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MLB Playoff Preview 2018

Welcome to October, when it takes talent and some postseason magic to win it all. We break down every roster to see who has the right Fall Classic formula.

By David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle

1 Boston Red Sox

108-54
|
13% World Series odds

Under first-year manager Alex Cora, all the Red Sox did was win the most games in franchise history. Thanks to an offense powered by MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, Boston led the majors in runs scored and batting average while increasing its home run output from 2017 by 40.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

13%

Odds To Beat

A's
62.3
Yankees
53.2
Astros
36.1
Indians
54.8
Cubs
61.2
Braves
68.6
Rockies
72.4
Brewers
61.8
Dodgers
47.2

They'll have home-field advantage and they cleaned up at Fenway, going 57-24. They hit .282 at home with an .829 OPS compared to .255 and .756 on the road. One concern: Will the bullpen lock down leads? Craig Kimbrel was wild at times and blew five saves, and Matt Barnes, the top setup guy, missed time in September with a sore hip.

Good news if they play
The Yankees

That four-game sweep in early August sent a loud statement that the Red Sox are the best team in the American League East. The teams haven't met in the playoffs since the infamous 2004 American League Championship Series, but a five-game division series with Chris Sale getting two starts makes the Red Sox the big favorite.

Bad news if they play
The Cubs

The Red Sox hit right-handed pitching much better (.817 OPS versus .719) and the Cubs could run out lefties Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 1
  • Chris
    Sale
  • 17
  • David
    Price
  • 19
  • Rick
    Porcello

Last year, Sale tired in September and the Astros roughed him up in the postseason. This year, he pitched sparingly the final two months due to shoulder inflammation and then averaged just 90.2 mph with his fastball in his final start. Price had a big second half with a 2.00 ERA. Porcello is the reliable workhorse who had a career-high strikeout rate, but needs to avoid the home run.

X FACTOR

David Price, SP

0-9

Price is 2-8 with a 5.03 ERA in his postseason career, and both wins came in relief. His teams are 0-9 when he starts. Price is maybe too aware of his postseason struggles, saying a few weeks ago that he could go undefeated in the regular season and it wouldn't matter. "My career is based on what I do in October now," he said.

BIG BAT

J.D. Martinez, DH

43Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Justin Verlander, Astros

Like most hitters, Martinez is best against the fastball. He also likes to swing early in the count. Verlander likes to throw fastballs early in the count. He gave up 28 home runs, including 18 on fastballs.

One who'd give him trouble
Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Martinez didn't hit for as much power against lefties and can get overaggressive against softer tossers who paint the corners. He didn't handle cutters well this year and according to FanGraphs, Keuchel's cutter had the second-most value in the majors.

2 Houston Astros

103-59
|
32% World Series odds

The Houston Astros avoided a World Series hangover out of the gate, roaring to a 20-10 April behind a dominant starting rotation. It wasn't an easy ride to the AL West title, however, as first the Mariners and then the A's challenged them, and the offense struggled at times as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all missed time with injuries. They wrapped things up with a strong finish and became the first team since the 2005 Cardinals to win 100 games in back-to-back seasons.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

32%

Odds To Beat

Indians
67.2
Red Sox
63.9
A's
76.9
Yankees
67.9
Cubs
74.8
Braves
80.7
Rockies
83.5
Brewers
75.3
Dodgers
62.6

The Astros didn't win the most games, but they did have the best run differential. They have a great one-two punch at the top of the rotation, a lineup that hasn't bashed like last season but remains scary and deep, and a bullpen with incredible depth that led the majors in ERA. No team has gone back-to-back since the Yankees won three in a row in 1998-2000, and getting through the AL will be tough, but this could be a dynasty in the making.

Good news if they play
The Indians

The Astros were much better against left-handed pitching, so it's definitely possible that Cleveland's right-handed starters could shut them down. On the other hand, we have this: The Astros led the majors in OPS against fastballs in the upper half of the strike zone; the Indians allowed the third-highest OPS on those fastballs.

