Now that the Wild Card game for both leagues have decided the final spots, the eight teams featured in the 2017 MLB Playoffs have been determined. Now that the final month of 2017 baseball is upon us, it is time to analyze the teams that had what it takes to make it this far.
Boston Red Sox (93-69, AL East Champions)
In a year that broke the record for most home runs hit by MLB, the Red Sox have been a strange exception to the trend of teams slugging more than ever. Boston is ranked last in the American League in home runs and 14th in slugging percentage. While they do lack in power, they have made up for it with aggressive baserunning, an extremely solid bullpen, and having one of the greatest starting pitchers in the game on their side in Chris Sale.
The clashing of Boston and their small ball offense and Houston, home of the best offense in the MLB, will test how effective the Sox’s run production will be in the playoffs, but more importantly to see if an extremely talented starting rotation with very limited postseason experience will be dependable in the case that the run support does not show up.
New York Yankees (91-71, AL Wild Card Winner)
This isn’t the free-agent flooded Yankees team that has become sort of a standard for the franchise in the 21st century. Rather, stars that rose through the farm system like Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have carried New York to its first postseason appearance since 2012 in a year that should’ve been dedicated to a rebuild. If each of these young phenoms manage to produce consistently past their early years, we may have another Yankees renaissance on our hands in a couple of years. But for now, the Yankees have their hands full in the ALDS against the Cleveland, arguably the best team in the AL.
Cleveland Indians (102-60, AL Central Champions)
Last year, the Indians were able to cruise through the playoffs, arriving to the World Series with only one total postseason loss among their series against the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. But in the end, it was the Cubs that won it all. This year may just be the year where Cleveland breaks their 88 year long World Series win drought, because this Indians team has only improved since 2016. With a spotless roster and incredible momentum out of the regular season, this is Cleveland’s World Series to lose.
Houston Astros (101-61, AL West Champions)
Before the Dodgers and the Indians got their time in the spotlight during the regular season, it was the Houston Astros that ruled baseball in early into the regular season. They had a few bumps in the road during August, but they returned to their dominance in September and will most likely continue it during the postseason. With the insane production it has received out of newly-acquired Justin Verlander in its already solid rotation, and the insane offense it brings to the table, Houston has what it takes to go deep into the playoffs. However, if the Astros want that chance to go all the way, they will most likely have to go through the Indians. If we do get the chance to see the two titans of the American League face off, it will not only be quite the spectacle, but it will present each team with their greatest challenge yet.
Washington Nationals (97-65, NL East Champions)
Washington’s rise to greatness since 2011 has been a joy to watch unfold. However, while star after star have risen in the nation’s capital, when it comes to the postseason the Nationals have failed to produce. There are signs that point toward both the team’s success and failure this year. The good: the team had their best regular season since 2012, and that’s with quite a long period in the middle of the season where a lot of the team’s biggest hitters were injured. The bad: Bryce Harper has gotten minimal action since returning from injury and there is no solid confirmation that Cy Young contender Max Scherzer will be able to pitch in the NLDS. Washington still have ace-tier pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez ready to go, but any team left without a guy like Scherzer is going to hurt.
Chicago Cubs (92-70, NL Central Champions)
Now that the 98-year drought is over, the main goal of the Cubs in this postseason is to prove that last year’s World Series win won’t be a one-time thing. There has been regression this year, especially in the pitching, but to say that the Cubs have no chance of making a dent in the playoffs may be selling them short. Key position players such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have replicated the success of their 2016 seasons and Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have still provided decent numbers. However, if guys like Jon Lester are not able to return to the dominance they showed during the 2016 regular and postseason, producing the same results will become much more unlikely.
Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58, NL West Champions)
If this were being written in July, there would be no doubt that the Dodgers would be the favorites to win the World Series. However, even if the last two weeks saw the team return to winning ways, the 11-game losing streak to kick off September did not bring much hope.
The Dodgers are still one of the better teams heading into the playoffs. Run support is able to be provided by nearly every position player, and Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Rich Hill still have the ability to be one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the majors.
Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69, NL West Champions)
Of all of the teams that claimed a Wild Card spot, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the most potential to go deep into the playoffs. While their offense was already solid enough in the first half, saw a massive upgrade when the acquired J.D. Martinez at the trade deadline. In his 62 games with the D-Backs, he hit 29 home runs, including four in one game. But even this improved offense doesn’t match up to the stellar starting rotation Arizona has amassed of recent after a subpar 2016. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray have been absolutely stellar, and Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker have been solid enough to make Arizona’s starting rotation one of the most consistent out there.
While the Diamondbacks have their work cut out for them in the NLDS against the Dodgers, Arizona won the regular season series against L.A. 11-8, so the winning record difference between the two teams might not mean as much as it seems at face value.