2021 MLB Playoffs: Seeding Predictions and Round-by-Round Picks
The 2021 MLB postseason is back to the 10-team format baseball fans are used to, rather than the expanded 16 squads in the season shortened by COVID-19 concerns in 2020.
Sixteen teams was fun, and made a lot of sense considering the small sample size of a 60-game regular season. How did we know who was good, or that the extra teams would not have worked their way toward the top if given more time? No such worries exist this year.
With the wild-card games less than a month away, let's make predictions on seeding and each postseason round.
First, freshen up on how this all works.
How All of This Works
How teams make the playoffs:
- Three division winners in each league
- The two best second-place teams in each league
The wild-card round:
- Single elimination between two best second-place teams to face No. 1 seed in each league.
The division series:
- Best-of-five series between No. 1 seed and wild-card winner in each league.
- Best-of-five series between No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each league
- All series have a 2-2-1 home/road format favoring the higher seed.
- Best-of-five series winners in each league face each other in best-of-seven series.
- Both series have a 2-3-2 home/road format favoring the higher seed.
- Best-of-seven, 2-3-2 home/road format with home-field advantage to the team with the better regular-season record.
National League Seeding
The Giants positioned themselves earlier this month to host a potential tiebreaker with the Dodgers if it comes down to it.
This is an amazing story, considering the Giants were expected to be mediocre this season. They have been good to excellent in nearly every way, from their pitching, to hitting and fielding.
As if the Brewers pitching was not already impressive enough, they added a combined no-hitter between Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader over the weekend.
Expect them to take that elite pitching right into the league's No. 2 spot.
Unlike the Giants, who have the Dodgers to deal with in their division, Milwaukee does not have much of a challenger in the NL Central. The Cincinnati Reds are the next best thing, and they're fighting for whatever wild-card spot the NL West might leave them.
The Braves look like the last team standing in the NL East, with an 88.1 percent chance of winning that division, according to FanGraphs
They are the class of the division, and the only one with a positive run differential after Sunday.
The Braves are top three in home runs, competing with the Giants for second place behind the Toronto Blue Jays.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
It seems almost unfair for a team as good as the Dodgers to be faced with a one-game elimination scenario, but it appears to be where they are headed.
The Dodgers are arguably the best team in baseball, but they could be headed home if there is just one off night against the...
5. Cincinnati Reds
This is more of a prediction against the Padres than one for the Reds.
Fernando Tatis Jr.'s brilliance has not been enough to save the Padres, who continue to miss opportunities to gain ground on the final wild-card spot.
The Reds now have slightly better odds than the Padres to win the wild-card spot with an easier schedule down the stretch.
American League Seeding
Cases can be made that other AL teams are more talented, but none have been better or more consistent this season than the Rays.
The Rays are here to defend the pennant.
The only team with a larger run differential than the Rays are the Houston Astros. The Astros' plus-178 is good for the best in the American League.
After addressing their bullpen issues with trades for Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia and Phil Maton leading up to the July 30 deadline, along with the continued development of Kyle Tucker, this is a deeper and more balanced team than earlier in the season.
Alex Bregman is back from his quad injury, and he's playing like the AL MVP runner-up from two years ago that he is, and their starting pitching has been solid despite losing Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery last year.
This is a team limping its way into the postseason, but the talent is undeniable.
Lance Lynn just returned from the injured list with right knee inflammation and pitched five strong innings against the Red Sox. Shortstop Tim Anderson should be returning this week.
The White Sox starting pitching is dangerous with Lucas Giolito (out with a strained hamstring), Lynn, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease.
Their lineup is also as good as anyone's, but the White Sox are by far the worst fielding team of the three likely division winners.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the hardest remaining strength of schedule among wild-card contenders but are playing better than the Red Sox and Yankees lately.
They hit five home runs and scored 22 runs against the lowly Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. It's hard to pick against them with how they're hitting.
5. Boston Red Sox
This is more of a gut feeling because the Yankees have not played well enough lately to provide confidence.
Of the three AL East teams vying for a wild-card spot, the Yankees have the lowest odds of making the postseason, according to FanGraphs.
