Complete 2016 MLB Playoff Preview: Schedule, Team Rankings and Predictions

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2016

Complete 2016 MLB Playoff Preview: Schedule, Team Rankings and Predictions

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    So it begins.

    After six months and thousands of baseball games, the warm, languid promise of Opening Day gives way to the chilly pressure of the MLB playoffs.

    The lights get brighter. Every pitch, at-bat and defensive chance is magnified. If you're not excited, get excited.

    We'll help with a complete preview of the 2016 postseason, including rankings of every club's offense and pitching staff, a look at the managers who will be pulling the strings and predictions for every round up to and including the World Series. 

    Put the bubbly on ice, limber up your cheering muscles and proceed when ready.

Complete Schedule

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    Matt Brown/Getty Images

    Wild Card Games

    Oct. 4, 8 p.m. ET: AL Wild Card Game, TOR vs. BAL

    Oct. 5, 8 p.m. ET: NL Wild Card Game, NYM vs. SFG

    Division Series (CLE vs. BOS; TEX vs. AL WC; WAS vs. LAD; CHC vs. NL WC)

    Oct. 6: Game 1 of CLE vs. BOS; Game 1 of TEX vs. AL WC

    Oct. 7: Game 1 of WAS vs. LAD; Game 1 of CHC vs. NL WC; Game 2 of CLE vs. BOS; Game 2 of TEX vs. AL WC

    Oct. 8: Game 2 of WAS vs. LAD; Game 2 of CHC vs. NL WC

    Oct. 9: Game 3 of TEX vs. AL WC; Game 3 of CLE vs. BOS

    Oct. 10: Game 3 of WAS vs. LAD; Game 3 of CHC vs. NL WC; Game 4 of CLE vs. BOS*; Game 4 of TEX vs. AL WC*

    Oct. 11: Game 4 of WAS vs. LAD*; Game 4 of CHC vs. NL WC*

    Oct. 12: Game 5 of CLE vs. BOS*; Game 5 of TEX vs. AL WC*

    Oct. 13: Game 5 of WAS vs. LAD*; Game 5 of CHC vs. NL WC*

    * If necessary

    Championship Series

    Oct. 14: ALCS Game 1

    Oct. 15: NLCS Game 1; ALCS Game 2

    Oct. 16: NLCS Game 2

    Oct. 17: ALCS Game 3

    Oct. 18: NLCS Game 3; ALCS Game 4

    Oct. 19: NLCS Game 4; ALCS Game 5*

    Oct. 20: NLCS Game 5*

    Oct. 21: ALCS Game 6*

    Oct. 22: NLCS Game 6*; ALCS Game 7*

    Oct. 23: NLCS Game 7*

    * If necessary

    World Series

    Oct. 25: Game 1 (at AL)

    Oct. 26: Game 2 (at AL)

    Oct. 28: Game 3 (at NL)

    Oct. 29: Game 4 (at NL)

    Oct. 30: Game 5* (at NL)

    Nov. 1: Game 6* (at AL)

    Nov. 2: Game 7* (at AL)

    * If necessary

No. 10 Offense: San Francisco Giants

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team R: 715 (No. 19 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .258 (No. 11 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .728 (No. 20 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 130 (No. 28 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. CF Denard Span
    2. 1B Brandon Belt
    3. C Buster Posey
    4. RF Hunter Pence
    5. SS Brandon Crawford
    6. LF Angel Pagan
    7. 2B Joe Panik
    8. 3B Conor Gillaspie
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • OF Gorkys Hernandez
    • OF Gregor Blanco
    • INF Eduardo Nunez
    • INF Kelby Tomlinson
    • C Trevor Brown

    Lineup Overview

    The Giants' 2016 season was a tale of two halves. They posted the best record in baseball before the All-Star break but plummeted down the stretch and didn't sneak into the playoffs until Game 162.

    The bullpen was a big part of the problem (more on that later), but the bats deserve some blame.

