It has been almost three weeks since my last rankings article and for that, I have good reason. My first child, a daughter, was born on September 25th. She has me devoid of sleep and full of emotions and has changed my world. Her timing of birth for a baseball writer wasn’t ideal but writing remains a hobby, for now, and I have had to give my writing, and rankings, a slight break. But I am back, and wanted to provide you all my rankings going into the divisional series round.
We have eight teams remaining for me to rank after the latest eliminations of the Yankees and Pirates. The Yankees would have more than likely been tenth in my rankings had I written these prior to the wildcard round; the Pirates would have been much higher, perhaps even number one. This leads me into my stance on the one-game playoff set-up. (My podcasting partner, Patrick Brewer, already offered his points of view over at Baseball Essential, please read that as well). The last day of the 2011 season offered one of the best days of viewing of the sport in recent history. In 2007, the Rockies and Padres faced off in a “Game 163” to advance to the postseason. I had my own favorite team, the White Sox, participate in one as well, in 2008. The beauty of all of these instances is that they happened naturally. It was smart for the MLB to introduce a one-game playoff which has paid off in TV ratings, but it has always felt forced to me.
In my opinion, the goal of any sport, competition or game should allow as much of a chance to weed out the “luck” or one-hit wonder aspect of that contest. Baseball gives me more fuel to add to that argument. The game of baseball can be influenced as much by a starting pitcher as arguably anything else in sports. The pitcher has as a large amount of influence on any chance for the opposing team to score. I believe I am correct in saying that if a team doesn’t score, they can not win. Aaron Rodgers does not have that effect on stopping the Seattle Seahawks. I may say the closest thing in sports I can think of is Lebron James. Fans of the other 29 teams outside Cleveland would never feel comfortable in a one-game playoff with the Cavs. A pitcher may even have more of an influence than Lebron does for 48 minutes a game. The Pittsburgh Pirates, in consecutive years, have faced perhaps the best-pitcher-at-the-given-time in a winner-take-all contest. Last night, Jake Arrieta matched Madison Bumgarner’s complete game from last year which knocked out the Pirates.
A series would have certainly limited Arrieta’s influence to just one game. If this were a three game series, the Cubs would have another “ace” going in the next game but the outcome would seem truer. I would love all baseball series to be best-of-21, but logistically this doesn’t make sense. Shorter series, in essence, give more possibility to luck being a larger influence. I by no means am saying the Cubs or the Astros got lucky this week. However, a three game series would allow an entire 25 man roster to have a larger influence, and this is a team sport. In my head-to-head fantasy baseball league, we made a change to make all playoff matchups two weeks, instead of the standard one week. This was done to decrease luck and to hopefully provide a “truer” winner (I still lost in my 2 vs 6 matchup, with myself being the 2). With all of that said, I’m all for a three game series (keeping all other rules the same, divisions, seeding, etc.).
If we had a three gamer, we may still have lost the Pirates and Yankees and have the existing “Elite Eight”. My rankings are set up in the fashion that I give a large portion of my reasoning to the last week of play (or in this case, almost three weeks). For this particular version, I will give a little boost to how teams fared in games with implications. I will rank them in order of which team I think has the best chance of winning it all – but then I will give my reason(s) that they will not take home the hardware. One last note – these teams are all super close, I would not be shocked to see any team beat any of the others. I will do my best to try to separate them, but its paper thin.
