2018 MLB Playoff Predictions
October is probably the most glorious month on the sports calendar. We’ve got the NHL and NBA starting back up again, the NFL is in full swing, but the real star of the show is baseball. The quest for the World Series begins in October, and there are ten teams each seeking those 11 victories to call themselves World Series champions.
We’ve got a bit of a mixed back this fall. The American League and National League are almost a tale of two cities.
In the AL, we’ve got the major players who were all here before. All of them have well over 90 wins, and each one has had recent playoff success. All of the five teams in the American League could very easily make it to and win the Fall Classic.
As for the National League, it’s an interesting group of unconventional players, with two of the three divisions needing tiebreaker games to determine their champions. All of these teams have under 96 wins, but maybe one could go on a run and defy the odds.
Let’s meet the combatants:
Boston Red Sox
108-54, American League East Division Champions
The Red Sox broke their own franchise record for most wins in a season with 108. They feature two potential MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, and a scary rotation (on paper) with Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello. The Red Sox problem lies in their bullpen. They haven’t found a bridge all season between their starters and closer Craig Kimbrel.
91-71, American League Central Division Champions
The Indians added Josh Donaldson in August and the offense has been hot ever since. Their rotation is even better, with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger all topping 200 strikeouts apiece. But most of the Indians success comes from within their division- they have tended to struggle when playing better teams outside the very weak AL Central.
103-59, American League West Division Champions
The Astros look to repeat as World Series champions, and they strangely may have an even better team than last year, as they scooped up Gerrit Cole to supplement the rotation alongside Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel. They’re probably the most complete team in the American League, at least on paper, and are more than capable of going on an October run. The Astros managed to pull away from tough AL West competition, but how will their bullpen hold up in the playoffs?
New York Yankees
100-62, American League Wild Card host
For a team to win 100 games is impressive. For a team to win 100 games and finish 8 games behind the division leader is even more astounding. The Yankees have stumbled at times, but their lineup is as lethal as ever, and they set the record for most home runs in a season by one team this year. Their bullpen might be the best in the majors, but their pitching has been inconsistent throughout the year.
97-65, American League Wild Card visitors
The A’s remarkable run has been thanks mostly to the play of Khris Davis, who led the league with 48 home runs this year, as well as their fantastic bullpenning strategy, where they use multiple pitchers and matchup advantages to win games. They are certainly the most intriguing team of this playoff field, but how will they do against a tough squad like the Yankees, or in a series with the Red Sox?
90-72, National League East Division Champions
The Braves come into the playoffs with the fewest wins in the field, but are a young, plucky team with a lot to prove. Ronald Acuña, Jr. has had a stellar rookie season, and the bullpen has shown flashes of brilliance. We’ll see how they do against stronger opponents, but stranger things have happened.
96-67, National League Central Division Champions
The Brewers were down to the Cubs in the NL Central by 6 games on August 28th. They managed to mount a comeback and steal the division crown in a tiebreaker game on Monday. They feature the probable NL MVP in Christian Yelich, as well as the league’s best bullpen to this point. They’ve won 9 of their last 10, including their last 8 in a row. How will they fare against more experienced playoff teams?
Los Angeles Dodgers
92-71, National League West Division Champions
The Dodgers are looking to win their first World Series title since 1988, having fallen short in game seven against Houston last year. They are the best team on paper, but have a history of faltering in October, with the case being especially true for their ace, Clayton Kershaw. But with an easier slate of playoff games ahead of them, perhaps the stage is set for LA to reclaim the crown.
95-68, National League Wild Card host
The Cubs went from having the National League’s best record to winding up being second in the division and playing in a one-game playoff. They’re not as good as the Cubs teams of the past, with health issues like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell potentially being an x-factor for the team. They’re still a force to be reckoned with, but if they can’t stir up some momentum, they may be dead in the water.
91-72, National League Wild Card visitors
Colorado does very well at home. The problem is, they’re the second wild card team and probably won’t have home field advantage in the playoffs at any point. But still, Nolan Arenado is the team’s best hitter, and they have reason to believe they can perform well, having come up just short to the Dodgers in the NL West. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
American League Wild Card Game:
Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees- Wednesday October 3rd, 8:00pm (TBS)
Starting pitchers: Liam Hendriks (OAK, 0-1) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY, 12-6)
(Season series: Tied, 3-3)
Prediction: Yankees 6, Athletics 1
Why: Offensive firepower. If they can get to this A’s “bullpenning” strategy early, it’ll force Oakland to have to play from behind. Oakland probably won’t be able to keep up with the Yankees’ lineup in terms of offensive productivity. Aside from that, the Yankees dominate at home: they’re 53-28 in the Bronx on the season, and have gone 41-30 against teams with winning records this year.
