Winter is coming, and the MLB playoffs are almost upon us. October is the month when kings are crowned, curses are broken and history gets re-written. Average Joes in the regular season become heroes in the postseason. At-bats last eons, stadiums get louder and winning is the only option in a Game 7 where there is no tomorrow.
Last yearâ€™s showdown between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals featured a mesmerizing performance by Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who threw 21 innings with an ERA of 0.43. Itâ€™s doubtful the Giants will repeat in 2015, but fate (and statistics) suggest an I-70 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Royals.
Hereâ€™s a ranking of teams based on how well they could play in October; itâ€™s not an indicator of how good they have been in the past few weeks.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Even without stars like Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have been the most consistent team all year. The teamâ€™s pitching has been exceptional, with starters posting an ERA of 2.83 through Sept. 6. The teamâ€™s relievers, led by Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal, boast an even lower ERA of 2.44, according to MLB.com. Team hitting statistics arenâ€™t very impressive, but individuals like outfielder Jason Heyward, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and third baseman Matt Carpenter have hit a combined 48 home runs, according to MLB.com.
Regular season statistics can only predict so much. Luckily, the Cardinals have plenty of postseason experience. Despite the teamâ€™s loss to the Giants in last yearâ€™s NLCS, thereâ€™s plenty of hope. A starting rotation of Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, John Lackey, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia will be hard to beat. Given the teamâ€™s ability to pull together clutch at-bats and stellar pitching performances, thereâ€™s no doubt the Cardinals are the team to beat in the National League.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have played like a championship-winning ballclub since pitcher Clayton Kershaw talked about panic after the team dropped five in a row to Oakland and Houston.
Since Kershawâ€™s pep talk, the team has gone 11-2, including a sweep of the second-place Giants last week. The teamâ€™s starting rotation â€“ led by aces Kershaw and Zack Greinke â€“ is deep enough to get through the NLDS. Whether Brett Anderson and Alex Wood can deliver in the postseason remains to be seen. The bullpen has improved, but there isnâ€™t a dominant reliever who can bridge the gap between the starters and closer Kenley Jansen. The bullpen is key to the Dodgers going deep in October.
3. Chicago Cubs
Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo. Three of the yearâ€™s most dominant players have helped shape the struggling Cubs franchise into one of the most formidable teams in baseball. The team lacks playoff experience, but the thrill of making it into the postseason for the first time in years could propel this team to the World Series. Rizzo is leading the team with 28 home runs, and rookie Bryant is not too far behind with 23 long balls in only 126 games. Arrieta, Lester, Haren and Hammel could match up well against the Pirates or Cardinals in the NLDS.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
How can a team with the leagueâ€™s second-best record be ranked fourth? Itâ€™s not that the Pirates are a bad team, itâ€™s more that the Pirates arenâ€™t good enough to advance beyond the Wild Card elimination game. Yes, A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are a dominant threesome come October. But itâ€™s unlikely the team could overpower Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers last month, in a one-game playoff. The teamâ€™s embarrassing record against NL Central opponents, including going 0-6 against the Brewers after the All-Star Break, is a very big cause for concern, since the team must beat an NL Central team to advance. With a shaky ace in Cole, it seems highly improbable that the Pirates could string together enough runs to beat a Chicago team that is built to win.
5. New York Mets
The Matt Harvey melodrama has intensified serious doubts about this Mets franchise. Even with stars like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, itâ€™s doubtful the Mets rotation can advance past the first round with Bartolo Colon and Jonathan Niese.
The Mets sagging offense, which has been boosted in recent weeks by Yoennis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, could be a problem against a potential matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nevertheless, the Mets are a team whose unpredictable offense can mask flaws in its young and inexperienced starting rotation.
6. Washington Nationals
The Nationals need to go on an incredible run to knock off the Mets. Big names like Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman need to swing the bat well and give much-needed run support to their underperforming pitching staff. Conversely, ace Max Scherzer needs to settle down. Heâ€™s 1-3 with an ERA of 4.83 in his last seven starts, according to MLB.com.
1. Kansas City Royals
The Royals, fresh off an appearance in last yearâ€™s World Series, have the highest team batting average in baseball, according to MLB.com. The team is sixth in runs scored, fifth in stolen bases and seventh in OPS. The teamâ€™s pitching staff has been just as good, ranking seventh in ERA. The bullpen is even better, with pitchers like Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Chris Young leading the way. The Royals are a well-built team that knows what it feels like to have victory taken away in Game 7 of the World Series. It would be hard to bet against this formidable squad.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are the most the dangerous team in the American League. Electrified by trade deadline additions of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays are poised to square off against the Royals in the ALCS. The teamâ€™s offense is terrifying (1st in home runs), with MVP candidate Josh Donaldson batting .342 in his last 30 games, according to MLB.com. During the same stretch, Jose Bautista has hit 10 home runs, and Edwin Encarnacion has piled on 11 more. If the team wants to reach the World Series, it has to improve its pitching. The staff ranks 11th in ERA, the worst of all division leaders, according to MLB.com. Â
3. Houston Astros
In 2012, the Astros were terrible. A 55-107 record made the Astros the laughing stock of Major League Baseball.
Three years later, the team is poised to win its first AL West division title. Though the team ranks second to last in batting average, theyâ€™re second in home runs with 185.The team ranks third in ERA, behind aces Dallas Keuchel and Scott Kazmir. The Astros donâ€™t always win beautifully, but they are balanced enough to make a run.
4. Texas Rangers
After losing back-to-back World Series a few years ago, the Rangers havenâ€™t been able to develop a team capable of winning it all. This yearâ€™s team doesnâ€™t look stellar (25th in ERA), but they are MLBâ€™s most underrated team. Cole Hamels, traded by the Phillies to Texas in July, is 2-1 in six starts for the Rangers. Yovani Gallardo has been great, too, posting an 11-9 record this year. The Rangers could defeat the Yankees in a one-game playoff, but Hamels will have to make a million-dollar performance.
5. New York Yankees
New York, New York, can you beat the Blue Jays? If the Yankees can win the AL East, thereâ€™s a good chance of them matching up well against the Wild Card team. If the Yankees cannot pass the Jays, trouble looms ahead. The Yankees have a solid bullpen with Betances and Miller, but their starting rotation isnâ€™t quite polished. Nevertheless, the team ranks second in runs scored and second in home runs. Theyâ€™re a team who could fly under the radar.
6. Minnesota Twins
Sadly, the Twins have toiled in obscurity all year behind the division-leading Royals. The Twins are 22nd in ERA and 25th in batting average. Itâ€™s doubtful the team could pass the Yankees or Rangers in the final weeks with seven against the Indians and three more against Kansas City.
7. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Plagued by injuries, the Angels are barely hanging on in the playoff race. Mike Trout is the best player in the big leagues, but he cannot lift his team out of the quagmire and into the pennant chase. Losing C.J. Wilson hurt the Angels tremendously, since the pitching staff hasnâ€™t been exceptional. Itâ€™s time to give up on this team.