Bad news if they play
The Dodgers

There's the obvious revenge factor, but the Dodgers also had the second-highest OPS in the majors against right-handed pitchers and Houston's staff is almost entire right-handed. Against righties, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger have the platoon advantage and Joc Pederson gets into the lineup.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 2
  • Justin
    Verlander
  • 7
  • Gerrit
    Cole
  • 20
  • Dallas
    Keuchel

Adding Cole to a rotation featuring two Cy Young winners in Verlander and Keuchel turned a strong Houston rotation into a dominant one. No matter how the Astros set up their starting pitching in the postseason, they figure to have an advantage on the mound most of the time.

X FACTOR

Carlos Correa, SS

.180

Correa has hit .180/.261/.256 since returning from the disabled list Aug. 10 and it's clear the back issue that sidelined him for more than a month is still bothering him. He has been dropped from third or fourth in the lineup to fifth and then sixth, and you have to wonder how much he'll be able to contribute at the plate.

BIG BAT

Alex Bregman, 3B

31 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Mike Fiers, A's

The most impressive thing about Bregman is he has no obvious weakness and even hits well against sliders, which many pitchers use as a wipeout pitch with two strikes. Fiers isn't a big strikeout guy, so Bregman's bat-to-ball ability could play up against him or any of the Oakland starters if they meet.

One who'd give him trouble
Carlos Carrasco, Indians

Bregman is a launch-angle guy and his OPS is much higher against fly ball pitchers than ground ball pitchers. Carrasco generates grounders with his slider, so this is a guy Bregman might have trouble getting into the air.

3 New York Yankees

100-62
|
6% World Series odds

The New York Yankees didn't win the division, but it was the most wins for the franchise since the 2009 World Series championship and their first back-to-back playoff appearances since 2011-12. With 267 home runs, they set a single-season record -- even as Gary Sanchez struggled and Aaron Judge spent nearly two months on the DL. Rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar had big debut seasons with 20-plus home runs and ranking 1-2 among rookies in RBIs. Giancarlo Stanton hit 38 home runs ... which means he didn't hit 59.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

6%

Odds To Beat

A's
58.9
Red Sox
46.8
Astros
32.0
Indians
52.8
Cubs
59.2
Braves
66.8
Rockies
70.7
Brewers
59.9
Dodgers
45.4

The Yankees head into the postseason a little banged up, with Judge coming back from the chip fracture in his wrist and Didi Gregorius attempting to play with a cartilage tear in his right wrist. On the positive side, as postseason strategy shifts to relievers getting a higher percentage of innings, the Yankees have the bullpen depth to pull off a run to the title.

Good news if they play
The Brewers

The Yankees had a big home/road differential in the power department, taking advantage of the short right-field dimensions at Yankee Stadium. Like Yankee Stadium, the ball flies at Miller Park, and the Yankees' power hitters would love to hit there in the World Series.

Bad news if they play
The Astros

The Yankees gave them a run in last year's ALCS, but here's an interesting stat: The Yankees were 11th in the majors in OPS against fastballs in the upper half of the zone, but second against fastballs in the lower half of the zone. The Astros love to throw four-seamers up in the zone (sixth-highest rate in the majors in fastball percentage in the upper half).

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 9
  • Masahiro
    Tanaka
  • 10
  • J.A.
    Happ
  • 19
  • Luis
    Severino

Severino was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball in the first half with 14 wins, a 2.31 ERA and 144 K's in 128.1 innings, but he fell apart in the second half as his ERA ballooned over 5.00, and he's lost his grip as staff ace. Tanaka, meanwhile, was much better in the second half, curbing the home run issues that plagued him in the first half. Happ came over from the Blue Jays and went 7-0, 2.69 in 11 starts as one of the best trade pickups. The old warhorse CC Sabathia had another solid season, although look for quick hooks with him (even during the regular season, he went to 100 pitches just four times).

X FACTOR

Aaron Judge

1

That's how many home runs he hit in 41 at-bats after returning from the wrist injury Sept. 18. The Yankees need him to get on base from that second spot in the lineup -- and a few home runs would be nice as well.

BIG BAT

Giancarlo Stanton, DH

38 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Stanton crushed lefties (1.036 OPS) more than righties (.793 OPS) and especially crushed sinkers/two-seamers (1.121 OPS in 120 plate appearances ending with sinkers). Small sample size, but he went 3-for-4 with two home runs off Keuchel.

