This is a playoff breakdown Mike Hucakbee would love: there’s no science involved. There’s no certainty to the playoffs or predictions about them, so let’s not pretend otherwise. It’s too small a sample size. But here are the 10 playoff teams ranked on their chance to win the World Series, from best to worst.
1. Chicago Cubs
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. They’re due. The Cubs are 0-for-their-last 108, which is a slump Mario Mendoza never endured. The last time the Cubs won, it was an election year, too, and William Howard Taft trounced William Jennings Bryan, who was the Cubs of American politics. Bryan was 0-for-3 in presidential elections, losing in 1896, 1900 and 1908. He did win the Scopes trial, sort of, though he didn’t get to enjoy it. He died 5 days later. 2. Pitching. The Cubs were No. 1 in MLB in ERA at 3.15 — o.36 better than the Nationals. In a year in which the five top staffs all made the NL playoffs, the Cubs are better by about the same margin — 17-and-a-half games –they won the NL Central. 3. They get on base. The Cubs’ .343 on-base percentage led the NL and was .14 better than any NL playoff opponent.Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, normally the first four hitters in the lineup, were all at .385 or better. Opposing starters get to 100 pitches at that rate by the middle innings, not the late ones.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Jake Arrieta. Last year’s Cy Young winner is this year’s Chris Young lookalike. In his last six starts, Arrieta has a 5.30 ERA, and has thrown five home runs in 35.2 innings. 2. Hector Rondon. He started the season as the Cubs’ closer and saved 18 games. He finished it as a liability, allowing seven runs and nine hits in his last 2.2 innings. Does Joe Maddon entrust the eighth inning to Rondon? And if not Rondon, then who? 3. They’re the Cubs. Something will go wrong because it always does. Whose legs will go through an important grounder? Which fan will lean out at the wrong time? What would Don Zimmer do that these Cubs will? If you really want to soothe Cubs fans this October, make it merciful, whatever it is.
- Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards. Yes, Theo Epstein is brilliant, but not because he signed Jon Lester or drafted Bryant No.2. The least of general managers could have done that. Edwards is one of three players the Cubs acquired for 13 Matt Garza starts, and he’s why Epstein, and the executives he hires, are so shrewd. Garza is long gone from Texas, the team that traded Edwards. The latter is very much a part of the Cubs bullpen. In 36 innings this year, Edwards fanned 52, gave up just 15 hits and had a .456 OPS against, or just four points higher than closer Aroldis Chapman’s. Edwards has just 40.2 innings of major-league experience, but he could see plenty more in this postseason.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. Left-handed pitching. In Game 1 the Nationals will see Clayton Kershaw and his .472 OPS against; in Game 2 they’ll get Rich Hill and his .530 OPS against. If Bryce Harper isn’t 0-for-8 entering Game 3, he’s already had a good series. 2. Kenley Jansen. The middle of the Dodgers bullpen has long been questionable but the last three outs should be secure. In 68.2 innings this year Jansen had a 1.83 ERA, 104 strikeouts and a .446 OPS against. 3. Power: The Dodgers aren’t synonymous with home runs, unless they’re giving up big ones in October. This year four Dodgers hit 25 or more home runs, and almost all from unusual sources: catcher (Yasmani Grandal, 27), shortstop (rookie Corey Seager, 26), third base (Justin Turner career-high 27) and center field (Joc Pederson, 25). No Dodger team has had four players hit at least 25 home runs since 1997, when four (Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile, Raul Mondesi and Eric Karros) all hit 30 or more.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. After Hill and Kershaw. What if the two lefties split? Or worse. After them, it’s Kenta Maeda (2.2 innings, nine hits on Sunday) and probably 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias (.728 OPS against). 2. They can’t hit lefties. The Dodgers are last in MLB in OPS vs. lefties (.622), 45 points worse than the 29th-place Phillies. And the Dodgers hit that badly without having to face Kershaw or Hill. 3.They’re slow afoot. Manager Dave Roberts, who stole the most important base in Red Sox history, doesn’t have a Dave Roberts. The Dodgers, led by Howie Kendrick’s 10, were 27th in steals with just 45 this year, and 26th in percentage.The Dodgers run the bases in a bumper to bumper manner that more resemble traffic patterns outside than Dodgers teams of years past. Maury Wills or Davey Lopes stole by Memorial Day what this team did in a season.
