Gene J. Puskar/AP
After a month of spring training and six months of the regular season, Major League Baseball’s postseason picture is set and some of the biggest teams in the sport are still alive.
MLB hit the jackpot with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Toronto Blue Jays — six of the most popular franchises — filling up six of the ten playoff spots. They even got Dallas’ team, the Texas Rangers, both teams from the DMV area, the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, and the Indians hoping to join LeBron James and the Cavaliers as champs in Cleveland.
The only true marquee teams missing are the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the ten teams still alive have one month to win October and be crowned champs. Here is how those teams stand entering the playoffs (World Series probabilities are via Baseball Prospectus).
10. New York Mets
It is the postseason in Major League Baseball and if you get in, you’ve got a shot. But if there is one team that is hard to make a case for, it’s the Mets.
Take a look at the Mets’ rotation to start the season and where they are now:
1. Matt Harvey — Had season-ending surgery in July to deal with thoracic outlet syndrome.
2. Noah Syndergaard — Still in rotation and pitching well.
3. Jacob deGrom — Had season-ending surgery in September to repair ulnar nerve damage.
4. Bartolo Colon — Pitching well, but is 43 years old and has only pitched past the sixth inning two times in his last six starts.
5. Steven Matz — Hasn’t pitched since August. Was supposed to return to the rotation at the end of September, but had a setback. Will have surgery this week for a bone spur in his elbow and will miss the postseason.
So, the Mets, a team whose strength is supposed to be its pitching, will be without three of their top five starting pitchers in the postseason and one of the healthy pitchers is in his mid-40s.
To make matters worse, the Mets face Madison Bumgarner of the Giants in the winner-take-all Wild Card game. Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in his career at Citi Field and a 2.14 ERA in 14 career postseason appearances.
And if the Mets can find a way past Bumgarner, they get the Cubs in the next round. Not good.
How they got in: First Wild Card in the National League
Regular-season record: 87-75, 8.0 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East
Chances to win World Series: 2.3%
9. Baltimore Orioles
For the second time in three seasons, the Orioles were that team that just didn’t know better. They weren’t supposed to be in the playoff hunt, but just never went away.
Despite going 21-25 in their first 46 games after the All-Star break, the Orioles rebounded to go 16-11 in September and 7-2 in their last nine games to grab one of the Wild Card spots.
Offensively, the Orioles are pretty straightforward. They led MLB with 253 home runs this season, 28 more than any other team. They were also dead last with 19 stolen bases and just 6 triples.
On the mound, Orioles starters had a 4.72 ERA this season. Only two teams in the American League were worse, the Twins and A’s. Those two teams combined to lose 196 games.
If they are going to get to the World Series, they are going to need to continue to surprise. They will almost certainly be underdogs against any potential opponent, starting with the Blue Jays in a winner-take-all Wild Card game in Toronto where the crowd will be as wild as any.
How they got in: Second Wild Card in the American League
Regular-season record: 89-73, 4.0 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East
Chances to win World Series: 2.9%
8. San Francisco Giants
The Giants were the ultimate tale of two halves. Entering the All-Star break, no team had a better record than the 57-33 Giants. But after the break, the Giants went 29-42. Only the Twins and Phillies were worse.
The good news is that the Giants did win six of their final eight games when it mattered most. The other good news is that they are still the Giants with a ton of talent.
The Giants have to travel to Citi Field to play the Mets in the Wild Card game. But as we mentioned earlier, they have to like their pitching matchup. Madison Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in his career at Citi Field and a 2.14 ERA in 14 career postseason appearances.
Unfortunately, if the Giants get past the Mets, they get the Cubs in the next round. But don’t forget, this is also the team that has won the last three World Series played in an even year.
How they got in: Second Wild Card in the National League
Regular-season record: 87-75, 4.0 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
Chances to win World Series: 3.8%
7. Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers picked up the top seed in the American League, but that might be more of a curse than a blessing. If the Rangers are lucky, they will get the overachieving Orioles in the best-of-5 divisional series. If the Rangers are unlucky, they get the Blue Jays in a series that would be a coin flip, at best, for the Rangers.
Among the AL playoff teams, the Rangers rank third in home runs, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage. They are also last with a 4.38 ERA among their pitchers. So it is not easy to put a finger on something that can carry them to the World Series.
The one thing would have to be the “clutch factor,” if you believe in such things. The Rangers went a ridiculous 36-11 in 1-run games. That’s how a team can win 95 games despite having just a +8 run differential. Either the Rangers have a knack for winning close games or they have been one of the luckiest teams in MLB history.
Another thing the Rangers have going for them is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series, thanks to the AL’s win in the All-Star game. But they won’t get that far if their luck runs out first.
How they got in: Won the American League West division
Regular-season record: 95-67
Chances to win World Series: 6.3%
6. Toronto Blue Jays
On paper, this is probably the second-best team in the American League. But it is also a team that has its flaws.
