Playoff Chances for Each MLB Team at 2021 Season's Quarter Mark
Numerous MLB fanbases can take solace in the idea this season is a return to "it's a marathon, not a sprint."
If this were another shortened 60-game season, some teams would be two-thirds of the way through it. But there's still a long way to go. That said, we're starting to surpass the "it's early" point. Struggling contenders need to build momentum, while early risers need to prove they can stay in the hunt.
So, we took a stab at estimating each team's playoff chances with one quarter of the season complete. We weighed records and outlooks but emphasized projections for each team. FanGraphs' playoff odds served as a baseline.
We also included DraftKings' division winner odds for reference.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles (+10000)
The Orioles deserve credit for battling. Cedric Mullins and John Means are cornerstone players. The bullpen ranks fifth in fWAR. Alas, the O's just aren't ready yet.
Most of the team's future pieces are still in the minors. Baltimore ranks 13th in the American League in OPS and 14th in runs. Starters Jorge Lopez and Dean Kremer have struggled.
Give this club a few more years.
Playoff Odds: 0 percent
Boston Red Sox (+350)
The Red Sox are, as expected, winning with offense. Boston ranks first in the AL in OPS and second in runs. J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have offered major production. The pitching staff has surprised, as well.
The rotation ranks seventh in fWAR. Garrett Richards has turned things around with a 2.72 ERA in his last seven starts. Nick Pivetta has looked great (3.16 ERA), while left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez (5-1, 4.15 ERA) and Martin Perez (0-2, 4.01 ERA before Saturday's strong start) have been good. Nathan Eovaldi has struggled of late but still has top-end stuff.
Of note: The bullpen has already shouldered quite a bit of work. That unit has fared well, particularly with Garrett Whitlock (1.77 ERA) and Matt Barnes (1.89 ERA) at the back end. Still, it's worth watching how it holds up if the starters can't go deeper into games.
Playoff Odds: 54 percent
New York Yankees (-121)
The Yankees are finally building momentum. New York is 15-6 since April 21. It recently took two of three from the Rays. The lineup has disappointed but has shown signs of life and just got Luke Voit back.
The rotation has been serviceable behind Gerrit Cole, who is doing ace things (5-1, 1.37 ERA). It still feels like a group that will need an upgrade come July.
Playoff Odds: 75 percent
Tampa Bay Rays (+500)
The Rays have hovered around .500 all year. Is that just the team they are? It's hard to say. The lineup ranks just 11th in the AL in OPS and seventh in runs. The pitching staff was hit with a number of injuries.
There are positives, however. Tyler Glasnow (2.35 ERA) has been wonderful. Rich Hill has not allowed a run in his last 18 innings and has a 0.83 ERA and 2.88 FIP in his last four starts. Youngsters Luis Patino, Shane McClanahan and Josh Fleming look like assets. The bullpen has held up.
That said, there is generally less depth and a lot of dependence on young arms. Who is going to create the offense? The lineup needs to find ways to get on base more consistently.
Playoff Odds: 36 percent
Toronto Blue Jays (+400)
The Blue Jays should be able to slug with any team. Marcus Semien (eight home runs) has been a great addition, and the return of Teoscar Hernandez has bolstered the lineup. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1.006 OPS) is still mashing.
I'm not sure about the pitching staff. The bullpen is being used a lot and has suffered a number of injuries (Rafael Dolis, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather). Hyun Jin Ryu is a workhorse in the rotation. Robbie Ray has a 3.46 xFIP. But in a season in which some teams are using six-man rotations, the Blue Jays basically have four starters and are leaning on the bullpen.
The lack of depth in the staff will be a major determinant in their chances.
Playoff Odds: 44 percent
American League Central
Chicago White Sox (-250)
Depth is not an issue for the White Sox.
Chicago has thus far withstood injuries to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert thanks to contributions from Yermin Mercedes and another excellent campaign by Tim Anderson.
The White Sox are second in the AL in ERA and first in on-base percentage, with the rotation in particular firing on all cylinders even as Lucas Giolito (4.97 ERA) continues to struggle. They use their blend of contact and speed to manufacture runs and can also hit the ball out of the yard while getting quality outings from the starters.
The bullpen is pretty darn good, too, even though some of the top arms (Codi Heuer, 4.91 ERA, and Evan Marshall, 7.43 ERA) have underperformed.
Playoff Odds: 80 percent
Terry Francona's team has been on a nice little run of its own. Cleveland is 13-4 since starting 8-11, and the lineup is finding more explosiveness while the pitching staff continues to hold things down.
Still, this team might be overly reliant on the staff. Cleveland ranks 12th in the AL in OPS and runs. Jose Ramirez (.869 OPS) and Franmil Reyes (.885 OPS) are the only bona fide run producers with Eddie Rosario (.595 OPS) off to a slow start.
