And then there were 10.
Major League Baseball’s postseason is set to begin Tuesday, with the New York Yankees hosting the Minnesota Twins in the Bronx for the American League wild-card game. On Wednesday, the Arizona Diamondbacks take on the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field in the National League wild-card showdown. Then, folks, it’s on.
With the hunt for the Commissioner’s Trophy about to kick off, here’s how each team stacks up.
1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians will look at the 2015 Kansas City Royals for inspiration as they try to go from losing Game 7 of the World Series to champions in the span of 12 months. Coming off a remarkable run last October, Cleveland is healthier and built better for a long postseason run this time. No team enters the playoffs hotter than the Indians, who have won 25 of their last 29 games. There really is no weakness on this team: they have a top five offense that crushes both righties and lefties, a rotation that boasts the lowest ERA in the American League, and a bullpen that’s the best in the majors.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Only the Dodgers could weather a stretch of 16 losses over 17 games and still somehow cruise to home-field advantage through the World Series thanks to an MLB-best 104 wins. That’s what a pair of 20-win months can buy you. Los Angeles certainly has the firepower for October, ranking at the top of the NL by wRC+ while the pitching staff leads in ERA and FIP as well. A big part of that success has been the incredible breakouts of Chris Taylor and Alex Wood. Whether the Dodgers can win their first World Series since 1988 could ride on who shows up as the club’s third starter, first-half Wood (1.67 ERA, 2.04 FIP), or second-half Wood (3.89 ERA, 4.76 FIP).
3. Houston Astros
The Astros are truly terrifying. Houston led the league in runs scored, average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS, while its one-through-four hitters George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa have combined for 101 home runs, 132 doubles, and 56 stolen bases. If the offense wasn’t enough to scare the opposition, the pitching staff has been lights out down the stretch, as well. Justin Verlander posted a 1.06 ERA over five starts with the Astros, while Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Brad Peacock all own sub-3.00 ERA’s in September. Also, no team has won more games on the road than Houston, who are 52-27 away from Minute Maid Park.
4. Washington Nationals
The Nationals break into the postseason with what is likely the best playoff rotation of 2017. The tandem of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, who rank as the best and second-best pitchers in the NL respectively, have a combined ERA of 2.51 and will be leaned on heavily by Dusty Baker. Not to be outdone, Gio Gonzalez (2.96 ERA, 3.90 FIP) has quietly had a great year in their shadow. And, if you thought their bullpen was a weakness, it’s been the fourth-best relief corp since the All-Star break, led by newcomers Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Of any of the wild-card teams, the Diamondbacks look the most prepared to make a deep run in October. Zack Greinke has become the ace Arizona thought they signed before last season, and Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin, and Zack Godley have filled out a more-than-formidable rotation. In order to help out Archie Bradley, Torey Lovullo will likely shift one of those starters into the pen, because relying on Fernando Rodney (4.31 ERA) and Andrew Chafin (3.58 ERA) could get shaky.
6. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be looking to become the first back-to-back World Series champs since the Yankees put together a three-peat from 1998-2000. The NL Central champs ran into some early-season troubles with the Brewers, but have been one of the hottest teams since the All-Star break, posting the highest collective OBP in the majors. The battle of the Cubs lineup against the Nationals pitching could make that the must-watch series of the first round.
7. Boston Red Sox
Through sheer will, the Red Sox managed to cling onto the AL East crown marking the first time in franchise history that they’ve won back-to-back division titles. Despite the success, the Red Sox hardly seem like world-beaters as the lowest-ranked division winner on this list. Without David Ortiz, there was a power outage, with no player hitting 25 home runs after four did so a year ago. As long as Chris Sale (308 Ks, 2.90 ERA, 2.45 FIP) can pitch and their outstanding bullpen (3.11 ERA) stays healthy, however, the Red Sox can’t be counted out. They did finish 15-3 in extra-inning games this season, after all.
8. New York Yankees
The Yankees fell just short of winning their first division crown since 2012, but they could be a serious factor in the postseason. The Bronx Bombers boast a ton of power with the trio of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combining for 109 homers on the season. It’s not all about offense, though. New York’s bullpen rivals the Indians, and the rotation of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray is strong.
9. Colorado Rockies
Truly, it’s a shame that one of the Diamondbacks’ or Rockies’ seasons will come down to just one game. That being said, having NL West rivals that aren’t the Dodgers and Giants face off in an elimination game is good news for the division. The Rockies relied on a phenomenally young pitching staff this year, so, after a long wait, the good times could just be starting in Colorado. Aside from Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado though, the club has had a hard time generating above-average offense.
10. Minnesota Twins
If you picked the Twins – losers of a league-worst 103 games only one year ago – to reach the playoffs in 2017, then congratulations, you must be baseball’s Nostradamus. Surely even the most optimistic Minnesotan couldn’t have foreseen this in April, but Paul Molitor’s men have earned a ton of praise, silenced many doubters, and founda way to reach October in stunning fashion. Still, the Twins are easily the weakest of the playoff teams, and aren’t expected to stick around long. Twins fans may know a lot about worst-to-first teams, but going worst-to-World Series champions is so 1991, so this plucky wild-card group is just happy to be at the dance for one day.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)