The Major League Baseball postseason kicks off on Tuesday, October 1 with the National League Wild Card game, followed by the American League version the following night. With less than two weeks until the playoffs commence, here’s a look at which teams would be playing October baseball if the season ended today.
AL East Champions: New York Yankees
The Yankees, who clinched their first AL East title since 2012 on Thursday night, managed to reach triple-digit wins despite the endless injuries that have plagued their organization. Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman are on the 10-day IL with significant injuries while Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, David Hale, Jake Barrett, and Jonathan Holder are on the 60-day IL. Also on the 60-day list is reliever Dellin Betances, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in his season debut — an affair that was pushed all the way into late September due to a shoulder injury.
Despite all the talent on the injured list, the Yankees still have a long list of stars in their starting lineup. There is no reason to doubt the Yankees’ ability to make a deep postseason run this fall.
AL Central Champions: Minnesota Twins
As you read this sentence, the Twins hit another home run. Okay, maybe not exactly, but that’s what it feels like. The Twins, who have 289 home runs this season, have yet to officially clinch a playoff bid, but if the season were to end today, October baseball is all theirs. This healthy Twins’ squad’s only injured player is Byron Buxton, who is done until spring training.
But other than Buxton, the Twins are healthy, and knock on wood for their continued health throughout the playoffs. Minnesota is playoff-bound and they are ready to hit baseballs out of your favorite team’s home stadium.
AL West Champions: Houston Astros
The Astros, while having clinched a playoff berth, haven’t technically locked up the division title. But barring a miraculous run for the Oakland Athletics and a shocking losing streak for the Astros, Houston will be AL West champs yet again. Houston’s injured list includes Collin McHugh, Ryan Pressly, Aaron Sanchez, and Brad Peacock — all pitchers. They have one of the best outfields in baseball, a fabulous infield, the soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year, and a solid bullpen.
Of course, Houston’s best asset is their starting rotation, consisting of a pair of Cy Young award candidates in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, plus key trade deadline acquisition Zack Greinke and Wade Miley.
AL Wild Card No. 1: Oakland Athletics
The Athletics are one of the most fascinating teams in baseball and one of my favorites to write about. This team’s defense is extremely underrated and so, so terrific. Third baseman Matt Chapman has one of the best gloves in all of baseball while Ramon Laureano’s arm could throw the baseball around the entire world. In this Billy Beane-run organization, it’s hard to tell what the strongest and weakest links are ... but it’s fair to propose the idea that there may not be either of those. Some players are certainly better than others, but no players scream, “Give him a $400 million extension,” while none of the others display the “release him now” vibe.
The A’s made a solid, under-the-radar move by picking up Tanner Roark at the trade deadline, and they simply have a strong team that could surprise (and upset) fans of their opponents this fall.
AL Wild Card No. 2: Tampa Bay Rays
Here’s one of my other favorite clubs to write about. The Tampa Bay Rays, hanging on to the second Wild Card spot by a thread, would indeed be playing October baseball if the season ended today. This low-cost, high-energy, extremely-skilled unit of 25 guys should be playoff-bound again if things finish as planned.
From a really solid, underrated starting rotation headlined by Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow to a cohesive unit of fielders to a efficient bullpen that can go the distance, this roster could quite possibly make a deep run this fall.
NL East Champions: Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves, led by young phenom Ronald Acuña, Jr. and one of the best infields in baseball, are returning to the playoffs. The position players have played great while the big-name pitchers have not lived up to the hype, but the team as a whole has still played well enough to secure a playoff bid. Atlanta’s busy bullpen, which was improved by the trade deadline acquisitions of Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, will remain busy in the postseason.
This team probably won’t win the World Series, but it’s a well-oiled unit that can only get better from here. Brian Snitker has done a great job managing this team and they are playoff bound yet again.
NL Central Champions: St. Louis Cardinals
The second half of baseball saw the Cubs choke the NL Central title to the Cardinals ... and then give their Wild Card spot to the Brewers. That said, the Cardinals are certainly deserving of these playoff honors. Despite the loss of flamethrower Jordan Hicks to injury, the bullpen has remained serviceable while the pitching staff has performed well. Meanwhile, this unit of position players has some interesting names in it, but they’re soon-to-be NL Central champs nonetheless.
This Cardinals team doesn’t like like a World Series squad, but based on the way they have played baseball this season, that’s an idea that you most definitely cannot rule out.
NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
You couldn’t have possibly thought the Dodgers wouldn’t be NL West champions again. Here we are, as this dominant squad of players was the first to confirm they’d be playing baseball in October. Looking at the depth chart, it’s impossible not to see the faces of several All-Stars, plus baseball’s leading MVP candidate, Cody Bellinger, in center field. Rookie Gavin Lux is now in the majors, while Max Muncy is back. The pitching staff, headlined by the 1-2-3 punch of Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Walker Buehler is one of baseball’s best.
The Los Angeles Dodgers came up shy in the 2017 and 2018 World Series, but look to at least have a good shot at appearing in the Fall Classic for a third straight season this fall.
NL Wild Card No. 1: Washington Nationals
The Mets and Phillies seemed like they would be the Wild Card contenders from the NL East, but it ends up being the Washington Nationals. I can’t say I am too surprised. After all, the outfield has two young, budding stars plus veteran Adam Eaton. The infield has an MVP candidate at third base in Anthony Rendon, plus Trea Turner at shortstop and a pair of proven veterans on the right side. Yan Gomes is solid behind the dish. But this starting rotation is the most dominant piece of this team. With soon-to-be NL Cy Young (again) Max Scherzer as their No. 1 and Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin behind him, this rotation is terrifying.
If they win the Wild Card game, it’s essentially impossible to imagine the Nationals losing a series in the playoffs because their top three starters basically provide guaranteed wins. That said, everything becomes much tougher in the playoffs, but don’t rule out the Nats this fall.
Wild Card No. 2: Milwaukee Brewers
Already mentioned in this article, the Brewers have fought back and knocked the Cubs out of a playoff spot despite the absence of Christian Yelich, who is done for the season after he fouled a baseball off his kneecap. Yelich, an MVP candidate, helped the Brewers get into the playoffs, as did speedy center fielder Lorenzo Cain and left fielder Ryan Braun. The infield is average and reliable — there is no elite force, but it’s a cohesive unit. Yasmani Grandal has been solid behind the dish, catching pitches from a reliable group of starters and relievers, headlined by closer Josh Hader.
The Brewers are quite possibly the perfect example of a Wild Card team. Looking at this roster, this squad would get a Wild Card spot nine times out of ten, rarely finishing better or worse. Yelich’s absence probably means the Brewers won’t be world champs, but they will lock up a playoff spot.
NL Wild Card: Nationals over Brewers
Looking at the roster comparisons, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where the Nationals fail to knock off the Brewers. Milwaukee is good, but Washington is better. Washington should advance to the Divisional Series with ease.
AL Wild Card: Rays over Athletics
This was a really tough pick for me. It’s hard to vote against such a strong all-around team like the A’s, but the Rays will be pitching Blake Snell in the Wild Card game, and he’s a better pitcher than Oakland’s Mike Fiers — that is probably going to be the difference-maker.
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals
The Nationals’ placement in the Wild Card game unfortunately means they have to go up against the Dodgers in the Divisional Series. The Nationals and Dodgers have fairly equal talent at all positions, but the Dodgers’ experience and slight talent advantage gives them the edge as they win the series, 3-2.
NLDS: Cardinals over Braves
The biggest upset so far, I would not be shocked to see the Cardinals knock off the Braves in four games. Atlanta just does not have what it takes to go the distance in the postseason, and the Cardinals should be able to get the edge, winning this series, 3-1.
ALDS: Astros over Rays
The Rays’ fun Wild Card run ends one round later. The Astros’ unstoppable lineup should handily knock off the Rays. This series will not need a fifth game as the Astros will clinch their ALCS bid with a win in Game 4, taking the series, 3-1.
ALDS: Twins over Yankees
Who’s ready for another upset? Home runs are crucial in the postseason, and the Twins will be able to hit several more dingers than the Yankees. Plus, the squad from the Bronx was able to survive their injuries all season long, but that method doesn't work in October. Advantage, Twins, 3-1.
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
I have lots of faith in the Cardinals, but not enough to predict they will beat the unstoppable Dodgers. The Dodgers knocked off the Nationals and they will have an even easier job of routing the Cardinals. I would not be surprised to see this series end after five games, with L.A. taking the 4-1 win.
ALCS: Twins over Astros
I used this argument to help the Twins a minute ago, and I’ll do it again now. Home runs are the most valuable thing you can have in postseason baseball. (Reliable pitching that can go the distance is a close second.) The Astros will put up a fight, but the Twins will take the series, 4-3.
World Series: Dodgers over Twins
Sorry, Twins fans. I confidently vouched for your club in the past two series, but I find it hard to believe Minnesota could do much damage to this deep, reliable, and star-studded Dodgers club. After two straight losses in the World Series, the Dodgers return for a third contest and get the win this time, defeating the Twins in six games with a series record of 4-2.