Updated Post-Deadline 2019 MLB Postseason Predictions
Now that MLB contenders are finished polishing their rosters at the trade deadline, onlookers can begin setting their sights on the postseason.
No longer preoccupied with relentless trade rumors, everyone will instead fixate over the wildly wavering standings. Both leagues feature tight Central and wild-card races impacted by recent trade activity. While the other division leaders have built more legroom, only the Los Angeles Dodgers can truly look ahead to October.
It took a while to pick up, but the deadline eventually yielded some meaningful trades with significant postseason ramifications. In light of those recent moves, let's reassess the playoff picture and provide a fresh batch of predictions.
American League Field
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
After dropping three of four to the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees can't go on cruise control just yet. That said, their eight-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays (and 9.5 over Boston) remains relatively safe despite their recent pitching woes.
In a true testament to their depth and ability to develop talent, the Bronx Bombers are comfortably in the driver's seat with Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Brett Gardner, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances all on the shelf. They don't need everyone back imminently to avoid a late-season collapse, but their rotation faltered enough to start worrying about October.
Standing pat could haunt them in the postseason, but at least the Rays and Red Sox didn't bridge the gap with blockbuster additions of their own.
AL Central Winner: Cleveland Indians
In the process of turning their greatest weakness into a strength, the Indians might have transformed their saving grace into a problem area.
Cleveland sorely lacked the offense to keep up with the other AL powerhouses, and Yasiel Puig stood out as the perfect fit to upgrade a long-lacking outfield. The club went one step further, also acquiring slugger Franmil Reyes in a three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds.
A below-average offense suddenly looks stacked, especially taking into account Jose Ramirez's recent rebound. Their bullpen is also one of baseball's best, so a rotation that has carried them for years is now the Indians' biggest question mark.
Help is on the way. Danny Salazar will return Thursday as an opener, and ace Corey Kluber is inching closer to a rehab assignment. If the latter makes his way back in August, Cleveland will fare just fine with Kluber, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger headlining a more balanced roster.
AL West Winner: Houston Astros
Houston has withstood injuries to Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer to maintain a healthy lead atop the AL West. The homegrown trio is now back in action alongside Alex Bregman, rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez and sudden slugger Yuli Gurriel.
With Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole anchoring the pitching staff, Houston was already in strong position to fend off the Oakland Athletics. Still, landing Zack Greinke is pretty cool.
Their No. 3 starter now flaunts a 3.06 ERA. Wait, that's Wade Miley, who now settles in as the No. 4 starter. Greinke carries a 2.90 ERA after keeping the Yankees in check right before the deadline.
Although already leading the AL in wins (69), the Astros haven't peaked just yet.
AL Wild Card No. 1: Minnesota Twins
A division title looked like a fait accompli for the Twins earlier in the season. However, they didn't do enough to fend off the surging Indians.
Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson help a subpar bullpen, but neither affixes them atop the standings. Given the recent struggles of Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez, they also could have used another rotation piece as insurance. Underneath his 2.80 ERA, ace Jose Berrios has a 3.61 FIP that still leads a starting staff likely to stumble more in the final two months.
Minnesota's high-powered offense will still slug its way into a wild-card spot over the Athletics and Rays.
AL Wild Card No. 2: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are the defending champions in a major market spearheaded by an aggressive general manager. All of those factors led to expectations for an active deadline.
A diminished farm system dictated otherwise. Boston settled for Andrew Cashner to tie down the rotation. Without addressing the bullpen, the biggest upgrades need to come in-house.
Last year's premier offense collectively came out of a slump in July to top MLB in weighted on-base average (wOBA). Eduardo Rodriguez registered a 2.03 ERA in July, so the Red Sox should salvage a wild-card bid if Chris Sale rights the ship and Nathan Eovaldi works off the rust as a potentially lethal reliever.
National League Field
NL East Winner: Atlanta Braves
This story could look much different if the Braves didn't rebound from a series-opening loss on July 29 to take two games from the Washington Nationals. Their 6.5-game lead still isn't overly secure, as the Nats started playing to their potential in July while Atlanta has lost Nick Markakis to a wrist fracture.
