It seems this is about as good a time as any to handicap baseball’s postseason — and by that, I am not really talking about who will get into the postseason. That pennant race roller coaster is just now leaving the gate for the next 15-17 days in a city near you.
Rather, what I am talking about is the game-by-game, week-by-week, month-by-month progress and development of these teams to see who really can win it all.
Let’s be real. While the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Mariners, Padres, Reds, Athletics and Phillies will all put their best foot forward to try to punch a ticket to baseball’s big dance, to my way of thinking only the first seven teams in my power rankings this week have a chance to be the last men standing.
In the American League, the Blue Jays have just recently seemed to get it all together. The addition of starter José Berríos at the trade deadline was huge for this team. He and Hyun-jin Ryu give the Jays a 1-2 punch that can spell trouble for opposing teams. While the ‘pen is a bit funky, a lineup that includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández and George Springer can make the Jays a very tough gauntlet to navigate. The Jays would be the longest shot of my top seven, but don’t fall asleep on them.
The Astros are clearly a dangerous team, but their rotation just leaves me unconvinced that I am watching a championship-caliber starting staff. The titular ace of the staff is Zack Greinke, who will return from a bout of COVID-19 on Sept. 14. If he can regain his strength quickly, it’s possible his COVID shutdown will have helped him reset. His August numbers were less than stellar — 3.72 ERA with just 13 strikeouts in 29 innings.
The Rays and White Sox, meanwhile, could face each other in the ALCS. What a series that would be — the star-laden White Sox with an aged Hall of Fame manager going up against the modern, analytics-based Kevin Cash who manages a team with a more pedestrian lineup. But don’t kid yourself. Nelson Cruz has been huge on the field and has taken some of these younger Rays under his enormous wing. If this series comes to pass, I won’t miss a pitch.
In the National League, the Giants are certainly capable of extending their improbable run all the way to a San Francisco-style victory parade. But I feel their fun season will come to an end sometime before they can play in the World Series.
That leaves us with a potential NLCS — Brewers vs. Dodgers — that would rival my ALCS of choice as the series I’d like to see the most.
A matchup of aces Corbin Burnes and Max Scherzer would be one delicious pitching matchup. A key player for the Brewers is shortstop Willy Adames, who is on the injured list with a strained left quadriceps. He has been the heart and soul of the Brewers since he arrived in Milwaukee in May.
The Brewers have been a star-crossed franchise for a long time. They have not been in a World Series since their loss (as an AL club) to the Cardinals in 1982. This year, the Brewers are 89-55 without a typical season from outfielder Christian Yelich.
Yelich was acquired from the Marlins before the 2018 season in one of the biggest steals of a deal in baseball history. All he did in his first two seasons wearing Brewers pinstripes was win back-to-back batting titles. He was on his way to back-to-back MVP awards before he fractured his right kneecap in September 2019.
After missing the last 32 games of 2019, Yelich batted just .205/.356/.430 with 12 homers and 22 RBIs during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. This year, he is hitting .256/.368/.384 with eight homers and 45 RBIs.
The Brewers are paying Yelich $14 million this year. And then his big, big deal kicks in next season — the Brewers will be paying Yelich $26 million a year from 2022-2028 ($182 million guaranteed), and then they will owe him either an additional $20 million in 2029 or have to pay him a $6.5 million buyout.
If the real Christian Yelich could somehow miraculously reappear, this Brewers club would be the most dangerous team of all.
Here are my power rankings.
1. San Francisco Giants (93-50, No. 1 last week): Haven’t we all gotten sick and tired of asking how the Giants are doing it? This club has a big heart, and that speaks volumes about skipper Gabe Kapler’s impact on the clubhouse.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (91-53, No. 2): If — and it’s a sizable IF — the Dodgers win the World Series again, Max Scherzer will be their most valuable postseason player. His MAX intensity has really helped fuel their high level of play.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (89-55, No. 4): The Brewers have five starting pitchers who have made at least 20 starts with ERA’s of 3.25 or lower. It’s been a long time since I have seen that. Corbin Burnes has become that ace who can help a team win a championship. Oh, and their bullpen is pretty awesome, too.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (89-54, No. 3): I know manager Kevin Cash is confident, but if he were injected with truth serum, I don’t think he would’ve thought before the season that he’d run away with baseball’s best division. The Rays have a three-game set in Toronto Sept. 13-15, and it would make their life easier if they could slow down that Blue Jay momentum now.
5. Chicago White Sox (82-61, No. 5): Their starting lineup is healthy now, but how capable are the White Sox of pitching well in the postseason? Reliever Michael Kopech’s shaky August stretch was concerning. Starter Lucas Giolito’s health is also important.
6. Houston Astros (83-59, No. 6): The Astros have regained a good bit of their old swagger and they won’t be an easy out, but I still don’t feel it with this starting rotation.
7. Toronto Blue Jays (80-63, No. 12): I say a lot of things in my weekly comments on the top 10, but I clearly remember saying the Jays could be a dangerous team about two months ago. They have become dangerous. They host Tampa Bay Sept. 13-15 in what easily could be a preview of a late-round playoff matchup.
8. Atlanta Braves (76-66, No. 9): They’re not a great team, but while the Phillies and Mets keep slipping on banana peels, the Braves look like they’ll hold on to the NL East. I don’t see them hanging around very long in the postseason, though.
9. Boston Red Sox (81-64, No. 8): Considering where the Red Sox stood at the end of the 2020 season, this has been a terrific comeback season. And they got a stud shortstop, Marcelo Mayer, thanks to their fluky position in the MLB Draft. Not saying they intentionally tanked, but 2020 was a great reset for a team with their almost unlimited resources.
10. New York Yankees (79-64, No. 7): It’s not all his fault and I like the person Aaron Boone is, but if the Yankees want to get serious about being champs again, they should find someone who can run the games better and create a more confident aura.
11. Seattle Mariners (77-66, No. 10)
12. San Diego Padres (74-68, No. 11)
13. Cincinnati Reds (75-69, No. 14)
14. Oakland Athletics (77-66, No. 13)
15. Philadelphia Phillies (72-71, No. 15)
16. St. Louis Cardinals (73-69, No. 18)
17. New York Mets (72-72, No. 16)
18. Cleveland Indians (69-72, No. 17)
19. Los Angeles Angels (70-73, No. 19)
20. Detroit Tigers (68-76, No. 21)
21. Kansas City Royals (65-78, No. 20)
22. Minnesota Twins (63-80, No. 24)
23. Chicago Cubs (65-79, No. 23)
24. Colorado Rockies (66-78, No. 22)
25. Miami Marlins (60-83, No. 25)
26. Washington Nationals (59-84, No. 26)
27. Texas Rangers (53-89, No. 27)
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (52-91, No. 28)
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (47-96, No. 29)
30. Baltimore Orioles (46-97, No. 30)