With the 2017 MLB season entering its final month-and-a-half of play, many fans are just counting down the days until the postseason starts. Unlike most years, there aren't very many big division races this late in the season -- which has been a cause for boredom.
The only divisional race is the National League central between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Every other division leader is winning it by comfortable margins. It seems like a sure-thing that the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies will play in the N.L. Wild Card Game, but things are wide open in the A.L.
So while some fans try to see if their teams can squeak in, most of the World Series contenders are just sitting back with feet on their couch, waiting for the real games to arrive. It's not far off, so now's a good time to play the fun game and see how the 2017 postseason will go down.
*Stats courtesy of ESPN.com and are as of Aug. 14*
18 AL Wild Card
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
As things look right now, the American League Wild Card Game will feature a pair of teams that barely finish over .500. Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles both required 89 wins to play in the wild card game.
The New York Yankees were once in the A.L. East race, but a brutal showing in July and for most of August thus far means they'll likely settle for a wild card spot. Aaron Judge has carried them this far, but now he's in a huge slump. The rotation looks sub-par at best, with Masahiro Tanaka and newcomer Sonny Gray struggling. But the big bats will propel the Bronx Bombers to the top wild card spot.
Facing the Yankees? The Minnesota Twins -- who are finally piecing it all together after spending nearly a decade rebuilding. Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario are all enjoying fine seasons. Their terrific lineup helps Minny barely nab the second wild card spot over a half-dozen other playoff hopefuls.
17 AL Wild Card Winner
The Yankees better hope that Luis Severino will be able to start this game; that they don't have to use him for Game 161 or 162. He's their only reliable pitcher in that rotation. But even then, I have to give the advantage to Twins ace Ervin Santana -- who has 12 wins and a 3.26 ERA this season.
Minnesota's lineup has more depth than the Yankees, who have non-coincidentally been lifeless at the plate with Aaron Judge in the midst of an awful slump. That doesn't bode well for a team trying to win a one-game playoff.
The Twins have a great combination of speed, athleticism and power in their lineup. They don't rely solely on homers like the Yankees are guilty of. With Santana on the mound, the Twins win their first playoff game since 2004.
16 NL Wild Card
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies
Two extremely feel-good stories will face off in the National League Wild Card Game. For the Diamondbacks, it'll be their first playoff berth in six years, while the Rockies will play postseason ball for the first time since 2009.
Both teams feature high-powered lineups. Colorado ranks third in runs scored, while Arizona ranks sixth. The Rockies feature a ton of elite hitters in Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Mark Reynolds, D.J. LeMahieu and Jonathan Lucroy.
Meanwhile, Arizona features Paul Goldschmidt -- a darkhorse NL MVP candidate, plus Jake Lamb, David Peralta and Chris Owings. But the D-Backs are also powered by a terrific pitching staff that's 3.59 team ERA is only bested by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Arizona is a well-balanced team all over, but the Rockies lineup has been tough for opponents to stop. Something's gotta give.
15 NL Wild Card Winner
Pitching wins in the postseason, and the Diamondbacks undoubtedly have the edge here. As mentioned earlier, their 3.59 ERA is the second best in baseball. The Rockies rank 21st at 4.67.
Arizona has two legitimate aces in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, but everyone knows that the former will be on the mound for the single-game elimination. The Rockies will likely counter with Kyle Freeland, who has 11 wins and a 3.70 ERA. Solid, but not quite spectacular.
But the Diamondbacks also get the nod because of their far superior bullpen; one that carries a 3.70 ERA. The Rockies? 4.50 with opponents batting a respectable .258. Arizona has the better pitcher and the more reliable bullpen. So they punch their ticket to the NLDS.
Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians
The defending AL champions will face the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS for the second consecutive year. Despite fielding the best offence and 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, the Red Sox were embarrassed by the Indians -- who swept them with ease in three games.
Right now, the Red Sox are playing better than the 2016 team we saw get swept. They have Chris Sale putting up a historic season, but Indians' ace Corey Kluber is not far off. Boston also doesn't have feared slugger David Ortiz, whereas the Indians will have a pair of power hitters in Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce this time around.
Both teams have terrific bullpens, a well-balanced lineup and star aces. But Cleveland and Boston don't have much depth in their respective rotations, which is cause for concern. These teams are evenly matched on paper. So who takes it?
13 ALDS Winner
Cleveland Indians, 3-1
Last year's Red Sox were filled with young players that couldn't seem to handle the postseason pressure. Andrew Miller was a huge weapon in the playoffs, and should be able to once again take down Boston's top hitters.