How the Athletics can win: Keep the damage to a minimum. If the bullpenning strategy works well for the A’s, they may keep Judge and Stanton under wraps long enough for Khris Davis or Stephen Piscotty to drive in a run or two. They may not be able to outslug the Yankees, but they may be able to outdefend them, and even get a lucky bounce here and there. This game could either be the game of the year or a complete blowout.
American League Division Series
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
(Season series, BOS, 10-9)
Chris Sale (12-4) vs. J.A. Happ (17-6)
David Price (16-7) vs. Luis Severino (19-8)
Rick Porcello (17-7) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (12-6)
Prediction: Yankees in 5
Why: The Red Sox have no bullpen and haven’t figured out how to bridge the starters to Craig Kimbrel. If the Yankees can jump on the Red Sox early against a pitching core that has been stellar at best, shotty at worst and banged up in the short term, the Red Sox may have to pull more wins out of their ass than they want to. The Yankees also have far more depth than the Red Sox surrounding their stars, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The Red Sox counter with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but the rest of the lineup can go cold if put against the right pitching matchup. On top of all of this, the Yankees are out for blood this season. Having won 100 games and still finishing 8 games out of first place, they’re probably upset that the team they bought didn’t win the division. The Yankees know the Red Sox are feeble. Now it’s time to strike. If you have picked the Red Sox in this series, you’re DELUSIONAL.
How the Red Sox can win: Offense, offense, offense. Hit the Yankees first, fast, and hard. They’ll also need to hold their collective breath and hope for solid outings from their shotty pitching staff. Another factor in the Red Sox favor is familiarity, especially with the back half of the bullpen (consider the 9th inning rally the Red Sox had off Aroldis Chapman earlier this year), which they have done damage off of this year. Either that, or hope the Athletics win the Wild Card Game.
Houston Astros vs. Cleveland Indians
(Season series: CLE, 4-3)
Justin Verlander (16-9) vs. Corey Kluber (20-7)
Gerrit Cole (15-5) vs. Carlos Carrasco (17-10)
Charlie Morton (15-3) vs. Trevor Bauer (12-6)
Prediction: Astros in 5
Why: This has the potential to be one of the better series this October. The Astros look to repeat as World Series champions, and have been flying under the radar for most of the year, thanks to the expectations of winning a weaker division and being overshadowed by the arms race in the American League East. I don’t know that this series has a clear winner, as the Indians made an upgrade at the deadline by trading for Josh Donaldson. Trevor Bauer is back as well, and along with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, the quartet became the first foursome in history to top 200 strikeouts each. But I’m going to give the edge to Houston based solely upon in-season consistency. The Indians weren’t very good outside their own terrible division, whereas the Astros were able to pull away from their tough competition out west. Their rotation is better, and their lineup has been more consistent. Astros win in a hard-fought ALDS.
How the Indians can win: Awaken the bats. This series will be the arms race that we all anticipated would happen last year. The Astros’ rotation is stacked, between Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers, and they are a better pitching team than Cleveland in almost every category. But the Indians offense got hot after picking up Josh Donaldson, averaging 5.1 runs per game since his acquisition. If Donaldson, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor can come alive and force the Astros to go to their bullpens earlier than expected, Cleveland will give Houston a very hard time in this ALDS.
American League Championship Series
New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros
(Season series: NYY, 5-2)
Prediction: Astros in 6
Why: Because history has told this story before. The Astros fell behind 3-2 to the Yankees in the ALCS last year, but outscored them 11-1 in the final two games of the series. The Yankees pitching staff (at least the starting rotation, at least just on the eye test) has the potential to go cold if facing the right rotation. I think the Astros, having been here before, have just the lineup to do it. They’re the most complete team in the American League, and have the ability to outpitch the Yankees, if that’s what it comes down to. I also think Alex Bregman has potential to be a breakout star in these playoffs.
How the Yankees can win: Isn’t it the same as always? Big bats. Keep the line moving and don’t let up. If the Yankees can get to Verlander and Cole and happen to take even one of the first two games in Houston, they will be very much in this series.
National League Wild Card Game
Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs- Tuesday, October 2nd, 8:00pm (ESPN)
Starting pitchers: Kyle Freeland (COL, 17-7) vs. Jon Lester (CHC, 18-6)
(Season series: Tied, 3-3)
Prediction: Cubs 5, Rockies 3
Why: The Rockies have trouble winning games on the road. Kyle Freeland is starting on three days’ rest. The Cubs, while meh themselves, are still nothing to slouch at. Jon Lester is still a very capable pitcher, and hitters like Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant are still playing at high levels. Apart from that, the Cubs just went from being tied for the best record in baseball to having to fight for their playoff lives in this one-game elimination. I think that desperation begins to set in for Chicago, especially if Colorado is to strike first.
