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MLB Matchups in College Bowl Game Style

It’s 2019 and the 2018 MLB season has been wrapped up for quite some time. However, sports fans have turned to college football to watch college football players duke it out in bowl games. Watching these bowl games had me wondering; what would matchups for MLB teams look like in a college bowl game style? I decided to look a little closer at this and made myself the sole member of the fictional Major League Baseball selection committee. In this article, I have paired two very similar teams to face off in a 1-game winner-take-all matchup. These games would be very similar to a wild card matchup. The best pitcher (min. 100 IP) for each team in 2018 gets the nod to start in this fictional matchup. Because college football teams do not face conference opponents in bowl games, no teams face a team within their division. For example, the lowly Royals and White Sox would not face each other. Matchups are based on 2018 teams and statistics. Patrick Corbin, for example, is accounted for on the Diamondbacks rather than the Nationals. Players like Daniel Murphy are accounted for on the team they end the season with. In this case, he would be accounted for on the Cubs, not the Nationals. In the matchups, much like the MLB playoffs, the team with the better record receives home-field advantage. In one case, the two teams finished with the same record. These teams would determine home-field by the flip of a coin. Like college football, I have incorporated a 4-team playoff. The playoff consists of the four teams that reached the championship series of their respective leagues. As a fun spin, I have also given each matchup a real 2018 bowl game name. The names given are based off of how well known the bowl game is and the quality of the MLB matchup. For example, the Marlins would NOT be a part of the Cotton Bowl. I will display brief summary charts and a tad of analysis as well as my pick for each matchup. With that, let’s look at some college bowl game style matchups in Major League Baseball.

Camellia Bowl: Chicago White Sox (62-100) vs. Baltimore Orioles (47-115) Reynaldo Lopez (7-10) 3.91 ERA vs. Alex Cobb (5-15)4.90ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
White Sox5.23 (29)4.05 (24)-192 (27)
Orioles5.51 (30)3.84 (27)-270 (30)

The White Sox and Orioles were very far from contending throughout the entirety of 2018. Rather than this being a matchup to see who is best, this is more so a matchup to see which team is the worst. Both these teams brought in some of the worst team rankings which should not come in as any surprise. The White Sox were led by Jose Abreu and a crop of young talent while the Orioles did not really have sustained success from any players. As much as I love the underdog, the Orioles did not have it in 2018. Reynaldo Lopez flashed serious potential in 2018 (1.09 ERA in Sep./Oct.) and I believe he and the White Sox would have the obvious upper-hand in a matchup of two abysmal 2018 teams.

Pick: Chicago White Sox

Bahamas Bowl: Miami Marlins (63-98) vs. Kansas City Royals (58-104)Jose Urena (9-12) 3.98 ERA vs. Brad Keller (9-6) 3.08 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Marlins5.02 (24)3.66 (30)-220 (29)
Royals5.14 (27)3.94 (25)-195 (28)

How did the Marlins and Royals do in 2018? As expected. The Royals saw their core depart in free agency and the Marlins tore it down after shipping out their studs. However, each team had their bright spots and those bright spots would show-out in this matchup. J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in baseball, was very good in 2018. He and young Brian Anderson bolster a lineup that was last in runs/game. The Royals, led by Whit Merrifield, were not stellar at scoring runs either. Jose Urena had a solid go around for the Marlins and could be a key piece of their future plans. Keller posted stealthily very good numbers in his limited action. I believe the lineups in this game are very similar, however, I believe Keller puts the Royals just above the Marlins in this matchup.

Pick: Kansas City Royals

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego Padres (66-96) vs. Detroit Tigers (64-98) Robbie Erlin (4-7) 4.21 ERA vs. Matthew Boyd (9-13) 4.39 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Padres4.73 (21)3.81 (28)-150 (25)
Tigers4.91 (23)3.89 (26)-166 (26)

This is another matchup of lowly teams that are in rebuilding stages. As seen in the chart above, pitching was a strength for each of these teams in 2018. Robbie Erlin showed signs of improvement as did Matthew Boyd. The downfall for each team ultimately was their lineups. Pricey free agent Eric Hosmer posted a negative WAR (-0.1) for the Padres while the Tigers only got 157 plate appearances from Miguel Cabrera. If 2018 showed anything about these teams, it is that they need to score runs to be successful. Although Cabrera missing time hurt, Jeimer Candelario, Jose Iglesias, and Nick Castellanos stepped in and provided some spark to an otherwise dull lineup.

