We're roughly 50 games from the end of the 2013 MLB regular season, and the postseason picture has already started to take shape.
In the National League, the Braves and Dodgers look to be in good positions to win their divisions, while a trio of teams in the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds battle it out for the NL Central title. Regardless of who wins the division, there looks to be a good chance of all three teams making the postseason, with the Diamondbacks also still very much in contention for a wild-card spot.
In the AL, the Tigers have used an 11-game winning streak to build a six-game lead over the Indians, but the other two divisions remain close. The Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, A's and Rangers are all still very much in the running for a division title or wild-card spot, with the Indians and Royals also still wild-card contenders.
So here is a look at my full 2013 playoff predictions, from the Wild Card all the way through to who I think is going to win it all this season.
SP A.J. Burnett
All signs point to this being the season the Pittsburgh Pirates finally manage to get over the hump and post a winning record. While I still believe the St. Louis Cardinals will come away with the NL Central title, the Pirates look to be in a good position to make the postseason regardless.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have dealt with some injuries this season, but they have managed to overcome them for the most part. They should be able to hold off the Diamondbacks and others for the second NL wild-card spot.
The pitching matchup for this game would likely be A.J. Burnett and Mat Latos. While the Reds may have the leg up in this matchup offensively, the Pirates have the superior bullpen. If they can scratch across a couple of runs early, their bullpen should be able to protect a lead.
Winner: Pirates (Single-Game Score: 3-1)
SP David Price
The Rays have been streaky this season, but when they've played well, they've been as good as any team in baseball. Their offense is vastly improved, and their pitching staff has really rounded into form after some early-season struggles.
The Indians have also been streaky, and on paper, they may be the least talented of any of the 10 teams I selected to make the playoffs, but they have kept things close in the AL Central. As long as the pitching holds up, they have a real chance at edging out the Rangers and Orioles for the final wild-card spot.
Justin Masterson has emerged as a legitimate ace and would get the ball for Cleveland, while a healthy David Price is once again among the best in the business and the ace of the Rays. Many of these Rays players have been there before, and that gives them the edge in my opinion.
Winner: Rays (Single-Game Score: 4-2)
1B Freddie Freeman
The Atlanta Braves are on an absolute tear right now, winning 13 straight games and extending their lead over the Nationals in the NL East to 15.5 games. With 40 of their remaining 47 games against teams with losing records, they look like the favorites to have the best record in the NL this season.
They've had some ups and downs this season, but their offense is firing on all cylinders right now. They have the pitching depth to last in a series, even without a bona fide ace.
The X-factor for Atlanta would seem to be rookie right-hander Julio Teheran, who has been terrific this season and will need to keep it up in the postseason. My bet is that he does, and the Braves offense out-slugs the Pirates to come away with the series win.
Winner: Braves (Series Record: 3-1)
RF Yasiel Puig
After a rough start to the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have turned things around in a big way, and they have built a five-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West. With their offense finally healthy and falling into place, and an already stacked rotation bolstered by the addition of Ricky Nolasco, they should be able to hold on for the NL West title.
The Cardinals have looked like the team to beat in the NL at times this season. Even with the injury to Yadier Molina and the fact that the pitching staff has been average at best of late, I still say they come away with the NL Central title.
However, after Adam Wainwright, their postseason rotation looks like a potential question mark with Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook likely to follow him. On the Dodgers side, L.A. can trot out a staff of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco.
The Cardinals' clutch hitting will keep them in it, but in the end I see the Dodgers jumping out to a 2-1 series lead, and a gem from Kershaw in Game 5 seals the series.
Winner: Dodgers (Series Record: 3-2)
DH David Ortiz
The Red Sox and Rays have quickly become perhaps the most bitter rivals in the MLB today. Meeting up in the postseason would make for a fantastic series that would no doubt have its fair share of fireworks.
While the Rays offense is improved, the Red Sox still have the superior offensive team and a lineup stacked with veteran hitters that have plenty of postseason experience under their belt.
