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The road to the 2021 World Series: Playoff predictions

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Another long MLB season has come to an end. All 162 regular season games have been played (and we just missed a couple of 163s). And as of this writing, just 10 remain with a chance to take home a World Series championship. Two-thirds of the league’s teams have packed it in and headed home for a long winter of wondering what might have been and awaiting the arrival of next spring and the ever-present hope that that season brings.

But now, it’s time to look ahead to what this postseason might have in store for us.

Rather than trying to put together a series-by-series breakdown, let’s take a more general look at the respective championship chances of the 10 remaining teams, ranking their World Series likelihoods in ascending order.

It’s all guesswork, obviously – heck, if I knew anything, I’d have gotten more than half of these playoff teams in our MLB season preview back in March. Yep – five out of 10, and just two division winners. Not great. Now, I feel reasonably good about these new rankings, so this list will almost certainly turn out to be laughably inaccurate.

But hey – fortune favors the bold.

(Note: As of press time, the two wild card games had yet to be played. Thus, all four Wild Card teams were included on this list, including a Red Sox team about whose chances I am thrilld to have been mistaken.)

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10) Boston Red Sox

Obviously, it pains me to put my favorite team at the very bottom of the list (especially when I predicted a third-place no-playoffs finish for them), but let’s be real – assuming they can beat the Yankees in the Wild Card Game (which is a very big assumption), they’re almost certainly going to get bounced by the Rays. Look, it’s rough to see this as a one-and-done team after their promising first half, but be honest – if someone had told you in March this team was going to the playoffs, you’d have laughed. I love them, but the Red Sox simply don’t have it. Better luck next year, Beantown.

9) St. Louis Cardinals

Another preseason miss, but this one is embarrassing. For years, one of my cardinal rules (get it?) for baseball predictions was this: The Cardinals will make the playoffs. Simple and effective – very few people have lost money picking St. Louis making it to October. And yet, this year, I just didn’t see it for them. Instead, they spent most of a month just … not losing. And now here they are, with a chance to win the Wild Card Game and hop into the postseason where anything can happen. It’s a slim chance – the Dodgers are a monster – but it’s a chance.

8) Atlanta Braves

I’ve got the Braves as the lowest ranked of the division winners, simply because they haven’t looked particularly strong. At no point in the season was anyone afraid to play the Braves, but because of the abysmal state of the NL East – seriously, you’ve got 19 against the Marlins AND the Nationals AND the Mets? You’d better win 90-plus, otherwise what are we even doing here? Sure, they’ve got some talented players – though they’ve struggled with injury – and my love of Freddie Freeman is well-documented. Still, they’re looking at an NLDS exit.

7) New York Yankees

Ugh. I know. I was kind of hoping they’d miss out. But they’re here, and whether we like it or not, they’re a better team than the Red Sox right now. Their lineup is absolutely stacked, and even with the injuries they’re dealing with, there’s not an easy out. The starting pitching gets a little dicey after Gerrit Cole, but in the playoffs, it’s a very different animal. Honestly, I think guys like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are going to absolutely go off – as you can see, I’m certainly not optimistic that Boston will beat them. And after that? Anything can happen.

6) Chicago White Sox

Now we’re starting to get into the fun stuff. I was a big proponent of the White Sox coming into the season (I mean, not enough to have them win the AL Central, but I predicted the playoffs), so it’s nice to see them here. They’ve got some of the most fun young players in the league – guys like Tim Anderson and Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. Their rotation looks good and their bullpen looks better. There’s a lot to like here. Of course, much of that is undermined somewhat by the fact that they’re managed by the baseball personification of “Get off my lawn” – Tony LaRussa.

5) Houston Astros

I know, I know – they cheated. That’s going to be a part of the narrative around this team for a long time. And that’s as it should be. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is still a REALLY talented team. They have a star-studded infield – Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman – and an outfield packed with hitters like Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez. The pitching staff has dealt with some setbacks, but there’s plenty of talent there. And if they’re able to get Zack Greinke back on track, Houston won’t have a problem – they’ll BE the problem.

4) Los Angeles Dodgers

I know, I know – it seems ridiculous to put a team with 106 wins this low on the list. However, this is less about the team’s talent – which is abundant – and more about the difficulty of their path. Assuming they take down the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game, which seems likely enough, they leap straight into a series against the only squad with a better record than theirs. Add a couple of untimely and unfortunate injuries – Max Muncy, Clayton Kershaw – and we’re looking at a struggle to advance. Not an insurmountable struggle – these ARE the Dodgers, after all – but a struggle nonetheless.

3) Milwaukee Brewers

No one is arguing that this team is better than the one directly below it on this list, but there’s no question that the road to the World Series is a hell of a lot easier for this Brewers team. They might not have the consistent hitting of other contenders, but their 1-2-3 of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta is scary as hell at the top of the rotation. Plus, they have an elite closer in Josh Hader. Losing setup man Devin Williams to an unfortunate (and kind of hilarious) injury isn’t great, but any lineup is going to struggle to hit the Brew Crew in October.

2) Tampa Bay Rays

It’s sad and infuriating that the winningest team in the American League is stuck in the baseball purgatory that is the Trop. This may well be the best developmental organization in MLB; sure, it’s by necessity due to financial impediments, but still. These guys won 100 games with a mix-and-match pitching staff packed with guys you’ve never heard of throwing 100 mph with nasty breaking pitches and a lineup led by a slew of young hitters. It’s not just that they’re good, but that they’re likely to be better. Can they make it through the postseason gauntlet? I’m betting they get close.

1) San Francisco Giants

I mean, they won 107 games. No one can figure out how they’ve done it … and no one can figure out how to beat them. There aren’t really many stars on this team, either on the mound or at the plate. But almost every guy on the team has performed at an average level or better all year; that kind of roster-wide consistency just doesn’t happen. There are some familiar names – Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Mike Yastrzemski – but they’re all cogs in a machine. Ditto the pitching, which somehow produced league-topping numbers. Not bad for a preseason also-ran.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 October 2021 08:47

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