Among the 15 AL teams, the Jays ranked just 12th with a .248 batting average. They also struck out a whopping 21.9% of the time. Only three AL teams struck out more.
But while this team has a reputation for its hitting, it is actually the pitching that carried them this season. Their 3.79 ERA led the AL and the 3.64 ERA for their starting pitchers was also an AL best.
If the Blue Jays can get past the Orioles in the Wild Card, they will get to face the Rangers in the ALDS in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s divisional series. That was the series that featured Jose Bautista’s famous go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of Game 5.
How they got in: First Wild Card in the American League
Regular-season record: 89-73, 4.0 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East
Chances to win World Series: 8.2%
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
At the All-Star break, the Dodgers were 51-40, 6.5 games back in the NL West. In the second half, the Dodgers went 40-31 and somehow made up 10.5 games in the standings thanks to a terrible second half by the Giants.
The Dodgers get the unenviable task of giving up home-field advantage in the always-quirky divisional series against the Washington Nationals. And if they get past the Nationals, they will start the NLCS on the road against the Team of Destiny, the Chicago Cubs.
Offensively, the Dodgers ranked just 11th in the NL in batting average and on-base percentage. They were seventh in home runs, led by NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager.
Rather, the Dodgers’ key to winning the World Series is simple: they need Clayton Kershaw to step up.
After missing more than two month, Kershaw returned in September and had a 1.29 ERA in five starts, working into the seventh inning in each of his last two starts. But it is the 4.59 ERA in 13 career postseason appearances that is worrisome.
At some point, Kershaw is going to dominate the postseason. With just 149 innings pitched this season, his stint on the disabled list might have kept his arm just fresh enough to make this his year.
How they got in: Won the National League West division
Regular-season record: 91-71
Chances to win World Series: 8.1%
4. Cleveland Indians
Quick, name one position player for the Cleveland Indians! Unless your favorite team plays in the AL Central, you most likely had a hard time coming up with any of the Indians hitters.
No team enters the postseason more under the radar than the Indians, who won the AL Central, who have been in first place since June 4, and who have had a lead of at least 4.5 games since August 12.
Offensively, the Indians were led by first baseman/DH Carlos Santana, who hit 34 home runs and had a .367 OBP.
Rather, the Indians were carried by their pitching staff — their 3.86 ERA was second in the AL — and their defense — led by shortstop Francisco Lindor who led all of MLB with 27.8 defensive runs saved above average.
The bad news? The Indians must get by the Red Sox in the ALDS.
How they got in: Won the American League Central division
Regular-season record: 94-67
Chances to win World Series: 10.5%
3. Washington Nationals
While all of the division championships had been locked up for a while, the only divisional series matchup that was set in stone before the final weekend was the Dodgers versus the Nationals. That allowed both teams to truly gear up and get their businesses in order.
During the regular season, the Dodgers went 5-1 against the Nationals. But this is the postseason and the Nationals have home-field advantage.
The Nationals have Max Scherzer, who is one of the favorites to win the NL Cy Young Award. They also have rookie center fielder-slash-second baseman Trea Turner, who hit .342 with 13 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 72 games and looks like a superstar in the making.
But the Nationals are also entering the playoffs with possibly injured Bryce Harper having arguably the worst year of his career. Reports in mid-September said Harper has been playing through serious shoulder and neck discomfort. And that was before he injured his thumb on an awkward slide in the final week.
The Nationals are good team even without a healthy Harper. But if they want to win it all, they need Harper to produce.
How they got in: Won the National League East division
Regular-season record: 95-67
Chances to win World Series: 10.3%
2. Boston Red Sox
Now that David Ortiz’ retirement tour is finally over, he and the team can get back to the matter at hand: proving that they are the class of the American League one year after finishing last in the AL East.
Offensively, the Red Sox led the AL with a .282 average — 15 points better than any other team — and a .348 OBP — 17 points higher than any other team. The Red Sox were also fourth in ERA and third in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a measure of pitching that adjusts for defense and ballpark.
The Red Sox erased their own curse more than a decade ago. Now, they may be the team that stands between the Cubs attempting to erase their own.
How they got in: Won the American League East division
Regular-season record: 93-69
Chances to win World Series: 22.5%
1. Chicago Cubs
If this same team played in a different uniform, they would be an overwhelming favorite to win the World Series. But this is the Chicago Cubs and no matter how well they have played, there is a segment of baseball fans, especially Cubs fans, who just expect something to go horribly wrong in the playoffs.
The Cubs led the NL in OBP, overall defense (defensive runs saved above average), and ERA. There is nothing this team can’t do.
Still, this is the MLB playoffs and regular-season dominance doesn’t always carry through to the more crapshooty postseason where anything can happen … especially to the Cubs.
But on the eve of the playoffs, it is clear that no team is in better position to win it all than Joe Maddon and his Baby Bears.
How they got in: Won the National League Central division
Regular-season record: 103-58
Chances to win World Series: 25.2%
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