Ranking Every 2021 MLB Playoff Team's Starting Lineup

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IOctober 10, 2021

Ranking Every 2021 MLB Playoff Team's Starting Lineup

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Now down to the final eight MLB teams contending for a World Series, it's worth taking a look at the best remaining lineups.

    Some of the best lineups in baseball, like the Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals, either missed the playoffs or are no longer involved.

    Still, for the most part, you will find the best lineups are still fighting for a chance at the pennant and ultimately the World Series.

8. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The Brewers managed to win their division while being tied with the Miami Marlins for the worst batting average in the National League (.233). Among playoff teams, they rank last in OPS and finished 20th overall in the regular season.

    This is also the only team in the playoffs without a player to hit at least 30 home runs.

    The Brewers slashed (.233/.317/.396), which was below the NL average (.242/.318/.407). Their best hitters are Avisail Garcia, Willy Adames, Christian Yelich, Kolten Wong and Luis Urias...it is not an impressive offense.

    The Brewers needed only two runs off Charlie Morton, who pitched well for the Braves in the NLDS opener, to take a 1-0 lead. They then somewhat predictably lost Game 2 3-0.

    They are here because of a pitching staff that struck out more batters than anyone and allowed the second-lowest opposing batting average and the third-lowest ERA.

7. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    It seems weird saying the best team in the American League has its worst lineup, especially considering they produced the second-most runs of any team this season.

    Of the four American League teams playing in the division series, the Rays have the lowest on-base percentage (.321). Only the White Sox have a lower slugging percentage, and the Rays' batting average is the worst among the remaining AL contenders. Of the playoff teams remaining, only the Brewers finished the season with a lower OPS than Tampa.

    Offensively, they do little things well. For example, no playoff team remaining stole more bases than the Rays in the regular season. The St. Louis Cardinals were the only team to make the postseason who stole more bases than Tampa. And only the Astros have a higher offensive WAR or total WAR among playoff teams.

    The Rays' defense is also elite, trailing just the Astros in outs above average among remaining contenders (the Cardinals led in this statistic). Tampa's defense prevented 28 runs, according to Baseball Savant.

    Like the Brewers, pitching is key for the Rays, who had the seventh-lowest opposing batting average.

6. Atlanta Braves

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    This is a lineup that did an admirable job making up for the loss of superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. in July.

    They still managed to produce runs, finishing eighth in baseball (790). That's behind the leaders from out West but better than their current NLDS opponent Milwaukee.

    Atlanta had more home runs than any playoff team besides the San Francisco Giants. Austin Riley led that effort with 33 homers, while Freddie Freeman hit 31 and Ozzie Albies had 30.

    The Braves also produced a higher OPS this season (.754) than the Rays or Brewers but trailed every other team still competing for a World Series.

    Only the Astros had a better batting average (.267) or slugging percentage (.463) with runners in scoring position, and only the Dodgers had a better on-base percentage with runners in scoring position than Atlanta.

5. Chicago White Sox

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    They finished top five in batting average and on-base percentage on the South Side. The White Sox just did not hit a ton of home runs and finished last among playoff teams in this category.

    With runners in scoring position, Chicago had the third-best batting average among playoff teams (.266) and produced more hits than every other playoff squad except the Boston Red Sox, Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.

    It's hard to overlook a lineup with reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, who finished this season second behind only Salvador Perez in RBI.

    With All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson leading off, this right-handed-dominated lineup is anchored by one of the best hitters in the game. Anderson finished tied with Bryce Harper for the seventh-highest batting average in baseball.

    Add to the mix Luis Robert—who led the White Sox in slugging (.567)—Yasmani Grandal (23 home runs) and Andrew Vaughn, and Chicago has plenty of weapons. 

4. San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Giants hit a National League-high 241 home runs this season. Their isolated power tied with the Atlanta Braves for second in baseball, trailing only the Toronto Blue Jays.

    San Francisco also had the highest batting average and slugging percentage among NL playoff teams, and only the Dodgers had a higher on-base percentage.

    The Giants' walk-to-strikeout ratio was second-best among National League contenders, again only trailing the division-rival Dodgers. This is a lineup that hits for power and controls the strike zone.

    While the Giants did not have a single player rank in the top 10 for any slash line, they produced the second-most runs in the NL after the Dodgers. San Francisco also ranked at the top for NL teams in weighted runs created, weighted runs above average and weighted on-base percentage.

    Led by the likes of trade-deadline addition Kris Bryant and veterans Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, the Giants surprised everyone with this lineup to finish with the best record in baseball.

3. Boston Red Sox

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    Mary DeCicco/Getty Images

    The American League wild-card winner had the second-highest batting average of the postseason teams, and the advanced numbers are just as kind to them.

    Boston had the second-best wRC, wRAA and wOBA in baseball. Only the Astros and Blue Jays were better in these categories all season.

    You saw how electric this offense could be when it was on full display Friday night in Game 2 of the ALDS, as the Red Sox put up 14 runs on 20 hits in a blowout against the Rays.

    Boston was shut out in Game 1 but outhit Tampa 9-6. And that wild-card game against the Yankees? Homers from Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber set the tone. They chased Gerrit Cole in the third inning. Alex Verdugo knocked in three more runs for insurance.

    This is an offense to be feared, just like the top wild card on the other side.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Wally Skalij/Getty Images

    There is no real statistical case for the Dodgers in this spot. Let's get that part out of the way. The numbers dictate it should either be the Red Sox or Giants here.

    Shout-out to the old-school baseball heads: this one is a ranking based on feel. Or maybe more specifically, based on fear.

    No lineup is scarier than one leading off with Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Trea Turner and Justin Turner. Then they bury some combination of Cody Bellinger, AJ Pollock or Chris Taylor toward the bottom of the lineup.

    It doesn’t matter that the Dodgers rank fifth in WAR across baseball and that Houston, Tampa, Chicago and San Francisco all have better offensive WAR.

    Betts and Bellinger had down seasons, but L.A. is deep enough to endure it. When the Dodgers lineup is on, there's only one I'd rather have over them.

1. Houston Astros

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    You know the lineup is deadly when the best hitter bats seventh. That's the case for the Houston Astros, who have more great players than they sometimes know what to do with.

    Jose Altuve, a three-time batting champion, is the leadoff hitter replacing George Springer in that spot. Michael Brantley is about as solid a hitter you will find, batting second. Then you get to Alex Bregman, the runner-up to Mike Trout for AL MVP in 2019, and slugger Yordan Alvarez, who won AL Rookie of the Year unanimously that same year.

    Once you get past Yuli Gurriel, this year's AL batting champion, and Carlos Correa, one of the all-time great postseason performers, you're welcomed by Kyle Tucker.

    Here is how Correa described Tucker after the Astros took a 2-0 series lead over the White Sox, with Tucker playing a key role:

    "I think Kyle was the best hitter in our lineup this year, and he's one of the best hitters in the game. The reason why I say that is because obviously the numbers will back me up, but also, I don't see him getting fooled too often. It doesn't matter if you throw a first-pitch breaking ball or first-pitch fastball. It seems like he's always on time. That's something special. You don't see many hitters that are able to adjust to that."

    High praise for someone batting so deep in the lineup.

    Notice throughout this piece, so much of it is prefaced with other teams trailing the Astros in a given category. That's because this is the best lineup in baseball.

    They led the league in WAR and flipped-flopped with the Blue Jays for the top spot in every major offensive category. The Astros were at the top in hits, batting average, on-base percentage and second behind only Toronto in OPS. They also led the league in walk-to-strikeout ratio.

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