Ranking the Dream 2017 MLB Postseason Scenarios Best for Baseball and Its Fans

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2017

Ranking the Dream 2017 MLB Postseason Scenarios Best for Baseball and Its Fans

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    The New York Yankees haven't faced the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs since 2004's historic ALCS.
    The New York Yankees haven't faced the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs since 2004's historic ALCS.Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    There's no difficulty in dreaming of marquee MLB playoff matchups for a postseason that will feature multiple star-studded juggernauts.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros have already clinched playoff spots, meaning Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor and Jose Altuve are guaranteed to compete beyond the regular season.

    From a financial standpoint, MLB probably would love to see the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees join them. But note that TV ratings was not the only factor in assembling the most appealing postseason matchups. While franchise prestige and prior interactions factored into the rankings, the best bouts from a quality perspective still received as much—and in some cases more—attention as legacy matchups that haven't meant as much in recent years.

    Don't worry: This isn't an entire article dedicated to the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Yet there's no denying a large legion of fans would love to see them revive a heated rivalry that dominated baseball in the early 2000s.

    To borrow a wrestling term, let's fantasy book MLB's postseason for the best showdowns both the league and fans would appreciate.

10. Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (NL Wild Card Game)

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    Colorado Rockies stars Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have never appeared in the postseason.
    Colorado Rockies stars Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have never appeared in the postseason.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Let's start with a scenario that doesn't require much imagination. Heading into the final two weeks of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are on a collision course for the National League Wild Card Game.

    Arizona has not made the postseason since 2011, when rookie Paul Goldschmidt hit two home runs and reached base 10 times during a five-game National League Division Series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Carlos Gonzalez is the only remaining Rockie from their last postseason team in 2009.

    This battle of hungry young teams would boast three MVP candidates in Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. There's also J.D. Martinez, who hasn't received enough mainstream recognition for crushing 24 home runs in 52 games since he was traded from the Detroit Tigers on July 18.

    The only pitfall to this matchup: Colorado does not have an ace to relive last year's riveting pitchers' duel between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard in the NL Wild Card Game. That gives Arizona—which should host the bout since it owns a five-game lead—the upper hand with Zack Greinke, Zack Godley and the red-hot Robbie Ray available.

    It's not the glossiest contest from a casual fan's perspective, but it's time these rising National League West squads escape the Los Angeles Dodgers' shadow.

9. Los Angeles Angels vs. Washington Nationals (World Series)

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    Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout would make for an intriguing World Series scenario if the Los Angeles Angels sneaked into the playoffs.
    Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout would make for an intriguing World Series scenario if the Los Angeles Angels sneaked into the playoffs.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    MLB is marketed around teams rather than individual stars, but a head-to-head meeting of two unprecedented phenoms would change its branding strategy in a hurry.

    Having both played their rookie seasons in 2012, Harper and Mike Trout will forever be intertwined. Though the Nationals and Los Angeles Angels have no bad blood and rarely meet, baseball fans have envisioned their own version of Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird. It helps that Trout is the quiet, play-by-the-book ambassador while Harper spearheads a mission to "Make Baseball Fun Again."

    From a simpler standpoint, it'd be great to see Trout and Harper play baseball into November. The Angels have afforded their two-time MVP just one playoff appearance, and Harper's Nationals are still trying to solve the NLDS riddle.

    Despite missing over a month with a thumb injury, Trout will again factor into the MVP discussion with his 29 homers, 21 steals and a Bondsian .315/.452/.638 slash line in 102 games. Harper, out since mid-August with a knee injury, rebounded from a down 2016 by hitting .326/.419/.614 with 29 homers in 106 contests.

    These are two once-in-a-generation talents who arrived at the same time, so MLB would relish a World Series clash even if the Angels would make a mediocre playoff squad. Whichever team earns the American League's second wild-card spot will be the postseason's weakest link and an underdog in the one-game playoff, but none of the other squads are powered by one all-time great in his prime and another (Albert Pujols) who's approaching the end of his career.

8. Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox (World Series)

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    Theo Epstein helped both the Red Sox and Cubs snap long title droughts.
    Theo Epstein helped both the Red Sox and Cubs snap long title droughts.Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    This was last year's dream matchup because of how poetic it would have been for the Cubs to end their curse against the franchise that resolved its own decadeslong misery in 2004. It would require an entirely new narrative this fall.

    Chicago can't pose as a lovable underdog against Boston—or anyone else—this postseason. Now, it'd simply be two big-market giants trying to make up for lost time. That's not a bad hook either.

    There's still the Theo Epstein connection, too, as the front office mastermind helped each squad lift its title drought. The Cubs president of baseball operation recruited Jon Lester and John Lackey, both of whom guided the Red Sox to their 2013 title two years after the team's infamous "beer and chicken" collapse.

    Epstein's impact remains widely visible in both organizations. This series would offer a hodgepodge of young position player stars, most notably Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

    Though the sport and its fans would enjoy a Chicago-Boston tilt, it would feel a year late. Last year's leaders in run differential, the Cubs and Red Sox rank eighth and seventh this season. Neither would be viewed as a weak champion because of their star power, franchise prestige and strong second halves, but fans who want to watch the best possible World Series can dream bigger.

7. Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros (World Series)

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    Neither the Nationals nor Astros has ever won the World Series.
    Neither the Nationals nor Astros has ever won the World Series.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Last year's World Series worked so well because neutral fans wanted both the Cubs and Indians to succeed. Each franchise had gone long enough without a title, so either way, a team full of affable young players would end a drought.

    Big-market teams have larger fanbases and procure better ratings, but don't underestimate the appeal of overcoming a tumultuous past. Having each never won a championship, the Nationals and Astros can manufacture a plot similar to last year's classic World Series.

    Forget winning a title, Washington has never even escaped the NLDS. The Montreal Expos also never reached the Fall Classic.

    Houston still played in the National League when it last won the pennant in 2005. The Chicago White Sox won all four games by a combined six runs, and the Astros didn't make their next playoff appearance until 2015.

    And let's not pretend there'd be no star power just because the teams don't play in New York, Los Angeles, Boston or Chicago. The Nats and Astros sent a combined 11 players to this year's All-Star Game, and that's not including NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon or Alex Bregman—who's hitting .308/.360/.513 in the second half. Or Trea Turner, who has stolen 40 bases in 87 games.

    Had Harper stayed healthy all year, he and Altuve may have represented each league's MVP and batting champion. This is quietly one of the best postseason matchups MLB could offer.

6. Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (NLDS)

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    The Diamondbacks notched a pair of three-game sweeps over the Dodgers in late August and early September, including a game in which Martinez hit four homers.
    The Diamondbacks notched a pair of three-game sweeps over the Dodgers in late August and early September, including a game in which Martinez hit four homers.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    MLB would probably rather see a repeat of last year, when the Dodgers defeated the Nationals in Game 5 the NLDS to set up a marquee National League Championship Series with the Cubs. Any combination of the trio would once again make for riveting baseball.

    But the Diamondbacks pose the Dodgers' biggest threat.

    Los Angeles' recent swoon contained six losses in as many games to Arizona, which posted a 13-game winning streak while the NL West leaders couldn't buy a win. Anything can happen in a small sample size, and the wild-card club has the roster to give the Dodgers major problems in a five-game series.

    Led by former L.A. ace Greinke, the Arizona starting rotation flaunts MLB's second-best ERA (3.45)—narrowly behind their division foe's (3.43). Even if they use Greinke in the Wild Card Game, the Diamondbacks still have Ray and Godley to start the NLDS. Lefties give the Dodgers problems, as Ray demonstrated by allowing one run and compiling 24 strikeouts over 14.1 innings Aug. 30 and Sept. 4.

    Conversely, Los Angeles' lefty-heavy rotation would have to handle right-handed sluggers Goldschmidt and Martinez.

    Though trapped in the wild-card spot, Arizona trails Washington by four games for the NL's second-best record and already possesses the Senior Circuit's second-best run differential (plus-143). MLB should only rue this matchup out of fear the Dodgers could get knocked out early.