Will Chris Sale rise up in the playoffs? Many aces like Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and David Price have disappointed in postseason games. But Kluber nearly guided the Indians to a World Series, and he's proven to be money in the playoffs.
I also like Cleveland's lineup way more. Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley bring terrific balance of speed and power. Dustin Pedroia is battling a knee injury, and the Red Sox don't have any true power hitters.
Cleveland uses Kluber, its elite bullpen and a strong lineup to once again eliminate the Red Sox in the ALDS. They'll need one extra game to do it, though.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals
Thanks to victories in eight of their last nine games, the Cardinals are suddenly in position to make a run at the NL Central crown. The Chicago Cubs inconsistency and the unraveling of the Milwaukee Brewers will give St. Louis yet another NL Central crown. Go figure.
The Cardinals record isn't sexy, but they sure are dangerous. Six of their regulars are batting .270 or better, and that doesn't include 2016 World Series hero Dexter Fowler -- who's money in the postseason. St. Louis also has a strong rotation, led by Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Carlos Martinez.
But the Washington Nationals are no slouches, either. They have a Cy Young candidate in Max Scherzer, plus other gems in Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg on the mound. Their offence is second-best in baseball, only trailing the Houston Astros. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy form one potent lineup.
St. Louis is looking for its third World Series in the 21st century. The Nats are awaiting their first. Who wins this clash between two perennial juggernauts?
11 NLDS Winner
Washington Nationals, 3-0
At the end of the day, the Nationals are the much better team on paper. When two teams that each consist of multiple aces face off, it often comes down to the club that has the superior bats. There is zero debating that the Nationals hold the advantage in that regard.
Only the Astros have scored more runs and own a better team batting average than the Nationals. Washington has a possible MVP winner in Bryce Harper, plus a possible NL batting champion in Ryan Zimmerman. Murphy, Harper and Zimmerman are all batting above .300, with Anthony Rendon not far behind at .298.
The Cardinals team BA of .259 ranks eighth in the majors, but they're in the middle-of-the-pack in runs scored. It's simple: If you can't score runs, you can't win games. The Nationals have a better rotation and a much better lineup. They sweep the Cardinals for their first postseason series win since relocating from Montreal.
Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins
The Astros looked primed and poised to win their first playoff series since the NLCS in 2005. They're far-and-away the best team in the American League, fueled by baseball's best offence that includes George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and others. Houston is undoubtedly the favourite to win the American League pennant.
They also have one of baseball's top rotations, led by Dallas Keuchel, Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock. The Astros have all of the pieces needed to make a run at the championship, but they'll have the young and hungry Minnesota Twins in their path.
Though the Twins definitely have solid balance in their lineup, they don't have the starpower and depth that Houston boasts. Outside of Ervin Santana, they don't have the depth in the rotation that racks up against the Astros. But can they find a way to pull off the upset?
9 ALDS Winner
Houston Astros, 3-0
Sorry Minnesota, but prime time just isn't ready for you yet.
The Astros feature a number of veterans who have seen plenty of postseason action, including Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. This Astros team also made the playoffs in 2015 and pushed the eventual champion Kansas City Royals to five games. They know what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Minnesota just doesn't have the star power or the pitchers to match up against the Astros. Houston is as complete as it gets, with a star-studded lineup and a terrific rotation that boasts three quality starters.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, but it's very tough to see the young and inexperienced Twins knocking off the top team in the American League. This won't be their year. Houston moves on.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are on a quest to be the best team in MLB history. They are on pace to win over 110 games, and with relative ease. Los Angeles has baseball's best ERA, powered by an elite rotation that consists of Clayton Kershaw, trade deadline acquisition Yu Darvish and veterans Rich Hill and Alex Wood. The Dodgers rotation is way better than any other right now.
They also have the came's top closer in Kenley Jansen, who is sort of unhittable. L.A. also boasts a dangerous lineup that includes Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger.
But the Diamondbacks aren't far off from the Dodgers. Their lineup is nearly as good, and the pitching tandem of Greinke and Ray can match Kershaw and Darvish. Arizona is undoubtedly the team that the Dodgers should fear most, but can the D-Backs pull off the upset?
7 NLDS Winner
Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1
Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, there won't be a Cinderella story like the 2001 team that won the World Series championship. That's not taking anything away from what has been a terrific 2017 season for Arizona, it's just that the Dodgers are heads-and-shoulders above everyone else right now.
