We’re nearing the end of August, and teams are entering the stretch run of their season. Top teams are gearing up for the postseason, and MLB even released their postseason schedule today.
Many of the teams with the best records have been able to combine elite pitching, elite hitting, and durability to continue winning games. Stars shine in the playoffs, so let’s take a look at the teams with the star power to win the 2021 World Series trophy.
5. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox spent much of the year with the AL’s best record, but they’ve fallen off a little in the past few weeks. They still have a nine-game lead in the AL Central, and they’re a playoff lock with only 34 games left on their schedule. They are elite in all three aspects of the sport, with an elite lineup, elite rotation, and elite bullpen.
Their core of Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and Yoan Moncada have all come to play this year, and Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez have rejoined the team from injury recently. On the year, Moncada has a .374 OBP, .344 wOBA, 121 wRC+, and 3.8 fWAR at the plate, and he has played in 115 games.
Anderson has been having the best full season of his career, as he’s now combined his bat with an 8 OAA glove. Jose Abreu hasn’t been nearly as good as he was last year, but he’s still put up a solid 126 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR on the year. Yasmani Grandal should be soon, which fills in one of the only holes in the lineup. As a team, despite the injuries, they rank 3rd in the league in wRC+.
The real calling card of the 2021 White Sox has been the starting pitching, as they have an incredible top-4 of their rotation. Both Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon are AL Cy Young candidates, while Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito have thrown a ton of innings of sub-4.00 ERA and SIERA baseball.
In his 130.2 innings, Lance Lynn has pitched to a 2.20 ERA, 2.67 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 3.81 SIERA, and 2.9 fWAR. He’s currently the frontrunner for the Cy Young Award, due to his combination of volume and run prevention, lucky or not. Carlos Rodon has been the better of the two pitchers, but the White Sox have limited his workload due to his injury history. In 19 starts, he has a 2.38 ERA, 2.55 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 2.93 xFIP, 2.79 SIERA, and 4.1 fWAR.
They also now have one of baseball’s bullpens, headlined by Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Garrett Crochet, Michael Kopech, Ryan Tepera, and Aaron Bummer. In the playoffs, we’ll likely only see those six reliable bullpen arms, along with the four aforementioned starters. The White Sox have had an easy schedule this year, and they’ve struggled when facing the league’s best teams, but they’re geared up for a deep postseason run for the first time in over a decade.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers are here for one reason and one reason only: they sport three of the best pitchers in the National League atop their rotation. They’re running away with the NL Central, and have a legitimate shot of finishing with the NL’s best record if the Giants and Dodgers beat each other up. If they don’t, they should easily beat up on the NL East champion, so they have one of the easier roads to the championship series in baseball.
The trio of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta has combined for 397.2 innings of 2.65 ERA ball this year, and they have two elite relievers to shut down opposing offenses in the later innings. Each of their three superstar starters will likely finish within the top-5 or top-6 of NL Cy Young voting, and deservedly so.
Corbin Burnes has turned himself from a disappointment to a top-3 pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons. Since 2020, he has had a 2.24 ERA, 1.77 FIP, 2.60 xFIP, 28.5% K-BB%, and 2.83 SIERA over 192.2 IP and 34 appearances. Brandon Woodruff has also solidified his spot as a top-10 pitcher in baseball with another phenomenal season in 2021, and the breakout star Freddy Peralta is 2nd in K/9 among pitchers with as many IP as him, trailing only Burnes.
Their offense has been below league average, as they have no superstars offensively. Willy Adames has been their best player, with a 146 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR since the trade, which changed the course of the Brewers season. Omar Narvaez, Avisail Garcia, and Kolten Wong have all also been huge pieces for Milwaukee, but they’ve sorely missed the production of Christian Yelich. Usually calling a former MVP an X-factor is unfair, but in this case, Christian Yelich could be the difference between a World Series ring and an NLCS exit.
