by Patrick Gustavson
The dog days of summer are long gone, and after a hectic race, the field for the 2017 MLB Playoffs are finally set. Ten teams are now vying to hoist the World Series trophy.
The crowded wild card race in the American League has come to a close, with the Yankees and the Twins prevailing. The Yankees finished the year on a high note, winning 20 of 28 to close the season, nearly catching the Red Sox for the AL East crown. Key offensive players have gotten hot at the right time, to compliment a stellar bullpen. Consistency from starting pitchers will be the key for the team to contend.
The Twins have been the most surprising team in baseball, coming off a season where they lost 100 games. Unfortunately, this team lacks the depth to truly contend. Ervin Santana could possibly propel them to beat the Yankees, and the return of Miguel Sano would also be a huge boost.
The winner will take on the defending AL champion Indians, who look destined to return to the fall classic, on the heels of an AL-record 22-game winning streak. With the best pitching staff in baseball, led by Cy Young frontrunner Corey Kluber, manager Terry Francona should be able to piece his way through games. With plenty of offense to give them support, the Tribe could be on their way to a World Series victory.
The Red Sox will take on the Astros in the other divisional series. For the Red Sox, pitching has been the team’s saving grace, which would have been shocking to think about prior to the season. They are loaded with offensive talent, who haven’t quite lived up to their potential. However, if key players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts get hot, Boston could be a force to be reckoned with, but it would be a relative surprise if they were to make it to the World Series.
Thanks to a scorching hot start, the Astros practically had the AL West locked up before the All-Star break. Though they were passed by the Indians for best record, they are still a legitimate contender, backed by the best offense in baseball. The problem late in the year was starting pitching. They shored up their rotation by trading for Justin Verlander, who has been nearly unhittable in his tenure in Houston. If Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers can throw the way they did early in the year, this might be the team to beat.
On the National League side, the Diamondbacks will take on the Rockies for the right to take on the Dodgers in the divisional round. It’s unfortunate for Arizona, who have been good enough to, any other year, win the division. Zack Greinke is pitching up to his contract, and will likely start the wild card game. Him, along with Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, are a daunting postseason rotation. The addition of JD Martinez, as well as the superb play of Paul Goldschmidt have rounded out this team. They are a popular dark horse to make a run.
The Rockies barely hung on to the second wild card. They are extremely top heavy offensively, led by MVP candidates Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. The issue that will likely do the team in is the lack of starting pitching. They don’t have a starter capable of facing off against Greinke in the wild card game. With Arizona’s potent offense, this could have them as an early exit.
The Dodgers doomed the hopes of either of the previous teams winning the division, after winning a ridiculous 30 of 37 games following the All-Star break. However, they shockingly lost 16 of their next 17. This team is still loaded with position player depth, and a starting rotation filled with tough lefties. They made moves at the trade deadline to fill holes, such as left-handed relief pitching, and starting pitcher Yu Darvish. It seemed at one point it was an inevitability that they would win the World Series, but they’ve been written off following their skid. This team certainly possesses the talent needed for a run, and if they can recapture the magic they had in July and August, they will be representing the National League in the World Series.
The defending World Series Champion Cubs will take on the NL East Champion Nationals. The Cubs have not been nearly as good as they were when they made their title run. What propelled them last season was impeccable health from their starting pitchers. They were finally plagued with that this season, with none of their opening day starters making it through the year healthy. Disappointing seasons from reigning MVP Kris Bryant, as well as Anthony Rizzo, have also contributed to this. It seems unlikely that the Cubs will repeat.
The Nationals were the first to clinch their division, in the driver’s seat all season. Max Scherzer looks destined to repeat as the Cy Young winner, and Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have also been great. That trio looks good enough to lock down a divisional series. The return of Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Jayson Werth have filled out their lineup, and given them a great amount of depth. This team has been overshadowed by the Dodgers, Cubs and the surprising Diamondbacks, but don’t be surprised if they snatch the pennant.
With the amount of parity and streaky teams, it seems the World Series title is more up for grabs than usual this season.