October has begun, the grass is cut, the bubble gum is chewed. The MLB playoffs are starting, and the time has come to predict the winner. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to predict every series. There are so many variables, from injuries to close calls to bullpen availability, not to mention the fact that the playoff seeding hasn’t even been finalized yet, as I write this.
There are three main things I’m looking at to determine playoff success. First, I’m going to look at each team’s run differential. Teams with higher run differentials should be winning more games, whereas teams with negative run differentials should be below .500. However, sometimes teams get lucky and lose a lot of close games while winning big, or vice versa. For example, the Texas Rangers had a run differential last year of just +8 but secured the top seed in the AL.
The second thing I’ll look at is a team’s starting rotation. Having a strong pitching staff can be key to a victory. In a seven-game series, one ace can be pushed to start two games and play in relief for game seven (such as Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 World Series). Also, the playoffs require just four or even three starters, so the emphasis is much more at the top of the rotation.
Finally, I’ll look at a team’s bullpen. Bullpens are underrated, and they can make a huge difference in the playoffs. A decent team with a great bullpen, such as the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and 2015, can be very successful.
So now that I’ve discussed the way I’m picking teams, I’ll get to the actual picks.
Wild Card Games
The Yankees have the stronger bullpen, better ace in Luis Severino, and higher run differential than the Twins, not to mention the effectiveness of rookie outfielder Aaron Judge. The Yankees triumph over the Twins in the American League.
In the National League, the choice is much more difficult between the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. I give the edge to Zack Greinke’s Diamondbacks, despite the Rockies’ superior bullpen.
In the American League, the Astros and Red Sox face off. Led by pitcher Chris Sale, the Red Sox have a great starting rotation on paper,, but aside from Doug Fister, the remaining starters account for just one collective playoff win (not including wins from the bullpen). The Red Sox might take a game from the Astros, but Houston wins in four.
In the other American League Division Series, the Yankees play the Indians. This is one of the tougher series to pick, especially since I think that the Yankees have underperformed this season. However, the Indians have arguably the best starting rotation and one of the best bullpens, along with the highest run differential in the league. The Indians eke it out in five.
In the National League, the Diamondbacks face the Dodgers. Arizona has a good and underrated starting rotation, including Robbie Ray and Zack Godley, who both had breakout seasons, alongside Greinke. Their rotation is arguably even better than Los Angeles, which has the incomparable Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers do have the better bullpen than the Diamondbacks, and a higher run differential. However, I give the Diamondbacks, with an abundance of productive starters, the nod in a five-game struggle.
In the other series, the Cubs play the Nationals. The Nationals’ fantastic pitching staff, led by Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg, grab a 3–1 victory over Kris Bryant and the defending champs.
The American League Championship Series sees the Indians face the Astros. In this series, the Indians show off their superior pitching and bullpen, and MVP candidate Jose Altuve is unable to seal the deal for the Astros. The Indians win in six, advancing to their second straight World Series.
On the other side, the Nationals continue their pitching success and use a finally healthy Bryce Harper on offense to defeat the Diamondbacks in just five games.
In the World Series, the Nationals finally meet their match in terms of pitching. More importantly, the Washington’s subpar bullpen is exposed, and the Indians capitalize on late-game hits. In just five games, Cleveland wins its first World Series since 1948, and Indians’ ace Corey Kluber gets the newly named Willie Mays World Series MVP Award.