Minnesota Twins

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

1003_cubs_world_series.jpg
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

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

MINNEAPOLIS -- The White Sox remain in let’s-make-a-deal-mode, Miguel Gonzalez has pitched well for six weeks and yet he’s still here.

If you’re surprised by that development, you’re not alone.

Even the White Sox starting pitcher’s manager reflected his astonishment about the status of Gonzalez roughly 90 minutes before he took the mound on Thursday. Gonzalez pitched well yet again, though the White Sox ultimately lost to the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Target Field. It was the eighth quality start produced by the free-agent-to be in nine outings since he returned from the disabled list on July 18. The waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball falls at 11 p.m. CST on Thursday night.

“A little bit (surprised),” Renteria said. “He’s pitched against some of the top clubs in the big leagues in his last four or five starts and has done a nice job keeping us in ballgames and minimizing damage, to a run or two in some or most of the starts. But I am surprised. He has done a great job. I wouldn’t be surprised (if he’s traded). It’s still not midnight yet so if today is the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if something would happen.”

The market for Gonzalez has been relatively quiet with few exceptions. Given that Gonzalez has a 3.27 ERA since he returned from a shoulder injury in mid-July and is affordable (he’s owed a little more than $1 million), the White Sox had to believe their asset would drum up more interest.  

Though he doesn’t overpower hitters with the fastball, Gonzalez has a nice mix of pitches and has proven to be consistent and likes attacking the strike zone. Gonzalez posted a 3.45 ERA between 2012-2014 for the Baltimore Orioles. He struggled in 2015 and did so again earlier this season after a shoulder injury limited his ability. Prior to the injury, however, Gonzalez pitched well for the White Sox in 2017, posting a 3.18 ERA in his first six starts after he finished 2016 on a good run. Gonzalez posted a 2.72 ERA over his final 13 starts of 2016 (79 1/3 innings).

But for now at least, a run of seven poor starts from mid-May to mid-June in which Gonzalez had a 7.15 ERA and eventually landed on the disabled list has tempered the interest. Since returning, Gonzalez has only had on rough outing on Aug. 3 at Boston as he got chased after 1 2/3 innings.

“I saw him throw in Boston and he didn’t throw well, but he still has good stuff,” one American League scout said. “I’d like to have him. He could at least pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez said he has tried to avoid thinking about the potential for a trade even as the White Sox traded a boatload of players over the past six weeks.

Anything that isn’t nailed down has been on alert to the possibility of a trade since the White Sox began to offload players last December with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The process included a series of trades in July that saw the departures of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak and later Tyler Clippard.

But Gonzalez, who was stunned to be released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training in 2016, has enjoyed his time with the White Sox. He’s 12-18 with a 4.01 ERA in 45 games (44 starts) since coming over and credits the White Sox for giving him a chance after a rough 2015 season.

Gonzalez has been one of the team’s steadiest pitchers since he returned in July. On Thursday, the right-hander said he wasn’t as crisp as normal but got by in the early innings because the Twins had an aggressive approach. The Twins doubled three times off Gonzalez in the fifth inning to score twice and tie the game. But Gonzalez stranded the go-ahead run with a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar and retired four straight to get through the sixth. Gonzalez allowed three earned runs, seven hits and walked two while striking out five in a 110-pitch effort over six innings.

“Not thinking about it, honestly,” Gonzalez said. “If something happens then it’s meant to be. But if it doesn’t than I’m here all the way with the White Sox.

“It is what it is. Nothing that we can control. We’ve got to keep pitching, keep going out there every fifth day and try to make things happen.

“I’m happy (with my recent performances). A lot of positives. Been able to go out there until the sixth, seventh inning, even to the eighth. That’s a blessing in disguise. Struggling for a lot of months and to be able to come back and do that has been great.”

Why rebuilding White Sox have something to play for down the stretch

whitesoxloseinseptemberoctober.jpg
AP

Why rebuilding White Sox have something to play for down the stretch

MINNEAPOLIS -- Who says the rebuilding White Sox don’t have anything to play for in September and October?

Of utmost importance is the potential for development of White Sox rookies who have reached the majors, a group that includes Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Nicky Delmonico, amongst others.

But beyond that is another critical aspect: With 30 games left on the schedule after Thursday, the White Sox are locked in a battle for first. At 52-79 overall, the White Sox are well within striking distance of the Philadelphia Phillies for the worst record in baseball and the privilege to make the first overall pick in the June 2018 amateur draft.

Currently, the White Sox own the third-worst record in the majors. The San Francisco Giants — who come to Guaranteed Rate Field for three games on Sept. 8-10 — have the second-worst mark at 53-82 overall. The Cincinnati Reds (56-77) and Oakland A’s (58-75) round out the top five prior to Thursday’s results.

While it’s nowhere close to as significant as winning a division or, there’s little question about how much impact possessing a top pick and the larger signing bonus pool attached to it can have on an organization. Given the early talk about the 2018 draft class, the White Sox appear to be in great shape to add more impact talent to an already loaded farm system.

“It’s a better draft all around from a depth and impact standpoint,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said, adding it’s potentially the best class since 2010.

The potential for adding a top-three talent via the amateur draft could leave White Sox players and coaches and a portion of the team’s fan base at odds for the final month of the season.

With a team full of inexperience, White Sox players are hungry and looking to sew up future roster spots by showing off their talent. The Giolitos and Lopezes and Moncadas are intent upon improvement and highly unlikely to put their own careers in jeopardy in order to secure the franchise a better draft pick. They want to win and do everything they can to make themselves a prominent part of the club’s future.

“Everybody wants to come out, as far as the players are concerned, you want to come out and play to win,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think the word rebuild adds a connotation of it doesn’t really matter what goes on and it couldn’t be further from the truth. These guys are trying to go out and exemplify what they’re supposed to be as a team and individuals as trying to continue to perform the things that are necessary to win ballgames.”

On the other side of things, many White Sox fans have fully embraced The Tank. They want a high pick so the team can select Seth Beer, Jarred Kelenic or Brice Turang or any other number of players.

One hundred losses and a first pick? Many fans say bring it on.

It’s yet another strange position in a calendar year full of them.

At the same time, this is exactly where the White Sox have been headed all along. You don’t trade Chris Sale and Adam Eaton off a 78-win roster and expect to improve.

General manager Rick Hahn made it clear this spring that the White Sox would keep the big picture in mind all along in 2017. If the White Sox were going to win, they would have to do it with the players they already had. No short-term trades would be made and prospects wouldn’t be rushed to fill voids at the major league level.

Though the White Sox had plenty of zest in the season’s first two months and hung around longer than most suspected they would, Hahn had no qualms about ripping apart the 25-man roster in July with a series of trades.

Still, as much as Hahn might like to hold the first pick come next June, he doesn’t want to sacrifice critical development to get there.

“There’s been no secret made about what we're trying to accomplish as an organization,” Hahn said earlier this month. “That's been clear since well before the start of spring training, and the players have understood the opportunities that are here for them, in the now, based on that long-term approach that we're taking. Again, I can't say enough about the work that Ricky and the coaches have done in terms of preparing this team on a daily basis and making the most out of what they have on a given night on their roster.”

Should make for an interesting month.