    Giants hitters ranked No. 25 or worse in OPS, home runs and runs scored in the second half and struggled mightily in stretches with runners in scoring position.

    Still, San Francisco showed life in a season-ending sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, plowing through L.A.'s Big Three of Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda while plating 19 runs in three games.

    It's tough to bet against the even-year Giants and their stash of October-tested hitters, including a core of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.

    On paper, however, this offense is no juggernaut, particularly in the power department. 

No. 9 Offense: New York Mets

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 671 (Tied for No. 25 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .246 (No. 25 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .733 (Tied for No. 16 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 218 (No. 5 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. 3B Jose Reyes
    2. SS Asdrubal Cabrera
    3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
    4. CF Curtis Granderson
    5. RF Jay Bruce
    6. 2B T.J. Rivera
    7. 1B Lucas Duda
    8. C Travis d'Arnaud
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Kelly Johnson
    • 1B James Loney
    • OF Alejandro De Aza
    • OF Michael Conforto
    • C Rene Rivera

    Lineup Overview

    The Mets offense ranked in or near the bottom third in several key categories and wobbled in stretches this season.

    And key injuries, including the back surgery that ended second baseman Neil Walker's season, poked bigger holes in an already leaky vessel.

    New York, however, righted the ship down the stretch, ranking fifth in baseball with 141 runs scored in September. 

    Trade-deadline acquisition Jay Bruce heated up after a slow start, going 11-for-24 with three home runs in his final seven games.

    Along with other contributors such as Cespedes and Cabrera, he gives the Mets an attack that's far from flawless, but stronger than the overall stats indicate.

No. 8 Offense: Washington Nationals

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 763 (No. 8 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .256 (No. 17 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .751 (No. 12 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 203 (No. 11 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. CF Trea Turner
    2. LF Jayson Werth
    3. RF Bryce Harper
    4. 2B Daniel Murphy
    5. 3B Anthony Rendon
    6. 1B Ryan Zimmerman
    7. SS Danny Espinosa
    8. C Jose Lobaton
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Stephen Drew
    • OF Ben Revere
    • OF Chris Heisey
    • 1B Clint Robinson
    • C Pedro Severino

    Lineup Overview

    The Nats were decimated by catcher Wilson Ramos' season-ending ACL injury. No two ways about it.

    Plus, Daniel Murphythe team's best hitter for most of 2016is recovering from a glute injury and hasn't started since Sept. 17.

    Add reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper's down year, and you've got a group that's not firing on all cylinders.

    Still, speedy rookie Trea Turner is the definition of a spark plug. If Murphy recovers and others, such as Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon, muscle up, the Nats could do some damage.

    The injury bug flashed its teeth, however, and Washington got the worst of it.

No. 7 Offense: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 725 (No. 14 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .249 (No. 22 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .728 (Tied for No. 19 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 189 (No. 17 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. LF Howie Kendrick
    2. 3B Justin Turner
    3. SS Corey Seager
    4. RF Yasiel Puig
    5. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
    6. C Yasmani Grandal
    7. CF Joc Pederson
    8. 2B Chase Utley
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Charlie Culberson
    • OF Andre Ethier
    • OF Josh Reddick
    • OF Andrew Toles
    • C Carlos Ruiz

    Lineup Overview

    The Dodgers were boosted big-time by the return of mercurial Yasiel Puig, who went from demoted pariah to key lineup cog in a flash.

    L.A.'s disappointing final weekend in San Francisco leaves a bad taste in the team's mouth. But the Dodgers scored the fifth-most runs in baseball after the All-Star break and appear to be coalescing at the right time.

    One glaring caveat: Los Angeles hit a paltry .213 against left-handed pitching this season, dead last in the majors.

    In a postseason populated by dominant southpaws (Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester, David Price, etc.), that feels like it could be important.

