More than ever before, it seems like having a roster that is stacked across the board is essential for a franchise to make a long postseason run. The 2016 Cubs and 2017 Astros were elite in virtually every area — as were the teams they beat, the Indians and Dodgers, respectively. Sure, elite talent has always been a necessity for a team to win the World Series, but as more major-league teams aggressively tank, it feels as if the cream is rising to the top and more “superteams” are being created, changing the dynamic of the sport. With this trend being so pronounced in recent years, we’re going to take a look at which MLB rosters are best equipped to make long postseason runs.
Two teams that have gotten a lot of buzz as World Series contenders recently are the Indians and Dodgers, though neither club quite cracks this list. The Dodgers have certainly bolstered their roster over the last month, adding Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, but they largely still have the same problems they’ve had all year. The back of their rotation is unsteady, their lineup is so fluid that the defense can’t necessarily be relied upon in October, and the bullpen isn’t deep enough. Daniel Hudson, who was released by the Rays before the season, is being counted on in a major relief role, as are John Axford and Dylan Floro, who came into spring training as minor-league free agents before earning spots on big-league rosters and eventually being dealt to Los Angeles. The Indians are relying on a pair of defense-and-baserunning specialists, Rajai Davis and Leonys Martin, to hold down center field and are taking a “second time’s the charm” approach with Melky Cabera, who was DFA’d earlier this season but is now getting everyday playing time in right field. That’s not even to mention their bullpen, which has been rebuilt and is much better than it was earlier this year, but still isn’t at the level it was in 2016-17.
Of course, that lack of elite depth doesn’t disqualify a team from winning the World Series. It’s arguable that none of the three Giants teams that won the Fall Classic during the current decade had the best roster in the majors. The 2011 Cardinals certainly didn’t, either. Having a roster that’s deep and talented in all areas certainly helps a lot, though, so teams like the Dodgers and Indians face an uphill battle in their quests to win the World Series this year.
Without further ado, let’s check out the five major-league teams with the best rosters right now, starting off with a team that has an absolutely stacked collection of talent, even if they’re on the outside looking in on the playoff picture:
5. Washington Nationals (58-55)
Have the Nationals been a miserable failure this season? Yes. Is it also fair to argue that they have the most talented roster in the National League? Absolutely. Injuries have ravaged the roster all season long — perhaps it’s time for them to consider revamping their approach to athletic training again — but they’re deep and talented across the board. Rumors have persisted about manager Dave Martinez negatively affecting the clubhouse, and that’s certainly believable, as guys like Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez have endured rough seasons. But when healthy (a major qualifier, sure), the Nationals have a deeper collection of position-player talent and a more imposing rotation than any other team in the NL, and the back end of their bullpen rivals any other team’s in the league. Yes, even after making a great late-spring add with the signing of Jeremy Hellickson, they should have been more proactive about adding starting-pitching depth, and they should have done more to shore up the catching position. But as a whole, Washington’s roster is still unbelievable talented. The Nats face a major uphill climb at this point, and Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle being on the DL isn’t going to make it any easier. If they somehow surge over the final two months and sneak into the wild-card mix, though, they could be a major threat. (And then you can make as many Nationals NLDS jokes as you so please.)
4. Houston Astros (73-42)
It appears that the dreaded post-World Series injury bug might be catching up with the Astros a bit, as Carlos Correa has been on the DL since June, and George Springer, Jose Altuve, Chris Devenski, and Lance McCullers Jr. also ended up there after suffering injuries over the weekend. Even without McCullers, though, they still have the best rotation in the league — dominant relievers Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock are candidates to start if McCullers’ elbow issue becomes a serious problem — and it’s not even really that close of a contest. Incredibly, Houston’s bullpen may be even better, as it currently ranks first in the majors in relief ERA. The Astros have had more weak spots in their lineup in 2018 than they did last year, as Brian McCann has struggled with multiple injuries and Marwin Gonzalez has failed to replicate his surprising 2017 season. Guys like Tony Kemp, Max Stassi, and Tyler White have emerged to fill the gaps, though, and the Astros look to have a decent chance at defending their World Series title. Ultimately, it’ll likely come down to whether they can stay relatively healthy over the season’s final two months and into October, and whether the team can weather the storm surrounding the controversial (and ill-advised) addition of reliever Roberto Osuna, who is fresh off a suspension for a violation of MLB’s domestic abuse policy.