- Keep an eye on: Joc Pederson. The 24-year-old centerfielder has hit 25 and 26 home runs in his first two seasons; Duke Snider hit 31 and 29 at the same ages. Both had two 25-homer seasons before turning 25. Snider hit 407 in all and went to the Hall of Fame; Pederson went 0-for-4 in limited use last October. In his first World Series, Snider went homerless and 3-for-21, but hit 11 homers in his next five World Series, or one every 11.6 at-bats. The 2016 could use the same from Pederson.
3. Boston Red Sox
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. Offense. The Red Sox have the best offense in MLB, and it’s not close. They scored 878 runs; the Rockies, who were second with 845, scored 60% of theirs at Coors Field. The Red Six scored 101 more runs than any other AL tea; the Indians were next at 777. 2. David Ortiz. Is it possible for the greatest clutch Red Sox player to go out with a pop instead of a bang? Ortiz hit .688 in his last World Series, had 11 RBIs and two game-winning, extra-inning hits in the 2004 ALCS and has a lifetime .962 postseason OPS. 3. Team speed. The Red Sox haven’t been known for team speed since about the time the Cubs last won a World Series. But these Sox were third in stolen-base percentage and centerfielder Jackie Bradley and right fielder Mookie Betts can ably cover the larger outfields away from Fenway. The Red Sox were 46-35 this year on the road, just one game worse than the 47-34 at home.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1.Steven Wright. Using him as a pinch-runner was all wrong. An All-Star, Wright pitched just seven games after the break, won’t pitch in the divisional series and probably not again until 2017. 2. Third base. It’s not that the Red Sox miss Pablo Sandoval. It’s that the platoon of Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill isn’t much better. Red Sox third basemen have a .686 OPS, the worst in baseball. Shaw hit 16 homers and 34 doubles, but his .726 OPS is 50 points less than the MLB average at the position. 3. David Price. He hasn’t been very good in the postseason when he was in the regular season, and this season was the worst of his career. Who knows how he’ll be in October. Price won 17 games but had career worsts in ERA (3.99) and home runs allowed (30). His lifetime postseason ERA is 5.12 and that won’t be encouraging if Rick Porcello loses Game 1.
- Keep an eye on: Drew Pomeranz. He made 13 ragged starts for the Red Sox, throwing 14 home runs in 67.1 innings. But it might be the lone relief appearance he made on Sunday which matters most. He faced five batters and only one reached, on an error, fanned two and averaged more than 94 mph on his fastball. For a team which had only Robby Scott, a veteran of six major-league innings, and Fernando Abad, who had a 6.39 ERA with the Sox, as lefty options behind Robbie Ross, Pomeranz would be a boost.
4. Texas Rangers
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. They win close games. The Rangers are 36-11 in one-run games, of which there are sure to be several in the postseason.2. Karma: The Rangers might have won the World Series in 2011 had Nelson Cruz held David Freese’s fly ball, and they might have beat the Blue Jays last year had normally reliable shortstop Elvis Andrus not developed the yips. They’re not the Cubs, but this is the 56th season for the Texas nee Washington franchise and it should have a Texas-size inferiority complex by now. Maybe it will change. 3. Adrian Beltre. Beltre has a Dwight Evans arc to his career, in that his many of his best seasons (excepting that .334, 48-homer year with the Dodgers at age 25) have come after he turned 30. At 37, Beltre hit .300 for the sixth time 30 homers or more for the fifth time. Of his 445 career home runs, 203 have come after his 30th birthday. Beltre might be the most unappreciated (by the average fan) first-ballot Hall of Famer of recent vintage: he ended 2016 with 445 homers, 2,942 hits and a career 90.2 WAR.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Pitching. The Rangers had a 4.37 ERA, which ranked 22nd in MLB. None of the teams with a worse team ERA won more games than the 75 by the Rockies. 2. Sam Dyson. He became the Rangers’ closer only because Shawn Tolleson couldn’t and the Rangers never bothered or thought to get someone better. Dyson isn’t bad — he’s better than the Giants Sergio Romo — but at a time of year when there are no mulligans, he isn’t good either. He had 38 of his career 40 saves this year, but his .658 OPS against is that of a situational seventh-inning pitcher, not a take-on-all-comers in the ninth. 3. Run differential. The Rangers’ 95-67 record tied for the second-best in baseball but it masked a +8 run differential.which was eighth-best in the AL, third in the AL West and 15th in MLB. Four teams that didn’t even make the playoffs had better run differentials than the Rangers, which leads to a conclusion: they’re not that good.
