When I started researching this piece, I thought a logical place to start would be the history of winner-take-all games (we’ll call them WTAs) since divisional play began in 1969. I said to myself, “Self, surely you’ll see a strong trend of teams defending their home turf. Working from that, you’ll surely be done with this in 20 minutes or so.”
In 50 years of LCS and LDS play, 30 home teams have won WTA games…and 29 have lost them. It could not be more evenly split. So, with it essentially being a coin flip, let’s dig in, shall we?
CARDINALS (Flaherty) vs. BRAVES (Foltynewicz), in Atlanta
This should be a brawl of a game. It’s clear there’s bad blood between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Carlos Martinez, and Yadier Molina’s post-Game-4 antics seemed directed toward Acuna as well. One suspects there will be some HBPs exchanged in 2020. As for this game, while the Braves seem a team of the future, these Cardinals have fought many wars over the years, and have a true and rested ace facing a wildcard in Foltynewicz. It also never seems smart to bet against Yadier Molina in a one-game playoff. Prediction: St. Louis.
NATIONALS (Strasburg) vs. DODGERS (Buehler), in Los Angeles:
This seems like a series neither team wants to win. Blown leads, failed rallies, home-field advantage taken and given back….my best friend in L.A. has been terrified this whole series, and he doesn’t worry about anything. The constant feeling of impending doom that left me forever in 2016 has shifted to him, despite the sizable talent advantage L.A. possesses. Washington, however, possesses Stephen Strasburg, he of the 0.64 career postseason ERA (the best of all time). It would be just like the Nationals to lose multiple clinching games at home over the years, then head to Dodger Stadium and crush a superior team. I’m going with the Hollywood ending, which ironically will punish much of Hollywood. Prediction: Washington.
RAYS (Glasnow) vs. ASTROS (Cole), in Houston
It makes no sense to pick Tampa in this game. Houston is 62-21 at home this season. Gerrit Cole will finish second in the Cy Young voting. Houston’s offense is historically good. But the Rays are a 25-piece human chaos theory, and to discount them at this point is a fool’s errand. Even if Houston wins, the body blow they’ve taken will take 2-3 ALCS games to recover from. That said, the talent disparity is simply too large to overlook. Prediction: Houston.