The Boston Red Sox have been the class of the American League all season long, finishing the year at a franchise record 108-54 and easily capturing their third consecutive A.L. East crown. Mookie Betts, favorite to win the A.L. Most Valuable Player, and J.D. Martinez, a Triple Crown candidate, have led Boston’s resurgent offense this year with the long ball, hitting 32 and 42 home runs respectively. First year manager Alex Cora, the favorite to win A.L. Manager of the year, awaits the winner of the A.L. Wildcard game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics on Oct. 2.
In the No. 2 seed is the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros, finishing the regular season at 103-59. The Astros have been dominant this season due in large part to their monster rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton — each of whom registered over 200 strikeouts and Earned Run Averages (ERA) of 3.00 or lower. On the offensive side, Alex Bregman, defending World Series MVP, has played well, leading the Astro’s potent lineup in home runs, Runs Batted In (RBI), On-Base Percentage (OBP) and total hits. The major enemies for A.J. Hinch in this World Series run will be complacency and keeping his team focused on the prize. They won four of seven games against their opponent, Cleveland, this season by wide margins.
Cleveland will square off against the Houston Astros in the A.L. Divisional series, with Houston winning the season series 4-3. Major players in the series will be Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, who led the team in home runs and hits, respectively, and Houston’s Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. The matchup to look for in the series will be Corey Kluber vs. Justin Verlander, the probable Game 1 pitching matchup. Each have won at least 2 Cy Young Awards and struck out over 200 batters this season with ERAs below 3.00. This series will be a barnburner and should be considered must-watch T.V.
The A.L. Wildcard game will feature the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, two teams who narrowly lost out on winning their divisions. The Yankees, who set the MLB record for homeruns in a season by a team, are playing at home, where they boast a 53-28 record and score roughly 1.25 more runs per game. Their opponent, the Oakland Athletics, became the first team ever to make the playoffs while fielding the lowest payroll in the league. Their impressive season has been led by the defensive wizardry of Matt Chapman and raw power of Khris Davis, who leads the league in home runs at 48.
In the N.L., the Atlanta Braves have made the postseason for the first time since 2013, returning to baseball’s promised land after years of futility. Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Sean Newcomb all played well above expectations throughout the season, while perpetual stalwarts Freddie Freeman and Julio Tehran helped guide the youth movement.
The Milwaukee Brewers enter the postseason at 94-67, tied for the best record in the N.L. with the Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee took a major step this season on the backs of Alex Gordon, Travis Shaw and Jhoulys Chacin, but were led by Christian Yelich, favorite to win the N.L. MVP by pacing his team in Batting Average, Home Runs, RBIs, OBP and total hits. The “Brew Crew” has played with authority this season, but in the playoffs they need their starting pitching to step up. None of their starters have an ERA lower than 3.50, and with the powerful lineups in LA, Chicago and Colorado, they could be taken for a ride quickly. Milwaukee will face the winner of the N.L. Wildcard game.
In the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers finished the regular season at 91-71, tied with the Colorado Rockies atop the division. LA’s strong season was anchored once again by pitching, led by the dynamite Clayton Kershaw and the emergence of Ross Stripling and Walker Buehler. Offensively they got contributions across the lineup from the likes of Matt Kemp, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger. The team as a whole is looking to avenge its loss in last year’s Fall Classic. However, the greatest strength of the Dodgers is also their weakness — when their pitchers are healthy, there aren’t many better in the majors, but, when they’re not, the replacements can’t make up the difference. Health will be a deciding factor in how deep these Dodgers will venture into October.
The Chicago Cubs enter the postseason at 94-67, tied for the best record in the N.L. with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs had a strong regular season in large part to Jon Lester and Javier Baez, who each had career years from the mound and plate, respectively. In their playoff run, Chicago will need to avoid the streaky play that has plagued them this season. On four separate occasions this year, they had losing streaks of at least three games. They face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Wildcard Game.
The Colorado Rockies have met sky high expectations this season, finishing at 91-71, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers atop the N.L. West. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon’s perpetual production combined with Trevor Story’s breakout season propelled Colorado into the playoffs, but the emergence of Kyle Freeland as a legitimate ace has made a tremendous difference. Over the course of the season, the Rockies have had difficulty bridging the gap between their starters and closer Wade Davis. Their seventh and eighth inning pitchers will dictate when Colorado gets the hook. Regardless of who they play, Colorado will be tested by how well their bullpen can finish games.