3. Houston Astros
The Astros are still one of baseball’s best teams, despite all the cloudiness that has surrounded the team for the past two seasons. They struggled mightily in the 2020 regular season but found themselves one game away from the World Series at the end of the day. In 2021, they’re back to their pre-2020 dominance. They’ve combined the league’s best offense with an underrated pitching staff to cruise to a 75-52 record, and they just got their best player back from the IL.
Their 118 team wRC+ is the best in baseball, by far, and that’s with Alex Bregman missing significant time. Besides him, the rest of their core has stayed healthy and produced at an incredible level. Each of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, and Kyle Tucker have produced at least a 130 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR, while Chas McCormick fills the CF hole very well.
Their pitching has gone under-the-radar, as the narrative around the team was that they’d struggle to limit runs. Their top four starters have all been very reliable thus far in 2021, headlined by Luis Garcia, who is a frontrunner for AL ROY. They’re all overperforming their peripherals, but Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, and Zack Greinke all have an ERA at or below 3.41.
They bolstered their bullpen at the trade deadline, by adding Kendall Graveman to be a great setup man for Ryan Pressly. Pressly himself seems to be underrated, as he’s been one of baseball’s best relievers for the past few years. This year, he has thrown 50.0 innings in 48 appearances, with a 1.98 ERA, 2.23 FIP, and 2.39 SIERA. With one of the best lineups of all time, the pitching is surely good enough to be the American League’s best World Series contender.
2. San Francisco Giants
This was tough. The decision to put the team with the best record in baseball in 2nd place was tough, but star power plays in the playoffs and they don’t have the star power of other contenders. They have one of baseball’s offenses, one of baseball’s best rotations, and one of baseball’s best bullpens, and they lead the Dodgers by 3.0 games, pending the result of the Dodgers’ Wednesday night game.
Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood make an incredibly reliable playoff rotation, as Webb and Gausman have pitched at an elite level this year. DeSlafani has a 3.26 ERA in 24 starts, and even Johnny Cueto has given the Giants valuable innings. Their rotation may not have the names that the Dodgers, White Sox, or Brewers do, but they’re definitely one of the best in baseball. Thus far in 2021, the Giants’ rotation ranks 4th in SIERA and 3rd in ERA (5th in ERA-).
The addition of Kris Bryant solidifies the Giants’ lineup as one of baseball’s strongest, and deepest. Each of their regulars have a wRC+ above 100, and they have seven regulars with a wRC+ at or above 127 on the year. The platoon of Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr. will continue to work in the playoffs, while Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, and Kris Bryant have been some of the best players in baseball this season.
Before the year, the Giants even being in the playoff hunt would’ve been surprising, so it’s incredible to look at how far they’ve come. The combination of bounceback years from their former World Series core (and Evan Longoria), dominant starting pitching, and some “team of destiny” vibes have turned the Giants into a true World Series contender.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers got off to a somewhat slow start to the year, but they’ve still been just as good as expected, despite the incredible expectations. The Dodgers won the World Series last year, after adding a generational talent in Mookie Betts, then went out and added Trevor Bauer in the offseason. When that didn’t work out, they dealt for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to build upon the best roster in baseball.
They have the best rotation, the 4th best lineup, and the 6th best bullpen in baseball. Their rotation includes Cy Young Award favorite Walker Buehler, young star Julio Urias, and old-but-good Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. This is the best four-man rotation entering the playoffs, as the difference between Urias and Adrian Houser is massive. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Bauer won’t be returning, but the Dodgers are simply so good that it shouldn’t matter.
They currently have a 21.3% chance to win the World Series, despite just a 57.3% chance to win their division, both according to FanGraphs’ playoff odds tracker. Their lineup has been one of the best in baseball, despite a no-show from 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger. Instead, Chris Taylor and Max Muncy have carried the load. Great seasons from Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, and Will Smith have helped the Dodgers to a 79-47 record. Even Albert Pujols, who was released by the crosstown Angels, has been an impact bat for LA.
Entering the playoffs, they have the best roster in the league. There’s some concern with the Wild Card game, as they could easily lose a one-game playoff to the Padres or Reds, but they have the most well-rounded roster, stacked with star power at each and every position. The Dodgers are the team to beat in the 2021 postseason.
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