The staff is good, but is it good enough to carry the offense through September?
Playoff Odds: 46 percent
Detroit Tigers (+10000)
The Tigers are still in the early stages of rebuilding. They rank last in the AL in OPS and runs. The bullpen has been woeful (6.47 ERA).
On the plus side, Matthew Boyd (1.94 ERA) is making himself into a trade asset. Spencer Turnbull (3.91 ERA) could be another to watch in that regard, as well.
Playoff Odds: 0 percent
Kansas City Royals (+1000)
The Royals have come back to Earth.
Kansas City's 16-9 start always felt a tad lucky given the lack of offensive production and uninspiring run differential. Indeed, the Royals have lost 12 of their last 14 games.
It's a similar story to Detroit. The offense ranks 10th in the AL in OPS and runs. The back end of the bullpen, namely Scott Barlow (2.70 ERA) and Josh Staumont (2.55 ERA), has been terrific. The rest...not so much. Danny Duffy (1.94 ERA) has been excellent in the rotation, and Brady Singer (4.18 ERA) has also been good. Again, though, there's a shortage of quality.
Kansas City will fight to stay competitive. But it will almost assuredly sell come July.
Playoff Odds: 5 percent
Minnesota Twins (+1000)
It's almost unfathomable that the Twins have been one of the worst teams in baseball. Minnesota looked like one of the most talented and balanced clubs on paper, but it's been another story on the field.
The bullpen is a nightmare and has been unable to close games. Kenta Maeda has not recaptured his 2020 AL Cy Young Award runner-up form and has a 5.08 ERA, and Matt Shoemaker has struggled (6.62 ERA). Miguel Sano is hitting .119 with a .489 OPS, while left field features another glaring hole.
Perhaps the most shocking thing is this: The Twins are 0-7 in extra-inning games. That's not exactly a glowing portrait of the bullpen's ability to get big outs or the lineup's capacity to hit in high-leverage situations.
Minnesota is in the danger zone.
Playoff Odds: 17 percent
American League West
Houston Astros (+125)
The Astros' run differential (plus-51) suggests they're one of the best teams in baseball. The offense ranks second in the AL in OPS and first in runs, while the staff is fifth in ERA.
The Astros boast a deep lineup that is all the more dangerous with Kyle Tucker starting to heat up. The rotation hasn't been spectacular but is also still waiting for Zack Greinke to find a rhythm. Will the bullpen hold up? Brooks Raley (7.80 ERA) and Joe Smith (6.23 ERA) have struggled, and Pedro Baez's status is in question.
Houston is my favorite to win the AL West, but it needs better contributions in the middle innings.
Playoff Odds: 65 percent
Los Angeles Angels (+600)
The Angels can hit, but they can't pitch.
Shohei Ohtani is coming off one of the best starts of his career, but the rest of the rotation has not been up to par. Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning have sub-5.00 ERAs, but that's not saying much.
The bullpen has also come unglued, probably in part because of the starters' inability to go deep in games. Los Angeles ranks 27th in ERA and 19th in xFIP, plus one of the team's best arms, right-hander Chris Rodriguez, is on the injured list.
Mike Trout is having a career year (1.112 OPS). Ohtani (11 home runs) and Jared Walsh (.952 OPS) are mashing. Anthony Rendon has been OK when healthy. But the lack of pitching could doom the Angels.
Playoff Odds: 24 percent
Oakland Athletics (+115)
The Athletics are 10-10 since the 13-game winning streak that got them back on track after a 1-7 start. Surprisingly, it's the staff that is driving the team's success.
Chris Bassitt (3.54 ERA) and Cole Irvin (3.29 ERA) have been excellent atop the rotation. Sean Manaea has been frustratingly inconsistent but has shown he can dominate. The bullpen has been even more stellar, as Jake Diekman and Yusmeiro Petit are among the most valuable relievers in terms of fWAR.
Oakland needs more production to contend. Elvis Andrus (.459 OPS) has to at least be playable. Better slugging numbers from Matt Chapman (.388) and Sean Murphy (.392) would help.
Playoff Odds: 51 percent
Seattle Mariners (+2000)
The M's, much like the Royals, are another early riser that has fallen back to the pack.
The offensive production isn't there. Seattle ranks 14th in the AL in OPS, with Ty France landing on the injured list Friday after a horrendous slump and a number of others struggling. Maybe Jarred Kelenic will inject some life into the lineup, but he's just getting his feet wet.
The bullpen has also begun to regress with injuries taking their toll. The rotation is still without Marco Gonzales, and Logan Gilbert had a rough outing in his MLB debut Thursday.
The talent is there. But the bats especially haven't shown enough progress to make Seattle a playoff contender.
