MLB Playoff Predictions At (Near) The Season’s One-Third Point

If you’re a Dodgers fan you probably thought back in March that an article like this would be fun to read. No dice, my friend. I suppose that’s why preseason predictions are such a crap-shoot; and heck, you might as well throw one-third-of-the-way predictions in there as well. Let’s do it anyway!

I’m going to go through each division in baseball, take my best guess at who might end up the winner, and then after all of that? Maybe make a few predictions as to who will win pennants, World Series, etc., etc.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

  • Current leader: Yankees/Red Sox (30-13, 9 games up)
  • Predicted Winner: Yankees

Rob Manfred has to be drooling at how the AL East is playing out. As expected, the Yankees and Sox are two of the best teams in baseball and have been throwing punches back-and-forth (very literally and figuratively) all season.

When looking at lineups, both are insane, but I’d give the slight edge to the Yankees. Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez is ridiculous enough, but they’re due to get first baseman Greg Bird back very soon. Sure, Tyler Austin is ripping up baseballs at the moment (rookie HR leader), but if you’re choosing between the two, that’s an okay problem to have.

The bottom line is that the Bombers have done all of this without much quality pitching outside of Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia. I’m confident the latter won’t keep up his pace, but you have to believe Masahiro Tanaka (4.73 ERA) and Sonny Gray (5.48 ERA) will turn it around even a little bit at some point soon.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

  • Current leader: Indians (22-23, 1.5 games up)
  • Predicted Winner: Indians

Now we get to talk about the garbage can that is the AL Central. It wasn’t hard to predict that this division would be rough; but with the Indians playing miserable baseball on the road (9-14), it’s even worse than expected.

Still, there’s zero chance that the Twins or Tigers will stick with the Tribe.

Just three Cleveland players (Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley) with 80+ at-bats have an on-base percentage over .330. Given Brantley’s injury history, anything they got from him was going to be a plus, so imagine this offense without his production…

On another note, and to explain why there shouldn’t be a ton of worry, the pitching is great. I don’t need to go over Corey Kluber’s numbers, but one especially bright spot has been Mike Clevinger. For someone who came into 2018 with no guarantee of a locked-in rotation spot, he’s been phenomenal. Not only is he going deep in games (seven of nine starts he’s gone 6+ IP, including one CG), he’s putting up good numbers along the way, including a 50:18 K:BB ratio.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

  • Current leader: Astros (30-18, 2 games up)
  • Predicted Winner: Astros

Surprisingly, the AL West is the most fun-to-talk-about division in the American League. Sure, it’s easy to pencil the Astros in as winners, but the Mariners, Angels and Athletics are all within 4.5 games of each other.

Given the Robinson Canó happenings, it’s hard to take the Mariners seriously, but the Angels, and even the Athletics, could prove to be thorns in the Astros’ side.

Now on to why the Astros will ultimately come out on top: the five guys that walk out to the mound in the middle of the field and throw a little white ball 90-110 or so times per game.

Oof. Dallas Keuchel has been the *worst* pitcher on the staff, and even he owns a more-than-acceptable 3.43 ERA with a batting average against of .231. I get that injuries can happen, especially with a guy like Charlie Morton who’s been prone to them, but replacements are waiting in the wings. Take Collin McHugh, for example, who was a starter every fifth day for the ‘Stros from 2014-16.

George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa? Yeah, the offense is going to be alright.

AL Wild Card: Red Sox and Angels

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

  • Current leader: Braves (28-17, 1.5 games up)
  • Predicted Winner: Nationals

Here we go, mixing things up a little bit.

This was hard, because I’m such a huge fan of the Braves. The Ozzie Albies Ronald Acuńa Jr. combo has me feeling jealous, even as a White Sox fan.

Still, it’s hard for me to get past the Nationals pitching staff, and I weigh impressive pitching a bit more than impressive hitting.

At the moment, Washington sits in fourth place in the East, four games back of the Braves. They’ve been without Adam Eaton for most of the year, Anthony Rendon was out few weeks and now they’ll be missing setup man Ryan Madson who’s headed to the disabled list with an injured pectoral muscle.

Those factors scare me, but Rendon’s return should help wake up an offense that ranks 24th in batting average (.234). On top of that, Eaton should be back in roughly a month, though given his history I won’t hold my breath on that.

The bottom line is that all-around, the pitching is there. The team’s .220 batting average against ranks third in the MLB, Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.78 ERA, .170 BAA) is impossible to hit and Stephen Strasburg is healthy (I just jinxed that, didn’t I).

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

  • Current leader: Brewers (28-19, 1.5 games up)
  • Predicted Winner: Cubs

A lot of people downplayed the upgrades that the Brewers made this offseason, and now they’re looking a bit foolish. The only problem with their success, at least offensively, is that the two big upgrades, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, are essentially the two keeping this team afloat.

Before I talk about why I think the Cubs are the eventual winners, I’ll point out that four teams are separated by a game-and-a-half (Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates).

The sky has been falling in Chicago with guys like Yu Darvish and José Quintana. Neither got off to a good start and every other day I’ve read a story about whether fans should panic. I’d say no. Guys of their caliber don’t just go through a full season and pitch terribly. Do they have bad stretches? Sure. I’m more inclined to understanding panic about Quintana because consistency has been his trademark, but Darvish not so much.

On the offensive side, you look at a guy like Anthony Rizzo who’s batting .203 and rejoice that the team is still fourth in MLB in runs scored.

The Cubs will be okay.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

  • Current leader: Diamondbacks (25-21, .5 game up)
  • Predicted Winner: Rockies

Remember the Los Angeles Dodgers? Even though they’re just five games back at this point, it’s feeling more and more like they’re pulling a 2017 San Francisco Giants on us.

The Diamondbacks have been straight awful recently. After a hot start to the season much thanks to A.J. Pollock who’s now on the DL with a thumb fracture, Arizona is floundering, having lost nine of the last ten. The Rockies haven’t been able to take advantage, but I think we’ll see them do so with June and July approach.

At the moment, Nolan Arenado is carrying the crew, sporting a fresh .331/.418/.567 slash line. Charlie Blackmon is also still getting it done at the top of the order after re-upping with Colorado just over a month ago.

The staff isn’t overly impressive but one guy whose numbers I expect to improve dramatically is Jon Gray. He’s had a couple rough outings lately, but did make the Cubs look silly just a few weeks ago at Wrigley Field.

As you can tell by that ho-hum summation, the NL West prediction is the one I’m least confident in. I just think that there are some holes in other teams that might be tough to fill.

NL Wild Card: Braves and Brewers

World Series: Yankees and Nationals

Champ: Yankees

Let’s see how this goes.

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