MLB Postseason Contenders and Favorites

As we head towards the MLB Postseason, the Maroon-News looks at the contenders for the Commissioner’s Trophy. 

Rays: The American League’s best team with 100 wins on the dot to end the year, the Rays had the most wins in franchise history in 2021. Coming off a World Series berth in 2020, the Rays exceeded expectations this year after dishing away ace Blake Snell and starting the year off slow, sitting below .500 to start the month of May. But boy did the Rays surge. Their hitting is nothing special, which worries me. No one on their team bats above .300 and they have the 14th best average in baseball. They can hit the long ball, but they might have the worst offense in the playoffs. But somehow, they seem to always find a way to get it done. The Rays boast a unique and impressive culture by taking a stats based approach to the game, not necessarily needing the flashiest and best players, but just getting it done day in and day out. The Rays also dominated the AL East, going 51-24 against those teams, including 18-1 against the Orioles, which is very impressive. They don’t have ace Tyler Glasnow for the playoffs either, so whoever wins the Wild Card game between the Red Sox and Yankees could have a real chance against the Rays. 

White Sox: The White Sox have the most exciting lineup in baseball, and they showed off their swagger this year. The Sox dealt with some injuries this year but when healthy, their lineup of Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez has big-hit potential any time they are up. Abreu finished second in the majors in RBI’s with 117 this season, and he also hit 30 homers. They have a great rotation up and down as well that consists of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon; pitching is so important in the playoffs. They also have Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel as their 8th and 9th inning guys. This team has a deep rotation and offensive lineup. I think the White Sox have what it takes to make the World Series. I still question Tony La Russa leading this squad as he has made some questionable decisions this season, but what matters is the guys on the field. I love this team. 

Astros: The Astros have quietly had a very solid year yet again, making the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. Nobody ever talks about the Astros because of their consistency and expectation that they will win at least 90+ games every year. They have the same big three that they’ve had since their World Series win in 2017 with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. These guys have helped Houston to the best batting average and on-base percentage in baseball. Altuve also has the most home runs that he’s had in his career (31). Their pitching isn’t as dominant like in recent years, but Zack Greinke is coming back and starters Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. have put together good seasons. 

Red Sox: After defying expectations for the first few months of the season, the Red Sox tapered off and ended up the number one Wild Card spot. Nobody thought the Red Sox would be good this year. In a stacked division, many had them picked to finish fourth. When the Red Sox lineup is clicking, it is one of the best in baseball. They have the obvious guys in JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, who had a monster year with 38 homers and 113 RBI’s, but offseason acquisitions Kike Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe had monster years, especially Renfroe who hit 31 home runs. First baseman Bobby Dalbec had an incredible comeback after a poor start to the season and was named the Rookie of the Month in August. Chris Sale is back from Tommy John surgery and Nathan Eovaldi looks like a real ace who is trusted by Alex Cora to start in the Wild Card game. Do not count the Red Sox out. 

Yankees: The Yankees did not live up to their sky high expectations of being the best team in baseball in 2021. The Yankees ended up in the second Wild Card slot and will have to fight for their lives to stay alive. Gerrit Cole went about his business and had another stellar year, going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA and the third most strikeouts in the MLB. Behind him, though, their pitching is weak. The Yankees, as always, have their incredibly potent lineup (when healthy) with Giancarlo Stanton, who went on a tear to end the year, Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and new addition Joey Gallo. This lineup is always a deep ball threat, but they strike out a lot too. It’s do or die at Fenway on Tuesday for the Yankees, and if they can get it done, there is a good chance they can make a run at postseason glory.

Braves: Boy did the Braves start off this season poorly. They could not consistently stay above .500 until early August, but they find themselves atop one of the worst divisions in baseball, the NL East. They finished their last 50 games with a record of 32-18 (.640). Losing their star player Ronald Acuña Jr. halfway through the season was a big loss, but 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman did his thing with 31 HR’s and 83 runs batted in and a .300 average. Third baseman Austin Riley stepped up huge in his third year with the Braves, having a monster season batting .300 with 33 homers and 107 RBI’s, eighth best in the majors. Ozzie Albies also proved to be one of the best second basemen in baseball with 30 homers at a position that usually doesn’t hit for power. Charlie Morton and Max Fried will lead this pitching staff in October, but the Braves might be one of the weakest squads going into the postseason. 

Brewers: The Brewers are perhaps the most underrated team in baseball. I think they have the best rotation, and it is perfectly built for these playoff series. They have NL Cy Young favorite Corbin Burnes who has the best ERA in baseball and has been dominant this season. Behind him, they have Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, both with sub-three ERAs. They have arguably the best closer in baseball in Josh Hader who allowed just 8 runs in 57 innings in 2021. They have the third-best staff ERA and most strikeouts. Former MVP Christian Yelich has had a down year, but the acquisition of Willy Adames has been huge for the Brewers as he has been their best hitter. Their pitching staff is poised for a good postseason, and they will bid for their first ever World Series victory. 

Giants: What a year for the San Francisco Giants. Before the season started, ESPN had them ranked 23rd in the power rankings, and projected a 70-92 record. Boy did they defy expectations. The Giants are the best team in Major League Baseball. It was a record-setting season for the Giants, netting their most wins in franchise history with 107. Buster Posey played like 2012 Buster Posey in 2021, batting .302 and smashing 18 home runs. Brandon Crawford also had an all-star season for the Giants with the ninth best batting average in the NL. Some even are arguing that he should be the NL MVP. Guys on their pitching staff came out of nowhere to have incredible seasons, like journeymen Kevin Gausman and Alex Wood, and Logan Webb, who had a 5.36 ERA in two seasons before this one, went 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 2021. It is unbelievable that the Giants were able to do this in a division with the Dodgers and the Padres, who were expected to be the two best teams in baseball this season. But there’s something going on in the Bay Area and the Giants are not finished yet.   

Dodgers: This is the best Wild Card team in MLB history. The reigning World Series Champions finished with 106 wins, the most wins ever for a Wild Card team, and the second-best record in the MLB. They got extremely unlucky being in a division with the best team in baseball, and it’s brutal that they have to play one game for their entire season. The Dodgers have the best team ERA in baseball with the help of trade deadline acquisition Max Scherzer who has a 7-0 record and 1.98 ERA with the Dodgers thus far. Walker Buehler has also been huge for the Dodgers with a 15-4 record. The Dodgers lineup is deep with Max Muncy (36 HR’s), Justin Turner, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Trea Turner. It’s a scary team, and if they get past that Wild Card game where they play for their life, they should make it interesting in the National League.

Cardinals: The Cardinals come into the second wild card position with a record of 90-72, second in the NL central. No one thought the Cardinals would be playing in this game even a few weeks ago. But a miraculous 17 game win streak from Sept. 11 to 28 to cap off the season solidified the Cardinals playoff hopes, and now they have a date with the Los Angeles Dodgers. All Star Nolan Arenado, acquired in the offseason after spending eight seasons in Colorado, had his usual production in 2021 with 34 homers and 105 RBI’s. Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill also helped the offensive production this season, each with 30+ homers. Adam Wainwright, now in his 16th (!) season with the Cardinals, was as productive as ever going 17-7, his second best season in terms of winning percentage. Wainwright got the nod from his skipper for the Wild Card game and although they are facing the Dodgers, it’s October and anything can happen.