- Keep an eye on: Carlos Gomez. The Rangers added Gomez when the Astros cut him in mid-August, a reminder that what seems like addition by subtraction often isn’t. Had Gomez played for the Astros as he has for the Rangers, the Astros might be in the playoffs. But after hitting .210 and slugging .322 for the Astros, Gomez hit .284 and slugged eight homers in 130 at-bats for the Rangers.
5. Washington Nationals
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. Trea Turner. Gary Sanchez wasn’t the only important midseason callup and might not have even been the best. Turner hit .333 for the Nationals in 307 at-bats, slugged .567, hit 13 homers, stole 33 bases and played center field, second base and shortstop. Turner was the No. 1 pick Padres GM A.J. Preller traded when he wanted to call attention to the new guy in charge. Padres fans can only be sorry Preller wasn’t suspended for 30 days until the bright idea of trading Turner passed. 2. Tanner Roark: Nine times Roark pitched seven or more shutout innings in a start, more than any other pitcher in baseball. That’s impressive, even if there of them were against the Phillies. 3. Mark Melancon. The Nationals lost a 2012 NLDS when their bullpen couldn’t finish the deciding game. If given the chance, Jonathan Papelbon might have replicated that. It’s less likely Melancon will. He had 47 saves and a .511 OPS against and blew four saves in 71 games; Papelbon blew three in 37.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Daniel Murphy. He hit seven homers in last year’s postseason for the Mets but the Nats don’t know how well he’ll play in this one. But for pinch-hitting Sunday, he missed the last two weeks to injury and lost the batting title by a point to Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu, who was benched by his manager (Walt Weiss said, “I’m going to take care of the guys who take care of our team,” then resigned on Monday. Which begs the question is it’s really “our team,” if you’re leaving it.). 2. History. The Nats have never won a postseason series, and have twice lost with the better record. Here they are again. Anyone think Dusty Baker, whose teams are 3-7 in postseason series and 0-1 in wild-card games is the difference? 3. Injuries. No team, except for maybe the Mets, enters the postseason as physically damaged as the Nats. The Nats look like a package that’s traveled 162 games and is delivered despite being damaged.Who buys the can at the grocery with a dent in it? Murphy is iffy. Stephen Strasburg, who sat out 2012, is out. Wilson Ramos, an All-Star catcher who hit .307 and 22 homers, is out. There’s a big gap between Joe Ross and Strasburg and Pedro Severino and Ramos.
- Keep an eye on: Sammy Solis. The lefty reliever missed six weeks of the season but returned at the end. He fanned 47 in 41 innings, had a .606 OPS against, and threw just one home run. He should be busy vs. the Dodgers, who don’t hit lefthanders well.
