Aside from Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s pursuit of 60 home runs, the final day of Major League Baseball’s regular season won’t bring much drama. Colorado on Saturday became the last team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot and will be one of 10 clubs vying for World Series glory over the next month-plus. Here’s a rundown of the participants by league and seeding:
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers (record: 103-58; most recent title: 1988): The Dodgers are loaded with stars and depth, which explains how they easily exceeded the 100-win mark despite enduring a 1-15 stretch from Aug. 26 through Sept. 11. They recovered from that nightmarish 16-game showing over the season’s final couple weeks and once again look formidable entering the postseason. While the Dodgers have scored the second-fewest runs of this year’s playoff teams, they’ve still managed to pace all NL clubs in position player fWAR. Plus, with a Clayton Kershaw-fronted rotation and a Kenley Jansen-led bullpen, their staff is atop the NL in pitching fWAR.
2.) Washington Nationals (record: 97-64; most recent title: never): The Nationals cruised to an NL East crown this year despite losing center fielder Adam Eaton in April and having to go without arguably their best player, right fielder Bryce Harper, from mid-August until late September. Harper suffered a knee injury that looked like a season-ender when it happened, and while the missed time derailed his MVP chances, he’s back to lead a lineup that also includes other standouts in Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman. On the pitching side, it seems ace and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer avoided a serious hamstring injury during his start on Saturday. If that’s the case, Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez could be the premier starting trio in the playoffs. They’ll hand off to a bullpen that has featured offered plenty of shaky performances in 2017, though midseason additions Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler have helped stabilize the Nationals’ relief corps.
3.) Chicago Cubs (record: 92-69; most recent title: 2016): At this time a year ago, Chicago was putting the finishing touches on a 103-win regular season and preparing to enter the playoffs as the odds-on favorite. Ultimately, the Cubs lived up to the billing last fall and broke a 108-year title drought in an unforgettable World Series against the Indians. They haven’t been as sharp this year, owing in part to worse performances from their pitching and defense, but are still laden with talent. There’s no shortage of quality position players on hand, including reigning MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but the Cubs will need more from their staff – particularly Jake Arrieta, who’s dealing with a hamstring issue right now, and Jon Lester.
4.) Arizona Diamondbacks (record: 92-69; most recent title: 2001): One of this year’s surprise teams, the Diamondbacks rode an underrated starting staff and a top 10 offense (by runs scored) to a playoff berth. Starters Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker have all turned in good to great seasons, which is why the D-backs’ starters lead the NL in fWAR. They also have a pair of offensive superstars in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, though he had a horrid September that likely ruined his MVP chances, and outfielder J.D. Martinez. The latter has been a revelation since coming over from the Tigers in a July trade, having smashed 29 home runs in 61 games and batted .304/.369/.746 in 255 plate appearances. If you’re looking for a potential Achilles’ heel, no playoff entrant has a worse wRC+ (84) against left-handed pitchers than Arizona. That doesn’t seem to bode well for a team that will face the Dodgers, whose southpaws include Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson, if it wins the NL wild-card game.
5.) Colorado Rockies (record: 87-74; most recent title: never): Primarily on account of NL MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies are near the top of the league in runs scored, which is what you’d expect from a team that plays half its games at Coors Field. The Rockies managed to break a seven-year playoff skid this season largely because of an improved pitching staff that sits eighth in the majors in fWAR. Still, despite the presence of Jon Gray, their rotation doesn’t look particularly imposing relative to other playoff teams’ staffs. They do, however, feature a few highly capable relievers in Greg Holland, Chris Rusin, Pat Neshek and Jake McGee.