Playoff Odds: 7 percent
Texas Rangers (+20000)
The Rangers are fighting. Texas has found real pieces in Adolis Garcia, Nate Lowe and Nick Solak. Willie Calhoun is back in form.
That said, there isn't much quality in the rotation outside of Kyle Gibson and Dane Dunning. The absence of starting depth will come back to bite Texas.
It's more likely the Rangers try to shop players such as Gibson and Ian Kennedy (and perhaps Joey Gallo) at the deadline.
Playoff Odds: 3 percent
National League East
Atlanta Braves (+200)
The good news for the Braves is they rank fifth in xwOBA and have had bad luck in terms of batting average on balls in play. That suggests the lineup will right the ship, particularly if Freddie Freeman and (especially) Marcell Ozuna get going.
The bad news, however, is the bullpen has been sketchy. Atlanta ranks 25th in xFIP and 24th in ERA. Shane Greene's return could be vital, but manager Brian Snitker needs more guys in the circle of trust.
The Braves can right the ship. But the bullpen has to get sorted out, and the rotation has to show it can survive without Mike Soroka amid his uncertain injury status.
Playoff Odds: 33 percent
Miami Marlins (+5000)
The Marlins had the best run differential (plus-11) in the division entering play on Saturday. The top arms in the rotation are brilliant, with back-end bullpen pieces Dylan Floro, Yimi Garcia, Adam Cimber and John Curtiss also doing bang-up jobs.
That said, Miami just doesn't score enough. The Marlins rank 11th in the National League in OPS runs. It will likely take more firepower in a crowded division, and it's hard to see the Marlins snatching a wild-card spot.
Playoff Odds: 7 percent
New York Mets (+100)
The Mets are looking more and more like division favorites. The offense is turning the corner, averaging nearly five runs per game during a 9-3 stretch at the start of May.
Of course, most of the success is owed to the staff. Jacob deGrom (0.68 ERA) was off to an exceptional start prior to being placed on the injured list. Marcus Stroman (2.01 ERA) and Taijuan Walker (2.20 ERA) have also been terrific. The rotation will only get deeper when Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco make their returns.
The bullpen has been surprisingly good, ranking fourth in ERA and xFIP. Trevor May and Edwin Diaz have been electric at the back end, and Aaron Loup, Miguel Castro and Jeurys Familia have been effective. Robert Gsellman has fared far better as a reliever than he did as a starter.
Playoff Odds: 75 percent
Philadelphia Phillies (+375)
The Phillies have not gotten the production they likely hoped for from the lineup thus far even though Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto have lived up to star billings.
The pitching staff, however, remains the team's biggest question mark. Chase Anderson and Vince Velasquez have not been ideal back-end rotation arms. The bullpen lacks assurance, though Sam Coonrod has been good and Hector Neris and Jose Alvarado are strikeout arms.
Philadelphia should make gains with an expected uptick in production from Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm. The lack of options in the pitching staff, however, could hurt manager Joe Girardi and Co.
Playoff Odds: 25 percent
Washington Nationals (+1100)
The Nationals are in a tough position even with Patrick Corbin turning things around and Jon Lester providing another arm as they await Stephen Strasburg's return.
The bullpen has been up and down, and the peripherals aren't good. Washington ranks 29th in xFIP.
However, the more concerning trend is the lack of offense. Kyle Schwarber has been heating up, but Josh Bell remains in a funk, while Victor Robles has just three RBI and five extra-base hits after his two doubles and two RBI on Friday. Even Juan Soto (.788 OPS) hasn't hit up to his usual standards.
The Nats need more production, especially with so many questions about the bullpen and uncertainty with respect to Strasburg and the effectiveness of pitchers such as Erick Fedde (5.29 ERA) and Joe Ross (4.26 ERA).
Playoff Odds: 14 percent
National League Central
Chicago Cubs (+1100)
The lineup has been boom or bust even with Kris Bryant having an MVP-caliber season (1.069 OPS). Joc Pederson's recent hot streak bodes well for the top of the order.
However, like some other NL playoff hopefuls, the Cubs aren't getting a ton from their staff. Kyle Hendricks is a traditionally slow starter, but Jake Arrieta and especially Trevor Williams have regressed after fast starts. Zach Davies' peripherals aren't terrific. Adbert Alzolay has shown the best stuff, though he's been prone to serving up homers.
The bullpen is becoming more interesting with finds such as Justin Steele having high-leverage success. Still, there are question marks with players such as Dillon Maples and Rex Brothers commanding the middle innings.
Playoff Odds: 18 percent
Cincinnati Reds (+800)
Whereas the jury might still be out on a makeshift Cubs bullpen, the Reds bullpen has been nothing short of disastrous.
Cincy ranks 26th in ERA and 28th in xFIP. No one has been capable in big spots outside of Tejay Antone.