No. 6 Offense: Cleveland Indians

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 777 (No. 5 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .262 (Tied for No. 5 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .759 (No. 7 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 185 (No. 18 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. LF Rajai Davis
    2. 2B Jason Kipnis
    3. SS Francisco Lindor
    4. 1B Mike Napoli
    5. DH Carlos Santana
    6. RF Lonnie Chisenhall
    7. 3B Jose Ramirez
    8. CF Tyler Naquin
    9. C Roberto Perez

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Michael Martinez
    • OF Coco Crisp
    • OF Brandon Guyer
    • C Chris Gimenez

    Lineup Overview

    The Indians were world-beaters at home this season, as they ranked third in runs scored (452) and OPS (.827). Away from Progressive Field, those figures dropped to 325 (No. 27) and .691 (No. 28).

    Cleveland has ample weapons, with Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana clubbing 34 homers apiece, rookie Tyler Naquin posting an .886 OPS and sophomore shortstop Francisco Lindor hitting .301.

    But unless they can figure out their road woes, this could be a shorter-than-hoped-for postseason for the AL Central champs.

No. 5 Offense: Texas Rangers

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 765 (No. 7 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .262 (Tied for No. 5 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .755 (Tied for No. 9 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 215 (No. 7 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. LF Carlos Gomez
    2. CF Ian Desmond
    3. DH Carlos Beltran
    4. 3B Adrian Beltre
    5. 2B Rougned Odor
    6. C Jonathan Lucroy
    7. 1B Mitch Moreland
    8. RF Shin-Soo Choo
    9. SS Elvis Andrus

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Jurickson Profar
    • INF/OF Ryan Rua
    • OF Nomar Mazara
    • C Robinson Chirinos 

    Lineup Overview

    The Rangers dipped from No. 6 to No. 19 in MLB in runs scored after the All-Star break. They finished with a plus-eight run differential, easily the worst among postseason qualifiers (the Chicago Cubs, by contrast, had the best run differential at plus-252).

    Still, they won a second consecutive AL West title and finished with the Junior Circuit's best record.

    They were, as Lone Star Ball described it, "the never quittingest, pythagorean thumbing, run differential askewing, largest bunch of baseball weirdos that we've maybe ever seen."

    They also have dangerous swingers, including veterans such as Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran and youngsters like Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor. 

    Just don't ask them to be conventional.

No. 4 Offense: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 759 (No. 9 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .248 (No. 23 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .755 (Tied for No. 9 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 221 (No. 4 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. 2B Devon Travis 
    2. 3B Josh Donaldson
    3. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
    4. DH Jose Bautista
    5. C Russell Martin
    6. SS Troy Tulowitzki
    7. RF Michael Saunders
    8. LF Melvin Upton Jr.
    9. CF Kevin Pillar 

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Darwin Barney
    • 1B Justin Smoak
    • OF Ezequiel Carrera  
    • C Dioner Navarro 

    Lineup Overview

    In 2015, the Blue Jays were the undisputed kings of hitting.

    They've been knocked down a rung this season but maintain their well-balanced attack, with the potent core of Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and, to a lesser extent, Jose Bautista leading the way.

    Encarnacion and Bautista are among several key Toronto contributors set to hit the open market this winter, so this could be the final run for the Jays in their present incarnation.

    The good news for the north-of-the-border faithful? They've got enough thump to make some noise.

No. 3 Offense: Baltimore Orioles

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 744 (No. 12 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .256 (Tied for No. 14 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .760 (No. 6 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 253 (No. 1 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. CF Adam Jones
    2. LF Hyun-soo Kim
    3. 3B Manny Machado
    4. DH Mark Trumbo
    5. C Matt Wieters
    6. 1B Chris Davis
    7. SS J.J. Hardy
    8. 2B Jonathan Schoop
    9. RF Michael Bourn

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Pedro Alvarez
    • INF Ryan Flaherty
    • C Caleb Joseph

    Lineup Overview

    If you like home runs, you've come to the right place.