One who'd give him trouble
Trevor Bauer, Indians

The book on Stanton is your classic approach to a right-handed power hitter: up and in, low and away. Stanton hit .169 against sliders. According to FanGraphs, Bauer's slider was one of the best in the AL and his fastball was more effective than teammates Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, who also have great sliders.

4 Oakland A’s

97-65
|
2% World Series odds

What a season for the Oakland A's. They were 34-36 on June 15 and then magically turned things around behind an offense that hits a lot of home runs -- they led the AL in road homers -- and a dominant bullpen (they lost only one game all season they led after seven innings). The most amazing thing was none of the guys that started the season in the rotation finished the season in the rotation, and only Daniel Mengden was even healthy at season's end.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

2%

Odds To Beat

Yankees
41.1
Red Sox
37.7
Astros
23.1
Indians
42.06
Cubs
48.5
Braves
56.5
Rockies
60.8
Brewers
49.2
Dodgers
34.9

The A's are big underdogs because of the duct-taped rotation, but the power and bullpen give them a puncher's chance. If the A's can survive the wild-card game, all the off days in the postseason means Bob Melvin can rely heavily on that pen that includes closer Blake Treinen, who finished 9-2 with a 0.78 ERA and 38 saves. In-season additions Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney add even more depth.

Good news if they play
The Dodgers

Hey, they owe the Dodgers one for 1988. Plus, maybe each team's record in one-run games would come into play. The A's were 31-14 while the Dodgers were a so-so 22-22.

Bad news if they play
The Braves

If they somehow survive the AL gauntlet and meet the Braves, Oakland's power game may not match up well. SunTrust Park isn't a good home run park and only the Astros allowed fewer home runs among playoff teams.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 22
  • Mike
    Fiers
  • 29
  • Edwin
    Jackson
  • 30
  • Brett
    Anderson

Heck, the A's have even being using Tampa's "opener" strategy in September with Liam Hendriks, so anything is possible here. Fiers has been good since coming over from the Tigers, but he's allowed 12 home runs in 53 innings. Anderson is the ground ball specialist, and Trevor Cahill has stumbled a bit down the stretch (including two six-walk games). Billy Beane found Jackson after the Nationals had released him and he posted a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts. Think of this group like the 2014-15 Royals: quick hooks and lots of bullpen innings.

X FACTOR

Matt Chapman

29

That's the most defensive runs saved in the majors of any player at any position, via Sports Info Solutions data. Chapman's glove could be a game-changer -- think Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series or Graig Nettles in the 1978 World Series. Oh, he can hit, too: He ranked third in the AL in road wOBA behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

BIG BAT

Khris Davis, DH

47Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Corey Kluber, Indians

The most underrated power hitter in the game, Davis became one of just 45 players with three 40-homer seasons and the only one to do it the past three seasons. He crushes fastballs of any velocity, and Kluber's fastball is his weakest pitch.

One who'd give him trouble
Chris Sale, Red Sox

Davis obviously hunts fastballs and he hit under .200 against changeups from lefties. Sale has the big fastball, but he also has a great changeup (and slider).

5 Milwaukee Brewers

96-67
|
8% World Series odds

The Milwaukee Brewers are back in the postseason for the first time since they reached the National League Championship Series in 2011. Christian Yelich had a monster second half, slugging well over .700, and looms as the MVP favorite. Lorenzo Cain, another offseason acquisition, led the NL in WAR for much of the season. Jesus Aguilar wasn't even a regular in April and ended up with more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. The bullpen was one of the best in the game.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

8%

Odds To Beat

Rockies
61.4
Cubs
50.9
Dodgers
36.9
Braves
58.5
Astros
24.7
Red Sox
38.2
Indians
44.1
Yankees
40.1
A's
50.8

The postseason trend is to get more and more innings from your bullpen, and the Brewers will be a prime example of that strategy. Craig Counsell showed creative usage, calling on Josh Hader for multiple-inning shifts and eventually deploying Jeremy Jeffress as the closer. Former closer Corey Knebel then found himself and dominated in September. They were also second in the majors in defensive runs saved. Think 2014-15 Royals ... except with more power.

Good news if they play
The Cubs

This is the team the Brewers should want, the team they've battled the past two seasons for the division title. Yes, the Cubs won the season series 11-8, and the Brewers scored just 54 runs in those 19 games -- the Cubs scored just 60 as nine of the games featured shutouts -- but all the pressure is on the Cubs to beat their rivals from 90 miles away.

