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Ranking the MLB playoff teams from least likely to most likely to win the World Series

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USA TODAY

Ranking the MLB playoff teams from least likely to most likely to win the World Series

The playoffs are here.

October has arrived, and one of 10 teams will win the World Series in about a month.

Of course, certain teams are more likely to do that than others. So here are the 10 playoff teams, ranked from least likely to win the World Series to most likely to win the World Series.

Oh, and there are predictions at the bottom. They'll probably end up being wrong. But check 'em out anyway.

10. Minnesota Twins

Congratulations to the Twins for emerging from the swamp of AL wild-card contenders. They did the unthinkable this season, seriously, going from a 100-loss team in 2016 to a playoff team in 2017. That’s not easy. But their chances of advancing from Tuesday night’s AL wild-card game seem slim if for no other reason than the long ball. Chicks dig it, but they don’t necessarily dig those who give up a whole bunch of them and no playoff team has given up more homers than the Twins. In fact, only five teams in baseball gave up more homers than the Twins did this season. Twins pitchers saw 224 big flies leave the yard, with Tuesday’s starter Ervin Santana leading the staff with 31 of those, one of the 10 highest totals in the league this season. Considering the Yankees, Tuesday’s opponent, have Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius — all members of the 25-dingers club — it could be a short postseason stay for the Twins.

9. Colorado Rockies

One of the best teams in baseball before the All-Star break (52-39), the Rox slid into the playoffs despite a sub-.500 second half (35-36). What they’ve got going for them is offense, unsurprising for the team that calls Coors Field its home ballpark. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have been MVP candidates this season, and while it’s unlikely either will win the award (though I’d argue Blackmon should come very, very close), it’s worth taking a look at their numbers. Arenado is slashing .309/.373/.586 with 37 homers and 130 RBIs. Blackmon is slashing a ridiculous .331/.399/.601 with 37 homers and 104 RBIs. Plus the Rox have some other very good hitters like DJ LeMahieu and Mark Reynolds. But, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the Rox pitching ain’t great. Only Jon Gray has an ERA under 4.10, and the team’s starters ERA of 4.59 ranked ninth in the NL during the regular season. Plus the Rox allowed 101 runs to the D-backs — Wednesday’s foe in the wild-card game — in 19 games this season. Not a great sign.

8. Los Angeles Dodgers

Now I know what you’re thinking: “How can the 104-win Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball, be all the way down here in these rankings? You’re insane. Give me my money back.” Well, first, hopefully you didn’t pay to read this. Secondly, the Dodgers have been real bad since late August. That’s right, not just not as good as they were during an electrifying first four and a half months, when they looked like they’d never lose again. Bad. Real bad. In their final 35 games of the season, the Dodgers went 13-22. That includes separate stretches of losing 16 of 17 and five of seven. Yes, they picked things up right there at the end, winning eight of their last 10, but those wins came against the Phillies, Giants, Padres and Rockies, three of those four teams being three of the five worst teams in the NL. Anyway, my point is that this is not close to being the same Dodgers team that had 91 wins by Aug. 25. Still, of course, this team does have Clayton Kershaw, who, as you know, is amazing. They still have Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager and Justin Turner. They still have Alex Wood and Yu Darvish and Rich Hill and their sub-.3.50 ERAs. But excuse me if I’m down on the Dodgers’ chances considering this team sleepwalked through the last month-plus of the regular season.