    No team launched balls over the fence with the frequency and ferocity of the Orioles. In fact, Baltimore's top three home run hitters—Mark Trumbo (47), Chris Davis (38) and Manny Machado (37)—blasted as many homers as the entire Atlanta Braves roster (122). 

    That won't necessarily translate to a robust playoff run, especially with the starting pitching woes we'll get into later.

    But October history is bursting with memorable big flies, and these Orioles are poised to add a few of their own.

No. 2 Offense: Chicago Cubs

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    Team Stats

    • Team R: 808 (No. 3 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .256 (Tied for No. 14 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .772 (No. 3 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 199 (No. 13 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. CF Dexter Fowler
    2. 3B Kris Bryant
    3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
    4. 2B Ben Zobrist
    5. SS Addison Russell
    6. RF Jason Heyward
    7. LF Jorge Soler
    8. C Miguel Montero

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Javier Baez
    • OF Matt Szczur
    • OF Chris Coghlan
    • C/OF/1B Willson Contreras 
    • C David Ross

    Lineup Overview

    Not sure if you've heard, but the Chicago Cubs are baseball's hottest commodity.

    They're good all over the roster, as their MLB-best 103-58 record attests, but the offense is a key component. NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant leads the charge, with stout support from the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell.

    Plus, skipper Joe Maddon gets the versatility he craves with players who can fill in capably all over the diamond.

    Chicago clinched early, leading Maddon to rest some regulars and play out the string with a spring training vibe. That got under the skin of some veterans, including catcher Miguel Montero.

    "It can be tough on players' minds," Montero said, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune

    Now the games will count again, and the only tough thing will be ending professional sports' most infamous championship drought.

No. 1 Offense: Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team R: 878 (No. 1 in MLB)
    • Team BA: .282 (No. 1 in MLB)
    • Team OPS: .810 (No. 1 in MLB)
    • Team HR: 208 (No. 9 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Lineup

    1. 2B Dustin Pedroia
    2. SS Xander Bogaerts
    3. DH David Ortiz
    4. RF Mookie Betts
    5. 1B Hanley Ramirez
    6. 3B Brock Holt
    7. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
    8. LF Andrew Benintendi
    9. C Sandy Leon

    Projected Postseason Bench

    • INF Travis Shaw
    • INF Aaron Hill
    • OF Chris Young
    • C Bryan Holaday

    Lineup Overview

    By the numbers, this is the best lineup in baseball. 

    By almost any other measure, that statement holds true.

    David Ortiz is enjoying an unbelievable swan song. Dustin Pedroia is likewise cranking back the clock.

    Xander Bogaerts has joined the burgeoning shortstop revolution. Mookie Betts is an AL MVP candidate. 

    On and on it goes for Boston, which enters October with a deep, dangerous lineup that stands tall even in the big-bashing AL East.

    Yes, the Red Sox backed into the playoffs, losing five of their final six. That doesn't diminish what the club accomplished over the course of the season, or how potent it can be in the postseason.

No. 10 Pitching Staff: Baltimore Orioles

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    Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 4.22 (Tied for No. 18 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 4.72 (No. 24 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.40 (No. 3 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Chris Tillman
    2. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
    3. RHP Kevin Gausman
    4. RHP Dylan Bundy 

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: LHP Zach Britton
    • RHP Darren O'Day
    • RHP Oliver Drake
    • RHP Mychal Givens
    • RHP Brad Brach
    • LHP Donnie Hart

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The Orioles' biggest weakness all season has been their starting rotation, and it remains a glaring question mark heading into the Wild Card Game.

    There is no clear ace in this bunch. Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy have all shown flashes, but no one has put together the type of sustained run to inspire lasting confidence. 

    At the moment, former gas can Ubaldo Jimenez is probably the best bet, though it's worth wondering if his recent surge can last.

    The good news for the Orioles is that their bullpen is among the best in the game, anchored by All-Star closer Zach Britton. If the starters can give them something, the pen might prove to be a savior. 