The Rays have the better pitching staff, but with the addition of Jake Peavy, Boston's likely four of Jon Lester, Peavy, Ryan Dempster and John Lackey should be more than enough. The Red Sox look to be built for postseason success, and while the Rays will make things tough on them, I believe Boston inevitably comes out on top.
Winner: Red Sox (Series Record: 3-2)
3B Miguel Cabrera
The Tigers have once again struggled to run away with the AL Central crown, despite a roster that boasts more talent on paper than perhaps any in the American League. That said, they're currently riding an 11-game winning streak, and they should be able to carry some solid second-half momentum into the postseason.
The A's took everyone by surprise last year with a second-half surge that saw them move from a .500 team to AL West champs. They're not surprising anyone this year, but they continue to win games. Even with the Rangers going 9-1 in their last 10 games, I see Oakland holding on for the AL West title.
However, aside from Bartolo Colon, 40, the A's again have one of the youngest rotations in all of baseball. The Tigers, meanwhile, have four veteran starters who are all frontline arms. The A's are great at playing matchups and finding ways to win, but in this case they are simply overmatched by the Tigers staff.
Winner: Tigers (Series Record: 3-0)
SP Clayton Kershaw
In what would be a matchup of two teams that were both expected to do well this season, suffered some ups and downs, and finished hot, the Dodgers and Braves would be playing for their first World Series trips since 1988 and 1999, respectively.
The pitching matchups for the series would likely be Clayton Kershaw vs. Mike Minor, Zack Greinke vs. Kris Medlen, Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Julio Teheran and Ricky Nolasco vs. Paul Maholm.
With the Kershaw/Greinke combination getting two starts each if the series goes six games as I predict, the Dodgers have to hold an edge on the pitching side of things.
The Braves are such a momentum team from an offensive standpoint, and it depends on whether they're hot or not. Even if Atlanta enters the series with its offense clicking, the Dodgers have more than enough run-scoring ability themselves that their advantage in the rotation will wind up being the difference.
Winner: Dodgers (Series Record: 4-2)
SP Justin Verlander
The Red Sox and Tigers both have a ton of veteran talent on their rosters. Both have enjoyed a good deal of success in recent years, with the Tigers reaching the World Series last year and the Red Sox last appearing in the Fall Classic back in 2007.
The pitching matchup (given my prediction for the Tigers to sweep in the ALDS and the Red Sox to go the full five games) would be as follows: Jake Peavy vs. Justin Verlander, Ryan Dempster vs. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester vs. Doug Fister and John Lackey vs. Anibal Sanchez.
Both teams have had their share of bullpen problems this season, but they have found their closers of late. Both rotations feature veterans who are capable of throwing a gem every time out.
Verlander had one of his best starts of the season last time out, going eight innings and allowing just four hits and one run. If he can use that start to kick-start what's been a disappointing season and give the Tigers a second ace alongside Max Scherzer, that would be enough for the Tigers to come out on top here. Even if he doesn't, their starting pitching depth and superstars in the middle of the lineup makes them the favorites.
Winner: Tigers (Series Record: 4-1)
SP Max Scherzer
There would be no shortage of big-name, high-price talent in a World Series matchup between the Tigers and Dodgers. If Justin Verlander has in fact turned a corner and starts pitching like a stud again, the Kershaw/Verlander matchup will be must-see TV.
Both teams can go four deep with solid starting pitchers, and both teams have plus offensive attacks. The Tigers duo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder trumps the Dodgers middle of the order, but as long as they're healthy, the Dodgers have more impact bats than Detroit does.
Experience favors the Tigers, as they were there last year and returned essentially the same core group of guys. The Giants absolutely dominated them last season, and they'll make the most of their second chance to come away with the 2013 World Series title.
World Series MVP? How about right-hander Doug Fister, who was brilliant in the postseason last year and has pitched very well of late at 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last five starts. I predict a pair of wins in the series, including a gem in the clinching Game 6 to seal the award.
Winner: Tigers (Series Record: 4-2)