Ranking Top 7 MLB Contenders by Who's Best Built for the Playoffs

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2014

Ranking Top 7 MLB Contenders by Who's Best Built for the Playoffs

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    Regular-season success and postseason success are often two different things in Major League Baseball, as some teams are simply better built for postseason success.

    The article ahead offers an in-depth look at the seven teams best built to win in October.

    The following areas carried the most weight when it came to ranking the teams:

    • Projected rotation: Pitching wins championships, and it carried the most weight here. For a team to be a serious contender, it really needs to have an ace it can lean on atop the staff, two more plus starters and a passable No. 4 who is capable of turning in a quality start.
    • Late-inning relief: Teams generally lean heavily on three or four bullpen arms once the playoffs roll around, so while a team does not necessarily have to have a phenomenal bullpen top to bottom, it does need a handful of arms it can count on.
    • Offensive firepower: A team can get by with an average offense if it has strong pitching and is capable of coming up with clutch hits. Again, pitching wins championships, but having a high-powered offense certainly doesn't hurt any.

    Those three factors were examined for each team considered to be a contender at this point in the season, and the following is a ranking of the seven teams best built for playoff success.

7. Kansas City Royals

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. James Shields, 2. Jason Vargas, 3. Danny Duffy, 4. Jeremy Guthrie

    James Shields continues to be one of the most reliable starters in the game, and he'll have the extra motivation of pitching for his next contract down the stretch. Danny Duffy has been phenomenal since he replaced Bruce Chen in the rotation, while Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are reliable veterans.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Yordano Ventura, MR Aaron Crow, MR Tim Collins, MR Jason Frasor, MR Kelvin Herrera, MR Wade Davis, CL Greg Holland

    Yordano Ventura makes the most sense as far as which starter goes to the bullpen, and he'll be joining a fantastic group. Jason Frasor has been a nice deadline pickup, while the trio of Kelvin Herrera (56 G, 1.45 ERA), Wade Davis (56 G, 0.77 ERA) and Greg Holland (55 G, 1.72 ERA) is the best 7-8-9 group in the game.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. RF Nori Aoki, 2. 2B Omar Infante, 3. LF Alex Gordon, 4. DH Billy Butler, 5. C Salvador Perez, 6. 1B Eric Hosmer, 7. 3B Mike Moustakas, 8. CF Lorenzo Cain, 9. SS Alcides Escobar

    After averaging 3.98 runs per game over the first four months of the season, the Kansas City Royals offense has shined in August with a 4.59 RPG mark. Eric Hosmer is currently on the rehab trail from a fractured hand, and his return should only make the team better.


    Projected Bench

    • C Erik Kratz, IF Christian Colon, OF Jarrod Dyson, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Josh Willingham

    Josh Willingham has been terrific as an August waiver pickup, but the return of Hosmer will likely bump him out of the everyday lineup. Veteran Raul Ibanez has plenty of postseason experience under his belt, and the bench as a whole has done a nice job when called upon in limited action.

6. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Yovani Gallardo, 2. Kyle Lohse, 3. Matt Garza, 4. Mike Fiers

    The Milwaukee Brewers don't have the bona fide ace the other teams on this list do, but they are rock-solid top to bottom thanks to the emergence of Mike Fiers, who has a 1.29 ERA in four starts since stepping into the rotation for the injured Matt Garza. The team will have a decision to make once Garza comes back, but whoever gets bumped will be an asset out of the pen.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Wily Peralta, MR Tom Gorzelanny, MR Rob Wooten, MR Brandon Kintzler, MR Will Smith, MR Jeremy Jeffress, MR Zach Duke, CL Francisco Rodriguez

    The bullpen has been better than expected all season, but there are some concerns as Zach Duke (6.23 ERA) and Will Smith (5.27 ERA) have fallen off significantly since the All-Star break. However, a healthy Tom Gorzelanny is pitching well, and Jeremy Jeffress has been a terrific under-the-radar pickup.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. CF Carlos Gomez, 2. C Jonathan Lucroy, 3. RF Ryan Braun, 4. 3B Aramis Ramirez, 5. 2B Scooter Gennett, 6. LF Khris Davis, 7. 1B Mark Reynolds, 8. SS Jean Segura

    When everyone is healthy and firing on all cylinders, the Brewers offense is as good as any in the National League. Jonathan Lucroy is a legitimate NL MVP candidate, Carlos Gomez is one of the most dynamic players in all of baseball and Aramis Ramirez is hitting .387 with a .973 OPS in August.


    Projected Bench

    • C Martin Maldonado, 1B Lyle Overbay, 2B Rickie Weeks, UT Elian Herrera, OF Gerardo Parra

    Lyle Overbay has formed a passable platoon with Mark Reynolds at first base this season, while Rickie Weeks has been productive in his first season in a reserve role. Gerardo Parra was a nice pickup at the deadline, and he'll continue to see time at all three outfield positions.