6. Cleveland Indians
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. Believeland. The Cavs won last spring, breaking Cleveland’s drought that went back to Frank Ryan, Gary Collins and the ’64 Browns. Anyone can win in Cleveland now. Except the Browns. 2. Team speed. The Indians stole 134 bases, more than any other playoff team. They were also good at it, stealing at 81% efficiency, second in MLB. Four players stole 15 or more: Rajai Davis (43), Jose Ramirez (22), Francisco Lindor (19) and Jason Kipnis (15). If you abhor countless throws to first, avoid Indians postseason games, because they’ll be a lot of those. 3. The bullpen: The Indians’ bullpen ranked fourth in ERA this season and first in fewest blown saves , but that’s with only a half season of Andrew Miller. He fanned 46 and a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings in Cleveland. Cody Allen fanned 87 in 68 innings and Dan Otero, sold by the Phillies after they claimed him on waivers, induced 11 double plays and had a 1.53 ERA. The guy in charge of the bullpen, Terry Francona, is pretty good at using it, as Red Sox fans might recall.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Injuries. Carlos Carrasco is out and Danny Salazar might be. Corey Kluber hurt a quad and won’t pitch until Game 2. That means the unpredictable Trevor Bauer gets Game 1 and Josh Tomlin, who threw 36 homers this year, gets Game 3 in Fenway. Neither of those is endorsed by match.com. 2. Catcher. Yan Gomes is back, but who can tell. He hit .169. Catchers were to the Indians what third basemen were to the Red Sox, only worse. Indians catchers had an MLB-worst .564 OPS. 3.Tyler Naquin: The centerfielder had a fine rookie year –.296, 14 homers, .886 OPS — but not so the last two months. Since Aug. 1, Naquin has hit .234 with two homers in 124 at-bats. If Naquin doesn’t hit, it’s Davis or Coco Crisp in center field and neither is much better than Naquin at his worst.
- Keep an eye on: Jose Ramirez. Ramirez was thrown off shortstop by Lindor’s arrival last year, but he took over third base this year for Juan Uribe. Just 24, Ramirez batted .312, slugged .462, hit 46 doubles, walked 44 times and stole 22 bases. He can best opponents in multiple ways.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. October needs a villain. And who better than Jose Bautista, who obviously doesn’t give a flip? Bautista’s bat toss after last year’s series-winning homer against the Rangers enraged the Jays’ opponents, so much that Rougned Odor threw a high, hard one this year at Bautista’s jaw. And if the Blue Jays win Tuesday’s wild-card game, the two teams will meet in the divisional series round again. Think anyone at MLB is rooting for that? 2. Devon Travis. The second baseman missed last year’s postseason with a shoulder injury and it showed. Travis hit .300 this year with 11 homers and a .785 OPS, a mite more than the .672 Ryan Goins gave them last year. 3. Pitching. The Blue Jays not only led all AL playoff teams in ERA, but their 3.78 team ERA led the American League. Blue Jays starters (J.A. Happ 3.18, Aaron Sanchez 3.00, Marco Estrada 3.48) led the AL with a 3.64 ERA, .44 better than second-place Cleveland.
- Three reasons they won’t:. 1. Bautista is not much of a villain. After delcaring in spring training he had a salary demand and wasn’t budging, Bautista hit .234 with 22 homers and an .817 OPS, his worst numbers since his first full season with the Jays in 2009. If he’s not budging, he’s not playing in 2017. 2. Josh Donaldson’s health. Donaldson’s 2016 wasn’t far removed from his 2015 (284/404/589 compared to his MVP 297/371/568), but it was how he finished it that’s troubling. Donaldson missed three games in mid-September to a hip injury and homered three times after he returned, but from Sept. 4 on he batted just .207 in his last 82 at-bats. 3. Middle relief. The Blue Jays are OK at the start and the end, but their bullpen was 12th in the AL in ERA (4.11). Most of that was accumulated from the fifth through the eighth. And the Jays are without Joaquin Benoit (calf), who had an 0.38 ERA in 23.2 innings after coming from Seattle).
- Keep an eye on: Marcus Stroman. A year ago, Stroman pitched 27 regular-season innings but was the Game 5 choice over midseason trade acquisition David Price, who’s won a Cy Young. This year Stroman (4.37 ERA) pitched 204 regular-season innings which might have made Francisco Liriano the choice in Tuesday’s wild-card. Liriano wasn’t better, but he didn’t allow a run in his last two starts and the Orioles are last in the AL with a .692 OPS vs. lefties, which Liriano is and Stroman isn’t.
