After one of the more exciting regular seasons in recent memory, it is finally time for October baseball.
Dominant rookies Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa and elite starting pitchers Zach Greinke, Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta have set the stage for new stars to become household names.
Last season, Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants scratched and clawed their way to their third World Series in the last five seasons. Last postseason, as so many before it, proved the key to winning is pitching as the Giants rode their dominant starters and the Kansas City Royals utilized their explosive bullpen to get to the World Series.
After pitching, the biggest key for determining postseason success is timely hitting. Most postseason games are low-scoring, so the value of producing timely runs is astronomical. So which teams in the postseason field have the best chance to follow this mold to win the World Series?
The answer is that there are quite a few teams who fit that description. Big payroll teams are no longer unquestioned juggernauts as they were in the ‘90s and earlier in the century.
The Toronto Blue Jays stick out as the team with the best chance to follow the mold of strong pitching and timely hitting in order to bring home a title. Since acquiring David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and Ben Revere at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays have easily been the best team in baseball.
They have the deepest lineup by far with Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Tulowitzki leading the way. From top to bottom in their lineup, there is no easy outs and they scored 127 more runs than the second place offense, the New York Yankees.
Price is a true ace who has proven capable of going on a Bumgarner-like tear to go along with proven arms such as Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey in the rotation. If any team is to truly dominate the postseason, it will be the Blue Jays as they are by far the scariest team.
After the Blue Jays, there is a jumbled group of teams capable of staking their claim as world champions. While all eight postseason clubs can get hot and win it all, there are four teams that stand out above the rest—St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Royals.
The Cardinals were the best team in all of baseball for the majority of the season, but they cooled off down the stretch as their huge injury list eventually started impacting their win-loss column. But they have proven to have the pedigree needed to bring home yet another title.
They consistently have had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball over the past decade and this season is no different. John Lackey has returned to form this season as an inning-eater, inducing ground ball after ground ball on his way to be the ace of the staff. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha both can shut down a lineup at any given time. But what could hold back the Cardinals is their offense.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Cardinals, but they have managed to stay somewhat productive with the next-man- up philosophy. However, despite being the only team with 100 wins, their offense ranked 24th in runs and 27th in batting average with runners in scoring position.
With timely hitting being so key in the postseason, their inability to produce with runners in scoring position is a huge red flag. But with how consistent the Cardinals have been for so long, it is simply illogical to count them out, especially with their quality pitching.
The Cubs have been the darling of the baseball world this summer, winning 97 games while starting four rookie position players—a feat that is simply unheard of. Even with so much inexperience, the Cubs are one team nobody in the National League wants to face.
It begins with Jake Arrieta, who has been downright legendary since the All-Star break. He went 11-1 with a MLB-record 0.80 ERA since the midsummer classic and is the best candidate to truly carry his team throughout the postseason.
Jon Lester has proven to be a star in the postseason while Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks are solid rotation arms.
While their offense strikes out more than any other team in baseball, that has not stopped them from being one of the best offenses in the second half led by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The lovable losers have a decent shot at ending their 107-year title drought.
The Dodgers are very similar to the Cubs with two elite starting pitchers in Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Combine their strong rotation with a dominant bullpen led by Kenley Jansen and the Dodgers could easily pitch their way to a title.
Their lineup has ton of experience and firepower with Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier leading the way, but their entire team has also gone into extended slumps at the dish. For the Dodgers to win, they will need big contributions from either Yasiel Puig or Joc Pederson, who both have all the talent in the world, but have been wildly inconsistent.
Last but certainly not least, the reigning American League champion Royals once again have a legitimate chance at reaching the fall classic. Led by strong pitching and defense a year ago, the Royals mode of winning has been altered this season.
Their rotation has been very inconsistent, led by Edison Volquez. Volquez had been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball with the Cincinnati Reds, but has struggled mightily since being traded to the Royals. He will need to get back on track and be the ace they thought they were getting if the Royals are to win in the postseason.
Yordano Ventura was one of the biggest stories of the postseason last year, but struggled so much in the middle of the season that he was sent down to the minors to work on some mechanical issues. He has been better since his return, but he will need to prove that he can be consistent for the Royals.
Their bullpen is once again stacked and downright scary with Wade Davis and Greg Holland leading the way. What is much better this time around is the Royals offense.
Lorenzo Cain has developed into an all-around star at the plate to go along with his stellar defense while Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Kendrys Morales have quietly posted career years.
The Royals will need their top- two rotation arms to be at the top of their game in order to reach the World Series for the second consecutive year, but if they do, they will be a team to be feared.