Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it. Despite the setbacks and negotiation delays, October is here and the playoffs are set to begin. It’s been a wild ride with endless seeding opportunities that took the very last game of the regular season to sort out. As you probably already know, the playoff bracket looks a little different this year. Instead of the traditional 4 teams from each league with the Wildcard game determining the 4th seed, there are 8 teams allowed in per league with the Division leaders occupying the top 3 seeds and then the teams with the next best records filling in the rest. The first round has been dubbed the ‘Wildcard round’ and it is a 3-game set with no team getting a bye which means the 1 seed plays the 8 seed, the 2 seed playing the 7 seed, etc with the higher seed hosting all 3 games. This results in there being anywhere between 16 and 24 games played between Tuesday and Friday with the AL starting on Tuesday and the NL starting on Wednesday. Below are my predictions for each series. Enjoy and be sure to comment what you think!
Toronto Buffalo Blue Jays @ (1) Tampa Bay Rays
First of all, I just want to say congrats to the Rays. As a Yankees fan, they deserved it and kicked New York’s ass this season. This matchup between the Rays and Jays is going to be an interesting one. At full health, I would say the Rays would easily take this one, however, that’s not the case here as their bullpen has been decimated with big names such as Chaz Roe, Jose Alverado, Yonny Chirinos, and Andrew Kittredge all done for the season. What’s left of the Rays bullpen has been led by an outstanding Nick Anderson who finished the regular season with a microscopic 0.55 ERA.
The Blue Jays have been collecting the sons of former Major Leaguers and it’s finally starting to pay off. Bo Bichette is really showing what he could be capable with a slash of .301/.328/.512 this season. The team as a whole currently ranks 4th in the AL for hits, HR, AVG, SLG, and OPS so they can be a very dangerous offensive team. Their weakest attribute is undoubtedly their whole pitching staff with the exception of Hyun Jin Ryu. Many of their pitching stats fall in the bottom 5 in the AL.
Prediction: Rays in 2
(5) New York Yankees @ (4) Cleveland Indians
The Yankees have been the streakiest team I’ve seen in a while. Once again plagued by injuries, they seemed to limp (literally and figuratively) to the finish line and ended the season with a series loss against the Miami Marlins. When the Yankees are bad, they are really bad. Although they led the league in runs, walks, OBP, and OPS they finished 8th in hits and that ended up being the big reason why they couldn’t best the Rays and finished a ‘disappointing’ 33-27. There are bright spots, however, as Luke Voit was the MLB homerun champ (22) and DJ LeMahieu was the MLB batting champ (.364). The Yankees are going to have to find a way to get hits off of Cleveland’s outstanding starting rotation and do so while not in the Bronx.
Similar to the Yankees, the Indians have had offensive troubles this season finishing 12th in hits and AVG and last in HR in the AL. Unlike the Yankees, the Indians arguably have the best pitching staff in all of MLB. Led by Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, and Zach Plesac, they led the league in ERA, hits allowed, runs allowed, walks, and strikeouts. Although they traded Mike Clevinger to the Padres, their starting rotation should still be feared especially in a 3-game set. Gerrit Cole vs. Shane Bieber is going to be a must-watch!
Prediction: Indians in 3
(6) Houston Astros @ (3) Minnesota Twins
The Houston Astros have seen a major offensive decline after being one of the best* offensive teams in baseball. I wonder why that is?! Let’s take a look. Altuve has an OPS of .629, Correa has an OPS of .709, Gurriel has an OPS of .658, and Bregman only hit 6 homeruns. Funny how life works that way. With no Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, the Astros have to heavily rely on Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. to lead the way. Honestly, I’m surprised this team even made the playoffs, let alone the 6 seed. They finished under .500 at 29-31. Fuck the Astros.
The Minnesota Twins are nothing short of solid team. They aren’t the best but they certainly aren’t the worst. They’ve been able to win ballgames, plain and simple. They finished 36-24 on the season and found an ace in Kenta Maeda and an MVP-candidate in Nelson Cruz. Overall they have the second best pitching staff in the AL behind the Indians which will play very well against the weak Astros offense. I expect (and hope for) a bloodbath in Minnesota.
Prediction: Twins in 2
(7) Chicago White Sox @ (2) Oakland Athletics
The White Sox have been a very fun team to watch. The team made moves in the offseason by adding Dallas Keuchal (who’s having a fantastic season), Yasmani Grandal, and Edwin Encarnacion, they have become a serious threat in AL. Surprisingly, they weren’t able to best the Twins in the Central but still went a solid 35-25. Chicago also has a strong bullpen led by former Ray great, Alex Colome who has a 0.81 ERA, 12 saves on the year, and has yet to give up a homerun. If their offense gets hot, they could easily become a World Series favorite.
