into next year and expand it to play away from Denver. “We play with confidence at home, most teams do across baseball,” says Bud Black. “There’s a comfort to being at home and a confidence. The batter’s eye, the batter’s box, the repetitions at home, the mound for the pitchers. We played well at home. We’ve got to transfer that to the road.”
While the AL MVP race has gotten closer as we close out the season, there appears to still be one clear frontrunner — Shohei Ohtani. The NL race, however, has nothing clear. Injuries to Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto’s historic second half, Bryce Harper’s resurgence, and Trea Turner and Fernando Tatís Jr.’s West Coast brilliance have made this race one of the most muddy and unclear in recent memory.
Fangraphss’ Jay Jaffe takes an in depth look at all the contenders in the race, with an emphasis on how it’s changed as the season’s gone on. The Rockies haven’t had an NL MVP since (newly inducted HOFer!) Larry Walker’s legendary 1997 season, and that drought will continue this year - although you didn’t need this article to tell you that.
On the farm
The Isotopes closed their season on the road on Sunday, dropping the final game to the River Cats in Sacramento. Ryan Castellani (3-11, 6.25 ERA) took the loss, throwing three innings and allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk. The Topes bats were kept very quiet by Jake Dahlberg, who struck out eight over eight shutout innings.
The sole offense provided on the night came in the form of a ninth inning solo home run from LJ Hatch, but it was obviously too little too late. The Isotopes were unable to score other than this on the night, and finished with just four hits.
This loss leaves the Isotopes 58-72 to end the season, and 6-4 in the Triple-A end of season Final Stretch tournament. They’ll start their 2022 season next April in Oklahoma City.
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