That it's so hard to predict how these AL wild-card spots will shake out is what makes it so fun.
National League Rounds 1-2
Reds vs. Dodgers
The Dodgers have some excellent starting pitching options for a one-game playoff, so the question is which direction do they go?
Whether it's Max Scherzer or Walker Buehler, the Dodgers should be in good shape. Their pitching leads baseball in WHIP, ERA, opposing batting average and they have given up the fewest hits.
Don't let the bats get frisky, too, or it could get ugly.
Dodgers win 8-4
Dodgers vs. Giants
Divisional rivals in the division series. I'll take it.
Everyone expected the Dodgers to be here, while few had such expectations for the Giants. The teams have played each other evenly this season, with the Giants winning their series tiebreaker on Sept. 5.
The postseason is where the difference in talent catches up with the Giants, who will lose this one in five.
Dodgers win 3-2
Braves vs. Brewers
This is a fun matchup because here you have the Braves' elite hitting going against the Brewers' excellent pitching, and the Braves' mediocre pitching going against the Brewers' mediocre offense.
If shortstop Willy Adames is ready for the postseason after his quadriceps injury, the Brewers get back one of the league's most productive players just in time to make a run.
Brewers win 3-2
American League Rounds 1-2
Red Sox vs. Blue Jays
Chris Sale recently tested positive for COVID-19, but assuming he's back and healthy for this one game, Boston has to be favored.
Sale missed the 2020 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he's looked like the pitcher we're all used to in his five starts since rejoining the team.
Sale is 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA and would be the difference against a potent Blue Jays lineup.
Red Sox win 5-3
Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are 11-8 against the Red Sox this season. Tampa has the better team and should advance to the ALCS without too much stress.
Despite this, there should be plenty of drama in the series because the two squads appear to have some tension.
Collin McHugh intentionally balked to avoid the Red Sox stealing signs from second base earlier this month.
The Red Sox also had the mound measured between games at Tropicana Field, incorrectly suggesting it was higher than allowed.
The Red Sox broadcast crews are not fans of Rays manager Kevin Cash. I want this matchup, no matter how competitive it actually is.
Rays win series 3-1
White Sox vs. Astros
The Astros swept the White Sox in a four-game series at home early in the season, then dropped two of three in Chicago.
It seemed clear from those games in Houston that the Astros were the better team. Add the postseason experience and lack thereof for this White Sox group, and it's hard to pick against Houston over five games.
This will, however, be a fun matchup between the Chicago pitching and Houston lineup. The White Sox make this really interesting, but it's the Astros coming out on top.
Astros win series 3-2
National League Championship Series
Brewers vs. Dodgers
This one seems simple. The Dodgers pitching can match up with the Brewers', but whose bats do you expect to come up with the timely hits?
The answer has to be the Dodgers.
The Brewers are 3-1 against the Dodgers this season, with Los Angeles slashing below its league average (.253/.343/.397, compared to 240/.327/.420), which suggests this could be a real fight.
At the risk of sleeping on the Brewers as a World Series contender, I'll give the Dodgers the edge here.
Dodgers win 4-2
American League Championship Series
Astros vs. Rays
The Rays won the pennant last year and have looked even better in 2021.
Meanwhile, the Astros have spent the season piecing together their bullpen and trying (but mostly failing) to stay healthy.
The Astros are back to full strength, and they have gone 2-1 against the Rays in the regular season. They play another three-game series in Houston before the season ends to preview this potential championship series rematch.
The result will be the same as last year.
Rays win 4-3
Rays vs. Dodgers
Another rematch, this one from last year's World Series. This is brewing into a fully-fledged rivalry between two excellent franchises.
The Dodgers topped the Rays last year at the new Globe Life Field in Texas, a central location decided upon because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Home stadiums will be in play for this one, and both teams are at pitcher-friendly ballparks.
The difference for the Dodgers will be their trade-deadline additions from the Washington Nationals in Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Add those players to the firepower the Dodgers were already working with and it's a recipe for a repeat.
Dodgers win 4-3