Then again, the Braves might have stumbled into an upgrade. Adam Duvall has already smacked four home runs in five games since his promotion. His hot streak allowed management to stay focused on the team's biggest concern.
Luke Jackson amplified the need for bullpen reinforcements by allowing five runs in the last two games against Washington. In the midst of a career year, Shane Greene will likely replace him in the ninth inning. Chris Martin also joins the club sporting a superb 10.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a lower skill-interactive ERA (2.79 SIERA) than Greene's 3.45.
Although no longer a premier closer, Mark Melancon has settled into a steady mid-game piece. He has notched a 3.50 ERA behind an elite 61.4 ground-ball percentage.
While they didn't fortify the rotation, the Braves filled that void by signing Dallas Keuchel in June. Recently back from the shelf, Max Fried and Kevin Gausman give them enough depth to preserve their edge behind a replenished bullpen.
NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs
It's the tightest competition in baseball, and each of the three NL Central contenders stayed relatively quiet.
All three teams are separated by two games, which makes this the toughest race to handicap. Without landing significant rotation help beyond the scuffling Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz, the Milwaukee Brewers don't have the pieces to stay afloat without Brandon Woodruff. The Cubs wield the superior scoring margin (plus-72), but the St. Louis Cardinals have won 13 of 19 games since the All-Star break.
Even if Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish haven't lived up to their hefty acquisition costs, the Cubs will still boast one of the game's deepest rotations once Cole Hamels returns. They also purchased a midseason upgrade in Craig Kimbrel, who can at least help a subpar bullpen avoid catastrophe.
Chicago also brought aboard Nicholas Castellanos, who solves a pressing need as a career .300/.354/.514 hitter against lefties. The Cubs should have added another reliever, but there's enough left to squeak out the division with around 85-90 wins.
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
Barring the greatest meltdown in MLB history, the Dodgers will win their seventh straight NL West title.
Team president Andrew Friedman didn't need to lift a finger this week to steer the juggernaut back into October. It's nevertheless surprising that he failed to fortify the bullpen.
Their offense already leads the Senior Circuit in wOBA while the pitching staff tops the majors in ERA. Los Angeles also didn't need to outsource upgrades in either spot. Gavin Lux is decimating Triple-A pitching while waiting for a call-up to join rookie catcher Will Smith. Rich Hill could return from a forearm injury in September.
The Dodgers should have no trouble securing home-field advantage throughout the NL bracket.
NL Wild Card No. 1: Washington Nationals
Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias and Danel Hudson will not be mistaken for Kirby Yates, Edwin Diaz or even Greene. They're still upgrades for a dreadful bullpen saddled with an MLB-high 5.97 ERA.
The unit merely needs to be semi-competent for Washington to flourish. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto have provided the lineup with plenty of star power in the post-Bryce Harper era, and Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin can hold down the fort until Max Scherzer returns from back issues. However, this pick is contingent on Scherzer not requiring a lengthy stay on the injured list.
NL Wild Card No. 2: St. Louis Cardinals
This is a close call between the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. While the Phillies made one of Wednesday's most unheralded acquisitions in Corey Dickerson, they're ultimately putting their hopes in Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas saving the rotation.
That's not a great bet. And for all the talk of a loaded lineup, they rank 20th in wOBA behind the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
While the Cardinals slot three spots lower, they could soon bring back Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter alongside a rejuvenated Paul Goldschmidt. Much like the Cubs in the NL Central, they're the best of imperfect options.
Houston Astros (1) over Boston Red Sox (WC)
Good luck dealing with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke in a best-of-five series.
While Chris Sale should rebound from an atypically inconsistent campaign, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Andrew Cashner are not as trustworthy against an elite offense currently at full strength. David Price reversed his playoff misfortunes against Houston last year, and he'd need to deliver again for Boston to stand any shot.
It doesn't help that the Red Sox are relying on three southpaws against a lineup jammed with superstar right-handed hitters. Though Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer have all missed chunks of 2019, the Astros have posted an MLB-best 120 wRC+ against lefties. This could be a sweep.
Cleveland Indians (3) over New York Yankees (2)
A healthy Corey Kluber makes Cleveland a nightmare opponent in this stage.
