MLB Playoffs: Power Ranking the Contenders in Both Leagues

Chris StephensCorrespondent IISeptember 19, 2012

MLB Playoffs: Power Ranking the Contenders in Both Leagues

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    Forget the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, the Atlanta Braves are the top contenders heading into the playoffs.

    The Braves are likely relegated to the one of the two wild-card spots. However, they seem to be ready to make a run in Chipper Jones' last season.

    Looking at the rest of the teams still in the playoff race, there are some definite contenders. Then again, there are also some pretenders.

    Here's a power ranking for all the contenders in the playoff race.

Pretenders

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    Before we can get to the contenders, we have to go through the pretenders.

    The most surprising teams on the pretender list are the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. After signing the two biggest players on the free-agent market in the offseason, these teams have disappointed.

    Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were thought to be the key pieces to push their respective teams to the playoffs. However, Pujols struggled to begin the season, and the Tigers were never able to get into a groove.

    The Tigers are currently three games behind the White Sox in the AL Central, while 5.5 games back in the wild-card race. The Angels, on the other hand, are 7.5 games back in the AL West and three games back in the wild-card standings.

    Even if one of the teams makes the playoffs, it won't go far.

    Tampa Bay is the only other American League team currently in the playoff race I consider a pretender. I don't see how the Rays are going to make up the five-game difference in the wild-card standings. The AL East is out of the question, with either the Yankees or Orioles locked in to take the top spot.

    In the National League, there are multiple teams that are pretenders.

    While there are seven teams competing for the final wild-card spot, none of them are a legitimate contender for the World Series.

    The St. Louis Cardinals (second wild-card spot), showed that you can win the World Series as a wild-card team. However, there's a big piece missing from last year's team—Pujols.

    I'm not saying that it can't be done. But, it's hard to label a team a contender when it will barely be over .500 for the year.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers (one game back) have struggled ever since they traded for Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. Since the trade, the Dodgers are 8-13 and continuing to struggle.

    Even if they were to get a wild-card spot, I don't see them going anywhere. They're struggling at the wrong time of the season.

    Other teams still in the hunt are the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.

    However, none of these teams are serious contenders and will be lucky to just make it to the playoffs.

    Could you imagine, however, if the Phillies had hung onto Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino? Now, that would be a dangerous team heading into the final stretch of the season.

9. Chicago White Sox

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    When the Tigers signed Fielder in the offseason, many people thought the AL Central was their division to lose.

    However, the Chicago White Sox have made it theirs.

    With the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox, the White Sox got another veteran leader in their clubhouse.

    Adam Dunn has recovered nicely from last year with 39 home runs and 90 RBI, while Paul Konerko continues to be Paul Konerko.

    The biggest surprise is Chris Sale in the rotation. While many expected him to be in the bullpen for the year, he's been impressive as a starter.

    Sale is 17-6 on the year with a 2.78 ERA, 173 strikeouts and a 1.06 WHIP. He should get Cy Young consideration.

    While the White Sox have the lowest ranking of all the contenders, they're still a dangerous team.

8. Baltimore Orioles

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    Just when you think the Baltimore Orioles are going to fold, they surprise you.

    The Orioles have been one big surprise the entire year.

    Their offensive numbers aren't impressive, especially considering they're the only contender with a negative run differential (minus-14).

    Adam Jones leads the team with 29 home runs and has a .285 average with 75 RBI. Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy are also over 20 home runs.

    On the mound, the starters aren't impressive. Wei-Yin Chen leads the team with 12 wins, a 4.00 ERA and 145 strikeouts. Now, those aren't exactly numbers you expect to see out of a team with 83 wins.

    Where the Orioles are solid is in their bullpen.

    With 43 saves, Jim Johnson has been a top-notch closer, while Pedro Strop has 24 holds.

    If the Orioles make the playoffs, the bullpen will be the key to how far they advance.

7. Oakland Athletics

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    The Oakland Athletics have the most unimpressive roster of all postseason contenders.

    Josh Reddick leads the team with 29 home runs and 79 RBI, while Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .291 with 19 home runs and 72 RBI.

    Nothing is exciting about Oakland's numbers, as you can see from its ESPN stat page.

    On the mound, the A's only have three pitchers with double-digit wins. However, 18 total pitchers have recorded at least one win, so it's been a total team effort.

    The A's are perhaps the wildest of cards when it comes to the playoffs.

6. San Francisco Giants

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    The San Francisco Giants are firmly in control of the NL West.

    After acquiring Hunter Pence from the Phillies, the Giants showed they were serious about contending this year.

    Having Melkey Cabrera suspended for performance-enhancing drugs was supposed to deflate the Giants and take them out of the race. Instead, the Dodgers have struggled while the Giants surged in September.

    Buster Posey leads the team with 22 home runs and 93 RBI, while 10 other players have more than 30 RBI.

    On the mound, Tim Lincecum has been a definite disappointment this year. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and even Barry Zito have been good, though.

    What makes the Giants dangerous is the fact that Lincecum could return to form at any time. That's a scary thought when it comes to the playoffs.

5. Washington Nationals

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    While the Nationals currently own the best record in baseball, I'm not sold on them in the playoffs.