Bad news if they play
The Astros or Red Sox

The Brewers were OK against four-seam fastballs, but not great: 15th in the majors in OPS and sixth in the NL. They had the fourth-highest strikeout rate, however. The Astros and Red Sox had the lowest OPS allowed and highest strikeout rates on four-seamers.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 21
  • Jhoulys
    Chacin
  • 25
  • Gio
    Gonzalez
  • 28
  • Wade
    Miley

The much-maligned Brewers rotation isn't the strength of the team, but it's not as bad as some say, with an ERA basically the same as the Cubs'. Do they have an ace? No, but Chacin was solid enough with a 3.56 ERA, Wade Miley was a godsend with a 2.57 ERA over 16 starts (with just three home runs in 80.2 innings) and Gonzalez was a good late pickup from the Nationals. They might not even use a fourth starter, instead going with all-hands-on-deck approach.

X FACTOR

Josh Hader, RP

46.7

That's Hader's strikeout rate, tops among all relievers in baseball (only three others reached even 40 percent). He pitched at least two innings more than 20 times and got at least four outs in more than half of his appearances. Because of that usage, Counsell used him on back-to-back days just five times all season. Can he pitch those six-out stints on a more regular basis?

BIG BAT

Christian Yelich, OF

36 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Sean Newcomb, Braves

Yelich hit over .500 and led the majors in first-pitch OPS (when the ball is put in play). Newcomb was last among pitchers with 100 innings in first-pitch OPS allowed.

One who'd give him trouble
Jose Quintana, Cubs

Yelich has no significant weakness; he hit lefties, hit righties, hits hard, hits soft, hits fly ball pitchers, hits ground ball pitchers. He does have his highest swing-and-miss rate against curveballs and Quintana has a decent one (and Yelich was 1-for-11 against him this year before collecting three hits off the Chicago right-hander in Monday's tiebreaker game).

6 Chicago Cubs

95-68
|
4% World Series odds

It wasn't easy, but the Chicago Cubs are back in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. Javier Baez led the way and will likely finish in the top three of the MVP voting, but the rest of the offense was inconsistent and the Cubs fell from 223 home runs in 2017 to 166. The Yu Darvish signing didn't work, as he won one game in eight starts, forcing the team to acquire Cole Hamels at the deadline for rotation depth.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

4%

Odds To Beat

Rockies
59.8
Brewers
49.1
Dodgers
37.6
Braves
59.2
Astros
25.2
Red Sox
38.8
Indians
44.8
Yankees
40.8
A's
51.5

A couple of major concerns. Brandon Morrow is out for the season with a bone bruise in his elbow. Pedro Strop, his replacement at closer, is questionable after injuring his hamstring while batting in mid-September, so the bullpen depth will be tested (keep an eye on secret weapon Jesse Chavez, who has dominated since coming over in a trade). The offense had its worst month in September, struggling to hit .240 while slugging under .400.

Good news if they play
The Red Sox

It's not great news, but the Red Sox were first in the majors in OPS against right-handed pitching and 18th against left-handed pitching. The Cubs can roll out three lefty starters plus a slew of lefty relievers.

Bad news if they play
The Astros

Houston's offense wasn't as dominant as 2017, but the Astros did lead the majors in OPS against lefties and they could roll out a lineup with nine right-handed batters against those lefty starters.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 8
  • Kyle
    Hendricks
  • 13
  • Cole
    Hamels
  • 16
  • Jon
    Lester

It will be interesting to see how Joe Maddon lines things up. Lester had a great first half (12-2, 2.58 ERA) but was hit hard in the second. Of course, he's been a clutch October performer throughout his career. Hendricks was the team's best starter down the stretch. A lot will be made of Hamels' postseason history, but that's a bit overrated. He was great in 2008, leading the Phillies to a title, but has a 4.45 ERA in 56.2 innings since then.

X FACTOR

Kris Bryant, 3B

2

That's how many home runs Bryant hit in September when he returned after missing more than a month with a sore shoulder. His power was down and his strikeouts were up, and then in the final week he got hit on the wrist by a pitch.