It's a shame, too, because there's upside elsewhere. The lineup ranks first in the NL in OPS and second in runs. The rotation has been good aside from a puzzlingly bad start by Luis Castillo (7.71 ERA).
The Reds should be more competitive, but the bullpen is a disaster.
Playoff Odds: 20 percent
Milwaukee Brewers (+120)
The arm talent is undeniable. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta form one of the best trios at the top of any rotation. The bullpen has upside even with Devin Williams and Drew Rasmussen battling command issues, though it's not the deepest group.
Milwaukee's chances depend on the lineup. The Brewers rank 14th in the NL in OPS and strikeouts. Those two trends cannot continue if they hope to make the playoffs.
Getting Christian Yelich back should help, as long as his back injury doesn't prove inhibitive. But Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Vogelbach need to start giving the team more consistent production.
Playoff Odds: 44 percent
Pittsburgh Pirates (+10000)
The Pirates aren't sniffing the playoffs this year or any time in the near future. Pittsburgh lacks the offensive firepower (15th in the NL in OPS) and quality pitching depth to contend.
At least Tyler Anderson and Richard Rodriguez could be assets come the trade deadline. JT Brubaker has also shown encouraging signs, ranking inside the top 20 in SIERA.
Playoff Odds: 0 percent
St. Louis Cardinals (+110)
The Cardinals have been the most balanced team in the Central. St. Louis ranks fifth in runs in the NL and seventh in ERA.
Tommy Edman (.281 BA) and Dylan Carlson (.365 OBP) are jump-starting things from the top of the lineup. There's so much more upside if Paul Goldschmidt awakens from his early-season slumber.
The most interesting group to watch will be the bullpen. St. Louis ranks 13th in ERA and has gotten lights-out performances from Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera, but Reyes has had command issues and Cabrera's expected numbers aren't stellar. The unit actually ranks last in xFIP.
Still, the balance bodes well for the Cardinals in a division that lacks high-end talent.
Playoff Odds: 52 percent
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks (+10000)
The Diamondbacks have surprisingly manufactured runs even with Ketel Marte and Kole Calhoun absent from the lineup for an extended period.
However, the injuries are stacking up. From Marte and Calhoun to Taylor Widener and now Zac Gallen, the roster is depleted. Gallen's injury was especially rough for a staff already lacking quality depth, even though Madison Bumgarner has been terrific in his past several outings.
That staff is what figures to hold Arizona back. The rotation is middling even with Gallen in the fold, while the bullpen ranks 28th in ERA.
Playoff Odds: 4 percent
Colorado Rockies (+15000)
Colorado is in transition and should sell come deadline season. Sound like a playoff team to you? Me neither.
Playoff Odds: 0 percent
Los Angeles Dodgers (-360)
The Dodgers might have endured a 5-15 stretch, but there is very little chance this team will not make the playoffs.
The rotation is the best in the majors. Dustin May's injury hurt, but Los Angeles will eventually be able to call upon Tony Gonsolin and David Price. The lineup will only grow stronger when Cody Bellinger returns and Mookie Betts gets back to his usual standards. Corey Seager's hand fracture is quite the blow, but L.A. still should have the depth to sustain that loss.
One concern is the bullpen. That group ranks just 18th in xFIP. Kenley Jansen is having command issues, and Dennis Santana and Garrett Cleavinger haven't been effective in the middle innings.
Playoff Odds: 90 percent
San Diego Padres (+250)
The Padres will also make the playoffs.
Like the Dodgers, they have a pretty good rotation. That group has a high ceiling if Blake Snell can remedy command issues and Dinelson Lamet works up to a full workload. Unlike L.A., San Diego has an elite bullpen. The relievers rank second in ERA and first in xFIP. There is depth, too, and Craig Stammen (1.88 ERA) and Mark Melancon (1.02 ERA) have been special.
What about the lineup? Fernando Tatis Jr.'s positive COVID-19 test was a tough loss in the short term, and it also hurts to be without Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers. This group, however, is capable of slugging and leads the NL in stolen bases (41—15 more than the second-place Cubs). The offense is as dangerous as any in baseball.
Playoff Odds: 80 percent
San Francisco Giants (+1700)
We finally arrive at perhaps the most fascinating playoff contender.
The Giants lead the most top-heavy division in baseball. Can they stay there? That remains to be seen. But San Francisco has the look of a playoff team.
It's not just the rotation, though that group has been great and could get better if Logan Webb continues to climb closer to his expected numbers. The Giants also rank a respectable eighth in the NL in OPS and have players who can come off the bench and produce. Of course, the early success has been driven by the team's veteran core of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria.
The bullpen is going to be a major sticking point. San Francisco ranks just 23rd in xFIP. Still, the lineup can slug, while the rotation depth is a huge plus in a season in which health could be imperative after the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
Playoff Odds: 51 percent
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