The 2021 Major League Baseball postseason began with a bang on Tuesday, as the Boston Red Sox sent the New York Yankees home with an impressive 6-2 victory in the American League Wild Card Game.
On Wednesday, the National League take center stage when the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers host the St. Louis Cardinals with a spot in the divisional series on the line.
With three of the four divisional-round matchups set, here's how things stand in the MLB playoffs right now.
2021 MLB Division Series Matchups (Best-of-5)
American League: Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
American League: Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros
National League: St. Louis Cardinals/Los Angeles Dodgers winner vs. San Francisco Giants
National League: Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers
World Series Odds
Los Angeles Dodgers (+390; bet $100 to win $390)
Houston Astros (+440)
Tampa Bay Rays (+500)
San Francisco Giants (+550)
Chicago White Sox (+700)
Boston Red Sox (+850)
Milwaukee Brewers (+900)
Atlanta Braves (+1200)
St. Louis Cardinals (+2000)
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Key Storyline: Dodgers Depth
One of the biggest reasons the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone 255-129 over the past three seasons is their roster depth. No team in MLB has been better at accumulating more talent than the defending World Series champions.
Coming into this postseason, though, that depth is going to be tested. Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy are both dealing with arm injuries.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has already said Kershaw is unlikely to pitch in the postseason.
While this is a significant blow to Los Angeles' pitching staff, the team has already gotten accustomed to playing without the three-time Cy Young winner. He missed more than two months during the regular season with forearm inflammation.
The Dodgers are still stacked in the rotation with Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias in the top three spots. Scherzer, who has a 1.98 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 68.1 innings since being acquired on July 30, will start against the Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Muncy dislocated his elbow in Sunday's regular-season finale. The first baseman hasn't been ruled out for the playoffs, but Roberts told reporters there's a "glimmer of hope" he could return later if they continue to advance.
The Muncy injury is probably more significant than Kershaw's because it could force Cody Bellinger into a prominent role. The 2019 NL MVP was the second-worst hitter in terms of MLB wOBA this season with a minimum of 350 plate appearances.
One thing that could help to ease the pain of Muncy's absence is if Mookie Betts can return to his usual form. The five-time All-Star had a down season by his standards with an .854 OPS and 23 homers in 122 games.
The Dodgers will still be running out a lineup with Will Smith, A.J. Pollock, Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Corey Seager. That group is capable of scoring runs in bunches, but the loss of Muncy, Bellinger's season-long struggles and Betts' down season gives them a smaller margin of error in their quest to repeat.
Team to Watch: Milwaukee Brewers
It was easy to be overshadowed in the NL this season with the Dodgers and Giants seemingly unable to lose down the stretch in their battle to win the West Division, but the Milwaukee Brewers have the potential to be a postseason giant this October.
The Brewers are the only team in MLB that can match Los Angeles' top three starting pitchers. Corbin Burnes is a front-runner for the NL Cy Young after a dominant regular season.
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Brandon Woodruff, who will start Game 2 against the Atlanta Braves, had a 2.56 ERA and 211 strikeouts in 179.1 innings. Freddy Peralta took a massive leap forward in his fourth MLB season with a 2.81 ERA and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 28 appearances.
The Brewers will need that rotation to carry them because the lineup is a potential issue in the postseason. Only four of their eight regular position players posted above-average OPS+ totals during the regular season.
While Bellinger was the second-worst hitter in MLB according to wOBA, Jackie Bradley Jr. managed to be even worse with a .224 mark that included a .163/.236/.261 slash line and 34 OPS+.
The bullpen also took a huge hit after they clinched the NL Central title on Sept. 26. It was revealed that Devin Williams fractured his right (pitching) hand punching a wall during the celebration in the locker room.
Williams' absence likely puts a lot more pressure on closer Josh Hader, who wasn't asked to pitch more than one inning in any game during the regular season. He has historically been able to get at least four outs when tasked with doing so, but the additional burden in the playoffs could make him vulnerable to a bad outing.
Christian Yelich has been consistently inconsistent in 2021. He had an OPS over .800 in March/April, June and August, but the outfielder also had a sub-.700 OPS in May, July and September. If he can harness the good energy and block out the bad, it will go a long way toward helping the Brewers reach their first World Series since 1982.
Underrated Team: San Francisco Giants
It's very strange to see a team that outlasted the reigning World Series champions in the NL West and led MLB with 107 wins during the regular season to be an underdog, but that's been the story of the San Francisco Giants in 2021.
Five of their regular position players are aged 33 or older. Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani have had decent seasons in the past, but neither seemed likely to anchor one of the best rotations in MLB.
Even Kris Bryant, their big trade-deadline acquisition, didn't play like a superstar in San Francisco. He had a solid .262/.344/.444 slash line with seven homers and 22 RBI in 51 games.
Nothing about the Giants on paper added up to them being a juggernaut, yet here we are. It still seems like there's skepticism about their title chances. They only have the fourth-best World Series odds, per FanDuel.
One drawback for the Giants is they would have to play the Dodgers in the NLDS if Los Angeles beats St. Louis in the Wild Card Game. But San Francisco won their regular-season series 10-9.
The secret to the Giants' success has been great depth in every facet of the game. The rotation had four starters with ERAs between 2.81 and 3.83, a loaded bullpen and a lineup that has 10 players who hit at least 10 homers (11 if you factor in Bryant's time with the Chicago Cubs; he has 25 this year).
The Dodgers, Brewers and Chicago White Sox have bigger names at the top of their starting rotations. The Astros, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox have lineups that can score runs in bunches.
Nothing about San Francisco's roster is sexy, but all of the pieces fit together so well. After being underestimated all season, the Giants are more than capable of putting a bow on their magical 2021 with a World Series title.
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