The Athletics have been, well, the Athletics. To me, they are no different than the teams they ran out there over the past couple seasons. No one on the team has an OPS over .850 and are only top 5 in walks and triples in the AL. With the exception of Chris Bassitt, the rotation has been below average at best resulting in a rotation ERA of 4.25. The saving grace for this team was the bullpen. Led by Liam Hendriks, their top 5 bullpen arms had a collective 2.43 ERA which resulted in the team having the 4th best pitching staff in the AL.
Prediction: White Sox in 3
(8) Milwaukee Brewers @ (1) Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s not much to like about the Brewers’ chances. They finished the season 29-31 (4th place in NL Central) and are bottom 5 in most hitting categories in the NL. With Christian Yelich having a very bad season and no one in the lineup sporting an OPS over .800 it’s going to be a very tough matchup for them against the Dodgers’ pitching staff. Relatively speaking, the Brewers’ pitching staff hasn’t been bad. In fact, they finished 6th in ERA, 4th for hits allowed, and 2nd in strikeouts in the National League. However, a recent oblique strain to their best starter, Corbin Burnes, might extinguish any hopes that Brewers fans had.
Of course the Dodgers are the one seed. Will this year be the year? Their offense led the league in homeruns, runs, and slugging. Their pitching led the league in ERA, runs allowed, homeruns allowed, and walks allowed. They got Mookie Betts, Kershaw is back, Dustin May is balling out, and Corey Seager has reemerged. They have zero excuse to not make it out of the Wild Card round.
Prediction: Dodgers in 2
(5) St. Louis Cardinals @ (4) San Diego Padres
With the exception of Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals offense is pretty bad. They are last in the NL for homeruns and total bases, and second to last in hits, runs, slugging, and OPS. The only reason they are sniffing the playoffs is because of their pitching staff which ranks first in hits allowed and second in runs allowed. Adam Wainwright has found the fountain of youth with a 3.15 ERA and a nice 2.1 BB/9. The bullpen has been lights out with Andrew Miller enjoying a nice, little comeback. The only way they’ll be able to compete with San Diego is if they can hold off the Padres’ bats.
The “Slam” Diego Padres have arguably been the most electric team in baseball. Give credit to the front office, they’ve worked their ass off the last few years to build a team that is hungry for a trophy. Fernando Tatis Jr. looked like the early favorite for the NL MVP, rookies Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth are impacting the team greatly, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers are back, Manny Machado is living up to his contract, and they added Mike Clevinger at the deadline. The only holes are in middle relief and back end of the rotation. I highly expect this team to make a deep run.
Prediction: Padres in 2
(6) Miami Marlins @ (3) Chicago Cubs
On paper, the Marlins are not good. However, they’ve somehow found ways to win ballgames with a 31-29 record; their first time over .500 since 2009 and their first playoff run since 2003. Offensively, they finished bottom 5 in most hitting categories except for AVG and OBP (9). On the other side of the ball, it wasn’t much different finishing 11th in ERA and 12th for runs allowed in the NL. Not sure how they will preform but they have been a prime example of why MLB should NOT keep this playoff format moving forward.
The Cubs won the NL Central title somewhat silently. Their offensive production was pretty lackluster as they ranked 10th in team OPS and runs for the NL. Hopefully, Kris Bryant comes around during the playoffs and leads the charge for them. Yu Darvish is enjoying his year as a potential Cy Young candidate with Kyle Hendricks right behind him. Those guys make a great one-two punch. Hate to say it, but this series will probably be the most boring to watch.
Prediction: Cubs in 3
(7) Cincinnati Reds @ (2) Atlanta Braves
It sucks to think that your best overall hitter is Jesse Winker but that’s the case for Reds fans. Although their lineup is full of talent like Castellanos, Senzel, Moustakas, Votto, and Saurez, there’s not much to show from it. They are last in the NL for hits and AVG, 13th in runs, and 9th in OPS. Like a lot of NL teams so far, their best attribute is the pitching staff with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray leading the way and solid bullpen to back them up.
The Braves are once again trying to make a push with their young core. Offensively, they are the best in the NL, in my opinion. They have the NL MVP favorite Freddie Freeman getting the respect that he deserves, Marcell Ozuna is having a great contract year, Adam Duvall is hitting bombs left and right, and even Travis d’Arnaud is having a career year. The Braves lead the league in hits, doubles, walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Their biggest concern at the moment, is their starting pitching. They have Max Fried who will be in Cy Young conversations and that’s it. Luckily, their bullpen has held up as 35-year-old Mark Melancon has a 2.78 ERA and 11 saves. I’m really interested to see how far this team will go.
Prediction: Braves in 3
Sorry if that was a little long of a read. Good news is, the amount of games will be cut in half next round so look for my next blog later this week! If you didn’t read all of that, I edited the bracket with my predictions: