We’re down to the final eight in this year’s MLB playoffs, with the League Division Series kicking off Thursday at 5pm ET with the Cardinals visiting the Braves. Two years removed from the Astros beating the Dodgers in the World Series, is there a rematch on the horizon? Now’s the time to break down the teams and rank them in reverse order of how likely they are to take home the title.
8. The St. Louis Cardinals at 91-71 had six fewer wins than any other division winner, but here they are in their first postseason since 2015. They scored the fewest runs per game, 4.69, of any playoff team, but their pitching has been outstanding, second only to the Dodgers in ERA among NL teams. Fourteen-year veteran Adam Wainwright (14-10, 4.19) is the emotional leader of the rotation, but rookie Dakota Hudson led the team in wins (16) despite a league-leading 86 walks. Jack Flaherty led the team in ERA (2.85) and WAR (5.5). They also have one of the better bullpens in the NL, led by Giovanny Gallegos, who had a 2.34 ERA, 11.5 SO/9IP and a .808 WHIP over 73 innings. The Cards are hoping 2B Kolten Wong can recover from hamstring tightness that cost him the last two weeks of the season and Paul Goldschmidt can find the stroke that made him a .300/.400/.500 guy over the previous six seasons.
7. The Tampa Bay Rays may be the greatest team of nobodies in MLB playoff history. With a patchwork pitching staff that used openers more aggressively than anyone, and managed to strikeout 9.9/9IP, third-best in the AL, allow the second-fewest runs and have the best ERA — they’re doing something right. Their bullpen was easily the best in baseball. The offense, however, is a problem, as they scored the fewest runs of any AL playoff team, trailing Oakland by .5 runs per game. The return of Yandy Diaz will be a boost — as was evidenced by his two home runs in the Wild Card game — as will the return of Brandon Lowe. Maybe those guys will make a big difference, we’ll see.
6. Atlanta Braves (97-65) were two games out of first on June 7 before winning 13 of their next 16 to build a 6 1/2 -game lead in the NL East, and they never looked back. The Braves offense was the third best in the NL this year, scoring 5.27 RPG and was driven by super sophomore Ronald Acuña Jr., who led the NL in runs (127) and stolen bases (37) while also hitting 41 homers — he doesn’t turn 22 until December. Acuña’s missed the last week of the season with a left groin strain, but he should be good to go. The offense also got big contributions from Ozzie Albies, who was top-ten in BA, runs, hits, and doubles. Josh Donaldson contributed 6.1 WAR while playing on a one-year $23 million contract that may have been the free agent bargain of the off-season. It doesn’t hurt when you have Freddie Freeman quietly putting together a Hall-of-Fame resume. The rotation got big boosts from rookie Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.60), Max Fried (17-6, 4.02) and free agent Dallas Kuechel, who went just 8-8 despite a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts.
5. With three homers in their final game of the 2019 regular season, the 101-61 Minnesota Twins broke the Major League record for home runs in a season that had been set earlier in the day by the Yankees. The Twinkies finished with 307 to the Yankees’ 306, with a record eight batters hitting 20+ (and a record five guys hitting 30+). But the Twins aren’t just a brainless gang of grip-it-and-rip-it mashers, as they were second in the AL with a .270 batting average and struck out the fourth-fewest times. Staff ace Jake Odorizzi, who went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA, should be recovered from hamstring tightness that caused him to miss the last game of the regular season. There is ample reason to doubt this team, however, given that they 23-12 in one-run games, suggesting their record was inflated by a fair amount of luck.
4. Despite being absolutely decimated by injuries, the New York Yankees ran away with the AL East, going 103-59. The last time the Yankees won that many games was in 2009 when they last won the World Series. Manager Aaron Boone was able to patch together the AL’s most potent lineup thanks to 13 guys posting an OPS+ of 110 or better in a minimum of 100 plate appearances and briefly set the MLB record with 306 home runs, as seven guys hit 20 or more. The surprise engine for the offense was middle infield DJ LeMahieu, who posted a .327/.375/.518 slash line to go along with 26 dingers and 102 RBI. The bullpen is terrifying, with Aroldis Chapman (13.5K/9IP), Chad Green (12.7) and Adam Ottavino (12.1), but remains without the services of Dellin Betances. James Paxton is the default ace, having gone 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 11.1 K/9IP.
3. This is the Dodgers’ 7th straight trip to the postseason and all they have to show for it thus far is losses in the last two World Series, to the Astros and Red Sox, respectively. They are once again the class of the National League, with the best record (106-56) and the best run differential (+273). Their lineup boasts presumptive MVP Cody Bellinger and fellow All Star Max Muncy, while the rotation boasts three more All Stars in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, and the greatest pitcher in franchise history, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, however, is still haunted by the ghosts of October past, as his carer postseason ERA of 4.32 is nearly 2 runs higher than his regular season ERA. The Dodgers scored the most runs in the NL this year and allowed the fewest, the NL pennant is theirs to lose.
2. Is it crazy to rank the Washington Nationals this high given that they had only the 8th-best record in all of baseball? Maybe. But with the exception of the Astros, the Nats have the best troika of starting pitchers: Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer. They’re the only trio with 200 strikeouts apiece and ERAs below 3.50 and they rank 2nd, 4th and 6th in WAR for NL pitchers. Also, like the A’s, they’ve played at a .661 pace since late May. Add to that the fact that their offense scored the second-most runs in the NL, just a tick behind the Dodgers. Yes, their bullpen is atrocious, with the highest WHIP and ERA of any team in the NL and relief pitching has become more important than ever — especially in the postseason, but October means Austin Voth and Anibal Sanchez can both move to the pen as the Nats can go with three starters.
1. The Houston Astros went 107-55, making them the first team since the 1969-1971 Baltimore Orioles to top the century mark for three seasons in a row, and this may be their best team yet. They led the league in BA, OBP and SLG, struck out the least and walked the most. They managed to do all this with superstar shortstop Carlos Correa missing half the season with injuries — they hope his back tightness clears up in time for Game 1. Their pitching is even better. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole waged a bloody battle for the Cy Young Award, as they became just the second pair of teammates ever to each reach 20 wins and 300 strikeouts, following in the footsteps of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks. Then there’s the ’Stros’ #3 starter, Zack Greinke, who would be the ace on most staffs, who came over in a deadline deal, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA and 5.78 SO/BB. This team is terrifying.
Here’s the League Division Series availability on Sling TV:
Thursday, October 3
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves, Game 1
5:02pm ET on TBS
Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 1
8:37pm ET on TBS
Friday, October 4
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves, Game 2
4:37pm ET on TBS
Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, Game 1
7:07pm ET on MLBN
Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 2
9:37pm ET on TBS
Sunday, October 6
Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, Game 3
4:10pm ET on TBS
Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals, Game 3
7:45pm ET on TBS
Monday, October 7
Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays, Game 3
TBD on MLBN
New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins, Game 3
TBD on FFS1/MLBNS1
Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals, Game 4 (if necessary)
TBD on TBS
Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, Game 4 (if necessary)
TBD on TBS
Wednesday, October 9
Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 5 (if necessary)
TBD on TBS
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves, Game 5 (if necessary)
TBD on TBS
Thursday, October 10
Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, Game 5 (if necessary)
TBD on TBS
All stats courtesy Baseball-Reference.com