8. San Francisco Giants
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. The calendar. The Giants have won every other year since 2010 and this is the other year. They’ve won despite drug suspensions (Melky Cabrera), injuries (Angel Pagan) and even when they weren’t very good. The 2014 team won 88 games, one more than this year’s, and had a run differential of +51, 33 runs worse than this year’s. If they play the Cubs in the NLDS, who’s going to want to compare histories? 2. Madison Bumgarner. The Giants didn’t need much more than him to win in 2014 — they won 12 postseason games and Bumgarner won four of them and saved a fifth. Bumgarner was as good in 2016 as ever: tied for fourth in innings pitched (226.2), fourth in ERA (2.74), fourth in strikeouts (251), fourth in OPS against (.617). 3. Value shopping. The Diamondbacks gave Zack Greinke $206 million, finished last and fired the GM who gave it to him. Free agents are like candy corn in October: alluring but not good for you. The Giants are the exception. Johnny Cueto took $130 million and was 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA; Jeff Samardzijia took $90 million and was 12-11 with a 3.81 ERA. Both topped 200 innings. The Giants are in the playoffs because of their free-agent signings and not, like the Red Sox and ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval, in spite of them.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. The bullpen. Bruce Bochy had 19 pitchers on the expanded roster in September and some nights it seemed he needed most of them to navigate end-of-game situations. He’ll be limited by the 25-man roster in October. Sergio Romo was the closer as the season ended, but he had just a .709 OPS against and lefties slugged .485 against him. 2. The offense. The Giants were 19th in runs scored, 20th in OPS and 28th in home runs. That’s not good. But they were even worse after the All-Star break: 27th in runs scored, 25th in OPS and 29th in home runs. From Sept. 1 on, they scored three runs or less in 17 of their 30 games. Brandon Belt led the Giants in home runs with but 17, Angel Pagan in steals with but 15, and only Hunter Pence (.808) and Belt (.868) had OPSes better than.800. If scoring runs is harder in the postseason, it may be too much exertion for the Giants. 3. Who are these guys? The Giants have won the World Series with Gregor Blanco in the outfield, so it can be done. But Conor Gillaspie, with a lifetime .706 OPS, at third base? Gorkys Hernandez, a .205 lifetime hitter, platooning in center field? It’s as if the Giants have accepted the more difficult routine in an attempt for a higher floor exercise score.
- Keep an eye on: Derek Law. He had the best season of any Giants reliever, which may not be saying much. But he had a 2.13 ERA, .570 OPS against, threw just three home runs, fanned 50 and walked nine in 55 innings. It wouldn’t surprise if he ended the season ending games for the Giants.
9. Baltimore Orioles
- Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. Power. No one has more of it than the Orioles. They hit 253 home runs this year, more than any other team in 2016 (the Cardinals were second with 225), and more than any team since the 2010 Blue Jays hit 257 (seven Jays hit 20 or more that year: Bautista with 54, Vernon Wells 31, Aaron Hill 26, Adam Lind 23, Edwin Encarnacion 21, Lyle Overbay and John Buck, 20). Five Orioles hit 25 homers or more. If there’s a game-changing three-run homer, the Orioles are likely to hit it. 2. Zach Britton. We can argue later whether he’s the Cy Young winner. But Britton had the best season of any reliever in 2016: an 0.54 ERA, 47 saves, a .430 OPS against, one home run allowed and just 38 hits. The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad. The Orioles led the AL and were third in MLB with a 3.30 bullpen ERA. 3. The manager. Buck Showalter has won three Manager of the Year awards, or two more than postseason series he’s won (he also won a wild-card game). If Showalter is so smart, shouldn’t it show up beginning with Tuesday against a guy who might have picked the wrong starting pitcher?
