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Playoff Predictions

Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson

Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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October baseball is so much fun. It’s also utterly unpredictable, but I’m going to do my best here to throw some darts and hope I hit a few bullseyes.

Here goes nothing.

American League Wild Card

Yankees over Red Sox

I’m probably not alone in wishing the Blue Jays were occupying one of these spots. Granted, Major League Baseball and those that care about TV ratings surely aren’t among those. The Jays might even had been my pick to win the pennant had they squeaked in, but it didn’t happen, so let’s focus on the two that did make it. As good as Nathan Eovaldi has been this season – and he’s been terrific – he’s simply not on the same level as Gerrit Cole. Cole had a couple hiccups in September, sure, but he’s on his way to another top-three finish in the AL Cy Young voting following a marvelous 2021 campaign. I’m also giving the Yanks a significant edge in the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman has had his share of struggles, but he finished the year strong and has a host of good arms accompanying him. We don’t even know what the Red Sox’ bullpen hierarchy looks like right now.

National League Wild Card

Dodgers over Cardinals

The Cardinals set a new franchise record with a 17-game winning streak in September in an unlikely run to capture a playoff spot. The Dodgers have been stung recently by significant injuries to Clayton Kershaw (likely out for the entire postseason) and Max Muncy (likely out at least through the NLDS). And yet, I’m still picking the Dodgers here. A major reason why I’m still siding with the Dodgers is Max Scherzer, who has had a historic run in Dodger Blue even when factoring in a couple clunkers to end the season. Adam Wainwright had an absurd second half himself, but of the two he’s certainly less likely to shut an opposing offense down. The Dodgers and their league-leading run differential are still the more talented team even as they’re missing a couple key pieces.

ALDS

Rays over Yankees, White Sox over Astros

The Rays reached the 100-win plateau for the first time in franchise history even in a division which included four 90-win clubs (granted, the fifth team was the 110-loss Orioles). Their rotation doesn’t look as fearsome on paper as others, but the addition of Shane Baz has helped that. They also have the deepest bullpen in the game and manager Kevin Cash knows how to deploy them to gain every little advantage. For what it’s worth, while the Rays “only” went 11-8 against the Yankees this season, they outscored them by a whopping 98-50 margin.

The White Sox-Astros series was the one I had the most difficult time picking. Whichever club winds up advancing – and it feels like a true toss-up to me – would be my pick to represent the AL in the World Series. The White Sox never went on a truly dominant run this season and their 93 wins was arguably a disappointing number given that they played in the worst division in baseball. However, they also were never at full strength this season until recently, and I suspect they might put things altogether at just the right time. One legitimate worry is the health of Carlos Rodon, who has been plagued by shoulder and velocity issues of late. That said, I think the White Sox know they can’t necessarily count on him, and that manager Tony La Russa has Michael Kopech to go to at the first sign of trouble for Rodon has to be comforting. Plus, even if you don’t include Rodon, the White Sox’ rotation is a strength, and I love their bullpen and lineup, too.[[ad:athena]]

NLDS

Dodgers over Giants, Braves over Brewers

I’m sure I will be accused of underestimating the Giants just as many of us have done all season. And maybe I am. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they won, but I still believe the Dodgers to be the more talented team. Their lineup remains extremely deep even without Muncy, and their rotation still boasts three monsters even without Kershaw. The Giants are really, really good, and they do get the homefield advantage here. I just think the Dodgers are a bit better.

The Brewers seem to be a popular pick not only to beat the Braves but to advance to the World Series. It’s understandable given the three beasts they have in the rotation and the lockdown closer they have in the ninth inning. If you asked me at the start of the playoffs to pick one starter and one reliever I could have this postseason, the latter would certainly be Josh Hader and the former might be Corbin Burnes. I think they’re fairly vulnerable, though, in part because of Devin Williams’ injury but mostly because their lineup is pretty underwhelming and has had a tendency to disappear for stretches. The Braves have easily the lowest win total of any division winner at 88, but they’re 36-19 since the beginning of August, which included a 12-2 stretch to close out the regular season.

ALCS

White Sox over Rays

As I said above, I suspect whoever emerges victorious in the White Sox-Astros series will wind up winning the pennant, so I’ve got the Pale Hole dethroning the reigning AL champs. From my seat, the one big edge I can see for the Rays over the White Sox is defense. Tampa Bay is plus-67 in defensive runs saved which ranks fourth in baseball, while the White Sox are at negative-39 which comes in at 26th. That’s significant. I give the White Sox’ rotation a big advantage, though, and I like their bullpen a tad more, as well.

NLCS

Dodgers over Braves

I just got done singing the praises of the Braves in the NLDS section, but I do think they’re fairly suspect in one area and that’s the closer role. Will Smith has had a solid season on the whole, but he’s been vulnerable to the home run ball even more so than normal and he’s coupled that with his highest walk rate since he returned from Tommy John surgery a few years ago. I’m not sure the Brewers’ lineup is good enough to take advantage, but I know the Dodgers’ is. Meanwhile, while Kenley Jansen has become notorious for late-season struggles which often had his job on shaky ground, he has not had said issues in 2021. In his final 27 appearances, Jansen posted a 0.65 ERA and 0.58 WHIP with 35 strikeouts over 27 2/3 innings.

World Series

White Sox over Dodgers

I picked the White Sox to make it to the World Series prior to the season. I also picked the Padres to make it there, but sticking with them here seems a little overly stubborn. At the risk of repeating myself, I just think the White Sox might be poised to play their best ball of the season when it matters the most. That probably means they’ll be swept in the ALDS, of course. Enjoy the postseason, y’all.

Quick Hits: The Mets announced on Monday that they would not be picking up the option on manager Luis Rojas for 2022, so they’ll be on the lookout for a new skipper in addition to a president of baseball operations … Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Monday that J.D. Martinez’s (ankle) status for Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game was still up in the air … Gio Urshela (elbow, quad) is expected to be ready to play Tuesday … White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Monday that the club is undecided on whether Lance Lynn or Lucas Giolito will start Game 1 of the ALDS … J.D. Davis will undergo surgery this month to stabilize a torn ligament in his left hand … Chris Rodríguez (lat) is questionable for the beginning of spring training … Ryan Zimmerman said after Sunday’s regular season finale that he is undecided about whether he’ll continue playing in 2022.