7. New York Yankees

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Aaron Judge in the next few days (or just Tuesday night if the Yanks lose the AL wild-card game). You’re going to hear so much about Aaron Judge that you’ll probably get sick of hearing about Aaron Judge. But here’s the thing, the guy deserves to be talked about this much. He’s been unreal in his rookie season, blasting an ungodly 52 home runs, driving in 114 runs, scoring 128 runs, getting on base at a .422 clip and slugging .627 for a superhuman 1.049 OPS. And did I mention that he’s a rookie? Prediction: Ervin Santana’s not going to be able to keep the ball in the yard against this guy. How do I know that? Because he couldn’t just 16 days ago. But if the Yanks get by the Twins, things will get trickier because the pitching gets better. The Indians, Astros and Red Sox all have much, much stronger rotations than the Twins. And while Judge is fantastic, can the Bombers match those pitching staffs? Tuesday-night starter Luis Severino has been very good in 2017, but look at some of the other guys. There’s Sonny Gray (4.58 ERA in September), Masahiro Tanaka (35 homers allowed, third-most in the AL) and CC Sabathia (actually having his best season in half a decade but still 36 years old). Is that a World Series staff? The Yanks also have Aroldis Chapman, who was removed from closing duties in the middle of the season because he wasn’t getting the job done. He’s since returned to the role, though, and didn’t allow a run in September.

6. Boston Red Sox

The BoSox never really shook the Yankees in the AL East, ending up winning the division by only two games despite having a five-game lead with seven games to play. They lost five of their last seven, though they had to play the Astros to close out the regular season. Chris Sale is one of two main contenders to win the AL Cy Young after a spectacular season in which he logged 308 strikeouts. But while he got off to an immortal start to his first season in Boston, he kind of stumbled to the finish. That’s relative, of course, the guy’s ERA is still under 3.00, but it reached a season-high 2.90 after he gave up five runs in five innings in his last start and jumped up more than 0.50 points over the season’s final two months. David Price was injured for a large portion of the regular season, and he was pitching out of the bullpen the last two weeks, not a bad strategy, though, to be honest. He threw 8.2 shutout innings in five relief appearances. Drew Pomeranz has been good for the BoSox, with a 3.32 ERA and 17 wins (if you care about that sort of thing) in 32 starts. Guys like Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts and the awesome Rafael Devers should inspire plenty of confidence, but it’s important to remember that this team hit the fewest homers in the AL this season and has the lowest team batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of the five AL playoff teams. So it’s on the pitching to shut down a potent Astros lineup — and that’s one tall task. Sale and Pomeranz have turned in the numbers this season, and Price can eat up multiple innings over multiple games in his new bullpen role. The key could be Rick Porcello. The reigning AL Cy Young winner has a 4.65 ERA this season and gave up seven runs in his only start against Houston.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Do not for one second sleep on the D-backs, who with the way the Rockies and Dodgers played in the second half could be well on their way to the NLCS. The bats are terrific, led by perennial should-be MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, who this season turned in a .966 OPS, 34 doubles, 26 homers and 120 RBIs. But while Goldschmidt is the headliner, this is a stacked lineup, with five regular players boasting an OPS north of .800: Goldschmidt, Chris Ianetta, Jake Lamb, A.J. Pollock and J.D. Martinez. Let’s talk about Martinez, who’s been one of the best baseball players on Earth since joining the D-backs, with a .302/.366/.741 slash line, 29 homers and 65 RBIs in 62 games. On the pitching side, Zack Greinke, who will start Wednesday’s wild-card game, has somewhat returned to form, boasting a 3.20 ERA. Robbie Ray’s been even better, with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts, both team highs. Patrick Corbin’s had a few clunkers this season, but he’s got a 2.69 ERA in his last 11 games, including a few great outings against playoff teams: In four starts against the Cubs, Astros and Rockies during that stretch, he went 4-0 with two earned runs allowed in 27.1 innings. In other words, the Snakes are good so look out.

