1 Final Prediction for Each 2019 MLB Playoff Contender Down the Stretch
The 2019 MLB season is entering its final lap. The contenders have separated themselves from the pretenders.
But things are still far from settled. Division and wild-card races are up for grabs, as is home-field advantage in the playoffs and World Series.
With that in mind, let's make one final prediction for each contender as we gaze ahead to the postseason. Predictions are based on the latest trends and injuries, remaining strength of schedule for each club and a dash of gut feeling.
For our purposes, we defined "contender" as any team with a 30 percent or greater chance of making the postseason, per FanGraphs' calculation.
Prediction: They'll set themselves up to be a tough and rested division-series foe
The Atlanta Braves are going to cruise to a second consecutive National League East title. At 93-58, they've essentially locked up the second-best record in the National League behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That means they can spend the rest of the regular season giving their regulars breathers and setting up their starting pitchers for the best-of-five division series.
The Braves will play the winner of the National League Central, a tight race that could go down to the wire (more on that shortly).
Atlanta will have home-field advantage and, again, a rested core as it tries to improve upon last year's division-series loss to the Dodgers.
Prediction: They'll win the NL Central
The Chicago Cubs trail the archrival St. Louis Cardinals by two games in the NL Central. Closing that gap in the remaining 12 outings won't be easy.
The Cubs have won five straight entering Tuesday's action, and they play seven of their remaining games against the Cards. Those contests, obviously, will decide the division.
Chicago has won the season series so far against St. Louis, 7-5. It's the hotter team (the Cardinals are 5-5 in their last 10).
Expect the rivalry to heat up as the season winds down, and look for Chicago to win the division and avoid the NL Wild Card Game.
Prediction: They'll miss the playoffs
The Cleveland Indians almost surely won't win a fourth straight American League Central title. They could still sneak back into the postseason as the American League's second wild card.
They trail the Tampa Bay Rays by 1.5 games and the Oakland Athletics by 2.5 games for the two wild-card slots but have a manageable remaining schedule (.468 opponents' winning percentage).
The Indians have a playoff-tested core and talent scattered across the roster, particularly in a pitching staff that ranks third in baseball with a 3.73 ERA. The Rays and A's are each playing well, however, which means the Tribe would have to get scalding hot to pass one or both teams.
Sorry, Cleveland fans. We're betting against it.
Prediction: They'll finish with the best record in baseball
At 98-53, the Houston Astros entered Tuesday tied with the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball. Both teams began play one game ahead of the 97-54 Dodgers.
That matters because the club with the best record gets home-field advantage through the World Series, assuming it gets that far.
It's a big if. Baseball's winningest squad isn't always the champion. Often, it isn't.
But after winning the Fall Classic in 2017 and falling in the American League Championship Series last year, the 'Stros will surely take any advantage they can get. Earning the best record is more than doable considering they have the easiest remaining schedule (.437 opponents' winning percentage) of the three teams mentioned above.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Prediction: They'll miss out on home-field advantage in the World Series
We just predicted the Astros would finish with the most wins, so this one logically follows. The real question is: How hard should the Dodgers push for MLB's best record?
There is wisdom in resting key players, getting guys healthy, setting up your pitching for the playoffs and more. The Dodgers have already wrapped up the division and will almost surely have home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.
On the other hand, L.A. hasn't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988 and lost the last two World Series. Every lost edge could hurt the Dodgers in their increasingly desperate quest for a long-overdue title.
Prediction: They'll miss the playoffs
Technically, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the thick of the NL playoff race. They're only one game off the pace for the NL's second wild-card slot and have won nine of their last 10 games. They also have a favorable remaining schedule (.473 opponents' winning percentage) compared to other Senior Circuit wild-card hopefuls.
That said, the Brewers are without the services of reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich, who is out for the season with a fractured knee cap.
The Brew Crew could rally without the services of their best player and make an inspired push. At some point soon, though, the loss of their offensive anchor is likely to catch up with them.
Prediction: They'll finish with a slugfest division series date versus the Yankees
The Minnesota Twins are on track to win the AL Central. Assuming the Astros finish with the best record in baseball and therefore the AL, that means the Twinkies would be ticketed for a division series tussle with the Yankees.
Hope you like dingers.
The Twins have hit an MLB-record 287 home runs and counting entering Tuesday. The Yankees, who set the previous single-season record last year with 267, are nipping at Minnesota's heels with 286 homers.
That's 573 combined long balls, and they aren't done yet. Assuming Minnesota and New York finish with the second- and third-best records among Junior Circuit division winners, we could be in for more home run history in the divisional round.
New York Yankees
Prediction: Giancarlo Stanton will find his power stroke in time for October
As we outlined, the Yankees have flexed plenty of thump this season. But they could always use more as they charge toward the postseason.
Enter the news, courtesy of the New York Post's Kevin Kernan, that Giancarlo Stanton will return to the lineup this week.
Stanton has played just nine games this season because of knee and calf injuries. It may take him a bit to shake off the cobwebs.
Lest we forget, however, Stanton is one of the most fearsome sluggers of his generation, a guy who clubbed 97 home runs in 2017 and 2018. If he's right, it shouldn't take him long to start crushing moon shots.
It says here he'll find his stroke before the playoffs and add another potent weapon to the Bronx Bombers attack.
Prediction: They'll win the AL's 1st wild card
To anyone who thought the Athletics' 2018 postseason appearance was a fluke, the A's have a retort: Look at us now.
Oakland owns the top AL wild-card position and has won eight of its last 10 games. And the Athletics have a softer remaining schedule (.441 opponents' winning percentage) than the Rays or Indians, their wild-card competition.
Assuming they get in, the challenge for the East Bay's overachieving underdogs will be getting past the AL Wild Card Game, a feat that eluded them in 2014 in addition to in 2018.
St. Louis Cardinals
Prediction: They'll win the NL's 2nd wild card
We've already predicted the Cubs will win the NL Central and the Brewers will miss the dance. That leaves the Cardinals and Washington Nationals as the NL's two wild-card entrants.
The Cards (84-66) were 1.5 games better than the Nationals (82-67) entering Tuesday. But Washington has a softer schedule (.471 opponents' winning percentage) than St. Louis (.543).
And the Cardinals will play a gaggle of games against the Cubs, as mentioned. Assuming they lose more than they win, they could slip from a division title to playing the win-or-go-home NL Wild Card Game on the road.
The bad news? St. Louis is 48-28 at home this year but just 36-38 away from Busch Stadium.
Tampa Bay Rays
Prediction: They'll win the AL's 2nd wild card
The Rays have won seven of 10 and have a hold on the AL's second wild-card spot. They have the hardest remaining schedule (.550 opponents' winning percentage) of any contender in either league.
They also have a pitching staff that leads the AL with a 3.65 ERA.
And come on: It's nearly impossible to root against the Rays, a perennial small-market Cinderella who shares a division with the deep-pocketed Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Here's betting their dreams won't turn into a pumpkin come playoff time.
Prediction: They'll win the NL's 1st wild card
We mentioned Washington's relatively easy remaining schedule. While St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee duke it out in the NL Central, the Nats can watch from afar.
They need to keep winning, obviously. Nothing is locked up yet.
But they can set their sights on the NL Wild Card Game and hope to play it in the nation's capital with ace Max Scherzer on the hill.
That would give them the best chance at victory...and a daunting division series matchup against the Dodgers.