The inconsistent Trevor Bauer may still function as an ace on some squads, but Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger have both eclipsed him as top-shelf standouts in 2019. Pairing that starting trio with a replenished lineup and strong bullpen gives Kluber and Co. the perfect chance to avenge 2017's ALDS loss to the Bronx Bombers.
Of course, Kluber isn't the only combustible element to this matchup. The Yankees could like their chances more if Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez are back and Luis Severino is anchoring the rotation. Just like two years ago, this evenly matched showdown would be poised to go the full five games.
Regardless of which ace Cleveland trots out, it should get the Game 5 home win behind a quality outing and an offensive spark from Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes.
Los Angeles Dodgers (1) over Washington Nationals (WC)
Nothing strips away talent discrepancies quite like a short playoff series. The Dodgers are head and shoulders above the other NL clubs, but that edge evaporates against Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
Then again, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler aren't too bad, either. Both competitors bring great starting pitching to the table, so this matchup ultimately boils down to the less reliable bullpens. That's where the Dodgers could regret not adding Felipe Vazquez alongside Kenley Jansen.
A deep starting staff, however, allows Los Angeles to utilize Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias in relief. That saves the favorites in a series that will wind up being too close for comfort.
Atlanta Braves (2) over Chicago Cubs (3)
This series, on the other hand, features a bunch of good but unspectacular starting pitching. Can Yu Darvish erase memories of a disastrous 2017 postseason? Can rookie Mike Soroka shoulder the burden as Atlanta's ace?
With or without Nick Markakis, the Braves brandish a slight lineup edge. They also may hold the bullpen advantage after their deadline haul. The Cubs must learn from their opponent's past mistake and not wait for Craig Kimbrel to preserve a save opportunity that may never arise.
Like Houston, Atlanta's righty-heavy lineup is well-equipped to handle Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Jon Lester. Lessening the rotation gap allows the Braves to survive a five-game grind.
ALCS: Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians
Seriously...Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke?
With those guys (and Wade Miley) anchoring the rotation, they may not need to go deeper into their bullpen than Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Yet they also have an armada of converted starters who can make a major impact.
Could their secret weapon be a pitcher with a 6.07 ERA? Aaron Sanchez submitted 16 strikeouts and no walks in two starts before getting traded from the Toronto Blue Jays. When facing opponents the first time through the batting order, he has delivered a 2.12 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. Just as they did with Lance McCullers in the 2017 ALCS, the Astros could let Sanchez lean on his curveball in shorter stints.
Cleveland is strong, but Houston is stronger in every facet. Much like in last season's ALDS sweep, the Astros will advance without a major threat.
NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves
It's tempting to pick the Braves as punishment for the Dodgers not converting some of their prospect surplus into a needed high-leverage reliever. But they're just so deep everywhere else.
Atlanta's questionable rotation will leak too many runs against an offense spearheaded by MVP candidate Cody Bellinger. While the Braves will once again run into a lefty-leaning staff, the platoon advantage isn't as meaningful when the southpaws are Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The Dodgers advance to their third World Series in as many years.
World Series Prediction
Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers
The bullpen finally comes back to bite the Dodgers, who also lose their third World Series in as many years.
Think the Astros were good in 2017? Now they have Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Wade Miley, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna and Yordan Alvarez. The previous section's mention of starters-turned-playoff-relievers didn't even get to Collin McHugh, Josh James and Jose Urquidy.
It's worth noting, however, that the Dodgers staked Greinke to seven runs on Opening Day and four more on June 24. Nobody said the reigning NL champions would be pushovers.
This matchup provided some instant classics in a seven-game thriller two years ago. A rematch may not go the distance now that Houston has stacked its pitching staff. At least Cody Bellinger, who went 4-for-28 with 17 strikeouts in the 2017 Fall Classic, will show his massive growth in a commendable effort.
For the second time in three years, pillaging the farm for an ace yields a title. In a battle of behemoths befitting the grand stage, Houston rides its bolstered rotation, surging lineup and superior bullpen to a six-game triumph.
Note: All advanced stats, updated as of Wednesday, are courtesy of FanGraphs unless stated otherwise.