4. Chicago Cubs

After a frustratingly up-and-down season, the Cubs really turned it on at the end of the campaign and suddenly look like “that” team again. They went 19-9 in September and closed the season on a 15-4 stretch. They can score with anyone, that’s plainly obvious, with Kris Bryant again leading the charge with a phenomenal season, his on-base percentage nearly .025 points higher (an insane .409) than it was last year when he won NL MVP. He’s also got 20 more walks than he did last year. Anthony Rizzo’s on-base percentage was also almost .400 during the regular season, and Willson Contreras got on base at a .460 clip in 15 September games after returning from the DL. But the Cubs’ lineup won’t be the question mark in the postseason. It’s expected to be a struggle to replicate their run production against a crazy good Nationals starting staff. So the focus will be on the starting pitching, which while good has been nowhere near as dominant as it was last year. Jon Lester has a 4.33 ERA, and Jake Arrieta is still battling a hamstring injury that prevented him from making his final start of the regular season. Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana were the team’s most impressive pitchers down the stretch, Hendricks so good after a somewhat shaky start and early injury woes that he finished with a 3.03 ERA. While these guys, save Quintana, have recent postseason experience and should inspire confidence in anyone that watched this team’s run last season, the Nats’ starters are so good that there’s very little room for error.

3. Washington Nationals

Guys, the Nats are really good. Let us ogle at the starting pitchers that Dusty Baker will likely send out against his former team in the first three games of the NLDS. Max Scherzer is dealing with a hamstring “tweak,” whatever that means, so his status is a little bit of an unknown. But he’s been typically Scherzer-esque this season, turning in a fantastic 2.51 ERA and 268 strikeouts. Gio Gonzalez posted a 2.96 ERA in his 32 starts and was particularly awesome in July and August before a rough September. And then there’s Stephen Strasburg, who finished the regular season with a 2.52 ERA and 204 strikeouts. Dusty’s famous in these parts for overworking his starting pitchers and who knows, maybe he will again and it will benefit the Cubs. But this trio is pretty fantastic and should give the Cubs everything they can handle. Then there’s the Nats’ lineup, which is finally healthy and stacked with its own cadre of powerful hitters. Bryce Harper’s the headliner, obviously, and he’s back from a long stay on the DL. Before getting hurt, all he did was slash .326/.419/.614 with 29 homers and 87 RBIs in 106 games. Then there’s another MVP candidate in Anthony Rendon, he of the .937 OPS (and a .403 on-base percentage). And there's Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Michael Taylor. This lineup is loaded. The Cubs are playing great right now, but the Nats look like a championship kind of team.

2. Houston Astros

Until the Tribe blasted into the stratosphere, the Stros were the runaway best team in the AL. And for good reason. They were the best offensive team in the league this season, the leaders in runs, hits, average, on-base and slugging and just barely the No. 2 team in homers. The up-the-middle duo of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa is mind-bogglingly good. Altuve should probably win the AL MVP after another sensational season in which he slashed .346/.410/.547, picked up 204 hits and stole 32 bases. Correa wasn’t far behind with a .315/.391/.550 slash line. The two combined for 48 homers and 165 RBIs. George Springer’s OPS is also nearing the .900 mark with his team-high 34 homers helping. And Marwin Gonzalez has been awesome, too, with a .303/.377/.530 slash line and a team-high 90 RBIs. The lineup’s a menace, and now their starting pitching is pretty well ironed-out, too, thanks to the acquisition of Justin Verlander (again?!?) who has been great since coming over from the Tigers. In an Astros uniform, Verlander has a pencil-thin 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts in five starts. Add that to Dallas Kuechel’s bounce-back season and the impressive campaign of Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh’s 2.61 ERA in his last eight starts and you’ve got a rotation that can go the distance. It’s hard imagining a better team, to be honest, until … 