No. 9 Pitching Staff: Texas Rangers

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    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 4.38 (No. 22 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 4.38 (No. 16 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 4.40 (No. 25 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. LHP Cole Hamels 
    2. RHP Yu Darvish
    3. RHP Colby Lewis
    4. LHP Martin Perez

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Sam Dyson
    • LHP Jake Diekman
    • LHP Alex Claudio
    • RHP Matt Bush
    • RHP Jeremy Jeffress
    • RHP Keone Kela

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Texas has a pair of horses in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. That's a lefty-righty combo that can stand toe-to-toe with any in the game and that the Rangers could ride hard and far.

    After that, however, the rotation falls off sharply.

    The bullpen ERA is unsightly, but it did put together an impressive 35.1-inning scoreless streak that ended Sunday and appears to be "peaking at the right time," as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News noted. 

    "We feel very confident with where these guys are at and how they're throwing," manager Jeff Banister said, per Fraley.

    Now, we see if that confidence carries over into the division series. 

No. 8 Pitching Staff: Cleveland Indians

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.86 (No. 7 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 4.08 (No. 7 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.45 (No. 4 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Corey Kluber
    2. RHP Trevor Bauer 
    3. RHP Josh Tomlin
    4. RHP Mike Clevinger

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Cody Allen
    • LHP Andrew Miller
    • RHP Bryan Shaw
    • RHP Dan Otero
    • RHP Zach McAllister
    • LHP Kyle Crockett

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Once upon a time, the Indians were flush with starting pitching.

    Now, with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar sidelined and ace Corey Kluber recovering from a quad strain, that strength has become a potential weakness.

    If Kluber returns strong for the ALDS, he gives the Tribe a clear No. 1. But the combination of Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger is less than inspiring and puts added pressure on Cleveland's bullpen.

    Fortunately, it's a good one, augmented by the trade-deadline acquisition of lefty Andrew Miller. 

    Still, with Carrasco and Salazar in the fold, this could have been one of the best postseason staffs. Now, not so much.

No. 7 Pitching Staff: New York Mets

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.58 (No. 3 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 3.61 (No. 3 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.53 (No. 6 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Noah Syndergaard
    2. RHP Bartolo Colon
    3. RHP Robert Gsellman
    4. RHP Seth Lugo

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Jeurys Familia
    • RHP Addison Reed
    • LHP Jerry Blevins
    • RHP Fernando Salas
    • RHP Hansel Robles

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Speaking of once-dominant pitching staffs decimated by the Mets.

    Matt Harvey is out. Jacob deGrom is out. Steven Matz is out. That leaves Noah Syndergaard and the ageless Bartolo Colon as the only tested members of New York's formerly vaunted super-rotation.

    Syndergaard could be enough to at least pitch the Mets past the NL Wild Card Game, and the bullpen is an asset.

    Who knows? Maybe rookies Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo can rise to the occasion if given the chance.

    This isn't how the Mets drew it up, though. And it's certainly not the same cavalry that carried them to a pennant in 2015. 

No. 6 Pitching Staff: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.79 (No. 6 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 3.64 (No. 4 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 4.11 (No. 22 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Marcus Stroman
    2. LHP J.A. Happ
    3. RHP Aaron Sanchez
    4. RHP Marco Estrada

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Roberto Osuna
    • RHP Ryan Tepera
    • RHP Joe Biagini
    • RHP Scott Feldman
    • LHP Francisco Liriano
    • RHP R.A. Dickey

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The Jays don't have an elite ace, but they do boast one of the deepest rotations of any playoff team.

    That won't do them a bit of good unless they survive the AL Wild Card Game, of course, but it's an asset nonetheless.

    In the bullpen, 21-year-old closer Roberto Osuna was excellent overall but stumbled a bit at the end of September.

    "We're at the end of the year," manager John Gibbons said, per Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star. "Those guys are tired. He's been throwing a lot. He's going to give up hits, they all do."

    Fair enough. But those are ominous words with the October pressure about to ratchet up.

