The 2019 MLB regular season is in the home stretch with just a few days of games remaining. This means our focus can be dedicated to a select number of relevant teams and ignore the rest of this season’s non-postseason squads.
The 2019 Major League Baseball postseason is nearing fast, but the exact details of where, when and who of the Wild-Card games is still up in the air with just four days left to play. The National League Wild Card game will get things started on Tuesday with the Nationals a lock to participate but their opponent and field of play are still unclear as of this writing.
The Nationals, along with the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers have at the very least, ensured they play a 153rd game this year.
If the season ended today, September 25th, the National League Wild Card game would go down on October 1st between the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals. This will likely be the case no matter what happens, unless either team can catch the St. Louis Cardinals, unlikely but possible. The NLDS will feature the winner of that game facing the Dodgers while the Cardinals & Braves square off in Atlanta, both series start on October 3rd.
In the American League, the Wild Card game will go down on the 2nd and feature the Tampa Bay Rays & Oakland Athletics. The Winner of that game will kick off an ALDS series against the Astros while the Twins and Yankees kick off their tilt versus the Twins on the 4th.
In each of the upcoming playoff series, whichever team comes in with the better record earns the right to play the final game of that series, be it game 5 or game 7, on their home turf. This also allows the team with the best record in baseball the ability to maintain home field advantage through game -7 of the World Series. The Houston Astros take a slight lead over the Yankees into these final days and have the advantage of owning the tiebreaker after beating the Yankees 4 out of 7 games this year. Any tiebreakers related to home-field advantage are based on head-to-head records, then records against divisional foes then their records versus league opponents.
With all this in mind, let’s take stock of each team still alive in the race to the World Series and make some postseason predictions.
2019 American League Playoff Previews
Houston Astros (104-54)
Current ‘best team in the Major Leagues, the Houston Astros have enjoyed phenomenal success this season. With a trio of Hall of Fame caliber starting pitchers, a lethal infield and an outfield full of power and speed, it’s no wonder they are the best team in the league right now. With an ERA averaging 3.02 as a group, their predicted postseason rotation is full of guys who toss quality filth on a daily basis. Not that Calros Correa has returned from the IR, their in flied is back to firing on all cylinders behind Jose Altuve. It’s no wonder the Astros continue to dominate the top spot in World Series futures and the Yankees and Dodgers provide their only real competition right now.
New York Yankees (102-57)
While the Yankees are enjoying the best season in a long time, their only focus for the time being is usurping the Astros atop the AL rankings. Taking the best record in baseball means the Bombers would enjoy home-field advantage through game-7 of the World Series. The problem for NY right now is while many teams are getting healthy right now, many big name Yankees have gone down with injuries over the last few weeks. Dillon Betances suffered a season ending injury about 15 minutes after his season started a few weeks ago, coming off a long stay on the IR just to go right back on it. Joining Betances are starting outfielders Mick Tachman (oblique) and Aaron Hicks (elbow) who are both lost to the season. They have enjoyed the return of young superstar Luis Severino and their power hitter Giancarlo Statnton, but with so little innings this year, how effective will they be? Perhaps the biggest, most unexpected and tragic loss is that of starting pitcher Domingo German (18-4, 4.03 ERA). While the details are murky, German is accused of domestic violence and word on the street is that it was witnessed by an MLB official and that is why his punishment was so quick and swift. The Yankees, much like the rest of the league, will employ a three man rotation with CC Sabathia and J.J. Happ first out of the bullpen. The Yanks hope that Luis Severing, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka will give them enough innings to avoid a 4th rotation member. The Bombers should make quick work of their ALDS counterpart and will be in line for a helluva series in Houston.
Minnesota Twins (99-60)
The Twins are another team who have suffered big losses to their starting roster as the regular season comes to a close. This also explains why their odds to win the World Series have slid to 18/1 over the last couple of weeks. With Michael Pineda getting suspended again for being a dirty cheater, and Byron Buxton suffering season ending shoulder surgery, the Twins loose weapons on both sides of the diamond. Another loss to the postseason roster will be Sam Dyson who is likely to miss the rest of the 2019 World Series push. With the Mets eliminated, the Twins are not guaranteed a playoff slot, but just which one remains to be seen. They are currently one game back from moving into a tie with the Nationals for the first Wild-Card spot and are 1 ½ games back from the Cardinals for the National League Central title. They were heavy favorites just a week ago to reign over the AL, but a week is a long time in the MLB and now they are fighting for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.
Oakland Athletics (95-63)
The Oakland Athletics this week took over the top Wild Card spot from the Twins after being knocked out of the running for the Division. They took their shot at the America League Central title, but will just have to settle for a one-game series at home against the Rays. Their last three games come against the lowly Mariners roster. There is still a possibility that the Rays and Indians will be locked in at the end of the year and will be forced to participate in a tiebreaker game. This gives the Athletics a distinct advantage in the Wild Card with both other teams having exhausted their best starting pitcher the day before. Either way, the Athletics are a good bet to make it to the ALDS and get rocked by the Astros.