5. Seattle Mariners

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Felix Hernandez, 2. Hisashi Iwakuma, 3. Chris Young, 4. James Paxton

    Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma give the Seattle Mariners as good a one-two punch as any in baseball, and King Felix makes them perhaps the toughest Wild Card Round draw in either league. The question will be if Chris Young (3.17 ERA, 4.62 FIP) can keep pitching over his head and James Paxton can keep things rolling after a fantastic August.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Brandon Maurer, MR Dominic Leone, MR Joe Beimel, MR Charlie Furbush, MR Tom Wilhelmsen, MR Danny Farquhar, MR Yoervis Medina, CL Fernando Rodney

    As good as the top of their rotation is, the bullpen may be the biggest weapon for the Mariners come October. It's a group that is capable of shortening a lot of games and helping offset a below-average offensive attack. This group currently leads all of baseball with a 2.43 ERA, converting 41 of 51 save chances on the year.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. CF Austin Jackson, 2. LF Dustin Ackley, 3. 2B Robinson Cano, 4. DH Kendrys Morales, 5. 3B Kyle Seager, 6. 1B Logan Morrison, 7. C Mike Zunino, 8. RF Chris Denorfia, 9. SS Chris Taylor

    The offense is still something of a question mark, but the Mariners have been terrific this month in putting up 4.68 runs per game on their way to a fantastic plus-43 run differential in August alone. The additions of Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia have helped fill in the gaps, and a big second half from Dustin Ackley (.316 BA, .870 OPS) has given them a big boost as well.


    Projected Bench

    • C Jesus Sucre, 1B Justin Smoak, IF Brad Miller, OF Endy Chavez

    Ousted starters Justin Smoak and Brad Miller have landed on the bench for a reason, as they have done little at the plate this season. Endy Chavez has been platooning with Denorfia in right field, and that will likely continue.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Clayton Kershaw, 2. Zack Greinke, 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 4. Roberto Hernandez

    Everyone knows about the dynamic duo atop the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation, as the presence of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke alone is enough to earn the team a spot on this list. Keeping Hyun-Jin Ryu healthy the rest of the way will be key. Behind him, the team will have a decision to make as far as who fills out the rotation now that Josh Beckett is shelved.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Dan Haren, MR Pedro Baez, MR Paco Rodriguez, MR Jamey Wright, MR J.P. Howell, MR Brandon League, MR Brian Wilson, CL Kenley Jansen

    J.P. Howell (60 G, 1.26 ERA) and Brandon League (52 G, 2.55 ERA) have been one of the league's better setup duos, and Kenley Jansen remains an overpowering force in the ninth inning. However, the rest of the Dodgers bullpen has been shaky at best. Brian Wilson has plenty of postseason experience under his belt, and he'll likely be counted on despite subpar numbers.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. 2B Dee Gordon, 2. CF Yasiel Puig, 3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 4. RF Matt Kemp, 5. SS Hanley Ramirez, 6. LF Carl Crawford, 7. 3B Juan Uribe, 8. C A.J. Ellis

    The health of Hanley Ramirez will be one of the biggest keys for the Dodgers offense, as he has been banged up all season. When he missed last October, it clearly cost them. Yasiel Puig is having a miserable month of August, hitting .218 without a home run, so he'll need to pick things up again as well. All the pieces are there for this to be a plus offense—it just needs to perform.


    Projected Bench

    • C Tim Federowicz, 1B/OF Scott Van Slyke, IF Darwin Barney, UT Justin Turner, OF Andre Ethier

    Justin Turner has been fantastic stepping into the everyday lineup for the injured Juan Uribe, and his versatility makes him one of the more underrated players in the game. Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke could both see time in the starting lineup, while Darwin Barney should be able to edge out Miguel Rojas as the utility infielder.

3. Detroit Tigers

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Max Scherzer, 2. David Price, 3. Rick Porcello, 4. Justin Verlander

    The Detroit Tigers have a 4.05 ERA in August, as the deadline acquisition of David Price has not pushed them to an elite level as many expected. However, this is still an awfully dangerous rotation. Justin Verlander looked sharp his last time out, and if he can get hot down the stretch again like he did in 2013, this could still be the best rotation in baseball. First the Tigers have to reach the postseason, though.

    "We can't think about the postseason. That's not even in the discussion at this point," GM Dave Dombrowski told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "We've got to get there. This has not been an easy road for us. We just can't show flashes. We've got to buckle down. We've got to win."


