With the survival of the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees in the wild-card games, major league baseball has its best eight teams left for the Division Series for the first time since 2011, the last year before the institution of the one-game knockout to kick off October. Here’s some thoughts on The Eight…
*Cleveland Indians—Each team left has a legitimate shot, but one team is more legit than the rest and that’s the Indians. We’ve all watched enough baseball to know the best team doesn’t always—or even usually—win the World Series. But I think it can be said with confidence that the Tribe is that best team. There are no weaknesses, from the lineup to the rotation to the bullpen to the dugout. Las Vegas considers them a 14-5 favorite to win it all.
*Los Angeles Dodgers—The Dodgers have to be the first team to win 100-plus games, be a brand-name franchise from a big market and yet manage to be disrespected coming into the playoffs. Such is what their late-season sputtering did.
*Houston Astros—The third of the three teams to win 100-plus during the regular season the Astros can really hit. The bullpen is weak though, at least in comparison to other playoff teams. A big shout-out to manager A.J. Hinch, who did all this without a single pitcher making at least 30 regular season starts. At least now he’s got Justin Verlander on board and Dallas Keuchel healthy.
*Washington Nationals—Speaking of weak bullpens…this is the worst one left. The acquisition of Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle this summer have made it tolerable, but the Nats have to win the old-fashioned way—with frontline starters and big-time bats.
*Boston Red Sox—The Red Sox rotation is the weakest of the playoff teams. After Chris Sale, does anyone fear facing Drew Pomeranz or Eduardo Rodriguez? What Boston does have going is a very deep bullpen that’s augmeted by David Price. The Red Sox will try and use the Cleveland model from 2016, which was one great starting pitcher and a horde of quality relievers, with one lefty overshadowing every game.
*Chicago Cubs—They aren’t what they were last season, the defending champs are still playing their best baseball at the right time. Jon Lester is a microcosm of this team—with a 4.33 ERA, he wasn’t exactly vintage. But do you really want to bet against him in October? And what kind of world are we living in where the Cubs are now the kind of team that we can say “you don’t want to bet against them in October?”
*New York Yankees—The sleek athleticism of this lineup just jumps off the page. Aaron Judge is the headlining act, but watch another outfielder named Aaron—Hicks in this case, who is a rising star of his own. The Yanks have to follow the same mold as the Red Sox—hitting, the bullpen and just enough starting pitching to get to the middle innings.
*Arizona Diamondbacks—This starting rotation is underappreciated and the best left. Even with Zack Greinke pitching the wild-card game, the D-Backs still have Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley, all of whom can make names for themselves this October.