After the close of the 2021 MLB regular season — my 10th doing power rankings — I am going to do a partial reset of how I’ll continue this week and next.
This week, I’ll simply give you my postseason power rankings of the 10 teams inside MLB’s playoff bubble, with comments about the chances of each team making a run. Next week, after a little time to ponder, I’ll make comments on all 30 teams.
So here you go, my playoff power rankings for the 2021 postseason:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56): I don’t feel the least bit funny picking the team with the second-best record in all of baseball as my No. 1 team. Don’t get me wrong, with a one-game playoff against the red-hot Cardinals looming, my No. 1 team could get knocked out early, and the Dodgers’ task got just a little bit harder with the injury to Max Muncy. He got run into by ex-Oriole Jace Peterson (now a Brewer) and injured his wrist when he reached into Peterson’s path to first base. Overall, this is still the deepest and most talented team in the top 10.
2. San Francisco Giants (107-55): The Giants took the season-long, 19-game slog against the Dodgers by a scant 10-9 margin. The Giants’ numbers look awfully impressive, and there’s no question that what head baseball man Farhan Zaidi and his handpicked skipper Gabe Kapler have pulled off this season is remarkable. The numbers like runs scored, homers, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts are all pretty close between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But I think the Giants would fall a bit short in a potential NLDS against the Dodgers despite winning one more regular-season game (107 to the Dodgers’ 106).
3. Tampa Bay Rays (100-62): The Rays are clearly the best team not only in the very tough American League East, where four teams won more than 90 games, but in the entire AL. True, manager Kevin Cash doesn’t possess the starting pitching of the rest of the teams in the playoffs, but what he does have is an elite and well-constructed bullpen and enough guys who can handle that opener role. Two key members of this staff are free-agent signee Collin McHugh and Drew Rasmussen, the latter of whom was part of the two-pitcher return the club received when it sent shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee. Offensively, this is not a star-studded group, but Cash uses his lineup card like a Stradivarius and more times than not he wins the matchup battles.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (95-67): A 4-9 finish kept the Brewers on the shy side of 100 wins. Most notably, six of those nine losses were at the hands of the Cardinals. A starting staff of Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta give them more than a puncher’s chance in October. Skipper Craig Counsell, like Tampa Bay’s Cash, is a master manipulator of his roster. But don’t kid yourselves, the loss of right-handed reliever Devin Williams (2.50 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 54 innings) is a monstrous loss. Lefty Josh Hader and Williams formed what was probably the most dynamic bullpen duo in the game. The late innings in these pressure-packed playoff games were supposed to be a big edge for Milwaukee. Now? We’ll find out early in their first series against the Braves.
5. Chicago White Sox (93-69): The White Sox square off against the Astros in a very interesting matchup. This is the first postseason series to feature two managers over the age of 70 (Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker). The unfair firing of Rick Renteria after the Athletics knocked the White Sox out in the first round last year was set in motion by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He wanted to install Hall of Fame manager La Russa to ensure his club would go deep in the 2021 postseason. Will it work? The White Sox ran away with their division by mid-June, and yet the healthier they got in July and August the flatter the club played. Their starting pitching can be elite, but lefty Carlos Rodon (132.2 innings this year after totaling 42.1 innings the past two years) is struggling with shoulder fatigue. The back end is ultra-elite with lefties Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet and right-handers Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks. This club is dangerous if they get by the Astros.
6. Houston Astros (95-67): No question the Astros’ lineup is as dynamic as any in baseball. But with Zack Greinke just back off the injury list and sporting an ERA of 4.16, his days as an elite starter may have passed. The guys behind him — right-handers Luis Garcia, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. — can keep the Astros in games. That may be enough in this opening series against the White Sox. Still, their late-inning squad is good, not great — a distinct advantage for Chicago.
7. Atlanta Braves (88-73): I don’t like the Braves’ chances to go very far, but the good news is they aren’t in a one-game play-in to get into the real portion of post-season. I know we live in a short-start era, but I’m not sure Max Fried and Charlie Morton are strong enough to get the Braves past Milwaukee. However, the Brewers’ loss of Williams on the back end does loom large enough to shift this one to a push between Milwaukee’s current team and their old-time team.
8. New York Yankees (92-70): Throw a blanket over the No. 8 Yankees, No. 9 Cardinals and No. 10 Red Sox. I still think Yankees can be dangerous, but in my heart of hearts, it probably ain’t going to happen. I can’t imagine their pitching will hold up throughout a potential 20-game postseason. I’m intrigued by how much Luis Severino can help out of the ‘pen.
9. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72): I actually had the Cardinals at No. 6 entering the final week of the regular season. While the 2-3 finish against the Brewers and Cubs didn’t wipe away the magic of that 17-game winning streak, it had to take away some of the momentum. One thing the Red Birds really have going for them in the one-game playoff against the Dodgers is the ageless wonder, Adam Wainwright. It was a smart move to sign him to a one-year extension a few days ago. That could provide the wily one with a psychological lift, knowing he’ll never wear another uniform.
10. Boston Red Sox (92-70): I have to admit while I may never have been a 2021 “true believer” in the half-season of perfection by manager Alex Cora’s squad, I didn’t expect them to have to go into overdrive against the woeful Orioles and Nationals to barely stay in front of the Blue Jays in the wild-card standings. And now J.D. Martinez sprains his ankle stumbling over second base going out to play the outfield in D.C. The Sox still have plenty of offense for the wild-card game against the Yankees even if Martinez can’t go. The one-gamer is in Fenway, so sure, they can win. But it might take some magic.