5. New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox (ALCS)

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    All signs point to a possible Yankees-Red Sox ALCS being loaded with drama.
    All signs point to a possible Yankees-Red Sox ALCS being loaded with drama.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    No matchup before the World Series would draw as many eyeballs as Yankees vs. Red Sox, a storied rivalry in need of another high-stakes chapter.

    The American League East enemies last traded postseason blows during the 2004 American League Championship Series, when Boston became the first and only MLB team to overcome a 3-0 deficit. After avenging Aaron Boone's crushing Game 7 walk-off home run from the previous year, the Red Sox won their first of three titles since 1918.

    Though still considered a top-shelf feud, the teams haven't even made the same postseason since 2009. That should change this year, but one squad must settle for a win-or-go-home Wild Gard Game. Since Cleveland and Houston are vying for the Junior Circuit's premier record, New York and Boston fittingly could only cross paths in an overdue ALCS rematch.

    Much has changed since 2004, when Betts and Aaron Judge were each 12 years old. The teams both owe their rises back to relevance more on young stars than highly paid veterans. The sign-stealing saga that emerged in early September would also sprinkle the stage with high drama.

    Of course, seeing the AL's third- and fourth-best teams collide wouldn't be as exhilarating as watching the top two joust for league supremacy.

4. Houston Astros vs. Cleveland Indians (ALCS)

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    Lindor and Altuve would headline a star-studded ALCS between the Indians and Astros.
    Lindor and Altuve would headline a star-studded ALCS between the Indians and Astros.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Yes, Yankees vs. Red Sox wold be cool. Would it be as good as watching a series with Altuve and Carlos Correa manning one infield and Lindor and Jose Ramirez occupying the other? Or Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander looking to embellish their exemplary postseason track records? 

    Only a Yankees or Red Sox fan would reply in the affirmative. Since other teams and fanbases beyond those two indeed exist—and few fans without a rooting interest would adopt either in October—Indians vs. Astros would make for a better ALCS.

    Houston and Cleveland rank first and second in weighted on-base average, and with the order reversed, they also have accumulated MLB's best two strikeouts per nine ratios. It's one thing for a potent pitching staff to trade blows with a thunderous offense, but these squads are elite when it comes to scoring and preventing runs.

    Before the Indians' 22-game winning streak, the Astros were considered the AL behemoth. They entered the All-Star break 60-29, but injuries and pitching woes may cost the club home-field advantage in this hypothetical matchup. Yet it should now have Correa, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. healthy, and Verlander's been rolling since he was traded by the Tigers on Aug. 31.

    Progressive fans would also relish intelligent bullpen usage by both sides. Cleveland manager Terry Francona delighted studious observers by using relief star Andrew Miller in high-leverage situations before the eighth or ninth frame last year, and Houston skipper A.J. Hinch could unleash Chris Devenski as an old-school fireman in October.

    And what better way to fortify a changing of the guard than the Indians and Astros eliminating the Yankees and Red Sox to set up this encounter? Besides, enough Yankees-Red Sox games are televised during the season anyway. This would be a fresh pairing that could turn into a longstanding playoff feud.

3. Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians (World Series)

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    Last year's World Series was an all-time classic showcase that most fans would love to see a second time.
    Last year's World Series was an all-time classic showcase that most fans would love to see a second time.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Cubs and Indians collaborated to produce an epic Fall Classic last year. While sequels often disappoint, it was nevertheless an amazing series that deserves a rematch.

    After Chicago conquered Cleveland in a 10-inning Game 7 paused by a rain delay, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed a belief that still holds credence almost a year later.

    "Look, I think we just saw the end of one of the great World Series of all time," Manfred said, per MLB.com's Richard Justice.

    While Dexter Fowler and momentary Game 7 hero Rajai Davis now play elsewhere, both teams remain largely intact. And Round 2 could flaunt even more star power, with the Cubs having added Jose Quintana, Wade Davis and rookie Ian Happ and the Indians having added Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and a healthy Carlos Carrasco.

