MLB playoffs: team-by-team analysis, Dodgers, Giants, Brewers, Rays
Autumn is upon us, and in no time the MLB playoffs. Here's your rundown on who is in, who is out and who to keep an eye on.
The 2021 regular season turns all eyes toward the crisp autumn days of the playoffs and for a season that felt stymied by lingering covid effects on travel and fan attendance, it certainly is shaping up to be quite interesting indeed. Five teams have now clinched their berths and they are not all who you might expect. More to the point, the teams who have yet to secure a spot in the postseason include the traditional powerhouses of Boston, New York and Toronto as well as recent pretenders Houston.
Who is in and who is out?
Coming into the final week of the regular season, five teams, the Giants, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays, and White Sox have so far clinched a playoff spot with Chicago only becoming assured in Thursday's Game 1 of their double header in Cleveland. The wire is fast approaching and the races couldn't be tighter.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The reigning champs are looking every bit as tasty as they did in last year's six game win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Their pitching staff is one of the best in baseball, with Kershaw and Buehler leading the starting rotation and Jansen the standout reliever. Their bullpen is deep and experienced and in these dog days of late summer are showing no sign of fatigue.
San Francisco Giants
The West Coast rivals of the Dodgers have made this season one to remember for Bay Area fans. They are one game up on LA and their defensive capability is outstanding. Buster Posey, Mike Yazstremski and Evan Longoria are some of the soundest position players in the game.
After clinching their playoff spot, the Brewers have begun to falter, suffering five straight losses. The perennial bridesmaid, they have made the postseason now in four straight seasons and have only advanced once. This season isn't all doom and gloom, though. They have a pair of outstanding starting pitchers in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff who might just debunk Brewers history.
Tampa Bay Rays
The relatively new kids on the block, the Rays are conducting themselves like old hands at the postseason game, this being their third straight trip to the playoffs. Veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier described it as "same old, same old" and in the best sense of that phrase, he is right. Tampa has shown themselves to be poised and composed throughout the season, showing few signs of wobble in the final straight.
Chicago White Sox
For the first time in their 120 year history, the Chicago White Sox are going to experience back-to-back postseason play. The last time they had a whiff of dynasty about them was dismantled so ignominiously in the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Since then, there have tended to be gaps in their October appearances measured in decades rather than seasons. Breaking .500 is a big deal in Armour Square and while the Sox are perhaps not stellar, they are steady and resilient. And who knows, that may be just enough.
Still in the hunt
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are one of baseball's true powerhouse teams, though in an understated, Canadian sort of way. They have finished in the top four in the division in all but two seasons since 1983, which includes eight postseason appearances and two World Series wins back-to-back ('92 and '93). They have looked very strong all season, offensively with hot bats from Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero, as well as on the mound behind Hyun Jin Ryu and Cy Young hotpick Robbie Ray. With all of this going for them, the real shocker is that going into the final stretch, they are locked in a four-way race for an AL Wild Card spot. This is definitely the race to watch.
New York Yankees
As perennial postseason sure-things, it is more interesting that there exists the possibility that they may not make it into a Wild Card spot. Solid and dependable, which is the least you could ask for when you have the deepest pockets in baseball, they are locked into a tight race in the American League. Another Cy Young contender in Gerritt Cole anchors this squad of super celebs, though while he was once considered a shoe-in, his stock seems to have dropped as of late. The Yankees season has followed a similar arc. They should do it, but stranger things have been known to happen.
Boston Red Sox
Six games behind the Tampa Bay Rays is not where you would expect to find the Red Sox, but it does see them in pole position in the hotly contested AL Wild Card race. Add to that the seven game winning streak that they are on and they certainly look hot favorites for the top spot.
Rounding out the four-way race for the AL Wild Card, the Mariners kept their hopes alive with a three-game sweep of the Oakland A's, effectively ensuring that the A's have an almost impossibly steep hill to climb if they want to stay in it. The math says that it is possible but the acrobatics involved would be daunting.
St Louis Cardinals
Hot off a 12-game win streak, the Cardinals are looking to step up a gear as they hit the postseason. 40-year-old veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright celebrated his 2000th win and the old arm of his is definitely looking as good as it ever has. Behind the plate, this defense is anchored by an equally experienced 39 year old catcher in Yadier Molina. Maybe, between the two of them, they have just enough left in the tank to, in the words of the immortal Vin Scully, "push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”
If you want to know what a team that is hanging on by their fingernails looks like, take in a few games in Philly. Only two games behind Atlanta in the NL East, the back nine of their season has been dominated by injury and roster moves. Similar to NL rivals San Diego and Cincinnati, their once promising hopes are flickering in the waning light of the 2021 regular season.
Just two seasons off their improbable World Series win, and in their fifth postseason in a row, the Astros are the hottest team in the AL right now. Their pitching is superb behind Greinke and Odorizzi while their infield is truly an all-star lineup effectively neutering opposing offenses, but the real story is their bats, specifically Kyle Tucker. The young outfielder has a staggering .908 OPS and this is on a team toploaded with big guns. They could be hot enough to take all comers.
Atlanta has looked overall solid this season, particularly after the All-Star break, though admittedly shaky of late. It is still possible that they will slip from the top spot in the NL East, though increasingly unlikely. Look for them to win their division and then come home fairly quickly in the postseason shuffle.