3. Chicago Cubs (66-47)
After enduring a bit of a “World Series hangover” in 2017 — and getting to the NLCS is a pretty nice “hangover” to have, honestly — the Cubs are back in full force this year. Though franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant haven’t been quite as good as usual, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber have returned to their previous levels of production, Albert Almora Jr. has developed into an impactful everyday player, Jason Heyward is finally playing like the guy the Cubs gave an $184 million contract to before the 2016 season, and Javy Baez has turned into a legitimate superstar. On top of all that, the Cubs have the deepest assortment of quality bullpen depth in the major leagues. Yes, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana need to be more consistent, Yu Darvish has had a rough first year in Chicago, and they’ll need Jon Lester to bounce back after posting an 8.44 ERA since the All-Star break. Ultimately, though, it seems more likely than not that the Cubs’ collection of veteran starters with a history of playoff success — Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, and Cole Hamels — will find a way to turn it on in October, and if that’s the case, their combination of great hitters, strong defenders, dependable starters, and talented relievers should enable them to be the favorite for the NL pennant.
2. Boston Red Sox (80-34)
The Red Sox have been baseball’s best cohesive unit this season, even if they don’t even have the deepest roster in their own division. Having two MVP candidates, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, and a Cy Young favorite in Chris Sale has been instrumental in them owning a nine-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. An out-of-his-mind performance from trade acquisition Steve Pearce has boosted them in recent weeks, and manager Alex Cora has been great. When you really break things down, though, it’s clear to see that the Red Sox are lacking a bit in several areas. Their second base situation leaves something to be desired: Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez have had their struggles this season, and though Ian Kinsler and/or Dustin Pedroia could end up as the starter at that position in the playoffs, neither of those veterans have been that great this year, anyway. Rafael Devers has been solid but unspectacular, and now that he’s been on the DL twice in the past month, it’s debatable whether he can be relied to be an impactful hitter in the playoffs. Their bullpen features a couple relievers who have had success this year but are very inexperienced, Ryan Brasier and Hector Velazquez, as well as veterans Tyler Thornburg and Joe Kelly, who have had disappointing seasons. And while they’ll likely be able to survive on a playoff rotation anchored by Sale and Rick Porcello, the back end of their starting staff is a big question mark — Nathan Eovaldi has arguably been better than David Price and Brian Johnson better than Drew Pomeranz, and it’ll be interesting to see how Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright factor in if and when they return. There’s still some uncertainty surrounding the roster, but they’re such a good collective group that they’ve got a great shot at winning the Fall Classic this year.
1. New York Yankees (70-42)
It’s disappointing that the Yankees haven’t quite lived up to expectations this season, because their roster is the best in the league. When healthy, their four-man outfield rotation of Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton is the majors’ best, and they’re exceptionally deep on the infield with trusty veteran Neil Walker — who has had a very good second half — backing up the starting four of Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and Didi Gregorius. With that said, Bird needs to step up his offensive production, as does catcher Gary Sanchez whenever he returns from the DL. While they’ll need at least one of J.A. Happ, Sonny Gray, and Lance Lynn to figure things out over the final two months of the regular season, the rotation has a chance to be lights-out with a top three of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia. And with a bullpen that features a total of 12 All-Star appearances among Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson — plus a couple of multi-inning relievers in Chad Green and A.J. Cole who have been dominant this year — any playoff games that they’re fortunate enough to play in will be all but over by the middle innings if their offense is able to establish an early lead. The Bronx Bombers need a few select individuals to turn things around, and rookie manager Aaron Boone will need to prove that he can handle the pressure of calling the shots in the postseason, but the potential is through the roof for the Yankees if they’re able to get past the wild-card game they’ll almost certainly have to play in.