Basically everyone expects seven teams to make the playoffs this year. There is little doubt that the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox will win their divisions (with the Yankees or Sox winning a wild card). That leaves 23 teams fighting for three spots, two in the National League, one in the American League.
If I were to rank the superteams in order of their likelihood to make the postseason, it would look like this:
What will it take for one of these teams to stay home in October? Two things: their own subpar play and another team playing well.
With the Indians, Astros and Dodgers, it’s hard to see them falling far enough to not make the playoffs. They have the fewest holes. The Astros have the greatest ability to fill those holes from within, but history stands in their way. Since 2000, we’ve seen nine of 18 World Series winners miss out of the playoffs the following season. Meanwhile the Indians have shown that they can overcome injuries in back-to-back seasons. They also get to beat up on three week divisional teams. On paper, the Dodgers have stiffer competition than the other two teams. But they have the money and a few young prospects needed to fill any holes.
The Nationals have the next best roster. On paper, they should glide to the postseason. The division isn’t strong, with the Braves and Phillies in the midst of a rebuild, the Mets perennially hurt and the Marlins a train wreck. Bryce Harper is going into free agency and will probably hit .400 with 67 home runs (OK, .320/.410/.590 with 43 homers, but still). The issue for Nats is that they seem to find a way to lose bizarrely each season and with so much riding on this year, it’s somewhat easier to see them hitting a long slump.
The next safest bet is the Cubs. But they have a few more possible holes because it’s easier to see their rotation blowing up than others. That said, their lineup is so solid and the division isn’t as strong. It would take them falling two spots and, as good as the Brewers are, it’s hard to imagine them overtaking the Cubs, let alone a second NL team.
That leaves us with the Yankees and Red Sox. For my money, the Yankees have the higher ceiling. But they also have the lowest floor. They are the only team in this group I could see winning just 84 games. How would that happen? The rotation has question marks and if the bullpen gets hit with a major injury, this team could struggle keeps big runs off the board.
Which teams could knock one of these guys off?
In the American League, it comes down to the Angels and Twins. They’re the most realistic other playoff contenders. If both exceed expectations, they could nip at someone’s heels. The other dark horse is the White Sox maturing quicker than expected. If that happens, and they nab a Cole Hamels at the deadline, they could shock the world. In the National League, the Brewers and Diamondbacks are the most likely playoff teams, but they’re not quite super teams. Because the National League only has three super teams, these squads can make the postseason without knocking the other three out. Considering Sam Francisco’s gray hairs and health, Philadelphia’s youth, the most likely teams to play spoiler are the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals. It’s easy to see either of those franchises winning 83-85 games. To beat the others out, they’ll likely have to get to 88 wins or more. To do that, they’ll likely have to bring in someone from outside the organization. I’m not sure they have the farm systems to pull off that deal. The Mets’ system is fairly barren. The Cardinals’ tip position playing prospect is a catcher they’re gonna need to replace Yadier Molina soon. So who do you think can be this year’s surprise team? And who will it force out of the playoffs?