BIG BAT

Javier Baez, SS

34 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Mike Foltynewicz, Braves

With his lightning-quick bat and aggressive approach, Baez likes to sit dead red. Foltynewicz throws hard, but his fastball actually produced negative value (batters had an OPS of .750 against his fastball and sinker).

One who'd give him trouble
Corey Kluber, Indians

Baez has the highest chase rate of any hitter in the playoffs. Kluber and teammate Carlos Carrasco both ranked in the top 10 among pitchers with 100 innings in highest chase rate induced.

7 L.A. Dodgers

92-71
|
22% World Series odds

The Dodgers are in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, but what should have been an easier run to a division title was instead a battle just to get here. They slogged their way to a 16-26 start and easily led the NL in run differential, but they loaded up in blowout wins while playing around .500 in one-run games. Corey Seager went down early, but Manny Machado eventually filled his slot in the lineup, and two of their best hitters were big surprises, Max Muncy and Matt Kemp.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

22%

Odds To Beat

Braves
69.4
Brewers
63.1
Cubs
62.4
Rockies
75.4
Astros
37.4
Red Sox
52.6
Indians
58.6
Yankees
54.5
A's
65.0

Everybody will be focused on the bullpen, and that's certainly a huge question mark. Kenley Jansen has served up 13 home runs. But consider the offense. The Dodgers rank second in the majors in OPS in low-leverage situations, but they rank 29th in the majors in OPS in high-leverage situations. That's why they haven't fared better in close games.

Good news if they play
The Braves

The Dodgers are better against right-handed pitching and that gets Joc Pederson and Muncy into the lineup and puts Cody Bellinger up against the side he hits much better. The Braves will probably have four right-handed starters.

Bad news if they play
The Astros

Maybe they'd crave a rematch. Maybe the horrors of a tough World Series loss would still be in their heads. They did play a three-game series this season, and the Astros took two out of three and held the Dodgers to four runs. Can they hit Houston's pitching?

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 4
  • Clayton
    Kershaw
  • 18
  • Walker
    Buehler
  • 27
  • Hyun-Jin
    Ryu

Here we go again, Kershaw on the big stage, in search of that ring. He's had to evolve as a pitcher as his velocity has declined, and now throws his slider more than ever. His strikeout rate is the lowest since his rookie season, but he still posted his 10th straight season with an ERA under 3.00. Buehler has had a dynamic rookie season; the Dodgers ramped up his usage in August and September and he responded with a 1.75 ERA over 10 starts. Hyun-Jin Ryu missed three months with a groin strain, but had a 53-5 K-BB ratio after his return.

X FACTOR

Yasiel Puig, OF

.705

Puig hit .193 in April, but hit for power after that. He posted a .705 September slugging percentage fueled by a memorable stretch in the middle of the month when he hit six home runs in 18 at-bats. Puig can run hot and cold: He hit .414 in the first two rounds of the playoffs last season, but then .148 in the World Series (although with two home runs). If he gets hot at the right time, he's a force of nature.

BIG BAT

Manny Machado, SS

37Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
David Price, Red Sox

Machado is familiar with Price from their AL East days, and he's hit .293 with five home runs off him in 41 at-bats. Noteworthy as well: Machado fanned less than 9 percent of the time in 2018 against southpaws and over 17 percent against righties.

One who'd give him trouble
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

In 2018 (and over the past three seasons), Machado's worst numbers have come against changeups. Hendricks has thrown the second-most changeups of any pitcher in the majors and batters hit just .180 against it.

8 CLEVELAND INDIANS

91-71
|
9% World Series odds

The Cleveland Indians were able to coast into the playoffs thanks to one of the worst divisions in MLB history. They cleaned up on the AL Central but were two games under .500 against everyone else. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez carried the offense with MVP-caliber seasons as both topped 35 home runs and played plus defense. The rotation was excellent once again, with the second-best ERA in the AL behind the Astros.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

9%

Odds To Beat

Astros
32.8
Red Sox
45.2
Yankees
47.2
A's
57.9
Cubs
55.2
Braves
65.4
Rockies
69.3
Brewers
55.9
Dodgers
41.4

The Indians weren't tested in the regular season, but have the star power to win the team's first World Series since 1948. Late-season acquisition Josh Donaldson will force the team into a new defensive alignment, with Ramirez sliding over to second and Jason Kipnis moving to center field, where he botched a couple of plays in last year's postseason. Ramirez did fade badly the final two months, and closer Cody Allen has been inconsistent all season, even losing his job for a spell in early September.

