MLB Playoff 2021 Rankings: Where All 8 Teams Stand Ahead of Divisional Round
The 2021 MLB postseason is underway and we've returned to a more traditional setup after last year's 60-game regular-season sprint culminated in an expanded 16-team playoff field and a wild best-of-three Wild Card Series.
With the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers coming out on top in the AL and NL Wild Card games, the Division Series field of eight teams is now set, and this is the perfect time for an updated version of our power rankings.
While regular-season power rankings took into account recent performance, these rankings will look ahead to each team's postseason outlook. In an effort to illustrate strengths and weaknesses, each team's leaguewide ranking in a handful of relevant statistical categories is provided for further context.
Let's get to it.
8. Boston Red Sox
OPS: .777, third
HR: 219, 10th
R/G: 5.12, fourth
ERA: 4.26, 15th
SP ERA: 4.49, 17th
RP ERA: 3.99, 13th
The Boston Red Sox ousted the rival New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game behind a terrific start from Nathan Eovaldi (5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 8 K), home runs from Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber, and a three-RBI game from Alex Verdugo.
It's a great first step, but there's a long road ahead for a team with a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff that just burned its best starter to get to the ALDS. Chris Sale is back in the mix and pitching well with a 3.16 ERA in nine starts, but he also completed six innings just once.
The lineup will need to continue to jump on opposing starters early to help take some pressure off the rest of the starting rotation and a shaky bullpen.
This team had a .500 record after the All-Star break prior to a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals to close out the regular season and punch its ticket to the playoffs. They'll need to find another gear to make a deep October run.
7. Atlanta Braves
OPS: .754, eighth
HR: 239, third
R/G: 4.91, seventh
ERA: 3.88, eighth
SP ERA: 3.84, seventh
RP ERA: 3.97, 10th
The Atlanta Braves used an 18-8 month of August to seize control of a wide-open NL East race, and they went 12-2 in their final 14 games to hold off the Philadelphia Phillies and claim their fourth straight division title.
With Max Fried and Charlie Morton fronting the starting rotation and young right-hander Ian Anderson looking to build off a 2020 postseason where he went 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in four starts, the starting rotation has the potential to be a driving force.
The bullpen has been hit-and-miss, but Luke Jackson is one of baseball's best setup relievers and closer Will Smith converted 37 of 43 save chances with a 3.44 ERA and 11.5 K/9 in 71 appearances.
Adding Jorge Soler (55 G, 128 OPS+, 14 HR, 33 RBI), Adam Duvall (55 G, 104 OPS+, 16 HR, 45 RBI) and Eddie Rosario (33 G, 131 OPS+, 7 HR, 16 RBI) at the deadline effectively rebuilt the outfield and transformed the offense alongside reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman and breakout star Austin Riley.
Postseason baseball has turned into a home run derby of sorts in recent years, and this team can hit the long ball as well as anyone.
6. Chicago White Sox
OPS: .758, seventh
HR: 190, t-19th
R/G: 4.91, eighth
ERA: 3.73, fifth
SP ERA: 3.57, fourth
RP ERA: 3.97, 12th
With Luis Robert (hip flexor), Eloy Jimenez (pectoral), Yasmani Grandal (knee) and Tim Anderson (hamstring) all spending time on the injured list this season, the Chicago White Sox lineup has rarely been at full strength. Luckily, the pieces have fallen into place just in time for the playoffs.
A lineup of Anderson, Robert, Jose Abreu, Grandal, Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Leury Garcia, Gavin Sheets and Cesar Hernandez figures to be the go-to in October, with Andrew Vaughn and Adam Engel also in the mix to receive a start or two.
The bigger question now lies with the pitching staff.
Carlos Rodon pitched just 28 innings after the All-Star break and Lance Lynn was shelled in two of his final five starts, raising some questions about that duo's ability to lead the staff alongside Lucas Giolito. Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel and Reynaldo Lopez are also options to take the ball, but the rotation is no longer a clear strength.
There is more boom-or-bust potential with the White Sox than perhaps any other playoff team.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
OPS: .713, 20th
HR: 194, 18th
R/G: 4.56, 12th
ERA: 3.50, third
SP ERA: 3.13, second
RP ERA: 4.02, 14th
The three-headed monster of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta gives the Milwaukee Brewers legitimate World Series upside, and back-of-the-rotation starters Eric Lauer (118.2 IP, 3.19 ERA) and Adrian Houser (142.1 IP, 3.22 ERA) will also be assets in some capacity in October.
