A Crossover Episode ... with Molly Knight!
My daughters always say that the crossover episodes are the best episodes, and sure, they’re usually talking about the musical crossover between Supergirl and The Flash, but this is kind of the same thing. It’s playoff time, and what better time is there to do a little playoff predicting with the sensational Molly Knight. Her Substack is great, but, of course it is. Everything that Molly does is great. She is basically Los Angeles royalty — I think her family goes back several generations — and she wrote the glorious book The Best Team Money Can Buy and she’s just the coolest.
So, let’s do this thing — thoughts and predictions. If you like it, let us know, we might keep on doing the crossovers.
Astros vs. White Sox
Joe: Look, this thing won’t come down to the managers; these games almost never do. But this seems like a good time to say: I love Houston manager Dusty Baker. I just love the guy. He’s been at the heart of the game for a half century. Was on deck when Henry Aaron hit the home run. Was there for the birth of the high-five. Played in three World Series. One of the game’s great storytellers. And, not for nothing, wherever he has gone as manager, his team has won. It’s really quite striking when you look at his career.
Still, his reputation as a tactical manager is … well, let’s just say it’s a muted reputation.
Meanwhile Chicago’s Tony La Russa is already in the Hall of Fame, and his plaque calls him, “A master of maneuvering lineups and managing bullpens.”
So, yes, I am desperately wanting Dusty Baker to out-manage Tony La Russa.
But, as mentioned, it won’t come down to that. What it will come down to is that the Astros -- with those old familiar standbys Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and a pair of 24-year-old bashers in Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker -- have the best lineup in the American League. They dominate the strike zone. The White Sox rotation is strong. But the Astros lineup is stronger.
Prediction: Astros in 4.
Molly: Like Joe, I’m a big Dusty Baker fan. I get angry when he’s booed at Dodger Stadium. I can’t believe he doesn’t have a contract extension after this year. All he did was manage a team of cheating pariahs back to the postseason and somehow make them palatable.
Maybe I’ve just accepted the Astros will win this division forever, as long as the A’s remain broke, the Mariners remain locked out of the playoffs for some karmic sin, and the Angels remain irrelevant in a way only the Angels can. (Seriously, this team employs Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and nobody outside of the OC cares.).
The White Sox are a team I wished I had watched more of this year. But from what I’ve seen, Tony La Russa defied critics by figuring out how to manage a team of young Latin American stars without dimming their lights. I think I’m going to go against the grain here and take the White Sox because everyone is taking the Astros. I like Lance Lynn in Game 1 and potentially on short rest in Game 4 if Chicago needs it. He is, after all, a self-described big bastard. I also like Dylan Cease to go four scoreless and strike out 12. He seems built for this type of max effort situation.
Prediction: White Sox in 5.
Red Sox vs. Rays
Molly: It was cute how the Red Sox beat the Yankees and celebrated like they had any shot against the Rays. We’re at the point now where Tampa has built a year-in, year-out AL East juggernaut yet Yankee and Red Sox fans still act like everyone should be fired when they don’t win the division. Researching this piece to figure out how the Rays are this good again was an adventure in itself. Brandon Lowe hit 39 home runs? Sure! Wander Franco reaching base 43 straight games to tie Frank Robinson’s record for those 20 and younger? Absolutely!
The Rays lost in the World Series last year, which bodes well for them winning it all this year. The Dodgers had to lose twice to get to the promised land. And in retrospect all that playoff experience is why they were able to come back from 2-0 and 3-1 series’ deficits against the Braves to win the NL pennant in 2020. The Rays are going to break through one of these years, and they’re my AL pick to make the Fall Classic again this season. They should have no trouble with the Red Sox.
Prediction: Rays in 4.
Joe: The Rays are so good, it’s just ridiculous. They have no money, few fans in the stands, an eyesore for a stadium, and none of it matters. They just acquire and develop player after player, star after star. They are the best team in the American League and then they got even better by calling up a 20-year-old phenom like Wander Franco.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have been playing over their heads all year. It’s unclear how you win 92 games when you have a pitching staff kept together with duct tape and superglue and Rule 5 relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock.