Pick: Detroit Tigers

Dollar General Bowl: Toronto Blue Jays (73-89) vs. Cincinatti Reds (67-95) Marcus Stroman (4-9) 5.54 ERA vs. Luis Castillo (10-12) 4.90 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Blue Jays5.14 (26)4.38 (17)-123 (23/24)
Reds5.06 (25)4.30 (18/19)-123 (23/24)

The matchup between the Blue Jays and Reds is eerily similar. These teams seemed to match each other stat for stat in 2018. An aging Blue Jays core of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin did very little for the Toronto offense that was led by a younger pair by the name of Randal Grichuk and Kevin Pillar. The Reds got the most contribution from their sneakily lethal infield of Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Jose Peraza, and Eugenio Suarez. Although Luis Castillo is not quite the pitcher the Reds want him to be yet, his high velo and crazy movement show that he has the stuff. On the otherhand, Marcus Stroman went through an injury-riddled 2018 that really did not show how good he can be.

Pick: Cincinatti Reds

Pinstripe Bowl: San Francisco Giants (73-89) vs. Texas Rangers (67-95) Madison Bumgarner (6-7) 3.26 ERA vs. Mike Minor (12-8) 4.18 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Giants4.31 (13)3.72 (29)-96 (21)
Rangers5.23 (28)4.55 (14)-111 (22)

The San Francisco Giants tried to put together a post season team in a very short amount of time and it turned out quite the opposite. The lineup with Evan Longoria and once Andrew McCutchen was only able to rank ahead of one team in runs/game. On the other hand, the Rangers actually ranked in the top half of offenses in 2018. Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Shin-Soo Choo were key contributors for the Texas Rangers. However, the Giants bested the Rangers in pitching that ranked in the top half of baseball. This matchup is interesting because what one team is good at, the other team is poor at. Mike Minor had some quality innings but nothing special. One name I have not mentioned yet is Madison Bumgarner. I could make a bold statement and pick against him. However, his postseason track record and filthy stuff is enough to detour me from choosing the Rangers in this matchup. Madison Bumgarner gives the Giants the edge in this one.

Pick: San Francisco Giants

Music City Bowl: Minnesota Twins (78-84) vs. New York Mets (77-85) Jose Berrios (12-11) 3.84 ERA vs. Jacob deGrom(10-9)1.70ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Twins4.78 (20)4.56 (13)-37 (19)
Mets4.36 (14)4.17 (23)-31 (17)

Heading into the season, both the Mets and Twins had playoff hopes, and rightfully so. However, each team could not ever seem to find themselves moving out of the mediocrity zone. The Minnesota offense was solid and was led by names such as Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, and Jake Cave. On the other hand, the Mets’ offense ranked 23rd thanks in part to Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil. Jose Berrios had good but not great numbers in 2018. Contrarily, the Mets’ biggest weapon was the 2018 NL Cy Young winner. Jacob deGrom was unhittable in 2018. Does that change when he faces an offense ranked 13th? Absolutely not. Although the Mets did not have a stellar offense, deGrom is enough to make the Mets the favorite in this one.

Pick: New York Mets

Alamo Bowl: Los Angeles Angles (80-82) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (80-82) Andrew Heaney (9-10) 4.15 ERA vs. Aaron Nola (17-6) 2.37 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Angels4.46 (16)4.45 (15)-1 (15/16)
Phillies4.49 (17)4.18 (21/22)-37 (19)

This is the matchup in which both teams finished with the same record. These teams also came into the season with new stud names on the roster and playoff hopes in their eyes. However, they fell short of a .500 record. The Angels were led by the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. The Phillies’ offense was led by powerful Rhys Hoskins and first-basemen Carlos Santana. The league average Angel offense would square off against the NL Cy Young second runner-up, Aaron Nola. The Phillies, on the other hand, would face the mediocre Andrew Heaney. Although the Phillies would be able to score some runs off Heaney, I believe Mike Trout and his cast of Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani give the Angels the advantage in a matchup of 2019 playoff hopefuls.

Pick: Los Angeles Angels

Holiday Bowl: Seattle Mariners (89-73) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (82-79) James Paxton (11-6) 3.76 ERA vs. Jameson Taillon (14-10) 3.20 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Mariners4.39 (15)4.18 (21/22)-34 (18)
Pirates4.30 (12)4.30 (18/19)-1 (15/16)

Although the records are not super similar, the chart above shows that the Mariners’ record does not tell the whole story as they had a negative run differential that ranked 18th. The Mariners had the unfortunate luck of having Robinson Cano suspended. Mitch Haniger, Nelson Cruz, and Jean Segura picked up the slack left by Cano. The Pirates offense did not have any stars but rather a good volume of “good not great” players such as Starling Marte, Adam Frazier, and Gregory Polanco. The intriguing part of this matchup is James Paxton aka “Big Maple” versus cancer survivor and former top prospect, Jameson Taillon. Each pitcher has great strikeout stuff but struggle with control at times. I believe this would be a low-scoring matchup. Edwin Diaz, James Pazos, and Alex Colome give Seattle the superior bullpen and thus the edge in this matchup of small-market teams.