Tampa Bay Rays (95-64)
The Rays are the only team left on this list that is not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The Indians are currently nipping at their heels, just a half game back from the second wild card bet. With Yandy Diaz and Brandown Lowe suffering injuries down the stretch, the Rays will need all the help they can get keeping opponents at bay with their diminished scoring potential. Blake Snell will be a key cog to accomplishing tis task, but he has been a question mark this season and is still not totally stretched out after retuning from the IR. If all goes well, Snell will join Charlie Morton, Ryan Yardbrough and Tyler Glassnow in the postseason rotation. It’s a strong quartet of pitchers, one of the better postseason rotation in the league, especially if Snell returns to Cy Young form. Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay will be additions to the bullpen who can also make starts if need be. McKay also offers them an extra bat on the bench a la Shohei Ohtani.
2019 National League Playoff Picture
Los Angeles Dodgers (103-56)
The Dodgers remain just one of three teams to surpass 100-wins this year along with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. The Braves and Twins each have a shot at hitting that mark before season’s end. But the only thing the Dodgers are guaranteed is home field advantage through the NLCS after posting the best record in the National League. The Dodgers will play either the Washington Nationals or Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series, dependent on who wins the Wild Card game on the 1st. Both are strong teams but the fact of the matter is that, in a five-game series, the Dodgers are head and shoulders above the competition and should have little trouble skating into the NLCS against either the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals. Los Angeles will employ three starting pitchers to begin, with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler going 1-2-3 starting next week. There is talk of having a bullpen game as the ‘fourth starter’ with relievers combining to pitch a complete game. I am skeptical of how this will work down the stretch in the postseason, but I have to assume the Dodgers pitching staff is a bit better at this than I. Frankly, the Dodgers should walk through the Division Series and have little trouble in the NLCS en route to another World Series appearance.
Atlanta Braves (97-62)
The Braves locked in their postseason berth after clinching top spot in the American League East with a shutout win against the Giants last Friday night. This marks their second AL East title in a row and a possible resurgence for Atlanta baseball which was so dominant in the 90’s. This will be the 19th division title for Atltanta, which ties the Yankees with best mark since the divisional era started in 1970. For those nostalgic millennials, you will be happy to hear that this marks the first season in 15 years that the Dodgers, Brewers and Yankees have all won their respective divisions. With Nick Markakis returning to action last week, he expects to be a huge contributing factor moving forward into the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-69)
The Cardinals remain the only team left to hold the top spot in their division and have yet to clinch it. They have clinched their first playoff berth since 2015, but would really love to avoid a Wild Card game against the Washington Nationals in St. Louis. They let the Brewers creep up two games this week to sit just a single game back of the NL Central. With Milwaukee playing so well right now, there is a strong possibility that the Cardinals stumble enough to put them into the Wild Card game and lost out on another Division Title.
Washington Nationals (90-69)
While the Braves were expected to run away with the division, there are still many surprises which popped up across the league this year. First off, the Nationals being better off without Bryce Harper turned out to be a rather comical one. Especially considering the Nationals knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs Tuesday night amidst the Washington crowd raining boos upon Harper. On the negative side however, is the Nationals’ Bullpen. A group of guys who were expected to be a dominant force in the league instead became more of a smoldering pile of suck. While the starters have played up to the hype, with Stephen Strousburg finally coming into his own, the bullpen was another story. A tragic story full of high drama and even higher scores. The bullpen ERA is 5.48, easily the worst in the majors and they are also posting the worst win probability rate over the last decade. I mean, what is more desperate than dusting off 42-year-old rust-bucket Fernando Rodney to help them close the year? Were Armando Benitez and John Rocker not available? Fact is that without such a key ingredient, this is a recipe for disaster come the postseason. IF they manage to keep their bullpen in the bullpen for the Wild Card game, they have little shot at beating the Dodgers in a series and will see their season end in LA next weekend.
Milwaukee Brewers (89-70)
The Brewers might be the feel-good story of the early fall after such an impressive run to close out the season. After team and league MVP, Chrisitan Yelich went down for the season a few weeks back, the public immediately dismissed the Brewers from the World Series conversation. Seems nobody bothered to share that news story in the Brewers lockers room. The Milwaukee Brewers are now 18-2 over their last 20 games played and have firmly entrenched themselves not only in the Wild Card game, but still have a shot at the division if you can believe it. They have an easy road ahead of the with a three-game series against the Rockies to close out 2019. It goes without saying that this will be the most dynamic storyline for the remainder of the regular season. Whether they take the division or not, I see them and the Cardinals playing for the NLDS and leave the Nationals wondering why they traded their best player in history.