    This isn't the NBA, where the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers shocked nobody by setting up the same series three times. Not since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978 have the same two teams won the pennants in back-to-back years, so a Cubs-Indians rematch would feel special rather than predictable.

    Chicago may have ended a 108-year title drought, but Cleveland came painstakingly close to claiming its first championship since 1948. And though the Cubs have rebounded after a poor start, the Indians would be well positioned to earn vengeance if the teams met again this postseason.

2. New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (World Series)

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    Judge and Cody Bellinger would make a Yankees-Dodgers World Series more than a renewal of an old MLB feud.
    Judge and Cody Bellinger would make a Yankees-Dodgers World Series more than a renewal of an old MLB feud.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Let's wait a second for all MLB shareholders to stop drooling.

    Yankees-Dodgers would be a megamatch of deep-pocketed franchises that brandish baseball's two highest payrolls, per Spotrac. It'd create a battle for bragging rights among New York and Los Angeles citizens while harking back to a prestigious rivalry, which started when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn.

    It would mark the teams' 12th World Series meeting, with the last occurring in 1981. While the Yankees wield a 8-3 advantage, the squads have split their four meetings since the Dodgers relocated.

    Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle no longer wear pinstripes. Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax don't wear Dodger blue. Yet Yankees-Dodgers would mean a colossal meeting between AL and NL Rookie of the Year front-runners Judge and Cody Bellinger, who have hit a combined 81 home runs.

    Let's not forget Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Kershaw and Corey Seager. New York boasts a dominant bullpen built for postseason success, but Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen is baseball's best reliever in a post-Mariano Rivera world.

    The title hopefuls also each added a major midseason rotation upgrade. Sonny Gray vs. Yu Darvish wouldn't make for a bad Game 2 matchup.

    Fans have seen the Yankees and Red Sox plenty of times, but the Yankees and Dodgers would yield nostalgia for older supporters and novelty for younger viewers. Despite their wild-card standing, the Evil Empire has a plus-175 run differential that befits a title contender. Though it would be an underdog, it'd be a dangerous one, with a powerful lineup, deep rotation and Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman to shorten games.

    Even those wary of big-market bias can't deny this series' potential to shatter ratings records while showcasing young superstars. It surely wouldn't be every fan's top choice, but it'd be the perfect pairing to attract casual viewers of all ages and provide diehard baseball fiends with a high-quality World Series.

1. Cleveland Indians vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (World Series)

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    The Dodgers took two of three games from the Indians in June.
    The Dodgers took two of three games from the Indians in June.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The last two matchups on this list are rich with narrative authority, but the best matchup would be the one that features the two best teams in baseball.

    Two months ago, the Astros and Dodgers would have occupied this spot. Then the Indians, a team that has significantly improved since it took the Cubs to extra innings in Game 7 of last year's World Series, caught fire. Now they lead the AL in wins (93) and the majors in run differential (plus-227).

    The Dodgers, on the other hand, stunningly lost 16 of 17 games from late August to mid-September to halt their pursuit of the 116-win Cubs of 1935 and Seattle Mariners of 2001. Despite the dreadful stretch, Los Angeles has clinched a playoff berth and boasts an MLB-high 96 victories and the NL's top scoring margin (plus-172).

    Lindor vs. Seager? Sounds good. So does Encarnacion and Ramirez opposing Bellinger and Justin Turner while former New York Mets outfielders Bruce and Curtis Granderson reunite as adversaries.

    Kluber vs. Kershaw? Seeing that battle of aces twice would be nice. Miller and Jansen extinguishing fires for each juggernaut's bullpen? Sure.

    Fans perturbed by baseball's sudden offensive surge would especially appreciate this World Series. The Indians and Dodgers rank first and second in team ERA with room to spare ahead of the third-place Diamondbacks. Along with their superstar ace and shutdown reliever, each side is graced with rotation and bullpen depth.

    Then again, they scored a combined 39 runs during a three-game series in June.

    There's little history between the clubs; it's been nearly a century since the Indians defeated the Brooklyn Robins in the 1920 World Series. But who would complain about MLB's two best teams determining which one deserves the Commissioner's Trophy?

        

    Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.