Good news if they play
The Brewers

Cleveland pitchers are exceptionally good at striking out batters. The Brewers have the highest strikeout rate of any of the playoff teams.

Bad news if they play
The Astros

For the same reasons as above, except in the opposite direction. Only the Indians themselves were tougher to strike out than the Astros, so the Houston hitters will put the ball in play and test the shaky outfield defense, perhaps running up the pitch counts of the Cleveland starters as well. The Astros won the season series 4-3, but scored 45 runs in seven games.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 3
  • Corey
    Kluber
  • 5
  • Carlos
    Carrasco
  • 6
  • Trevor
    Bauer

The Indians became the first team with four pitchers to reach 200 strikeouts. Kluber had another Cy Young-caliber season and Bauer was in contention before he suffered a stress fracture in his right fibula. Bauer did return for a couple outings late in the season, so we'll have to see if he's at 100 percent. Mike Clevinger was the big breakout, cutting his walk rate by more than a walk per nine and making the leap into the top echelon of starters.

X FACTOR

Josh Donaldson, 3B

16

That's the number of games Donaldson played with the Indians after missing more than three months with a calf injury. He hit .280 with three home runs and showed signs of being a huge addition to the lineup. He has hit .292/.361/.475 in 31 postseason games, although with just four home runs.

BIG BAT

Jose Ramirez, 2B

39 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Charlie Morton, Astros

The switch-hitting Ramirez destroyed fastballs from right-handed starters with a 1.242 OPS. Morton's command can waver at times and lefties posted a .382 OBP against his fastball and slugged .442.

One who'd give him trouble
Chris Sale, Red Sox

Ramirez's OPS was nearly 200 points lower from the right side and he was better against off-speed stuff from that side, so a hard-throwing lefty might be his weak spot. Of course, Sale gives everyone problems.

9 Colorado Rockies

91-72
|
2.8% World Series odds

It was an up-and-down season for the Colorado Rockies, but they're in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. They were under .500 as late as July 2, but they won 12 of 14 that month, slumped again in early August, were rejuvenated with back-to-back walk-off wins over the Dodgers in mid-August and then finished with a flourish. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story carried an offense that struggled away from Coors Field (they hit .226 on the road) while an underrated pitching staff was better than the numbers might suggest.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

2.8%

Odds To Beat

Cubs
40.4
Brewers
38.6
Braves
46.8
Dodgers
24.6
Astros
16.5
Red Sox
27.6
Indians
30.7
Yankees
29.3
A's
39.2

Their World Series hopes might come down to the health of Arenado and Story. Arenado slugged under .500 the final two months as he played through a sore shoulder. Story missed a week down the stretch with a sore elbow. If they're not at the top of their games, Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl (both great in September) will have to step up.

Good news if they play
The Cubs

The Rockies were much better against left-handed pitching and the Cubs have three lefty starters. Arenado hit 100 points higher and slugged 300 points higher against lefties. Story's OPS was more than 200 points higher. DJ LeMahieu's was nearly 200 points higher. Plus, secret weapon Matt Holliday would get more action.

Bad news if they play
The Dodgers

L.A. won the season series 12-7, including five of six in September as the Rockies scored just 18 runs. On the season, they hit just .220 against the Dodgers and Story didn't homer against them in 17 games.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 11
  • German
    Marquez
  • 14
  • Kyle
    Freeland
  • 24
  • Jon
    Gray

This was arguably the best rotation in Rockies history. Freeland had a monster season with a 2.85 ERA, just the third Rockies starter to ever qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA. His 8.4 WAR would make him a Cy Young favorite in most seasons. Marquez had a big second half. Gray has big-time stuff but has been inconsistent, although he was better in the second half following a short demotion to the minors. Tyler Anderson faltered down the stretch, so the fourth starter will likely be Antonio Senzatela.

X FACTOR

German Marquez, SP

2.55

Marquez was one of the best starters in the majors in the second half, with a 2.55 ERA over 13 starts. An improved slider has given him two wipeout pitches to go with his curveball. Since the All-Star break, he has 118 strikeouts in 88.1 innings with just 18 walks. He and Freeland give the Rockies a one-two combo that could take them deep into the postseason.