No. 5 Pitching Staff: Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 4.00 (Tied for No. 8 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 4.22 (No. 8 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.56 (Tied for No. 8 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Rick Porcello
    2. LHP David Price
    3. RHP Clay Buchholz
    4. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Craig Kimbrel
    • RHP Koji Uehara
    • LHP Robbie Ross Jr.
    • RHP Brad Ziegler
    • RHP Matt Barnes

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Boston's pitching doesn't have to be perfect; not with that offense behind it. But it does have to hold its own.

    It begins with David Price, Boston's $217 million man. After a rocky start to his Red Sox career, Price turned in a solid second half, though he wobbled in his final two starts, both Boston losses.

    Now, he needs to prove that his lifetime 5.12 postseason ERA is a small(ish)-sample fluke and not a harbinger of October doom.

    The same goes for sinkerballer and 22-game winner Rick Porcello, who owns a 4.41 ERA in eight playoff appearances with the Detroit Tigers.

    The bullpen, meanwhile, showed signs of excellence in September. 

    "You can’t say enough about the run that group is on," manager John Farrell said on Sept. 24, when the Sox pen owned a 0.77 ERA for the month, per Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.

    That could take some pressure off Price and Porcello. But Boston will need its starters to deliver regardless. 

No. 4 Pitching Staff: Washington Nationals

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    Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.52 (No. 2 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 3.60 (No. 2 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.37 (No. 2 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Max Scherzer
    2. RHP Tanner Roark
    3. LHP Gio Gonzalez
    4. RHP Joe Ross

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Mark Melancon
    • RHP Blake Treinen
    • LHP Oliver Perez
    • RHP Matt Belisle
    • LHP Marc Rzepczynski
    • RHP Yusmeiro Petit

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The Nationals would be much closer to the top of these rankings if not for the absence of Stephen Strasburg.

    Strasburg, who is battling a strained flexor mass in his throwing arm, has been ruled out for the division series and could miss the entire postseason, per

    Washington still has Max Scherzer and a capable No. 2 in Tanner Roark, plus a solid relief corps headed up by trade-deadline acquisition Mark Melancon.

    But the loss of Strasburg, the Nats' co-ace, hurts. Add the injuries in the starting lineup, and this is a club that got banged up at precisely the wrong time.

No. 3 Pitching Staff: San Francisco Giants

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.69 (No. 4 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 3.71 (No. 5 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.65 (No. 15 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    • LHP Madison Bumgarner
    • RHP Johnny Cueto
    • RHP Jeff Samardzija
    • LHP Matt Moore

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Sergio Romo
    • RHP Hunter Strickland
    • LHP Javier Lopez
    • RHP Santiago Casilla
    • RHP Derek Law
    • LHP Will Smith

    Pitching Staff Overview

    You know about the legend of Madison Bumgarner. The last time he tasted the postseason, the Giants left-hander gobbled up a record-setting 52.2 innings and came as close as any player can to single-handedly winning a World Series.

    He's not the only ace in San Francisco, though. Johnny Cueto was brilliant in his first season by the Bay, and joins Bumgarner to form a potent one-two combo.

    Lefty Matt Moore (added at the deadline) and hard-throwing right-hander Jeff Samardzija round out a top four that rivals any in this postseason, assuming the Giants get past the NL Wild Card Game.

    The bullpen is less stable. Santiago Casilla lost the closer job amid an avalanche of blown saves, and while slider-slinging right-hander Sergio Romo locked down a few needed saves at season's end, manager Bruce Bochy may opt to mix and match in the late innings.

No. 2 Pitching Staff: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.70 (No. 5 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 3.95 (No. 6 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.35 (No. 1 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
    2. LHP Rich Hill
    3. RHP Kenta Maeda
    4. LHP Julio Urias

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: RHP Kenley Jansen
    • RHP Joe Blanton
    • RHP Pedro Baez
    • LHP Grant Dayton
    • LHP Adam Liberatore
    • RHP Ross Stripling

    Pitching Staff Overview

    After missing more than two months with a back injury, Clayton Kershaw returned to action and quickly resumed his role as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

    He's backed by fellow southpaw Rich Hill and Japanese import Kenta Maeda, forming a strong top three. Rookie Julio Urias could slot in as the fourth starter, though manager Dave Roberts may elect to use Kershaw on short rest if needed.

