Well, we made it. After a long, exciting, and painful (for some of us) season, the MLB Postseason is finally here. It took 163 games to decide, but tonight we’ll see the Rockies take on the Cubs in what should be an incredibly exciting NL Wild Card Game. Ten teams come into the playoffs with hopes, reasonable or otherwise, of taking home the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the month. Everyone loves to try to predict how the playoffs will shake out and we at M-SABR are no different. We asked 17 members to fill out a bracket, and we were able to come to a club consensus as to who we think will be crowned champions. Additionally, our writers previewed all 10 playoff teams and shared what it would take for each one to win the World Series. Let’s dive in with our official playoffs prediction!
No team has successfully defended a World Series crown since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, but our writers think the Astros will do just that, despite the strong level of competition in the American League. Overall, 5 of 17 writers chose the Astros, with 4 choosing the Red Sox, 4 choosing the Brewers, 3 choosing the Dodgers, and 2 picking the Yankees. But the thing about October is that no one really knows what’s going to happen. Any one of these ten teams can make a run at the World Series. Let’s look at all of them, starting with the 108-win Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox
Record: 108-54, 1st AL East
Of the 11 teams to have won 108 or more games in a single season in MLB history, 7 went on to win that year’s world series. That certainly bodes well for the 108-win Red Sox. As does the fact that they scored the most runs in all of baseball; they have soon-to-be AL MVP Mookie Betts (for all the Trout loyalists, Betts’ 10.2 fWAR in 136 games in 2018 is actually better than any single season Trout fWAR total), legitimate Triple Crown threat J.D. Martinez, 133 wRC+ Xander Boegarts, and 4.3 fWAR Andrew Benintendi all in the same lineup, with the AL’s most dominant per-inning pitcher in Chris Sale on the mound. The Red Sox have been 2018’s dominant storyline, and adding a fourth World Series ring in 14 years would be a fitting way to cap off one of the greatest seasons in MLB history.
Record: 103-59, 1st AL West
Remember last year’s 101-win Astros juggernaut that rode baseball’s best offense–whose 122 team wRC+ trails only the ’27, ’30, and ’31 Yankees since 1900–to an epic World Series title? Well, let me introduce you to this year’s 103-win Astros juggernaut that is hoping to ride baseball’s best pitching staff–whose 76 team FIP- is the second best since 1900–to a second consecutive World Series title. Sure, Jose Altuve regressed from his monstrous MVP season, and Carlos Correa struggled mightily, but Alex Bregman broke out in their place to the tune of a 157 wRC+ and an identical 7.6 fWAR to Altuve’s MVP number in 2017. On the pitching side, the Astros got a potential Cy Young season from Justin Verlander that saw him lead the AL in strikeouts at 290, place third in ERA with a 2.52, and take home the AL pitcher fWAR crown with 6.8. Yet despite his AL supremacy, K/9, HR/9, FIP, and FIP- are all stats JV could not even beat his co-ace Gerrit Cole in. Throw in Dallas Keuchel, a resurgent Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers, and the controversial yet dominant Roberto Osuna and the Astros pitching staff is any opponents worst nightmare. Oh yeah, and they still have Altuve, Springer, Correa, Bregman, the underrated Tyler White, and Josh Reddick in their lineup. Astros all the way.
Record: 91-71, 1st AL Central
One superstar might not single-handedly win you a World Series in baseball, but that does not mean that two of them can’t try their best. And if anybody were to do it, it’d be Jose Ramirez (39 HR, 34 SB, 147 wRC+, 8.1 fWAR) and Francisco Lindor (38 HR, 25 SB, 130 wRC+, 7.5 fWAR), the first two infield teammates to amass 7.5 fWAR each since Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen for the Cardinals in 2004. Flank those two with Josh Donaldson (149 wRC+ since joining Cleveland), Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, and the Indians could finally get the ring they lost in such heartbreaking fashion to the Cubs in 2016.
New York Yankees
Record: 100-62, 2nd AL East
Being overshadowed and beaten down by the Red Sox in their own division throughout the regular season might not matter much for a somewhat overlooked Yankees juggernaut as 100 wins and an all-time record 267 team home runs (with Aaron Judge missing 50 games) hardly scream underdog. And with Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman looming at the end of games, the offense might not even be the strength of the team. Unfortunately for New York, though, a good bullpen does not matter if the starting pitchers cannot help give the team the lead. And after Luis Severino starts Wednesday night’s coin-flip of a Wild Card game, a Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and CC Sabathia-led ALDS rotation does not bode well for a matchup with Mookie Betts and JD Martinez at Fenway. Yet, 100 games don’t win themselves, and 2018 certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Yankees get hot and make a World Series run.