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Anibal Sanchez, MR Pat McCoy, MR Blaine Hardy, MR Jim Johnson, MR Phil Coke, MR Al Albuquerque, MR Joba Chamberlain, CL Joe Nathan

    The bullpen is going to be the biggest question mark for the Tigers down the stretch and on into October. That said, Blaine Hardy and Al Albuquerque have emerged as a reliable duo in the setup role, and closer Joe Nathan is 9-of-10 on save chances since the All-Star break despite a 4.40 ERA, so it could be worse.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. 2B Ian Kinsler, 2. RF Torii Hunter, 3. 1B Miguel Cabrera, 4. DH Victor Martinez, 5. LF J.D. Martinez, 6. 3B Nick Castellanos, 7. C Alex Avila, 8. SS  Eugenio Suarez, 9. CF Rajai Davis

    Trading Austin Jackson was a hit for the Tigers offense, but this is still a very good group, and 1-5, the Tigers are as dangerous as any team in baseball. They currently rank third in MLB at 4.66 runs per game, and they are right in line with that at 4.61 RPG here in August.


    Projected Bench

    • C Bryan Holaday, IF Andrew Romine, OF Ezequiel Carrera, IF/OF Don Kelly

    The Tigers have not gotten much from their bench the past few seasons, and this year will be no different. Don Kelly provides some nice versatility and both Andrew Romine and Ezequiel Carrera have plus gloves, but no one here is likely to play much of a role in October.

2. Washington Nationals

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Jordan Zimmermann, 2. Stephen Strasburg, 3. Doug Fister, 4. Gio Gonzalez

    The team has a decision to make as far as how it will line up its playoff rotation and who will get bumped to the bullpen. Gio Gonzalez has been the worst of the bunch this season, but as the lone left-hander, he could get a spot based on who the Washington Nationals matched up against. At any rate, it's a good problem to have, as this staff is capable of carrying the team when it's firing on all cylinders.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Tanner Roark, MR Ross Detwiler, MR Matt Thornton, MR Craig Stammen, MR Aaron Barrett, MR Drew Storen, MR Tyler Clippard, CL Rafael Soriano

    The Nationals rank sixth in MLB with a 2.95 bullpen ERA, and the addition of Matt Thornton (9 G, 0.00 ERA) has given them the veteran left-hander they've been lacking the past couple years. The trio of Drew Storen (51 G, 1.43 ERA), Tyler Clippard (62 G, 1.85 ERA) and Rafael Soriano (54 G, 29 SV, 2.56 ERA) will be a serious weapon come October.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. CF Denard Span, 3B Anthony Rendon, 3. RF Jayson Werth, 4. 1B Adam LaRoche, 5. SS Ian Desmond, 6. LF Bryce Harper, 7. C Wilson Ramos, 8. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera

    With deadline acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera shoring up second base, there are no real holes in the Nationals lineup. They are averaging 4.78 runs per game in August, with a plus-40 run differential. The offense has been a real plus behind their terrific pitching staff.


    Projected Bench

    • C Jose Lobaton, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, IF Danny Espinosa, IF/OF Kevin Frandsen, OF Scott Hairston

    It will be interesting to see how Ryan Zimmerman factors into the team's plans once he returns from a hamstring injury, but if nothing else, he should give the Nationals some pop off the bench as their top reserve bat.

1. Oakland Athletics

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    Projected Playoff Rotation

    • 1. Jon Lester, 2. Sonny Gray, 3. Jeff Samardzija, 4. Scott Kazmir

    The Athletics went all-in at the trade deadline to add Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, and it gives them what looks to be one of the best potential postseason rotations in either league. There are few active pitchers with a better postseason track record than Lester, who has a 2.11 ERA in 76.2 playoff innings, and he gives them a bona fide ace to lean on.


    Projected Bullpen

    • LR Jesse Chavez, MR Fernando Abad, MR Dan Otero, MR Eric O'Flaherty, MR Ryan Cook, MR Luke Gregerson, CL Sean Doolittle

    Getting closer Sean Doolittle healthy between now and October will one of the keys for the Athletics down the stretch, but this is a solid bullpen as a whole. Chavez gives them a valuable weapon as a long-man who has enjoyed a solid year as a starter but has experience pitching out of the pen.


    Projected Starting Lineup

    • 1. CF Coco Crisp, 2. LF Sam Fuld, 3. 3B Josh Donaldson, 4. DH Brandon Moss, 5. 1B Stephen Vogt, 6. C Derek Norris, 7. RF Josh Reddick, 8. SS Jed Lowrie, 9. 2B Alberto Callaspo

    The offense has struggled at times here in the second half, but the A's still lead all of baseball at 4.75 runs per game. Brandon Moss and Coco Crisp are both hitting under .200 since the All-Star break, so they need to pick things up, but this is a team that finds ways to score runs despite a lack of star power.


    Projected Bench

    • C John Jaso, IF Nick Punto, IF Eric Sogard, OF Craig Gentry, OF Jonny Gomes

    The A's use their bench as much as any team in the American League. Getting Nick Punto and Craig Gentry back after extended DL stints will help their versatility come October.