1. Cleveland Indians

The WWWWWWWWWWWWWIndians. I didn’t count the number of Ws there, but it’s a lot and that’s the point. The Tribe went 55-20 in the second half and have lost just 12 times since Aug. 2. That includes an absolutely unbelievable 25-4 September that featured that record-breaking winning streak. So why, you ask, have the Indians been the planet’s best baseball team? Well, look to the pitching. No squad in the game had a better ERA this season than the Indians’ 3.30 mark. No team gave up fewer home runs. No team issued fewer walks. Corey Kluber is the ace of this staff, and he had himself another remarkable season, entering the playoffs with a 2.25 ERA, baseball’s lowest. Only Chris Sale and Max Scherzer struck out more guys than Kluber did (265). He’s a true ace that should shut down any and all playoff lineups coming his way. That fearsome staff also features Carlos Carrasco, who was injured during last year’s postseason run. This time around, he’s not injured. He won 18 games during the regular season, the most in baseball. He’s also got a 3.29 ERA, his career best as a full-time starter. The Indians’ third-best starter has been Mike Clevinger, who has a 3.11 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 121.2 innings. Trevor Bauer’s ERA might be north of 4.00, but he was just four whiffs away from making it three Indians starters with 200 strikeouts this season. Oh, and then there’s one of baseball’s best offenses, a menacing lineup that features uber-productive stars Francisco Lindor (33 homers and a .505 slugging percentage), Jose Ramirez (29 homers and a eye-popping .318/.374/.583 slash line), Edwin Encarnacion (38 homers, 107 RBIs and a .881 OPS) and Carlos Santana (23 homers and a .818 OPS). And, oh yeah, that bullpen. Cody Allen? Still there with 30 saves. Andrew Miller? Still there with a 1.44 ERA. The Indians have been dominant the past few months. They’ve got seeming edges in almost all aspects of the game. The Tribe enter as World Series favorites. And there are a bunch of very good reasons for that.

Prediction time!

AL wild-card game: Yankees over Twins
NL wild-card game: D-backs over Rockies

ALDS: Indians over Yankees
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox
NLDS: D-backs over Dodgers
NLDS: Nationals over Cubs

ALCS: Indians over Astros
NLCS: Nationals over D-backs

World Series: Indians over Nationals

Chris Volstad earns first MLB victory in five seasons as White Sox top Astros

Chris Volstad earns first MLB victory in five seasons as White Sox top Astros

HOUSTON -- Two weeks ago Chris Volstad was focused on Hurricane Irma prep when the White Sox called to invite him to the majors. On Thursday night, he earned his first major league victory in more than five years as the White Sox defeated the Houston Astros 3-1 at Minute Maid Park.

Volstad, who had only made 10 big league appearances the previous four-plus seasons and spent all of 2017 at Triple-A Charlotte, allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings to pick up his first win since Sept. 10, 2012.

He hadn’t just shut it down after the Triple-A season ended, Volstad was actually shuttering his Jupiter, Fla. home and business the day the short-handed White Sox called.

“I was probably a little mentally shut down,” Volstad said. “But yeah, it’s kind of crazy how things can change. I guess it’s been about two weeks now. At home getting ready for a hurricane and then getting called back up to the big leagues.”

Volstad received word he might pitch early in Thursday’s game when a blister on Carson Fulmer’s right index finger worsened. Fulmer felt some discomfort after his Friday start at Detroit.

The White Sox let Fulmer try to go but yanked him after 20 pitches, including two walks. That brought out Volstad, who along with Al Alburquerque was promoted Sept. 10 after the White Sox lost several pitchers to injury.

The White Sox actually had to track Volstad down two weeks ago as he’d already been home for a week. He spent part of the time prepping for Irma, including boarding up his brewery.

He escaped a first-inning jam with a double play ball of the bat of Carlos Correa and ended a threat in the second with a pickoff at second base of Alex Bregman. After he surrendered a solo homer to Brian McCann in the third, Volstad retired the final eight men he faced.

[MORE: Why the White Sox are optimistic about their middle infielders' potential

He was awarded his first victory since he defeated Thursday’s Astros starter Dallas Keuchel 1,836 days ago here. Volstad remembered the win because Houston was still in the National League and he had a base hit in the five-inning start for the Cubs. He went 3-12 for the Cubs that season.