    The bullpen, meanwhile, has been a strength, pacing MLB in ERA. That's significant, because in addition to Kershaw's curious playoff struggles, shaky relief pitching has contributed to Los Angeles' recent October flame-outs. 

No. 1 Pitching Staff: Chicago Cubs

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Team Stats

    • Team ERA: 3.15 (No. 1 in MLB)
    • SP ERA: 2.96 (No. 1 in MLB)
    • RP ERA: 3.56 (No. 8 in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. LHP Jon Lester
    2. RHP Kyle Hendricks
    3. RHP Jake Arrieta
    4. RHP John Lackey

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    • CL: LHP Aroldis Chapman
    • RHP Pedro Strop
    • RHP Hector Rondon
    • RHP Justin Grimm
    • LHP Travis Wood
    • LHP Mike Montgomery

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The Cubs are loaded here as well. They've got Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, baseball's top two starters by ERA. That duo is followed by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and postseason-tested veteran John Lackey.

    Even allowing for the fact that Arrieta's performance has fallen off, that's a daunting gauntlet for any opponent to face in a short series. 

    In the pen, the Cubs have multiple strong late-inning options, capped off by Aroldis Chaoman and his triple-digit heat.

    The Cubs put up the best ERA in the game. In this case, the numbers don't lie.


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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images
    RankNameTeamRecordWin%PlayoffsPennantsWS Titles
    1 Bruce BochyGiants1,789-1,757.505 8
    2 Joe MaddonCubs981-852.535  6 
    3 Terry FranconaIndians1,381-1,209.533  7 
    4 Dusty BakerNationals1,766-1,571 .529 81
    5 Buck ShowalterOrioles1,429-1,315.521 5 
    6 Jeff Banister Rangers183-141 .565  20
    7 Terry CollinsMets925-925 .500  2
    8 Dave RobertsDodgers91-72.558  1 
    9 John GibbonsBlue Jays644-614 .512  2 
    10 John FarrellRed Sox493-479 .507  2 

    Judging baseball managers is the mother of all inexact sciences. We know the skipper matters, but it's difficult to quantify why and how much.

    In this field, then, we're giving points for experience.

    Bochy stands tall, having guided the Giants on all three of their recent championship runs. Joe Maddon has never won a title, but he steered the Cubs to the league's best record and has a reputation as a baseball chess master.

    Terry Francona, Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter have all eclipsed 1,000 managerial wins and been through the October crucible enough times to know what they're in for.

    Terry Collins, John Gibbons and John Farrell could boost their stocks with deep runs. Collins, particularly, would gain redemption after an up-and-down year, if the Mets found a way to defend their NL title.

    The most interesting names on the list might be Jeff Banister and Dave Roberts. Banister led the Rangers to a second consecutive AL West crown in his sophomore season at the helm, and rookie Roberts got the Dodgers a fourth straight NL West win despite injuries and distractions.

    Now, we wait to see if they can outmaneuver the old guard and etch their names in the October books.

Wild Card Game Predictions

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    AL Wild Card Game: Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays

    The AL East's hard-hitting also-rans meet in Toronto with a trip to the division series on the line.

    This one could tilt either way. Look for the Baltimore bats to make some deposits into the stands and for the bullpen to come in early to lock it down.

    Predicted Winner: Orioles

    NL Wild Card Game: San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets

    It's a clash of pitching titans as Bumgarner and Syndergaard lock horns in Queens. Pop your popcorn.

    This figures to be a taut pitchers' duel with runs at a premium.

