Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

As the baseball playoffs open, a few questions

After a scramble to finish the regular season, the playoffs are finally on deck. With 10 teams left, here are 10 questions to carry fans through October:

Can the Cubs do it? Joe Maddon's crew romped to 103 wins, and now the North Side of Chicago is set up for either the biggest party of all time or the most brutal disappointment ever. Nothing in between for Wrigleyville, really. The pressure won't rattle Jon Lester and John Lackey — they've pitched in these spots. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and the young hitters must handle hopes and expectations that have been building since the Cubs' last World Series championship in 1908.

Will Kershaw come up aces? Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw is all set to pitch Game 1 at Washington. He's certainly got the pedigree: Cy Young Awards, ERA titles, 20-win seasons and an MVP. What he doesn't have is a winning record in the playoffs — 2-6. And in his last six starts in the postseason over the past three years, he's 1-5 with a 5.45 ERA, plus a high walk and home-run rate. Remember, Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine had losing career marks in the postseason. But Kershaw could use a couple of wins to round out an otherwise glittering resume.

One more big swing for Big Papi? David Ortiz had a dream season in his final year — huge numbers, an MVP candidate, a worst-to-first turnaround by the Red Sox. His likeness has been cut into the grass at Fenway Park, his legacy is etched into history. What the retiring 40-year-old DH really wants is one more ring — he's won three with Boston and owns a career .455 batting average and .576 on-base percentage in the World Series. He begins these playoffs against former manager Terry Francona and Cleveland.

Will "Madbum" stand tall? When last seen in the postseason, Madison Bumgarner posted a Giant save to win Game 7 in Kansas City. The 6-foot-5 lefty will try to save San Francisco's season on Wednesday night in the NL Wild Card Game, on the road vs. the Mets. In 2014, he pitched a shutout at Pittsburgh to win the Wild Card Game. If he gets to the World Series, watch out — no one can match his 4-0 mark with one save and an 0.25 ERA.

Who's hurting? Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Carrasco and Jacob deGrom are among the injured aces as the playoffs begin. Wilson Ramos, Neil Walker and Michael Brantley are out, too. A few others have been banged up, with Daniel Murphy, Eduardo Nunez and Danny Salazar among them.

What about the trade-offs? In late July 2015, the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, and the pair helped them win the crown. A lot of big names moved to contenders this year in midseason — Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy to Texas, Matt Moore (Giants), Aroldis Chapman (Cubs), Andrew Miller (Indians), Mark Melancon (Nationals) and Jay Bruce (Mets). We'll soon see which trade-deadline guys deliver.

Anyone get skipped? Quite a collection of managers in these playoffs. Some have won the World Series (Bruce Bochy, Francona, John Farrell), others have gotten close (Dusty Baker, Terry Collins). Some have been in the playoffs before (Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, John Gibbons, Jeff Banister), while Dave Roberts (Dodgers) made it in his first year.

Pitching in? Many of the most-scrutinized decisions will involve how managers handle their staffs. Use a starter like Cole Hamels on short rest, or maybe in emergency relief? Push a closer like Kenley Jansen for four outs, or five or six? Four-man rotation or three? With a lot of teams trying to advance farther than they've been in years, get ready to ramp up the second-guessing.

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