    For starters, Stephen Strasburg has been shut down for the year. While I understand the team's position, I don't agree with shutting down your ace in the thick of a playoff chase.

    The rest of the starters, however, are just as good. Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann all have ERAs lower than 3.16. John Lannan has also filled in nicely in his three starts since Strasburg was shut down.

    On offense, Bryce Harper has had his struggles, but he's still one of the best young players in the game.

    Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond have also been impressive this year.

    So, why are they ranked fifth?

    The Nationals have lost eight of their last 11 games against teams currently in the playoff hunt. This includes getting swept in a three-game set by the Braves over the weekend.

    With the rest of their schedule against playoff contenders, the Nationals will have their chance to show that the last few weeks have been a fluke.

4. New York Yankees

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    The Yankees and Orioles are currently atop the AL East, with both expected to make the playoffs.

    New York saw closer Mariano Rivera go down early in the year with an injury, but Rafael Soriano has filled in nicely.

    CC Sabathia has been his normal self in the rotation, with 13 wins, 169 strikeouts, a 3.69 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.

    Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda have also been impressive. Hughes has 15 wins with a 3.96 ERA, while Kuroda has 14 wins and a 3.26 ERA.

    At the plate, the Yankees' offensive stats have regressed this year, but they're still getting the key hits when needed.

    Curtis Granderson is showing last year was no fluke, as he's hit 39 home runs and has 92 RBI. However, a .235 batting average is not exactly what the Yankees were expecting.

    Derek Jeter is continuing to climb the all-time ranks in hits, with 199 more so far this year. He still gets the job done on defense, as well.

    Mark Teixeira's numbers are down this year, with only 23 home runs and 81 RBI. But, like Lincecum on the pitching side, he's a threat to go off any time.

    The Yankees have looked strong throughout the year, but they're going to have to win the division to have any chance at making the World Series.

    If the Yankees are relegated to one of the wild-card spots, I don't believe they'll win the one-game playoff against a team like the A's. The A's have continually found ways to win with less, and I think they would do the same against the Yankees in that one game.

3. Cincinnati Reds

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    The Cincinnati Reds have the second-best record in baseball and are one of the most balanced teams in the league.

    On offense, there's nothing special, as the Reds rank 17th in MLB in total runs (627).

    The Reds have been without Joey Votto for much of the season, but he's finally healthy and should be ready to mash in the playoffs.

    Jay Bruce is showing his power again this year, leading the team in home runs (33) and RBI (96). Ryan Ludwick has also been impressive, with 26 home runs and 79 RBI.

    Throw in Brandon Phillips, and the Reds look strong on offense.

    When it comes to the rotation, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos lead at the top. Cueto has had a career year with 17 wins, 157 strikeouts and a 2.92 ERA. Latos has 12 wins with 171 strikeouts.

    Then there's the bullpen, led by Aroldis Chapman, who throws as hard as anyone in the league. While control is still a work in progress for him, Chapman can easily close the door on teams late.

2. Texas Rangers

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    As expected, the Texas Rangers will be there once again competing for a spot in the World Series.

    When it comes to the offense, where do you start? Do you start with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz or any one of the other starters?

    Hamilton is batting .287 with 42 home runs and 123 RBI, while Beltre is batting .318 with 33 home runs and 93 RBI. Cruz has 22 home runs and 84 RBI to complement the duo of Hamilton and Beltre.

    Top to bottom, the Rangers have the best lineup in baseball. There is no easy out from the time Ian Kinsler steps up at leadoff.

    The rotation is also dominant at the top with Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. Harrison is 17-9 with a 3.26 ERA, while Darvish is 15-9 with 205 strikeouts and 4.02 ERA.

    After that, there are still some question marks, but the Rangers will have it figured out before the playoffs. Ryan Dempster has recorded a quality start in five of his last six appearances, and the bullpen is one of baseball's best.

    Those are the keys to making it to and winning the World Series.

1. Atlanta Braves

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    Atlanta is playing great baseball heading into the playoffs.

    The Braves have every reason to leave it all out on the field with it being Chipper Jones' last season.

    And, just like the Atlanta of old, it all starts with pitching.

    Led by Kris Medlen, who has not lost a game since he became a starter again for Atlanta, the Braves have the deepest rotation in baseball.

    When you look at the four starters the Braves will throw out there in the playoffs (Medlen, Mike Minor, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm), there is no easy out.

    Pitching was the key to the Braves' success in the 1990s, and it will be the key to their success in the future.

    On offense, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are the leading hitters, showing fans the team is in good hands. Heyward has redeemed himself from a tough 2011 campaign with 27 home runs and 74 RBI, while Freeman has 20 home runs and 87 RBI.

    Then there's Michael Bourn and Martin Prado at the top of the lineup. There is no better one-two hitting duo on any team in baseball. Bourn gets on base, while Prado does what it takes to put the team in better positions to win.

    Dan Uggla and Brian McCann have struggled this year, but like other top players who have struggled, they can go off at any time.

    And who can forget about Jones? You know he's going to leave everything out on the field.

    Can you imagine Jones coming up in the playoffs with a chance for a walk-off win? Would you want to be the pitcher facing him?

    The Braves might be relegated to the one-game playoff after struggling in the middle of the season, but they have the personnel to win it all.