The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight with the AL Wild Card game in The Bronx as the New York Yankees host the Minnesota Twins. There are a lot of arguments to be made for several of the qualifiers to make deep runs as eight of the 10 playoff teams won over 90 games. Here’s how I see each of the playoff teams faring this October.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are an example of an overachieving team that’s playing with house money in the playoffs. Paul Molitor’s team became the first to make the postseason one year after losing 100 games. There are many reasons to be excited about the Twins and their young core moving forward, but this doesn’t look like a good spot tonight on the road. Ervin Santana gets the ball for the Twins and his 0-5 record at Yankee Stadium certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Toss in the fact that Minnesota is without Miguel Sano, a power hitter who could change the game with one swing of the bat, and it doesn’t feel like the Twins season goes any further. Nevertheless, hats off to the entire organization for such a drastic turnaround in 2017.
New York Yankees: The Yankees also exceeded expectations this season going 91-71 and proving that their hybrid rebuild was wrapping up quicker than expected. Remember, the Yankees are just over a year removed from trading Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for hefty prospect packages. They were in the Wild Card game in 2015 with a roster that included several veterans that are not with the team anymore. However, there’s always going to be a certain degree of pressure on the Yankees when they make the playoffs. Brian Cashman made it clear he felt they could compete this season by going out and adding Sonny Gray and David Robertson in July. It would be a big surprise if the Yankees lost this game tonight at home against Minnesota. A win puts the Yankees up against the Cleveland Indians. The defending AL Champions would enter that series as the favorite, but the Yankees are certainly capable of making a run. Having Gray, Luis Severino, and CC Sabathia to go with a potent young lineup gives the Yankees a chance in a short series.
Cleveland Indians: This is the best team in baseball. For a while, it looked like it was the Dodgers, but after Cleveland’s red-hot finish to the regular season, the tribe look to be in a great spot to avenge last year’s World Series defeat. Jose Ramirez had the best season of his young career and Edwin Encarnacion gives Terry Francona a big bopper in the middle of the order that the Indians didn’t have last year. Everyone already knew about Cleveland’s pitching depth both in the rotation and bullpen which leaves little to question about its legitimacy as a World Series contender.
Boston Red Sox: Their lineup is good. Their bullpen is good. But will their starting pitching be able to keep Houston’s bats at bay? That’s the question that determines if Boston can beat the Astros in the ALDS. It feels like Thursday’s game one is a must-win for the Red Sox with Chris Sale on the bump. This just doesn’t look like a great matchup for the Red Sox.
Houston Astros: If you like offense, this is your team. Houston was first in batting average, runs scored, and OPS in the regular season and second in home runs. Adding Justin Verlander fortified their rotation and Dallas Keuchel bounced back after a down year in 2016. If Houston can find ways to win the low-scoring games, then it could certainly win its first World Series. Their lineup should be good enough to at least get them into the ALCS.
Colorado Rockies: Tomorrow will be the first playoff game for Colorado in eight years. The Rockies lineup is loaded and they have an above average bullpen. Jon Gray is the right man to start tomorrow’s NL Wild Card game but the Rockies lack the rotation depth to make a deep run. They could win tomorrow, but would be a heavy underdog against Los Angeles.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona is more complete than Colorado and has better starting pitching, but that doesn’t really matter in a one-game series. Zack Greinke toes the rubber for the Diamondbacks tomorrow night in a game that features two evenly-matched opponents. The Yankees are a clear favorite in tonight’s AL Wild Card game but the National League Wild Card game looks like a coin flip. Arizona poses a bigger threat to the Dodgers with some big hitters in the middle of the order to go with decent starting pitching, but it would still be a surprise if the Dodgers lost to either team.
Los Angeles Dodgers: There’s no team with more pressure this month than the Dodgers. Adding Yu Darvish at the deadline with Darvish set to be a free agent this winter was a clear indication that the Dodgers were all in. With Clayton Kershaw and Darvish at the top of a deep rotation and Kenley Jansen slamming the door in the ninth, the Dodgers should be in almost every game they play this October. But if you believe in momentum carrying over from the regular season, then the Dodgers were simply not the same team in the last six weeks of the season that they were for the rest of the year. If they can wipe the slate clean and start over, there’s plenty of talent on the roster in LA to win it all.
Washington Nationals: Maybe it’s not the pressure the Dodgers have, but clock is certainly ticking in the nation’s capital. Bryce Harper is now just one year away from becoming a free agent and the Nationals have unsuccessfully tried to supplement their roster around Harper for years. Washington has not made it past the NLDS and certainly had its fair share of opportunities. They’ll still enter 2018 as a heavy favorite in the NL East, but if this isn’t the year with this core for the Nationals, it’s fair to wonder when that year will come.
Chicago Cubs: It feels like the reigning champions are not garnering the attention you would expect as they set out to begin their title defense. With all the pressure being on Los Angeles and Washington in the National League and given how Cleveland ended the regular season, the Cubs come in slightly underrated, for lack of a better term. That could work in their favor heading into the NLDS against the Nationals. The addition of Jose Quintana gave them the necessary stability in the starting rotation and Wade Davis has been money all year replacing Aroldis Chapman. They did not look like the champs during the first half, but the Cubs got it going after the All-Star break and are still one of the best offensive teams in baseball. I like them to beat the Nationals.
World Series Prediction: I’ll take the Indians over the Cubs in a rematch of last season’s Fall Classic. The Indians are the most complete team which leads me to believe they’ll ultimately prevail. In the National League, it’s hard to trust the Nationals or Dodgers in October until proven otherwise and from a pure talent standpoint, the Cubs are just as good anyway.