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1.) Cleveland Indians (record: 101-60; most recent title: 1948): At 48-45, the reigning AL champions were a mere three games above .500 on July 18. Since then, they’ve run roughshod over the rest of the league en route to a 53-15 mark, including a historic 22-game winning streak from Aug. 22 to Sept. 14. The Indians lost a meaningless game to the White Sox on Saturday, but that was just their fourth defeat in the past 35 contests. Needless to say, they’re heading into the playoffs on a roll. As you’d expect, Cleveland’s roster is chock-full of excellence. MVP hopeful Jose Ramirez and all-world shortstop Francisco Lindor are at the helm of a talent-rich offense, one that supports what could be an all-time great pitching staff from top to bottom. Ace/Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, righty Carlos Carrasco and super reliever Andrew Miller, one of the faces of last year’s postseason, deservedly grab the most headlines, but good luck finding any weak links among the other pitchers the Tribe will use in the playoffs.
2.) Houston Astros (record: 100-61; most recent title: never): With a league-high 892 runs and a 121 wRC+, it’s a wonder how anyone gets the Astros out. Much of the damage has come from AL MVP front-runner Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the latter of whom missed significant time earlier this season, but ancillary pieces such as Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel have all been no worse than very good at the plate. And then there’s the one-two pitching punch of recently acquired ace Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, not to mention a deep starting staff/bullpen behind them. If there’s one big concern here, it’s that Houston may be the worst defensive team in the playoffs.
3.) Boston Red Sox (record: 93-68; most recent title: 2013): This year’s Red Sox have deviated from past Boston teams that used the likes of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to pound opponents into submission. In fact, this is the first playoff-bound Red Sox club since 1995 to qualify for the postseason without scoring at least 800 runs. Nevertheless, they have several especially well-rounded position players (Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and the banged-up Dustin Pedroia, to name a few) who have done enough in the field to make Boston an elite defensive outfit. That defense supports the AL’s foremost southpaw, Chris Sale, and superstar closer Craig Kimbrel. Boston is entering the playoffs with some concerns in its rotation, though, including the recent struggles of Sale and the yearlong issues 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has had. Fortunately for the Sox, starter Drew Pomeranz quelled some late-season concerns with an encouraging start against the Astros on Saturday.
4.) New York Yankees (record: 90-71; most recent title: 2009): Baby Bombers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have more than lived up to the hype this season, combining for 85 home runs and 11.7 fWAR in 1,203 PAs. Fifty-one of those long balls have come from Judge, an OPS machine and an AL Rookie of the Year shoo-in whose 8.2 fWAR leads the majors. The rest of the Yankees’ offense isn’t exactly subpar, either, as a laundry list of their other hitters have notched above-average seasons at the plate. And New York’s pitching staff could be built for October, with an incredibly strong bullpen and a rotation that features perhaps the AL’s third-best starter, Luis Severino. One of the major questions regarding the Yankees is which versions of Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka will show up in the postseason – if the team gets by the wild-card game, that is. Gray allowed between four and six earned runs in three of five September starts, while Tanaka was a mixed bag throughout the regular season. He did conclude the slate with a seven-inning, 15-K shutout against the Blue Jays on Friday, though.
5.) Minnesota Twins (record: 84-77; most recent title: 1991): In terms of teams, there probably hasn’t been a better story during the regular season than the Twins, who were 103-game losers and owners of the majors’ worst record a year ago. Adding to the improbability of their Cinderella run to the playoffs, the Twins were sellers at this year’s trade deadline, when they dealt starter Jaime Garcia to their wild-card opponent, the Yankees, and Kintzler to the Nationals. However, Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Joe Mauer & Co. were undeterred in the face of those deals and the late-summer absence of slugging third baseman Miguel Sano, who missed over a month with a left shin injury but just returned this week. Given its relatively underwhelming pitching staff, Minnesota is obviously a long shot to claim its first World Series in 26 years. For now, the Twins are focused on the Yankees, who have historically owned Minnesota in the playoffs. But New York’s past triumphs came during series. The wild-card round is a one-off, increasing the odds of an upset. The Twins’ No. 1 starter, Ervin Santana, allowed two or fewer runs in 20 of 33 starts during the regular season. If he’s that stingy against the Yankees on Tuesday – an admittedly tall order – an upset could be in the offing.
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