So the Rays go in as a favorite, definitely, but who really knows? These teams have already played 19 times this year, and the Rays have outscored the Red Sox over those games—but only 106 to 104.
Prediction: Rays in 5
Brewers vs. Braves
Joe: I don’t get the Braves at all. Not even a little bit. Coming into the year, I had them as a Top 5 team in baseball. And then for three months, they slipped on banana peels and did various comical pratfalls and were below .500. And then their most dynamic and exciting player, Ronald Acuña Jr. got hurt and it was like, “OK, their season is over.”
Instead, they got Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall, both of them turned into stars, and the Braves won enough to overmatch the rest of the National League East (which, admittedly, was not that hard to do).
The Brewers, meanwhile, jumped to the front of the National League Central on June 19 and never looked back -- even though their marquee player, Christian Yelich, never found his power stroke and the whole lineup hit .240. You can do this when you have three dominant starters like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Milwaukee will miss reliever Devin Williams, who got into a fight with a wall and, predictably, lost. But there’s just so much pitching.
Prediction: No idea. Toss-up. I’ll say Brewers in 5 but I don’t really feel it.
Molly: It’s no secret that I’ve been gaga over the Brewers rotation all year, especially Corbin Burnes, who I wrote back in August was the most underpaid player in baseball. Having to face Burnes, co-ace Brandon Woodruff and strikeout monster Freddy Peralta in a five-game series is a nightmare for any team. New Brave Joc Pederson will probably hit a few playoff dingers because that’s what he does. Also, this:
Like Joe, I have no idea how the Braves made the playoffs, except that watching the NL East this season was like watching a car crashing into a burning building. The Braves are here without Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka. They aren’t going any further. This series is the easiest call for me to make.
Prediction: Brewers in 4
Giants vs. Dodgers
Joe: I am not going to lie, I was waiting to read what Molly wrote about this series before I said anything since she knows 10 bajillion times more about the Dodgers and Giants than I do. I still have no clue whatsoever how the Giants won 107 games. It just doesn’t compute for me. I know that my friend Farhan Zaidi is a genius, and I know that Buster Posey is really good, and I know that Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and Brandon McCarthy and Brendan Frasier and probably seven other Brandons or Brandens or Bradens or Bardens had great years.
But this team still makes absolutely no sense to me.
I’ve thought the Dodgers were the best team in baseball all year long and I continue to think that. I have no earthly idea how anybody matches up with them. And yet … the Giants did outlast them for the NL West title, and won the season series 10-9. My head says Dodgers in three. My heart says the Giants will never stop winning. My prediction says …
Prediction: Dodgers in five, I guess. Or not. I don’t know.
Molly: My head is still spinning from last night. These Dodgers could win the World Series and that one-game wild-card death match over the Cardinals might wind up being the hardest part. Or….they could get swept by the Giants and be out by Monday.
I’ve been writing about the race between the Dodgers and Giants for months. A month ago I wrote that the Dodgers were better. I still believe that, even though Los Angeles lost Max Muncy and Clayton Kershaw to injuries last week. Kershaw was gone for a few months this year so we got a chance to evaluate the boys in blue without him. They’re not as good as they are with him, obviously, but this is a squad that might finally be poised to run the table without Kershaw carrying them the whole way. Losing Muncy was a horrible blow to the offense, but the Giants also lost their first baseman, Brandon Belt.
I also like the Dodgers in this series because Julio Urias wasn’t pressed into service in Wednesday night’s wild-card game vs. the Cardinals. Urias is the x-factor for me. Will the Dodgers use him as a starter and reliever like they did last year in the NLCS and World Series? It worked pretty well! The Giants deserve respect for what they did during the regular season. But all of that goes out the window now. Cody Bellinger redeemed his dreadful season with a hit, two walks, two stolen bases and a run on Wednesday night. Can he continue his return to competence by turning in similar games vs. Logan Webb, Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani? If he is able to, the Dodgers might win in four.
Prediction: Dodgers in 5.