    We'll give the edge to Bumgarner, who owns October and is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in 29 career innings at Citi Field, and to the Giants, who are rolling in hot after their season-ending sweep of the Dodgers.

    Predicted Winner: Giants

ALDS/NLDS Predictions

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    ALDS: Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers

    The Rangers' low run differential raises eyebrows, but their pair of aces easily outshines Baltimore's mishmash of mediocre starters.

    The Orioles' hitters will make this a series, but in the end, Texas should be able to punish Baltimore's rotation and ride the duo of Darvish and Hamels to its first ALCS appearance since 2011.

    Predicted Winner: Rangers in five

    ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians 

    This could have been a great matchup: Cleveland's strikeout-racking power arms against a deep, deadly Red Sox lineup.

    But with Carrasco and Salazar sidelined, and Kluber dealing with his own injury, Boston should be able to pile up the runs.

    It's up to Price to assume the ace mantle and earn his October stripes, but even if he doesn't, Boston ought to be able to dispatch a hobbled Cleveland club.

    Predicted Winner: Red Sox in three

    NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs 

    Here is where the even-year legend will be put to the ultimate test.

    The Giants have a strong rotation, a playoff-tested lineup and a skipper who always seems to pull the right levers when the leaves turn.

    The Cubs, however, are a superior team in almost every respect. It's never wise to count San Francisco out, and the Cubs are famous for playoff meltdowns. But this just feels like too big of a mountain for the Giants to climb.

    Predicted Winner: Cubs in four

    NLDS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

    At full strength, the Nationals might have been favorites. With Ramos and Strasburg out and Murphy a question mark, Washington may not have enough.

    Kershaw needs to slay his postseason demons, but he's got the help of two other top-shelf starters, an offense that's clicking and a much-improved pen.

    Even with home-field advantage and plenty of healthy talent on the roster, the Nats are the underdogs.

    Prediction: Dodgers in five

ALCS/NLCS Predictions

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    ALCS: Boston Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers

    Again, the unknown factor is how Boston's starters, particularly Price, will hold up in the postseason.

    Assuming they don't fizzle completely, the offense should be able to punish the weak back end of the Rangers rotation in a best-of-seven series, when Hamels and Darvish may not be enough (and may be worn out from their meeting with the Orioles boppers).

    As long as the Red Sox get quality starts and Boston's bullpen keeps up its late-season surge, Ortiz should get one more crack at World Series glory.

    Predicted Winner: Red Sox in six

    NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

    If the Cubs can throw out Lester in Game 1 and exploit the Dodgers' left-handed Kryptonite, he could neutralize a Kershaw start and put the Dodgers on their heels.

    And remember, Chapman is a lefty, too, so the Dodgers may be helpless in the late innings, assuming the Cubs aren't shy about using their rented closer for a couple of two-inning saves. 

    Still, with so much great pitching on both sides, this figures to be a hard-fought scrum. The Cubs and Dodgers met seven times in the regular season, with the Cubs winning four.

    We'll predict the same result here, and a long-awaited trip to the Fall Classic for the North Side Nine.

    Predicted Winner: Cubs in seven

World Series Prediction

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Matchup: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs

    Oh, man, what a series this would be.

    Picture it: The long-suffering Cubs pitted against the formerly long-suffering Red Sox. Two legendary franchises, both imprinted with the DNA of Chicago president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

    Epstein, of course, was the general manager in Boston in 2004 when the Red Sox made their curse-busting run.

    Now, he's on the precipice of orchestrating another historic moment. How poetic if it came against his old franchise, with former Red Sox players like Lester and Lackey in the fold.

    Baseball doesn't always, or even often, work that way. And this would be a seesaw series.

    In the end, though, the Cubs are deep and balanced enough to beat anyone. They are seasoned from last year's run to the NLCS. The team is young, hungry, and it says here they'd best Boston and kick off the most raucous celebration in recent sports history.

    Or maybe just recent history in general. 

    Predicted Winner: Cubs in six

    All statistics current through the end of the season and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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