“You’re able to lock it in pretty quickly and get focused at the big-league level, you have to,” Volstad said. “But being home in Triple-A for the last few years, just getting called up about 10 days ago, I’ve got people following it, but it’s kind of unknown I guess. It’s a little surprising, but I’m glad to be a part of a team for sure.”

Fulmer, Volstad, Jace Fry, Mike Pelfrey, Gregory Infante, Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar and Juan Minaya combined on a three-hitter for the White Sox. Tim Anderson extended his hit streak to 12 games with a ninth-inning solo homer, his 17th.

Why Yoan Moncada's hot streak is important for the White Sox confidence and his

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USA TODAY

Why Yoan Moncada's hot streak is important for the White Sox confidence and his

HOUSTON -- Don’t think the White Sox front office isn’t enjoying every second of Yoan Moncada’s tear.

Everyone can breathe a little easier knowing there are fewer questions for baseball’s top prospect to answer headed into 2018. Pleased as they’d been with Moncada’s patient plate approach, the club desired a breakthrough before Oct. 2 for the confidence boost it would provide him alone. Moncada continued a torrid run on Wednesday night that should have him bristling with poise when he arrives in Glendale, Ariz. next February. He homered as the White Sox fell 4-3 to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

“We’ve been looking for him to continue to try and make adjustments,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There was probably a point there where people were a little concerned. Truthfully, when you see some of the talent these kids have, you recognize that their skillset is going to play up, it’s just a matter of getting the repetition.”

The White Sox have been impressed with Moncada’s improved awareness as he gains more experience.

One area in which Moncada has made the most gains is pitch recognition. The book has been that second baseman has had trouble with offspeed since he arrived in 2016, hitting .154 against sliders and .238 against curveballs entering Wednesday, according to Brooksbaseball.net.

But Moncada is trending upward. The first-pitch slider from Astros starter Brad Peacock that Moncada ripped for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the fourth inning was his fifth hit of the trip on a slider or curveball in 11 at-bats. On the trip, Moncada -- who has 189 plate appearances this season -- is hitting .415/.477/.683 with three homers, eight RBIs and 12 runs in 41 plate appearances.

[MORE: Jose Abreu's gift to Yoan Moncada just keeps on giving

Given Moncada’s struggles in a brief 2016 tryout with the Boston Red Sox, having success is certainly helpful as he won’t head into another offseason wondering when it might happen for him. Moncada doesn’t compare the two situations because of playing time -- he was limited to 20 plate appearances over a month in 2016. But he agrees his recent play is good for the psyche.

“It’s important for my confidence, especially thinking about next year,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “With this run, I have been able to have more confidence and believe in myself and my talent, and I think that’s something I can carry into next season.”

“This offseason is going to be different because I’ve been able to play almost every day. I have more confidence in myself. I know the game better. Last season I had an opportunity to be at this level a little bit, but it wasn’t the same. This year is the opposite because I’ve been playing a lot and have been able to handle good and bad stretches at this level.”

While a reduction in strikeout-rate is still needed to be more effective, Moncada has begun to establish himself as a major league hitter. It’s exactly how teammate and mentor Jose Abreu hoped Moncada would spend his time this season.

“He has to get to know a lot of things at this level,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “The game, the pitchers, the culture here -- there’s a lot of little things he has to get to know here. The way you can work through it is give your best every day and try to learn as much as you can and try to use all your knowledge and to pool your knowledge on each play in the game. That’s the only way you can get results and you can build on those results and this experience for the future. I think he’s finally doing it and that’s important for him and for us thinking of the next season and beyond.”

Renteria not only likes the pitch recognition but the way that Moncada has tried to hit through the shift several times against Houston. Though the White Sox never wavered, they’re certainly happy to see Moncada produce the way they thought he eventually would.

“He’s starting to slow it down a little more,” Renteria said. “He’s starting to see more of the landscape and making adjustments in general. It’s been a good run for him. We thought he would show signs of growth at the end of the season and he’s doing that.”