Pick: Seattle Mariners

Citrus Bowl: St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (82-80) Miles Mikolas (18-4) 2.83 ERA vs. Max Scherzer (18-7) 2.53 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Cardinals4.27 (11)4.69 (9/10)+68 (12)
Nationals4.21 (10)4.76 (8)+89 (10)

This next matchup contains one of the better pitching matchups of these “bowl games.” Miles Mikolas was a nobody going into 2018 but he quickly became a household name for Cardinals fans. Although he does not post godly strikeout numbers, his control is very good and that is what made him so successful in 2018. The Nationals, however, have Max Scherzer. Scherzer is arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now and he put up his typical elite numbers again in 2018. Because these matchups are based on 2018 teams, the Nationals would also have Bryce Harper. Despite underperforming in 2018, the National offense ranked in the top 10 and that should come as no surprise. At the top of the Cardinal lineup, Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez raked and displayed the Cardinal way for the world to see. A matchup of two playoff-caliber teams makes this one a very tough one to decide. However, Scherzer’s track record gives the Nats the advantage despite an inferior record.

Pick: Washington Nationals

Peach Bowl: Tampa Bay Rays (90-72) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (82-80) Blake Snell (21-5) 1.89 ERA vs. Patrick Corbin (11-7) 3.15 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Rays3.99 (5/6)4.42 (16)+70 (11)
D-Backs3.98 (4)4.28 (20)+49 (13)

Who saw the Tampa Bay Rays winning 90 games in 2018? Nearly no one saw it. While the Rays exceeded expectations, the Diamondbacks slipped and did not meet expectations as they faltered in the second half. The Tampa offense was anchored by rookie Joey Wendle and speedster Mallex Smith. On the contrary, masher Paul Goldschmidt was accompanied by David Peralta and AJ Pollock in a lineup that was only able to muster 4.28 runs/game. The real strength of the D-backs was their pitching. Not only did they have a superb rotation behind Patrick Corbin, they also had a solid bullpen trio in Archie Bradley, T.J. McFarland, and Yoshihisa Hirano. The Rays held the 2018 AL Cy Young winner who was an absolute tank in 2018. Blake Snell took huge strides in 2018 and his work at the top of the rotation pushed the Rays to be one of the best teams in 2018. Snell is simply too overpowering in 1-game matchup. The lackluster Diamondback offense would by whiffing quite a few times in a matchup against the elite lefty.

Pick: Tampa Bay Rays

Fiesta Bowl: Oakland Athletics (97-65) vs. Colorado Rockies (91-72) Trevor Cahill (7-4) 3.76 ERA vs.German Marquez (14-11) 3.77 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Athletics4.16 (9)5.02 (4)+139 (6)
Rockies4.57 (18)4.79 (7)+35 (14)

This matchup is between two of the most-liked times in the MLB. The small-market Rockies and Athletics both outdid themselves in 2018 and earned playoff berths. The Rockies even did as much as knock off the 95-win Cubs in a 13-inning wildcard game. Trevor Cahill was a reclamation project for the Athletics and he turned in some dominant outings for the team when they needed him to. German Marquez showed that he has the stuff to be a successful pitcher despite playing at hitter friend Coors field. The real strengths of these teams come on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, and Stephan Piscotty all posted great numbers for Oakland while Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon were a great trio at the top of the Colorado lineup card. One thing the Athletics were very good at was using their strong bullpen arms. Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Treinen, and Lou Trivino were all very good for the A’s in 2018 and this is what gives them the advantage in this one.

Pick: Oakland Athletics

Sugar Bowl: Chicago Cubs (95-68) vs. Atlanta Braves (90-72) Kyle Hendricks (14-11) 3.44 ERA vs. Mike Foltynewicz (13-10) 2.85 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Cubs3.96 (3)4.67 (11)+116 (7)
Braves4.06 (9)4.69 (9/10)+102 (8)

It’s safe to say that the Cubs had higher expectations than to only reach the wild card game while the Braves were quite content with a trip to the NLDS. The Braves have just exited rebuild mode while the Cubs are supposed to be in their best years. Kyle Hendricks gets nod because the Cub rotation was solid but did not have a solidified ace in their staff. Mike Foltynewicz turned a corner in 2018 and helped pitch the Braves to an NL East title. The flashy young duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna coupled with veterans Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis made the Braves lineup a scary one. The Cub lineup was just as scary, however. Javier Baez carried the weight in 2018 with Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist also being key contributors. The National League matchup would be very close. However, the Cubs collapse at the end of the season makes me weary to pick them so I am rolling with the young, spunky Braves.