The bullpen—even without Devin Williams—should also be a strength with Josh Hader slamming the door, former All-Star Brad Boxberger setting him up, and young left-hander Aaron Ashby providing a multi-inning option.
The question here is going to be scoring runs.
A lackluster offensive attack bottomed out in September, posting a .698 OPS while averaging just 4.3 runs per game. On the year, they scored one or no runs a whopping 28 different times, so there is some risk of the bats going silent.
Still, pitching wins championships, and this staff is as talented as any in baseball.
4. Houston Astros
OPS: .784, second
HR: 221, ninth
R/G: 5.33, first
ERA: 3.76, seventh
SP ERA: 3.60, fifth
RP ERA: 4.06, 15th
The Houston Astros are led by the highest-scoring offense in baseball, and it's a group of experienced hitters with significant postseason experience under their belts.
Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman all remain from the 2017 World Series-winning lineup, and they are joined by a pair of budding stars in Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez, and one of the best pure hitters in baseball in Michael Brantley.
For as good as the offense has been, it's the starting rotation that has exceeded expectations and helped lead Houston to a fourth division title in five years. With Zack Greinke expected to work out of the bullpen in October, it will be some combination of Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jake Odorizzi and Jose Urquidy behind ace Lance McCullers Jr. in the playoff rotation.
If there's a hole on this roster, it's the middle relief bridging the gap to closer Ryan Pressly. Expect to see setup relievers Kendall Graveman and Ryne Stanek frequently throughout the postseason.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
OPS: .749, 10th
HR: 222, t-sixth
R/G: 5.29, second
ERA: 3.67, fourth
SP ERA: 4.08, 14th
RP ERA: 3.24, third
Can a largely untested starting rotation lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a World Series title?
The young trio of Shane McClanahan (123.1 IP, 3.43 ERA, 141 K), Shane Baz (13.1 IP, 2.03 ERA, 18 K) and Drew Rasmussen (59.0 IP, 2.44 ERA, 48 K) are the likely starters for the first three games of the ALDS, and they have just 5.1 career postseason innings among them.
Meanwhile, the bullpen will be anchored by Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks and Collin McHugh, and Luis Patino will be a multi-inning X-factor after pitching mostly out of the starting rotation.
Pitching has long been the strength of the Rays organization, and while it will be a driving force once again, this year's offensive attack is on another level. Last year's team that reached the World Series ranked 12th in the majors with 4.82 runs per game, and that has spiked to 5.29 runs per contest this year.
The middle-infield tandem of Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco will lead the way.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
OPS: .759, sixth
HR: 237, fourth
R/G: 5.12, fifth
ERA: 3.01, first
SP ERA: 2.93, first
RP ERA: 3.16, second
The defending World Series champs will be without Clayton Kershaw for the duration of the postseason, and Max Muncy is also on the shelf after suffering an ugly shoulder injury in the regular-season finale. That hurts, but there's enough depth on the roster to overcome those losses.
Walker Buehler and Julio Urias will still join Max Scherzer as frontline options in the starting rotation, while the No. 4 starter job will likely now fall to Tony Gonsolin, who had a 3.23 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55.2 innings. As for first base, some combination of Cody Bellinger, Albert Pujols and Matt Beaty will handle the position, with Chris Taylor or Gavin Lux manning center field if Bellinger plays on the dirt.
This year's bullpen is deeper than last year's group, with rookie Alex Vesia, offseason signing Corey Knebel, and scrapheap pickup Phil Bickford joining Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen as go-to options in the late innings.
On paper, this is still the best team in baseball, and the upcoming NLDS showdown between NL West rivals may ultimately decide the 2021 World Series.
1. San Francisco Giants
OPS: .769, fourth
HR: 241, second
R/G: 4.96, sixth
ERA: 3.25, second
SP ERA: 3.44, third
RP ERA: 2.99, first
The San Francisco Giants occupied the No. 1 spot in our weekly power rankings for 13 straight weeks to close out the regular season, so it's only fitting they remain in that slot as we pivot our attention to the postseason.
The trio of Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and 2021 breakout star Logan Webb will anchor the playoff rotation, while baseball's best bullpen has been further bolstered by the performance of September call-up Camilo Doval. The 24-year-old tallied four wins, three saves and one hold while racking up 20 strikeouts in 14.1 scoreless innings in September.
Offensively, losing Brandon Belt to a fractured thumb is a blow, but a deep bench that includes Darin Ruf and Wilmer Flores capable of manning first base will help plug that hole.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford closed out the best season of his career by hitting .352/.449/.604 with 12 extra-base hits in September, and he'll lead the way once again.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.