Triumph or Choke: Predicting Winners of 2017's Tightest MLB Playoff Battles
We're barreling toward the end of August and into the teeth of September. After months of up-and-down action, MLB's various playoff battles are coming into focus.
Some are all but decided. Others remain taut, uncertain affairs.
Let's parse the latter category and predict the winners based on recent performance, remaining schedules and a dollop of gut feeling.
Feel free to add your picks (and nitpicks) in the comments.
Best Record in the American League
This isn't exactly a playoff battle, but it matters.
At 91-39, the Los Angeles Dodgers have all but secured the best record in baseball and, thus, home-field advantage as long as they're alive in the postseason. Remember, the All-Star Game doesn't count anymore.
The team with the best record in the American League can guarantee itself home field through the American League Championship Series, however, which is no small thing.
The 79-52 Houston Astros are running away with the AL West and have the inside track on the Junior Circuit's best record.
They've also gone 10-16 in August and have been temporarily displaced from their home field by Hurricane Harvey. Obviously that's an insignificant consideration in the face of the disaster unfolding in Texas, but it's a fact.
At 75-57, the Boston Red Sox are within striking distance of Houston for the league's top mark. And don't ignore the 74-56 Cleveland Indians.
The 'Stros and Indians won't meet again in the regular season, but Houston and Boston will clash four times at Fenway Park to finish the 162-game slog from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.
Those contests could settle the matter, but for now we'll give the edge to the Astros because of their talent-laden roster and 4.5-game lead.
Prediction: Astros secure the best record in the AL.
National League Wild Card
The National League's wild-card leaders both reside out West. They aren't catching the runaway Dodgers, but it's possible no one is catching them.
The Arizona Diamondbacks lead the way at 74-58 and the Colorado Rockies are nipping at their heels at 72-60.
After that it's the Milwaukee Brewers (68-64), St. Louis Cardinals (66-65) and Miami Marlins (66-65).
The Brewers have been a swell story all season, as they've blossomed ahead of schedule and turned what was supposed to be a bumpy rebuilding year into a surprise playoff push. The Cardinals are perennial contenders who, despite their many warts, can't be counted out.
As for the Marlins? Well...they're the Marlins. Giancarlo Stanton's race toward 60 home runs is enthralling, as is the sale of the team to a group led by future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. For now, dysfunction is the order of the day in South Beach.
The D-backs and Rockies play each other seven times in September. If one team wins all or most of those head-to-head matchups, it could open the door for Milwaukee or Miami to slip into the second wild-card slot.
Considering Arizona and Colorado have an even 6-6 record this season, that seems unlikely.
Prediction: Diamondbacks win the NL's No. 1 wild-card slot, Rockies win the No. 2 wild-card slot.
National League Central
This one should have been settled long ago.
The Chicago Cubs are the reigning, curse-busting world champions. Winning the NL Central was the least of their concerns.
Instead, the Cubbies spent much of the first half looking up at the Brewers and are still fending off Milwaukee and St. Louis.
For all the latest on the defending champions Cubs' playoff race battle, download the free B/R app.
The Cubs (71-60) are 3.5 games ahead of Milwaukee and five games ahead of the Cards. They play the majority of their remaining games at home, while both the Cardinals and Brewers will play the bulk of their schedules on the road.
Chicago meets the Brew Crew seven times and St. Louis four times before it's all said and done. There's room for an upset.
The North Siders are well-positioned to at least defend their division title, however, if not challenge the Dodgers and Washington Nationals for Senior Circuit supremacy.
Prediction: Cubs win the division.
American League East
The Baltimore Orioles (67-65) and Tampa Bay Rays (66-68) are clinging to life, but the AL East is a two-team race between the Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Would you want it any other way?
The Sox hold a four-game lead over the Yankees, though both clubs have gone a mediocre 5-5 in their last 10. They've also got four head-to-head games remaining, all in the Bronx. This thing could go down to the wire.
That's good for MLB. The game's most heated rivalry has been dormant for too long; now, it has cache again.
With their loaded farm system, the Yankees future is brighter. But with Chris Sale pitching like a Cy Young Award winner and rookie Rafael Devers injecting life into the lineup, the Sox are the favorites to repeat as division champs.
Prediction: Red Sox win the division.
American League Wild Card
Now we wade into a real mess.
The Yankees (70-60) hold the AL's top wild-card position, followed by the Minnesota Twins (68-63), Los Angeles Angels (68-65), Orioles (67-65), Seattle Mariners (66-67), Kansas City Royals (65-66), Texas Rangers (65-66) and Rays (66-68).
That's one club on the rise followed by a glut of Cinderellas, flawed also-rans and middling sorta-hopefuls.
Who's going to emerge and slide into the one-game wild-card crucible? At the risk of answering a question with a pseudo-question: Who the heck knows?
As crazy as it sounds, the Twins might actually have an edge. Only six of their remaining games are against teams with a winning record.
They play the Royals seven times in September, however, so it's possible the AL Central foes will undo each other.
The Orioles have ripped off a six-game winning streak. They won't catch the Yankees and Red Sox, but they could be a factor in this murky race.
The same goes for the Angels, though they face six games against the Astros in September and have scored the fourth-fewest runs in the AL despite employing Mike Trout.
The Rangers essentially waved the white flag when they dealt ace Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. The Mariners and Rays are below .500 and sit at minus-28 and minus-three run differentials, respectively.
There isn't a prohibitive favorite in the bunch, so let's toss a dart and pick the Royals based on their postseason pedigree. A club that won a pennant in 2014 and a World Series in 2015 understands what it means to be on this stage.
That doesn't count for everything, but it doesn't count for nothing, either.
Prediction: Yankees win the AL's No. 1 wild-card slot, Royals win the No. 2 wild-card slot.