BIG BAT

Trevor Story, SS

37Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Jose Quintana, Cubs

Story does more damage on the inner half of the plate and much more damage against lefties. Quintana is a southpaw who works inside a lot (fifth-highest percentage of pitches on the inner half of the plate of any starter in the majors).

One who'd give him trouble
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

A righty who mixes his pitches and pounds that outside corner -- seems like the kind of pitcher who can get Story to chase some off-speed stuff off the plate.

10 Atlanta Braves

90-72
|
3% World Series odds

The Atlanta Braves were the preseason pick to finish fourth in the NL East, given about 20-1 odds to the win the division. Instead, with the Nationals stumbling and the Phillies fading down the stretch, the Braves took over first place for good Aug. 13. Their big improvement came on the pitching side, as the staff ERA dropped nearly a run per game from 2017. Oh, the addition of superstud rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. helped, Freddie Freeman had an MVP-type season, Johan Camargo broke out in the second half and veteran Nick Markakis had a huge first half.

WHERE THEY STAND

World Series odds

3%

Odds To Beat

Dodgers
30.6
Brewers
41.5
Cubs
40.8
Rockies
53.2
Astros
19.3
Red Sox
31.4
Indians
34.7
Yankees
33.2
A's
43.5

The Braves might have arrived a year early, but they play with the swagger of a team that's been here before. A key to the success is one of the best defenses in the majors; they ranked third in Defensive Runs Saved. Center fielder Ender Inciarte should win another Gold Glove, while Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies provide a sweet double-play combo.

Good news if they play
The Cubs

The Braves will have no pressure in this matchup, plus they hit lefties much better and the Cubs will roll out three lefty starters. The teams split their six matchups and the Braves outscored the Cubs 30-28.

Bad news if they play
The Dodgers

The Dodgers won the season series, taking five out of seven and outscoring the Braves 35-18, but the big edge here could be L.A.'s ability to match up off the bench against the shaky Atlanta bullpen.

starting pitcher rankings

Scale of 1-32 based on top four starters for each postseason team.

  • 15
  • Mike
    Foltynewicz
  • 23
  • Kevin
    Gausman
  • 26
  • Anibal
    Sanchez

The Braves have been patient with Foltynewicz ever since acquiring him in 2015 from the Astros for Evan Gattis, and he broke out with an All-Star season and sub-3.00 ERA. He throws hard, but has a four-pitch arsenal and a plus slider and curveball make him lethal when he gets ahead in the count. Gausman was one of the steals of the trade deadline, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 10 starts. Sanchez was one of the biggest surprises of the season after going 10-20 with a 6.09 ERA the past two seasons. A new cutter has helped compensate for the decline in velocity. Julio Teheran or Sean Newcomb (who faded the past couple of months) will be the fourth starter.

X FACTOR

Ozzie Albies, 2B

22

That's how many extra-base hits Albies had in April, when the 21-year-old started on fire and hit his way to his first All-Star appearance. After that nine-homer month, however, he faded in the second half, hitting one home run in August and two in September.

BIG BAT

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF

26 Number of home
runs this season
A pitcher he'd feast on
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Acuna is similar to Mike Trout (in many ways), feasting on the bottom half of the zone. He slugged over .850 on fastballs in the bottom half. Kershaw had the seventh-highest rate of fastballs in the lower half of the zone among pitchers with at least 100 innings.

One who'd give him trouble
Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers

No surprise that sliders give Acuna the most trouble. Chacin has one of the best in the business, producing the third-most value in the majors this season.

PLAYOFF TEAM RATINGS

Games aren't won on paper. Still, we crunched the numbers for each playoff team to rank the rosters this October.

Roster
Rating
Off.
WAR
Pitch.
WAR
1 HOU 111.9 30.31 26.96
2 LAD 103.8 28.92 24.13
3 BOS 101.7 28.46 21.83
4 NYY 100.3 27.80 24.35
5 CLE 99.2 27.99 24.66
6 CHC 95.4 29.24 18.03
7 MIL 93.7 23.79 15.94
8 OAK 92.6 23.61 12.15
9 ATL 88.7 20.11 13.84
10 COL 86.4 17.40 16.98

Illustrations by Marco Goran Romano

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