Champions of the October Push – An MLB Playoff Preview

Story By: Patrick Henslee, Reporter

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World Series: Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers

 

National League

NL Wild Card: Washington Nationals over Chicago Cubs

NLDS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals

NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals over Atlanta Braves

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals

 

American League

AL Wild Card: Oakland Athletics over Tampa Bay Rays

ALDS: Oakland Athletics over New York Yankees

ALDS: Houston Astros over Minnesota Twins

ALCS: Houston Astros over Oakland Athletics

 

              1. Houston Astros

The top two spots are more like a 1A and 1B. All season long, Houston has pummeled teams with a historically productive lineup and an intimidating pitching staff enhanced with analytics. 

The Astros offense sits with a .275 AVG. (first), .850 OPS (first) and 278 home runs (third). AL MVP candidate Alex Bregman has a slash line of .295/.419/.590 and 40 home runs, starring in a lineup that featured five players with an OPS over .900.

Their top three starters of Cy Young contenders Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke have opposing batters walking back to the dugout before they ever get in the batter’s box.

Losing several bullpen arms to injuries in early September does sting a bit, but not enough to put them far below the Dodgers or Yankees.

             2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Do I hear a third World Series appearance in three years? The name of the game in LA is positional depth and flexibility, the combination of which allows the Dodgers to plug in any player in any position at any time necessary.

They have NL MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, who can mash .302/.402/.623 while playing all three outfield spots and first base with terrific defense. Even with Hyun-jin Ryu’s regression, their top three starters of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Ryu posted a 2.93 ERA, 3.39 FIP and 26 K% this year. Performance like that is more than enough to push them through a playoff series.

Their plethora of leftover starters can convert to swingmen and fill in the gaps in the relief corp. Either way, please give us a Russell Martin relief appearance in the playoffs.

             3. New York Yankees

I miss Jacoby Ellsbury. No, the Boston era Jacoby Ellsbury

Speaking of injured outfielders, the Yankees officially lost Mike Tauchman and Aaron Hicks to injuries, but former MVP Giancarlo Stanton has made his return. So has reliever Dellin Betances, along with starting pitchers Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery.

It’s still difficult to tell who’d start Games 1-3 in a series, out of those two, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ.

The Yankees have performed well thanks to contributions from DJ Lemahieu, Giovanny Urshela and Gleyber Torres, it’s just hard to tell if they can reach their full potential without knowing exactly what kind of players came back from the IL.

             4. Atlanta Braves

This young Braves team is finally coming to fruition after pairing their rebuilt core with a perfect mix of veterans.

Youngsters Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are playing at or above their expectations, with Acuña Jr. likely to finish in the top three for NL MVP voting following a near 40-40 campaign.

 Along with Acuña Jr., veterans Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson are the heart of the offense, each producing at least 40 home runs and 100 RBIs.On the pitching side, wunderkind Mike Soroka leads a starting rotation supported by veterans Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran.

The bullpen was bolstered by deadline additions of Chris Martin, Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, with all three underperforming according to peripheral stats: 4.36 ERA, 2.40 FIP.

             5. Oakland Athletics

The A’s have good reason to be ranked this high up. They always pick up speed as the season continues, but Oakland looks even more imposing with additions to the roster in September.

Marcus Semien is having a career year (.285 AVG, 32 HR, .891 OPS), and Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Ramón Laureano all play Gold Glove defense.

The starting pitching has been a somewhat successful rotating door for much of the season, but Sean Manaea has returned from shoulder surgery and looks to pair well with Mike Fiers. 

Prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk have joined the pitching staff, while catcher Sean Murphy and outfielder Seth Brown have made excellent impressions in the majors. 

             6. Tampa Bay Rays

Maybe it’s their record against the Yankees this year (6-12) that has me hoping Oakland will have better success against the Bronx Bombers, but that’s not to say that the Rays are a 6-12 type of team this year.

Like always, Tampa Bay used analytics to elevate cheaper fringe pitchers and glide into contention. Emilio Pagan and Nick Anderson lead the league’s best unknown bullpen. The Rays have also fueled breakouts from Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham, and Kevin Kiermaier is a human highlight reel when he’s healthy. 

Their rotation is filled with question marks after Charlie Morton, but the return of Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell hopes to give them a terrific top three starters for the playoffs.

             7. Washington Nationals

This will be Washington’s fourth playoff appearance since 2012 and this team is still somehow flying under the radar with excellent performances from quiet players.

Anthony Rendon will get NL MVP votes that he absolutely deserves (.322/.410/.603). Juan Soto is generational talent, playing like a star at the age of 20, and Trea Turner quietly batted .298 while stealing 34 bases and playing a solid shortstop.

Also, Howie Kendrick finished with a .344 AVG. through 119 games?

As bad as their bullpen is (5.79 ERA, 4.98 FIP), their rotation features Max Scherxer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, allowing them to matchup against rotations like the Dodgers.

             8. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have looked tremendous in the second half, with turnarounds from the pitching staff, timely hitting and elite defense and baserunning. They’re my pick for “Unsuspecting Team That Can Possibly Ruin Someone’s Playoff Hopes.”

Jack Flaherty has emerged as the next Cardinals’ ace, touting a 2.85 ERA, 3.53 FIP and 30.0 K%. Carlos Martinez has found success in the bullpen and Giovanny Gallegos is an outstanding reliever you’ve never heard of.

Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader create a laser show on defense, while Paul DeJong has broken out in a lineup including stars Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. Don’t sleep on the Redbirds and their playoff magic.

             9. Minnesota Twins

“But the Twins can finish with 100 wins?!” And they played the Chicago White Sox (13-6), Kansas City Royals (12-4), and Detroit Tigers (12-5) all year.

The bats are still the heart and soul of this team. Nelson Cruz, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Mitch Garver helped the team finish top three in batting average (.270), homeruns (297) and OPS(.832). 

They also lost outfielder Byron Buxton to injury and pitcher Michael Pineda to PED suspension, but we’ve seen them there before.

Jose Berrios is nasty on the mound, but he and the rest of the rotation all saw regression in the second half. Meanwhile, the bullpen is composed of Taylor Rogers and… Tyler Duffey?

             10. Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee was practically written off after they lost MVP candidate Christian Yelich to a fractured kneecap at the start of September. They’ve instead rebounded from the injury by stomping past their opponents and reclaiming a spot in the playoff race.

The offense has been maintained by franchise player Ryan Braun (.283/.339.498) and Mike Moustakas, who hit .257/.330/.521 with 35 home runs.

All-Star Brandon Woodruff returned to a rotation that has a 3.09 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 22.48 K% in September. The bullpen has been terrific with left-handers Josh Hader and Drew Pomeranz (2.36 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 47.25 K%) leading the way.

The Brewers have been hot enough to seemingly knock the Chicago Cubs from the playoff race, so who knows what they can accomplish in October.

I don’t expect any common fan to watch all 162 games their favorite team plays over 6 months. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as they are when a team’s future is dependent on their success in one month, and they had to do well in the first six months to get there.

Baseball’s slow pace causes many viewers and fans to turn away from the game. But those that stick around to watch a playoff game or 20 in October do it for the moments. The ones that make you stand up with your mouth agape and hands above your head… until you realize you’re the only one in the living room.

After diving into MLB fandom and watching the insanely exciting 2017 World Series, Shea Serrano of The Ringer noted that “Baseball is only the most boring thing of all time or the most stressful thing of all time. Those are the only two temperatures it seems to have.”

Statistics courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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