Pick: Atlanta Braves

Rose Bowl Game: New York Yankees (100-62) vs. Cleveland Indians (91-71) Luis Severino (19-8) 3.39 ERA vs. Trevor Bauer (12-6 )2.21 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Yankees4.06 (9)5.25 (2)+182 (4)
Indians4.00 (7)5.05 (3)+170 (5)

The Yankees were one of three teams to reach 100-wins while the Indians were very good for a third straight year. These two clubs were also very similar in the rankings above which goes to show just how good this matchup would be. Trevor Bauer showed that he is an ace in 2018 while Luis Severino remains very good. Overall, the Indians have the better rotation, but this is a 1-game series. The Yankees offense lived up to the hype and was led by Aaron Judge and received contributions from just about everyone including rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. The Indians ranked third in offense and were led by superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. With both teams carrying elite offenses, I believe this would be a higher scoring matchup that goes back and forth. The Yankees hold the higher hand with their bullpen thanks to the likes of Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances. The New York bullpen makes them the favorite in my mind for this matchup.

Pick: New York Yankees

Cotton Bowl (CFP National Semifinal): Milwaukee Brewers (96-67) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-71) Jhoulys Chacin (15-8) 3.50 ERA vs. Clayton Kershaw (9-5) 2.73 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Brewers4.04 (8)4.63 (12)+95 (9)
Dodgers3.74 (2)4.93 (5)+194 (3)

The Brewers and Dodgers create the first semi-final matchup in a remake of the NLCS. The Dodgers pulled away late in this series and reminded fans why they are one of the best teams in baseball. Despite a back injury, Clayton Kershaw was still elite in 2018 while Jhoulys Chacin was a diamond in the rough for the Brewers in 2018. The Brewers carry a lineup with MVP winner Christian Yelich and the productive Lorenzo Cain while the Dodgers were anchored by Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy. The Brewers had a very dominant bullpen with arms such as Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress while the Dodgers carried a plethora of guys in the bullpen and Kenley Jansen when he was healthy. As seen above, the Dodgers best the Brewers in all three categories; the Los Angeles would win just as they did in the NLCS in this 1-game matchup.

Pick: Los Angeles Dodgers

Orange Bowl (CFP National Semifinal: Boston Red Sox (108-54) vs. Houston Astros (103-59) Chris Sale (12-4) 2.11 ERA vs. Justin Verlander (16-9) 2.52 ERA

TeamRuns Allowed/Game
(MLB Rank)
Runs/Game (MLB Rank)Run Differential (MLB Rank)
Red Sox3.99 (5/6)5.41 (1)+229 (2)
Astros3.30 (1)4.92 (6)+263 (1)

This ALCS matchup would perhaps be the best matchup in terms of team quality. Both the ‘Stros and Sox passed the century mark for wins. Both teams also ranked first for at least one of the categories above. Justin Verlander and Chris Sale are both perennial superstars and their filth would be on full display in this intense matchup. The Astros lagged behind slightly with their lineup but it was still very strong. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and George Springer were key cogs to the 2018 Houston lineup. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez were two of the best hitters in all of baseball in 2018 and both helped the loaded Red Sox in 2018. This lineup would be very close but the edge goes to the Red Sox and an offense that averaged 5.41 runs/game.

Pick: Boston Red Sox

College Football Playoff National Championship Game: BOS/HOU vs. MIL/LAD

Simply put, I believe the Red Sox and Dodgers were the best teams to come from their respective leagues. Not necessarily the two best teams in baseball, these two teams were the correct teams to represent each league and they showed that in 2018. In a 1-game matchup of the World Series, pitching would be on full display. Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw are two of the best and any matchup between the two is something worth grabbing some popcorn for. Like I said in the above matchup, the Boston offense is simply too dominant. The Boston sluggers would outhit the Dodgers in this one game matchup and ultimately be declared the winner of the National Championship Game.

Pick: Boston Red Sox

Featured Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Agree? Disagree? Let me know! Follow me on Twitter: @__tylergreen__

Tyler Green

My name is Tyler and I am currently a first-year student at the University of Northern Iowa. I am from Cedar Rapids, Iowa and have grown up a Chicago Cubs fan. Although I love the Cubs, I have a deeper appreciation for the entirety of the MLB.

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