As the divisional series get rolling in the 2015 MLB postseason, the favorites to win the World Series might seem clear. The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, the teams with the best record in their respective leagues, are on a clear path to the Fall Classic, right?
Not so fast. While both the Cardinals and Royals are excellent teams that are worthy of a championship, six other teams (now that the wild card round is over) are involved in these playoffs and pose serious threats the top dogs. As we’ve seen in previous postseasons, it’s not usually the best team (necessarily) that wins the title; it’s the team that gets hot at the right time.
With that, we’ve decided to rank the remaining eight teams left standing in the fight for baseball’s top prize. Our analysis is based off key stats, impact players, and, maybe most importantly, recent success that could indicate a team peaking at the perfect time. So, let’s get started, beginning with one of the new additions to the postseason.
8. Houston Astros
A young and hungry team that just blanked the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card matchup, these Houston Astros can’t be taken lightly. They are excellent at hitting the long ball (second most in the regular season) and have a pitching staff who can shut down opposing offenses (just ask the Yankees). Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are two of the best young players in the game, while Dallas Keuchel and Scott Kazmir are top shelf arms on the mound. This team has a lot of positive things going for them, but something about them makes you think they aren’t quite ready to push for the World Series.
Maybe it’s the number of strikeouts at the plate (also second most in baseball). Maybe it’s the inexperience. Mostly, it’s that first matchup in the ALDS with Kansas City. The Royals are a club that can beat you in so many ways and have so many different weapons that it’s going to be difficult for Houston to find a way to win 3 out of 5. Also, seeing as this team limped (a bit) into the postseason, ranking the Astros with the worst chance to win the championship among the playoff teams this year feels appropriate.
7. Texas Rangers
When you think of a club with momentum, the Texas Rangers top the list coming into the postseason. Once dead in the water earlier in the summer, the Rangers surged past Houston to take the AL West. In the past, we have seen that hot play carry a team deep into October. While that makes Texas a frightening opponent for any team that faces them, looking at them based of stats and key players, the Rangers have to be considered an underdog for the Fall Classic.
Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre are definitely forces to be reckoned with in their lineup. The two don’t only produce themselves, but they make other hitters around them better. They led Texas to a productive offense in 2015, but when you look on the mound for this club, there are clear concern. Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hamels are their best arms, but they have only been solid at best this season. The Rangers have the worst staff (in terms of ERA) of any playoff team this year and when they face the powerful Blue Jays to begin their run, they could be in trouble.
6. New York Mets
It’s tough not to put this New York Mets team higher because they are a very good club. That speaks to the overall strength of this playoff field. They’ve built on of the best pitching rotations the game has to offer with the likes of Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. They’ve also managed to find some offensive production with Yoenis Cespedes coming in at the trade deadline, which really helped in their surge to top of the NL East. Even with that improvement at the plate, the overall lack of offense could haunt New York.
Outside of Cespedes, who can they rely on at the plate? Yes, Lucas Duda has provided power. Sure, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy have shown production with the bat themselves. When it comes down to the grind of the postseason, however, it’s tough to bet on these guys. The matchup in the NLDS with the Los Angels Dodgers is going to be epic, with a handful of the best pitchers in the game taking the mound. The Dodgers have a little more in their lineup to rely on though, which could be the difference.
5. Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are another team that could have momentum push them deep into the postseason. They got a big monkey off their back by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game and now are ready to challenge any one in their path. Jake Arrieta is obviously a force on the mound, leading an excellent staff for Chicago. Offensively, while things aren’t always pretty, the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant can produce.
What might hold this team back is their NLDS matchup with division rival St. Louis. The Cardinals have had the Cubs number in 2015 (11-8 against Chicago) and pose a serious roadblock on the Cubs path to breaking the their historic drought. However, this team has more than enough to win the World Series this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make some long overdue history.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have been so good all season that it’s almost like people have forgotten about them. They won 100 games this season though, which should serve as a reminder of their talent. Arms like John Lackey and Jaime Garcia led the best staff in the game, while veteran hitters like Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward provide a strong presence on their offense. However, the hitting for St. Louis could be their demise.
St. Louis scored fewer runs than any other team in the 2015 postseason. While their pitching is probably good enough to overcome it, the inability to produce runs in critical situations could very well prevent this team from reaching their expectations.
3. Kansas City Royals
The Royals are so balanced that is tough to not rank them as the favorite this season. Guys like Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer led a very productive offense. While Johnny Cueto has struggled, he has the talent to be an ace in the postseason. This team is also solid on defense. They can beat you in so many ways. So why aren’t they first on this list?
The pitching won’t be enough for the Royals to reach the World Series for a second straight year. Yes, their bullpen is excellent, which goes a long way, but if and when they face the Blue Jays, they would have to be on point on the mound with their starters, which is a question mark for this club. That could be Kansas City’s downfall in what has been an almost magical season.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have huge aspirations almost every season it seems. They keep winning the NL West, but coming up short of the World Series. This season, they are in the same position. It could be a different story with the roster they’ve built though. There is no better pitching duo than Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, which can really take the Dodgers to new heights. On offense, it’s not great all the time by any means, but a presence like Adrian Gonzalez is enough to support this staff.
A World Series appearance feels more realistic than any other season for LA. Time will tell if they can finally live up to that measure, but you have to rank this team highly based on what they have on paper.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
No team was better in the second half of the season than the Toronto Blue Jays. They were 50-50 through 100 games played. That was before going 43-19 in their final 62 to take the AL East. Their trade deadline moves obviously played a huge role in that surge, with the most notable acquisition being ace David Price. Price was actually the best pitcher in the AL (ERA wise) and coupled with an offense full of power with guys like Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, this team has been dominant on every level.
This team has everything rolling for them right now. They’re hungry, talented, and more than capable of winning the championship in 2015. Going into the ALDS, they have to be the favorite for the title.