Nationals

Nationals

Regular season baseball is defined by its large sample size. Postseason baseball is defined by how small it is in comparison.

There's nothing quite like a baseball game with everything on the line, and that's exactly what fans will be treated to all season long. The Nationals and Brewers kicked things off with an epic Wild Card Game, while the Rays took down the A's in Oakland.

With the final eight teams established, the stage is set for a wild ride to the 2019 World Series. So, which team is taking home a trophy this month? Let's do what we do best and power rank them.

8. Rays

The Rays spent small stretches of 2019 looking like the best team in baseball and large stretches looking like the third-best team in their own division. Ultimately, they settled in as the AL Wild Card road team, but managed to blow past the A’s and earn a spot against Houston in the ALDS.

It’s fair to point out they dealt with as much poor injury luck as anyone this season, especially in losing 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell for such a large chunk of the season.

If they’re firing on all cylinders, this is a team capable of springing an upset or two. But the talent isn’t quite as strong as it is with the other three AL teams, which means they’ll be considerable underdogs every step of the way. 

7. Cardinals

St. Louis has been one of my favorite sleeper World Series picks since Spring Training. The offseason acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt seemed like a perfect marriage between player and organization, and while his OPS fell to .821 (his career mark is .916), it was still a pretty good year for a “down” season.

 

The other major storyline in St. Louis entering the season was their talented crop of young starting pitching. Jack Flaherty, in particular, had the makings of a breakout ace.

We didn’t see it in the first half, but Flaherty proceeded to dominate in the best second half a pitcher has had in since Jake Arrieta in 2015. His 0.91 second-half ERA keyed the Cardinals’ surge, and they now have a decent chance of making it back to the NLCS for the first time since 2014.

6. Twins

Initially, I had the Twins fourth in these rankings, exactly where they’ve found themselves in our regular MLB Power Rankings for the last few months. As one of just four teams in baseball to win 100 games this season, they’ve earned our respect as one of the sport’s elite teams.

Having said that, Minnesota is, at best, the third-best team in the AL. The fact that they would likely have to win series against both the Yankees *and* Astros significantly hurt their odds to take the World Series this year. Not to mention the greatness of those two opponents, but the Twins also have a notable history of postseason struggles against New York.

So, given their path, they had to move down behind a couple of great National League teams. If they prove us wrong, they’ll certainly have earned it. 

5. Braves

Before Braves fans start yelling at me for having the Nationals ranked ahead of them again, let me be clear: these rankings are postseason only. Atlanta earned its higher spot in our regular season rankings fair and square, but Washington’s roster looks better suited to an extended postseason run.

That said, the Braves are certainly contenders in their own right. Atlanta will return Ronald Acuna Jr., and obviously still boast Freddie Freeman in the middle of a formidable lineup. Dallas Kuechel has been here before thanks to his experience in Houston, and there’s a lot of depth here.

The bullpen remains a significant concern, but their path to the NLCS looks easier than any other true contender. That alone makes them serious threats out of the National League.

4. Nationals

Prior to the NL Wild Card Game, I would have had the Nats much lower. It’s such a coin flip, making it hard to trust any team forced to begin their postseason run with an elimination game.

Now that they’re past the Brewers, it’s on to the Nationals’ nemesis: the NLDS. This will be the franchise’s fifth attempt in eight seasons to reach the NLCS. The previous four did not end well for fans in Washington.

A bleak postseason history is no reason to give up on a team this talented and resilient, but the fact of the matter is it’s hard to have confidence in any team facing the Dodgers. It won’t be easy picking against the clear-cut best team in the National League.

 

Still, the Nationals have the only rotation in the NL that can go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers’ Big 3, and may even be favored. The lineup is obviously deep, and the team has beaten worse odds than this.

A winner-take-all game followed by an NL behemoth is a brutal path, but the Nats have the roster to get through it.

3. Yankees

The Yankees are a difficult team to square entering the postseason. There’s certainly talent aplenty, but they’ve notable struggled with an onslaught of injuries all season long. Will we ever see the team at full strength? Probably not.

Furthermore, despite their standing as pretty clearly one of the three best teams in baseball, they happen to find themselves in the same league as one of the strongest teams in MLB history in Houston. That will likely make for a challenging path.

The Twins are no slouches either. Can the Yankees win full series against three 100-win teams? They may have to do so if they want to take home some hardware this month.

2. Astros

As mentioned below, the Astros are still pretty clearly the best team in baseball. In fact, some advanced analytic sites have Houston as potentially the greatest team in baseball history.

I don’t believe that’s true, but this roster is definitely better than the one that won the World Series in 2017. The offense is still elite, with Alex Bregman making a late push into the MVP conversation. And the rotation is reaping the benefits of trades for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, three true aces nobody wants to face in October.

Houston may end up with the AL MVP (50/50), AL Cy Young (lock) and AL Rookie of the Year (lock). It’s hard to imagine anybody stopping this team, even with a difficult path to the AL pennant.

1. Dodgers

Right off the bat, let’s be clear: I still think the Astros are the best team in baseball.
    
Having said that, Los Angeles has a much easier path to the World Series than Houston does. The Dodgers’ opponents will be some combination of the Cardinals, Braves, Brewers and Nationals. Those are two good teams, one pretty good team, and one decent team.

The Astros, meanwhile, will have to face the Athletics or Rays, two excellent teams, then the Yankees or Twins, two elite teams who each won 100-plus games this season.

The Dodgers aren’t baseball’s best team, but they are an elite roster dialed in on finally winning a title. Thanks to their league, they also have the best chance of anyone to win the 2019 World Series.

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