Record: 97-65, 2nd AL West
An afterthought before the season, the A’s took the league by storm, winning at a remarkable .648 clip over the final four months of the season and skyrocketing past the Mariners for the second Wild Card. According to Fangraphs, they had just a 3.1% chance of making the playoffs on June 15th, a day they finished two games below .500. This meteoric rise can be explained in large part due to their hitters, who as a whole were only behind the Dodgers in combined WAR. Fringe MVP candidate Matt Chapman led the way with a 137 wRC+ and astounding defense. Khris Davis may have hit .247 for the fourth season in a row, but his league-leading 48 home runs make him an incredibly valuable player. The starting pitching may not be elite especially after injuries to Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman, but as we’ve seen over the past couple seasons, the rotation doesn’t matter a whole lot in the playoffs. This is especially true if you have a bullpen like the A’s do. As a group, their Win Probability added of 12.50 is the 5th highest of all time by a bullpen. Though Lou Trivino, Yusmeiro Petit, and Ryan Buchter all deserve credit, no reliever has been better than closer Blake Treinen. In 80.1 innings, Treinen posted an absurd 0.78 ERA with 11.2 K/9. If the hitters stay hot, we could be seeing a lot more of the A’s this October.
Record: 90-72, 1st NL East
The Braves don’t have the best pitching staff in the National League. They don’t have the best lineup, either. In fact, they were the only team to clinch their division prior to Game 163 despite having the worst record of any National League playoff team.
How does any of this help the Braves’ chances of winning the World Series? It doesn’t. But they don’t need it to because they have God himself: Ronald Acuña Jr.
Okay, maybe he isn’t God, but he’s good enough to get his own subreddit (/r/The_Ronald, in case you don’t know). And he’s one of the many young talents on this team. Aside from likely-ROY Acuña, the Braves are led by 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies, defensive standout Ender Inciarte, and the always-criminally-underrated Freddie Freeman, who has been the best 1B in baseball this season when measuring by fWAR.
The team’s pitching staff leaves a little to be desired, but the resurgent Anibal Sanchez and his 2.83 ERA through 25 starts have been a pleasant surprise. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have also had breakout seasons, each pitching to a career-best ERA in 2018. To top it all off, the Braves acquired Kevin Gausman, who has a 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 10 starts since joining the Braves at the trade deadline.
The Braves certainly don’t have the most talented roster, but it is one of the youngest in the playoffs and teams that have nothing to lose are dangerous in October.
Record: 96-67, 1st NL Central
Two words: Christian Yelich
After a solid first half that earned him a trip to the All-Star Game, Yelich absolutely tore pitchers apart in the second half. His .367/.449/.770 batting line, with 25 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 256 at bats, almost single-handedly carried the Brewers into the playoffs, and his 3 hit performance in Game 163 was crucial to seal the division. Yelich is joined by Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas, and Jonathan Schoop in what projects to be one of the most potent offenses in the playoffs. Their no-name rotation has continued to churn out respectable performances that have kept the Brewers competitive in the regular season. While the rotation might not look as impressive as the other postseason teams, their bullpen sets them apart. Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel form arguably the best late innings group of any team vying for the championship. They also have unrivaled depth at the position, as Joakim Soria, Corbin Burnes, and Jacob Barnes have the talent to effectively navigate the critical outs in the middle innings.
This Brewers team has had a fantastic second half. If Christian Yelich can keep up his torrid pace and the bullpen continues its string of good performances, the Brewers will easily be one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 92-71, 1st NL West
It might have taken them 163 games, but another year has passed and the Dodgers have won another NL West crown (their sixth straight), and head into the playoffs as the likely favorites in a National League playoff bracket that sees the Cubs having to win a Wild Card game to even make the Divisional Round. The wins might have dropped off a bit from 2017, but the Dodgers still excel at baseball’s most fundamental statistic: runs. Their 804 runs were tops in the National League, as was their 3.40 staff earned run average. All they need is four more weeks of scoring more runs than they allow and these Dodgers might exorcise their World Series demons after only one year. New additions Max Muncy, Manny Machado, and Walker Buehler won’t hurt that mission either.
Record: 95-68, 2nd NL Central
The Cubs up and down season continued into Game 163 as they lost to the Brewers and likely NL MVP Christian Yelich. Joe Maddon and the Cubs will face the Rockies in a one-game winner-take-all playoff to make the Division Series against the Brewers. It’s been a tough year with a grueling last 40 games in 41 days for the Cubs but they still have one of the best bullpens in the majors by ERA this year. They ranked second with a 3.35 ERA in 588.1 IP despite injuries to Brandon Morrow, CJ Edwards, Justin Hancock, Pedro Strop, and more. The ’pen will face their toughest battle yet against the Rockies and beyond into the postseason. Watch for Maddon to have a short leash with starters and relievers as they try to four-peat their 2015-2017 NLCS appearances.
Record: 91-72, 2nd NL West
Three away games in three cities in three days may be too much to overcome as the Rockies attempt to launch a Rocktober run. That said, Nolan Arenado finished the season as the National League leader in home runs (though 37 is a lower mark than we have seen in recent years), Trevor Story broke out for a 5 fWAR season, and David Dahl blasted 16 home runs in just 76 games. The key to the team’s 2018 success, however, has undoubtedly been their pitching. The Rockies will send ace and likely fourth-place finisher in the National League Cy Young race Kyle Freeland to the mound against postseason veteran Jon Lester and the Cubs in the National League Wildcard Game. If the Rockies sneak out alive, they will face the Brewers, who may not have a great rotation but who absolutely have a bullpen built for October (though Adam Ottavino and Wade Davis may be able to match the contributions of Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress in a five-game series despite a lower combined fWAR).