How the Rockies can win: Utilize the bullpen. The Rockies bullpen was stellar in September, posting a 2.98 ERA thanks to pitchers like Wade Davis, Scott Oberg, and Chris Rusin. Keep the damage to a minimum, and the Rockies may just squeak out of this one enough to perhaps steal a game on the road and then play well back home in Denver.
National League Division Series
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs
(Season series: CHC, 11-9)
Wade Miley (5-2) vs. Cole Hamels (9-12)
Gio Gonzalez (10-11) vs. Kyle Kendricks (14-11)
Jhoulys Chacín (15-8) vs. Jon Lester (18-6)
Prediction: Brewers in 4
Why: Because the Brewers are playing the best baseball out of anybody right now. They’ve won eight straight and nine of their last ten games, and plus they’ll get a chance to put away the Cubs for good in the NLDS, with three of a potential five games at home. This all comes thanks to the play of Christian Yelich, who is likely to be the National League MVP. The Brewers come into October with a .788 OPS and averaging 5.5 runs a game, against a suspect Cubs rotation and a very beatable bullpen. Milwaukee’s bullpen, aside from the Yankees, is probably the best in baseball right now. Thanks to the play of Josh Hader, the bullpen held a 2.03 ERA last month. I think the Brewers take this series easily against a floundering Cubs team.
How the Cubs can win: It’s a slim margin, because yesterday’s wins don’t seal tomorrow’s playoff series. But if the Cubs can steal a win in Milwaukee, they have a chance, thanks to their home record. At the Friendly Confines, Chicago went 51-30 this season. Jon Lester may also need to go on short rest, as he’s their best pitcher, posting a 1.71 ERA in his last eight stars.
Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
(Season series: LAD, 5-2)
Mike Foltynewicz (13-10) vs. Clayton Kershaw (9-5)
Kevin Gausman (5-3) vs. Rich Hill (11-5)
Anibal Sanchez (10-11) vs. Walker Buehler (8-5)
Prediction: Braves in 5
Why: Hear me out. The Dodgers are the best team in the National League on paper. But this is a scrappy group of players that are rising out of the ashes of a rebuild. Ronald Acuna has had a sensational rookie season, hitting 26 home runs in his first 111 games. The Braves current GM, Alex Anthopoulos, was an an assistant GM in LA. He more than likely has assembled what it takes to beat the Dodgers, who have showed a checkered history in October, Clayton Kershaw in particular. Matt Kemp, who was an All-Star in July, has platooned in September. With the help of a few lucky bounces, don’t count the Braves out of this one.
How the Dodgers can win: Business as usual. Get behind your starting pitches and jump on the Braves inexperienced talent. They had one more win than Atlanta this season, but they faced more winning teams than any other NL team this season, and went 50-38 against those teams. They’ve also got a better rotation and will be facing a Braves team that is just one game over .500 in its last 43 games, managing only 4.1 runs a game in the last 6 weeks of the season. It’s all a matter of if they can stave off the October bug for one series.
National League Championship Series
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Atlanta Braves
(Season series: MIL, 4-3)
Prediction: Brewers in 4
Why: Right now, the Brewers are just too good. They’ll roll right through an Atlanta squad who’s been more lucky than skilled this postseason. I think the lightning in a bottle runs out for Atlanta in this series, especially when they have to travel to Miller Park, where the Brewers went 51-30 this season. The one two-punch of Yelich and Cain is probably going to be too much for the ragtag pitching staff of the Braves to handle.
How the Braves can win: Perhaps they get lucky. Perhaps Yelich and Cain go cold. Maybe a win over the Dodgers is just what the Braves need to spark some momentum against a tough Brewers team.
Houston Astros vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Prediction: Astros in 6
Why: The Astros might be the toughest team to beat in a 7 game series. Their rotation is stacked and may be too much for the Brewers offense, and they can definitely string together some momentum and beat you with their bats. Also, that home crowd at Minute Maid Park is scary. The Astros may not have won as many games as the Red Sox, but they will once again prove this fall that they are the superior team in the playoffs. Why? Consistency and depth.
How the Brewers can win: They can play their game- use their MVP to get ahead, and use the bullpen to lock it down. This series won’t be a walkover, and if the Brewers can win a game in Houston, I think anything is possible. A matchup of two red-hot teams in the World Series makes for quite a story, and this has the potential to be the series of the year.
Or we’ll just get Yankees vs. Dodgers and I’ll throw myself off a bridge.
Who's your pick to win it all? Leave a comment down below.
The MLB playoffs start tonight, Tuesday, October 2nd with the National League Wild Card game at 8pm on ESPN.