Breaking down the 2017 postseason: Who can win and why

Three reasons why each of the 10 playoff teams, even the Twins, can win the World Series, and three reasons why they won’t. In order of likelihood of being successful:

  1. Cleveland: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. They’re the best team. First in run differential (+254), first in run prevention (3.30), sixth in runs scored, second in wins (102).  2. They hid Trevor Bauer’s drone. Last year Bauer was the Indians’ No. 2 starter in the postseason by necessity — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were hurt — and he cut his finger playing with his drone. If Bauer starts Game 2 or even 3 of the divisional series this year, it’s on merit. He won 17 games and had a 2.57 ERA in the last two months, fanning 79 in 70 innings. 3. They nearly won it last year; the Indians lost in seven games in the Series, just as the Royals did in 2014 before winning in 2015. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. The best team doesn’t always win.  That was the message last year in pre-postseason columns as to why the Cubs wouldn’t win. Not so much this year after the Cubs won. But only the 2016 Cubs and 2013 Red Sox have won the most games in the regular season and the World Series since 2009, when the Yankees did so. Two teams (Phillies, 102 in 2011 and Cardinals, 100 in 2015) have won 100 games this decade and not made the Series. 2. He’s still Trevor Bauer, drone or no drone. Even in those 70 good innings, he threw 10 homers, and his season OPS against was .774. His postseason ERA last season was 5.27 We’ll see how long it takes Andrew Miller to warm up when Bauer starts. 3. The Rangers lost the World Series in 2010, came back in 2011 and lost it again, got back to the playoffs in 2012 and lost the wild-card game.
  2. Houston: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. Sports Illustrated said they would. In 2014, an SI cover story on the Astros, who were on their way to losing 92 games after three straight 100-loss seasons, was headlined: Your 2017 World Series champs. SI also touted the Royals in 2015, too. Seems clairvoyant now. 2. After Dallas Keuchel groused when the Astros’ only July 31 addition was Francisco Liriano, the Astros dealt for Justin Verlander before the August 31 postseason deadline. In five starts with the Astros, Verlander has a 1.06 ERA in 34 innings with 17 hits and five walks allowed and 43 strikeouts. 3. The Astros have the best offensive middle infield in baseball: second baseman Jose Altuve, who might be the MVP, hit .346 with 24 homers, 32 steals, a .547 slugging percentage and .957 OPS; shortstop Carlos Correa hit .315 with 24 homers despite missing six weeks, slugged .550 and had a .941 OPS.  Three reasons why they won’t: 1. SI is better at jinxes than predictions. And SI also predicted the Royals would go back to back. They haven’t even gone back to the playoffs. 2. Verlander has a 3.39 ERA postseason, but it’s only so low because of the Athletics. In his last two series vs. the A’s, Verlander has pitched 31 innings and allowed one run. Against everyone else, his postseason ERA is 4.64, and it’s a pretty sure thing he won’t be pitching against Oakland this October. 3. The Astros weren’t as productive at more traditional offensive positions. They were 16th in OPS at first base (.837), 14th in left field (.751) and 24th at DH (.665). Carlos Beltran has had a great career and a postseason history with the Astros, if not the Mets, but he’s not the batter Houston wants in big situations. It won’t take him Adam Wainwright to get him out this October.
  3. L.A. Dodgers: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. They won 104 games and led their division by 21 games in late August. 2. Clayton Kershaw had his lightest workload since 2009, pitching 175 innings and still led the NL in wins (18), ERA (2.31, for the fifth time) and ERA+ (180, for the fourth time). 3. The Dodgers were second in MLB in pitching with a 3.38 ERA, .28 better than the NL runner-up. And they won’t be relying on Joe Blanton, who gave up seven runs in three innings in the 2016 NLCS, this year. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. The Dodgers were 13-22 in their last 35 games and lost 10 games off the the NL West lead to the Diamondbacks. They were swept by both NL wild-card teams, and by one of them (the D’backs) twice. And they were nearly swept in a four-game series by the Phillies, who only lost 96 games. Thanks to the Dodgers, the Phillies didn’t lose 100. 2. Kershaw’s 4.55 postseason ERA is more than two runs higher than his 2.36  regular-season one. His ERA in five postseason games last year was 4.43, and that included a 1-0 Game 2 combined shutout of the Cubs in the NLCS. 3. The Dodgers were 12th in MLB in runs scored, the worst of any postseason qualifier. That’s not because of Dodger Stadium — they were 13th away from it. And Pedro Baez, who has a 6.52 postseason ERA over three seasons, is still around.
