Baseball fans can’t wait for the 2022 post season, especially with an extra wild card team in each league added to the mix. In the American League, the improved Seattle Mariners and rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez are certain to make an appearance. In the black and blue Central division, only one team will make the cut. And in the East, two teams will advance, with even the young Baltimore Orioles still alive.
In the senior circuit, the Padres should outlast the fading Brewers, with the Mets, Braves, and Phillies in a dog fight for seeding and home field advantage. The Cardinals, sure to win their division, will give Albert Pujols a nice finale to an amazing HOF career. What does all this drama mean, even with the slate wiped clean? The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers are the best two teams in baseball. Both clubs will win over 100 games and unless something weird happens in the playoffs, and it could, we will see a tremendously “chippy” Fall Classic.
As a coach, scout and sports journalist for 47 years, I follow a lot of different MLB teams. That said, whenever I wear an Astros cap on the street here in SoCal, I always get at least one sarcastic remark about how I must “like cheaters.” Most of those folks are bitter Dodger fans, and to them I just laugh and say, “get over it.” Players and coaches have tried to steal signs since baseball was invented in the late 1800’s. The Astros got caught primarily due to whistleblower pitcher Mike Fiers, a snitch who spilled the beans while later playing for the division rival Oakland A’s
. Look, I don’t condone the dirty deeds engineered by bench coach Alex Cora and veteran player Carlos Beltran, nor skipper A.J. Hinch who decided to look the other way. The said individuals bit the bullet, while Houston was stripped of top draft picks for two seasons plus millions of dollars in fines. Yet through it all, the Astros continued to contend until the club climbed the mountain again this season.
The Astros arguably have the best pitching staff in baseball with a six man rotation that includes Luis Garcia, Christian Javier, Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy. The icing on the cake is veteran Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, set to return from an upper calf injury later on this month. When that happens, look for Javier and Hunter Brown (Kevin Brown‘s son) to help bolster an already strong bullpen. Houston is also deep, both offensively and on defense.
A lineup that includes Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Trey Mancini is potent. The catching of Martin Maldonado and Christian Vazquez is solid, and the bench depth is exceptional with skilled defenders and lots of speed.
On the other hand, the Dodgers lead all of baseball in most hitting categories, with Mookie Betts setting the table for Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy, Will Smith, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, the world’s most dangerous 9th place hitter. It doesn’t get much better than that. The boys in blue also lead the big leagues in come from behind victories, although that doesn’t happen very often. The thing is, superior pitching usually prevails over good hitting, and Houston hurlers lead both leagues in ERA (3.13) and strikeouts (596) as of this post.
Don’t get me wrong. The playoffs won’t be easy for either Houston or Los Angeles. Both teams are certain to sit out in the first round, which can sometimes halt momentum. The Yankees will once again stand in the Astros way, and the fans in New York will be brutal. Likewise, the Dodgers will be challenged by either Mets or the World Champion Braves. But my money is on a a grudge match between the two best teams in the game, with 73 year old Dusty Baker earning his first ring. What’s more, the Astros will finally get that cheating monkey off their backs.