Though Greinke is an ace, he hasn't been exactly unbeatable in the playoffs -- sporting a 3.55 career ERA in the postseason. Arizona also doesn't have the experience that the Dodgers boast. Remember, L.A. fell just two games short of reaching the World Series last year.
The Dodgers are just better in every aspect right now. They have the best rotation in baseball, arguably the best bullpen and a dangerous lineup. They have the advantage everywhere, and they finish off their division rivals in four games.
Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros
This will be quite the ALCS showdown. It'll be the defending AL champions against the favorites to capture the AL pennant. You'll have Dallas Keuchel presumably duking it out against Corey Kluber. Two of the top aces in baseball.
You'll have the Indians dangerous bullpen of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen trying to take care of the best lineup in all of baseball. Can they handle a team that leads the league in both runs scored and batting average? That will likely determine this series.
It's worth noting that Cleveland slugger Edwin Encarnacion was reportedly close to joining the Houston Astros, but he chose the Indians. He'll have to back up his decision by hitting another iconic postseason homer.
The Astros may have the superior record by a wide margin, but these teams look quite even on paper. So who takes it?
5 ALCS Winner
Houston Astros, 4-2
This should be a series dominated by pitching, regardless of how great both lineups are. We saw the Indians take down the Toronto Blue Jays in five games during last year's ALCS, because they came up with the more timely hits despite batting just .168 in the whole series.
But can Andrew Miller really repeat his insane heroics during last year's postseason? That remains to be seen. Cleveland's rotation will be healthy, meaning they won't be boasting just three starters throughout the playoffs. That means less Miller time.
So the Astros get the nod here. All of their hitters can come up with that timely hit at any given time. Cleveland doesn't have much outside of their top-five hitters, and they strike out as a team far too much.
Cleveland will give Houston a run for their money, but the Astros finish off the series in six games and head back to the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals
These two teams met in a memorable NLDS series last year, with the Dodgers barely squeaking away with a victory in the decisive fifth game. It was a pitcher's duel in 2016, and it sure as heck will be again.
Just think about the possible pitching matchups: Kershaw vs. Scherzer. Darvish vs. Strasburg. Hill vs. Gonzalez. This series will surely come down to whichever dominant pitchers end up being well, more dominant.
Yes, both teams have terrific lineups which consist of clutch batters that can come through at any given moment. But we all know playoff baseball comes down to pitching. On paper, this is a big toss-up. Both the Dodgers and Nationals have a trio of great starters, so which team punches its ticket to the World Series?
3 NLCS Winner
Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2
Put it this way: The Nationals were a bit better than the Dodgers last year yet couldn't close out the series at home. This year, the Dodgers are historically great with new faces in Yu Darvish and rookie sensation Cody Bellinger. Oh, and the Dodgers will have home field advantage. And they're pretty tough to beat at Dodger Stadium.
The Nationals have been constant underachievers, whereas the Dodgers find themselves in the playoffs every year and have a handful of NLCS appearances under their belts. Los Angeles is simply a better team. They have home advantage. They've proven to be a more money team in the postseason than Washington.
And oh, the Dodgers 3.02 bullpen ERA is best in the NL. The Nationals rank last in the NL with a 4.87 ERA that consists of 15 losses. So yeah, take the more clutch Dodgers in this one.
2 World Series
Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
With that, the World Series will feature the top team from each league. The Dodgers will look to win their first championship in 29 years, whereas the Astros attempt to win their first World Series in franchise history.
Josh Reddick helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS a year ago, but now he gets the chance to crush the dreams of his former team. It'll be baseball's best pitching staff against baseball's best lineup. The unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. Two powerhouses that have been feel-good stories all season long.
The Dodgers will get home field advantage, which could be the main factor between a pair of teams that have been extremely tough to beat in their respective ballparks. So who takes the 2017 World Series?
1 World Series Winner
Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-1
The Dodgers will complete their quest of being the top team of the 21st century, and maybe ever. With all due respect to the Astros and the top lineup in baseball, I'll remind one more time that the World Series is usually won by pitching more so than big bats.
No team in the N.L. can hit off the Dodgers pitching. No team in the A.L. can stop the Astros hitting. Something will have to give in this series, but we know that it's going to be next to impossible for a team to damage this entire Dodgers rotation in one small playoff series.
The Dodgers bats can easily make work of the Astros solid (but not quite elite), rotation. They can easily squeak out a ton of low-scoring games, if need be. The Dodgers finally win the championship, finishing off Houston in five games.
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