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Lack of power. What happens if the Orioles don’t hit homers? They don’t score much. There’s not much balance to their offense: they’re 21st in on-base percentage, last in stolen bases with just 19 and 12th in runs scored. If opponents keep the Orioles in the ballpark, they’ll have trouble scoring. 2. Starting pitching. Britton won’t be much good if the Orioles don’t lead late in the game, and their rotation doesn’t get them off to good starts. Orioles starters rank 24th in MLB with a 4.72 ERA, and if they get past the wild-card game, their rotation will include two from Ubaldo Jimenez (5.44), Yovano Gallardo (5.42) and Wade Miley (6.17 with the Orioles and 5.37 overall). They’re going to have to hit a lot of home runs to win the games they start. 3. If they need a fly ball: Power hitters come with lots of swings and misses. The same five Orioles who hit 25 or more homers all fanned 115 times or more, led by Chris Davis’ 221. No surprise the Orioles were 21st in sacrifice flies. They’ll be a lot of gnashing in the Orioles dugout if Davis comes up with one out and an important run on third base.
- Keep an eye on: Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s in year three of what’s been a mostly awful free agent contract (his 12-10, 4.11 ERA in 2015 was passable), and he was so bad he was sent to the bullpen as a $13 million mopup man this year. But upon returning to the rotation, Jimenez was surprisingly good. He started seven times from Aug. 25 on, won five, pitched into the sixth inning every time and had a 2.45 ERA. In his last two starts he didn’t give up an earned run. Like the Jays and Liriano, it’s almost enough to ask why Jimenez isn’t starting Tuesday instead of Chris Tillman. Almost.
10. New York Mets
- Three reasons they’ll win: 1. Power. The Mets hit 218 home runs, which may not sound like a lot compared to the Orioles’ 257. But it’s more than any other NL playoff team, and more than any Met team ever has. Two Mets outfielders hit 30 homers or more (Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera hit 23. 2. Addison Reed. Reed came from the Diamondbacks and just-fired Dave Stewart, so it should be no surprise the moved worked out well for the Mets. Reed wasn’t very good with the D’backs after saving 69 games for the White Sox — he had a 4.23 ERA over two seasons — but he’s been the Mets’ best reliever. He fanned 91 in 77.2 innings and had a 1.97 ERA and .536 OPS against (it’s a mark of how bad Stewart’s reign was in Arizona that cbssports.com ranked Stewart’s five worst moves, and trading Reed wasn’t one of them). 3. The manager. Matt Harvey won’t be convincing manager Terry Collins to change his mind when he wants to make a pitching change. Harvey’s hurt. Not sure about Noah Syndergaard.
- Three reasons they won’t: 1. Catchers. Collins has to choose between Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera and it’s one decision he won’t mess up. They’re both bad. The Mets are last in MLB in OPS at catcher at .607, or 66 points less than the No. 29 Reds and 115 points less than the NL average. 2. Injuries. The Mets are without pitchers Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, third baseman David Wright and second baseman Neil Walker. That’s the nucleus of a pretty good team. Outfielder Justin Ruggiano was added in August, batted 20 times, homered twice, and was lost for the season. Twenty-three of those 218 homers were hit by Walker, who won’t hit any in the postseason. The Mets reached the playoffs, impressive given their casualties, but they did so by going 5-2 against the Phillies in the season’s last 10 days and 23-9 against the Phillies, Reds and Brewers. They won’t get to play them in October. 3. Experience: Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman wouldn’t be in the majors, let alone the playoffs, but for injuries. They’re in the Mets’ rotation, having pitched a combined 25 games and 108.2 major league innings. That’s balanced out by Bartolo Colon, who maybe has too much experience. He’s 43 and topped 190 innings for the 11th time, the fourth straight season he’s done so since turning 40.
- Player to watch: T.J. Rivera. The Red Sox once had an infielder who played six seasons in the minors and hit .300 in five of them before being promoted to the majors. Wade Boggs had 3,010 hits and a .328 career average in the 18 seasons that followed. Rivera played six seasons in the minors and hit .300 in five of them, including .353 this year at AAA Las Vegas. Rivera hit .333 in 105 at-bats with the Mets, including a game-winning, extra-innings home run off Melancon. Rivera won’t be Boggs — he’s four years older at the time of his major-league debut, he doesn’t walk as much and who knows if he likes chicken — but it’s certainly possible Rivera can hit. He’s hit .300 in the minors, the majors and winter leagues, and even Terry Collins might notice a trend.