*The span reviewed was September 18-October 4. 239 games were played in the span by the entire league, home teams went 127-112.*
- New York Mets (7-9 in span reviewed; key series – Washington (1-2))
The Mets had a chance to clinch homefield advantage in their series against the Dodgers which has been pre-destined for some time now. After sweeping a four game series vs Cincinnati, it looked like they had set themselves up to do just that. They then were swept by the Phillies before losing a series to the rival Nationals. Rock bottom was hit on Saturday as they were simply destroyed by Max Scherzer. They now find themselves facing Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium having not tabulated more than six hits in over a week. Chances are they will not be doing that Friday either. Harvey, deGrom and Matz will be tested and will almost have to be perfect. It will be an uphill battle for them and that’s without realizing the offense still needs to score runs for them to get victories. (Tragic Number = 3)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (8-9; key series – Colorado (0-3))
Fortunately for the Mets, the Dodgers haven’t been lighting the world on fire either. The Dodgers went until August without losing four games in a row. In the last two weeks of the season, they did it twice. Outside of their co-aces, consistency is an issue. Brett Anderson, probable Game 3 starter, had two instances in this span when he didn’t get through the fifth inning. With the Dodgers bullpen issues, this is a bad recipe. The bullpen was actually improved during the span as Mattingly has been limiting his options. He will have to limit even further and the playoffs is a whole new ballgame when it comes to that. (Tragic Number = 3)
- Houston Astros (9-6; key series – Texas (2-1))
The Astros put themselves in an ok situation after winning a weekend series against the Rangers but most fans had to be terrified to see their team pack their bags for a road trip. They ended up winning both series, somewhat surprisingly, and at least cemented themselves a spot at the table. The champagne had to be celebrated after a loss (which always rubs me the wrong way), but a season’s worth of work had paid off. The Astros used ace and probable Cy Young, Dallas Keuchel, to pitch on three days’ rest in the wildcard game. It was certainly the right call, but now they will only have Keuchel once in the ALDS. This is an issue because the rest of the rotation has been nowhere near as steady. Scott Kazmir, who most think will get a start, had three starts this span – 3.2 IP, 3 ER; 3.2 IP, 6 ER; 4.1 IP, 4 ER. That does not elude a lot of confidence and they may go with rookie Lance McCullers in Game 2 instead. If Game 4 is an elimination game, do they trust giving the ball to Kazmir? (Tragic Number = 3)
- Toronto Blue Jays (9-7; key series – Tampa Bay (1-2))
Perhaps guaranteeing homefield advantage over the Royals wasn’t at the top of the Blue Jays priority list and I’m underselling what they did in this span. However, they had something to play for and lost to a mediocre team. They used Sunday’s game as a chance to cement Mark Buehrle’s legacy (which I selfishly applaud) but they will now have a potential Game 7 in Kansas City, if it plays out that way. It’s always tough for me to find flaws with the Blue Jays and most that I would go to (strength of back-end of rotation) disappear in a playoff series. I will still express concern on rookie closer Roberto Osuna – six runs in his last six innings including blowing the save last Saturday. (Tragic Number = 3)
- Kansas City Royals (9-7; key series – Minnesota (3-0))
It was a rough September for Kansas City as it was just assumed the Royals would coast to the number one overall seed. It got a little tight but they managed to take care of business winning their final five games. This was even more impressive as they fought off a Twins team that was playing for their playoff lives and the Royals euthanized them. I would love to know the statuses of Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, but right now it looks like all of them will be active in Thursday’s game. The other important development over the last few weeks is the loss of closer Greg Holland. The Royals were able to have their starters pitch six innings and hand it over to their bullpen trio seemingly every game in last year’s postseason. It doesn’t seem like they have that option this season with perhaps an even weaker rotation. (Tragic Number = 3)
- Texas Rangers (9-7; key series – Los Angeles Angels (2-2))
Heading into last Friday’s game, the Rangers were looking to be on top of the world. The division seemed to be sewn up, as long as they took care of business. They had ace Cole Hamels ready for a Game 1. Their closer was practically flawless. In Friday’s game, Shawn Tolleson entered a tied game and gave up the game winner to keep the Angels alive. Some slight worry was to be had but Saturday’s game saw the Rangers enter the ninth with a four run lead and all was right again in the world. We all know what happened next – the Rangers gave up the lead and the game. They then had to pitch Cole Hamels on Sunday to ensure a division crown and to give their bullpen a much needed breather. He did just that and now we are here, just a few thousand unnecessary heart palpitations later. (Tragic Number = 3)
- St. Louis Cardinals (8-8; key series – Pittsburgh (2-1))
Keep in mind that in the final three games, including a doubleheader Sunday, the Cardinals had not a thing to play for and the ranking makes a little more sense. The Pirates had their chance to take the crown away from the Cardinals and once again, St. Louis held serve. The injuries stink – Carlos Martinez was almost certainly a part of the playoff rotation and now he is lost. Team leader Yadier Molina’s status is uncertain and the Cardinals record has shown dependency on him more than most. The Cardinals went 0/18 with runners in scoring position in the final series against Atlanta dropping their average to .202 in this span. Even ignoring that series, a .216 average will need to be better to win games. Knowing the Cardinals (and their Devil magic), it probably will. (Tragic Number = 3)
- Chicago Cubs (12-4; key series – St. Louis (2-1))
I am giving the Cubs the top spot and they would be here even without their Wildcard round victory. Eight in a row going into the postseason is impressive even with the last six coming against Cincinnati and Milwaukee. They will be faced with the issue of only having Jake Arrieta once in the series against St. Louis but Jon Lester should be able to go twice, if needed. With the defense a little shaky (12 errors in this span), it will be interesting to watch what Maddon does with his lineup. The Cubs weren’t great with runners in scoring position during the span (33/149 – .221) and strikeouts remain an issue. This is the hottest team in the playoffs and they just knocked out the second hottest. Anyone believe in momentum? (Tragic Number = 3)
CRACK OF THE BAT of the WEEK
Bat flips are already becoming a thing in this postseason, which I am a huge fan of. I am also a huge fan of Kyle Schwarber. Let’s watch the combination of the two. Splash!