  4. Washington: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. They saved Stephen Strasburg for this. Strasburg didn’t pitch in the 2012 postseason because he was coming off Tommy John surgery, but he’ll pitch in this one coming off his best season: a 2.52 ERA, .581 OPS against and 204 strikeouts in 175.1 innings. 2. Time is drawing nigh. Bryce Harper, who might have won a second MVP but for injury, becomes a free agent after next season. The Nationals won’t be this good for much longer. 3. The Nationals fixed their bullpen problem by acquiring Sean Doolittle (.517 OPS against) and Ryan Madson (.491), who combined to have a 2.02 ERA in 49.2 innings for the Nats with 59 strikeouts and two home runs allowed. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. Strasburg might be healthy but Max Scherzer (2.51 ERA, 268 strikeouts in 200 innings) isn’t. Scherzer left his last start in the fourth inning with a hamstring injury. 2. Forget about winning it all. Try winning a series. Any series. The Nats have made the playoffs three times and lost three series, despite having better records each time. Ninety-five-, 96- and 98-win teams have all lost. Why should this year’s team, which won 97, be any different? The Nats this decade have been the postseason version of the Athletics in the last one. 3. The Nats wouldn’t have a bullpen problem if they hadn’t tried to fix it last year. To get Mark Melancon last summer, the Nats parted with Felipe Rivero, who had a .473 OPS against this year. And speaking of the Athletics, Doolittle was the guy who gave up the tying run in the 2014 wild-card game the A’s lost to the Royals.
  5.  Arizona: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. The Diamondbacks added J.D. Martinez in midseason, and he hit 29 home runs for them in 62 games. They have three 30-plus home run hitters: Martinez (45), Paul Goldschmidt (36) and Jake Lamb (30.) 2. Zack Greinke, signed for $200 million by Dave Stewart after the 2015 season, pitched more like a $34 million a year pitcher this year. Greinke had a 4.50 ERA and .750 OPS against last year; he had 17 wins, a 3.20 ERA, .659 OPS against and 215 strikeouts in 202.1 innings this year. 3. Closer Fernando Rodney pitcher better than his 4.26 ERA would suggest. He saved 39 games, struck out 65 in 55.1 innings, allowed only 3 homers and had a .582 OPS against. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. Martinez has to play the field in the NL. His defensive WAR was -1.0 this year, which was better than his -2.7 last year. He’s a career -6.7. 2. Rockies reliever Pat Neshek might ask Greinke to autograph a baseball card. Neshek said last month that Greinke refused his request to sign a baseball card, which Neshek collects, and called him “a turd.” Maybe if the D’backs win the wild-card game againat Neshek’s Rockies Wednesday, Greinke will be in the mood to sign. 3. Rodney has never met a save he couldn’t make difficult. He faltered badly when the Marlins acquired him last year (a 5.89 ERA in his final 36.2 innings), and his limited postseason record (4.63 ERA, no saves, 10 walks in 11.2 innings) isn’t promising.
  6. N.Y. Yankees: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. The Yankees hit 241 home runs, more than any team in MLB, and Aaron Judge is hitting them again. He hit 15 in September after just three in August. 2. Luis Severino is the hardest-throwing starter in MLB, his fastball averaging 97.7 mph. He used said fastball to pile up 230 strikeouts in 193.1 innings with a 2.98 ERA. 3. Aroldis Chapman, who had to be removed from the closer’s role in midseason, is back in it. He pitched 12 scoreless September innings, allowing just three hits and two walks, fanning 17. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. When Judge doesn’t homer, the Yankees are almost as likely to lose as to win. The Yankees were 31-14 in games Judge homered, 60-57 in games he didn’t. 2. Severino is 23 and has thrown 3,082 pitches, 26th most in MLB; if the Yankees advance past the wild-card game, he’ll top 200. That’s an especially heavy workload for someone who’s never thrown more than 151.1 innings, and the Mets can tell the Yankees what happens when a young pitcher increases his innings by such a proportion. 3. What’s wrong with Dellin Betances? In his last 11 appearances, he’s pitched 8.2 innings, walked seven, given up six hits and five runs. David Robertson has taken his eighth-inning role, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chad Green before Betances in the seventh.
  7. Chicago Cubs: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. The Cubs won 92 games but could have won more. They were sixth in run differential, fourth in runs scored, seventh in ERA, ninth in home runs. 2. The Cubs might be MLB’s most versatile team. Ben Zobrist can play second, right or left; Ian Happ second, center, left or right; Javier Baez second or shortstop or the outfield; pitcher Mike Montgomery can start or relieve. 3. They won last year. No one will be derisively chanting 1908 this year. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. The Cubs were much better last year: first in wins, first in run differential, first in ERA, third in offense. And it took seven games to win that World Series. 2. Zobrist didn’t hit much — .232 with a .693 OPS — wherever he played in the field, and manager Joe Maddon still batted him cleanup occasionally. Happ fanned 129 times, Baez 144. 3. No one has repeated since the Yankees in 1999-2000. The Cubs probably won’t. But 2016 won’t have the same ring to it.
  8. Boston: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. Chris Sale won’t be the Cy Young winner, but he’ll be the runner-up, and he led MLB in innings pitched (214.1) and strikeouts (308). And by clinching Saturday, Sale has more than a week to prepare for Game 1. 2. The Red Sox are the best base-running team in MLB; Tim McCarver said so  on a Cardinals broadcast and Mookie Betts proved it on the penultimate Sunday of the season, scoring from second on an infield hit. 3. The Red Sox have David Price in the bullpen, where he’s pitched five times since returning from injury and fanned 13 in 8.2 shutout innings, allowing only three hits. The last time Price pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason, he saved Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS for Tampa Bay against the Red Sox.  Three reasons why they won’t: 1. Sale isn’t as good now as he was the first four months of the season. His ERA over the last two months is 4.09, he failed to complete six innings in three of five September starts and the Indians scored seven runs off him and knocked him out in three innings in late August. This isn’t anything new. For his career, Sale’s worst months have always been August (3.22 ERA) and September/October (3.78). With the White Sox, pitching in October was never an issue. 2. Trotting has always been the preferred speed of the Red Sox, and they’ve done less of it than most teams this year. Their 168 home runs were 27th in MLB. 3. Price still has a 5.54 postseason ERA and has thrown 12 homers in 66.2 innings.
  9. Colorado: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. Charlie Blackmon hit .331 and won the batting title, slugged .601 and hit 37 homers. Best leadoff hitter in baseball. 2. Carlos Gonzalez’s .762 OPS was the worst for a full season in his career, but he hit .377 in September, slugged .766 and hit six of his 14 homers, including one off Kershaw. 3. Rockies were 17th in team ERA, but even better away from home, where they were ninth. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. Tweet from Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell: “Daniel Murphy edges Justin Turner for real NL batting title .3221 to .3217. Blackmon? Like last 11 fake Colorado BA champs he doesn’t count.” Blackmon hit .276 with a .784 OPS away from Coors Field. Best leadoff hitter in baseball … at Coors Field. 2. See Blackmon. Cargo had a .606 OPS away from Coors, and it seems unlikely the Rockies will have home-field advantage in this postseason. 3. Rockies were 25th in runs scored in MLB, 26th in home runs and 23rd in OPS away from Coors. Run prevention on the road isn’t the issue.
  10. Minnesota: Three reasons why they’ll win: 1. Ervin Santana, wild-card game starter, tied with Corey Kluber for the MLB lead in shutouts, had nine scoreless starts and 20 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or less. 2.  The Twins were seventh in runs scored and ninth in stolen bases; Brian Dozier led second basemen in home runs with 34. 3. The Twins made the playoffs the season after losing 100 games, the first team to do so. Three reasons why they won’t: 1. If the Twins win the wild-card game, their choice for a Game 4 starter is Dillon Gee or Bartolo Colon. Where do we sign up for none of the above? 2. Miguel Sano, who hit 28 homers and slugged .507 in 114 games, won’t be playing in the wild-card game. There goes a chunk of that offense. 3. Somebody had to. Only five teams had winning records in the AL,  and only 12 in MLB.
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