Baseball

2021 MLB Playoff Predictions

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The grueling 162 game season has ended, and October baseball is upon us. Ten teams remain, and each of them has a chance to bring home the World Series trophy. Despite numerous possibilities, there will be no Game 163’s this year, as the Yankees and Red Sox secured their spots in the Wild Card round with wins in Game 162. On the NL side, the Dodgers, Giants, and Brewers dominated all season long, setting up some potential classic matchups in the NLDS and NLCS.

Wild Card

AL: Yankees at Red Sox

Red Sox Advance to ALDS

Baseball’s most historic rivalry meets in the playoffs for the 5th time in MLB history, and the first time since the 2018 ALDS. Their most memorable matchup comes from the 2004 ALCS when the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead including the infamous Alex Rodriguez ball-punching following the Jason Varitek incident earlier on in the year.

This year, the Red Sox and Yankees both finished with 92-70 records, just one game ahead of the Blue Jays to make the playoffs. The Red Sox won the season series, and therefore hold home-field advantage for the one-game playoff. Nathan Eovaldi will take the mound for the Red Sox, while Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole has the ball for New York.

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This season, Eovaldi had a 3.75 ERA, 2.78 FIP, and 3.60 SIERA this season, building upon a strong 2020 season. Against the Yankees, he had a 3.71 ERA this season, with some great starts and one blow-up start on September 24. For Cole, 2021 was an interesting year. He started off with one of the greatest stretches in MLB history but struggled after the foreign substance crackdown and against divisional opponents. He enters the Wild Card game with a 3.23 ERA and 2.93 SIERA on the season, despite a 7.64 ERA in his last three starts and a 4.25 ERA in his past 15.

Although it’s tough to pick against Gerrit Cole in October, who has a career 2.68 ERA in the postseason, the Red Sox are my pick to win the ALWC. The big bats of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Kyle Schwarber will come up big, and Eovaldi should go deep into the game as he has many times this season.

NL: Cardinals at Dodgers

Dodgers defeat Wainwright, Cardinals

The Cardinals may be the hottest team in baseball, but the Dodgers are simply the most talented. The Giants won the NL West, but the Dodgers’ lineup has as much firepower as anyone and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer will take the hill on a hot streak like no other.

The Dodgers’ lineup has settled into place, with Mookie Betts leading off, followed by Corey Seager and Trea Turner. Max Muncy is down with an injury, but the Dodgers have the depth to replace him, whether that means starting Cody Bellinger or Albert Pujols at first base. An injury to Clayton Kershaw may hurt them in the long run, but in a one-game setting, Scherzer is as good as anyone.

On the year, Scherzer had a 2.46 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 2.90 SIERA in his age-36 season, putting himself in contention for the 4th Cy Young Award of his career. He had a rough two starts to finish the year, but still had a 1.98 ERA and 2.72 SIERA in the 2nd half, while throwing eight shutout innings in his final start against the Cardinals.

Taking the mound for St. Louis will be the 40-year-old Adam Wainwright, who put up his best season since 2014. He threw over 200 innings in 32 starts, putting up a 3.05 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 4.13 SIERA. Wainwright will have his hands full with a Dodgers lineup that put up a 106 wRC+ as a team and includes fWAR leader Trea Turner.

The Dodgers should take down the Cardinals with ease, but anything can happen in a one-game playoff, especially given the 2nd half that St. Louis had. It’s tough to see a 40-year-old Wainwright shut down a lineup including Betts, Turner, and 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager.

Division Series

ALDS: Red Sox vs Rays

Red Sox in 5

The Rays, fresh off an AL pennant, won 100 games in 2021, good for the AL lead. They always get the most out of their players, but this isn’t the same team as last year. Not only are they missing all three of their aces from last season, but they also won’t have the incredible performance of Randy Arozarena again.

This year’s Rays will send out Shane McClanahan in game 1, Shane Baz in game 2, and Luis Patino in game 3, three rookies with zero innings of playoff experience among the three. On the opposing side, the Boston Red Sox’s top three starters all possess World Series rings and loads of playoff experience. Chris Sale may not be the same pitcher he was before surgery, but he still came back strong.

The two teams had very similar offensive production in 2021, but the Red Sox have bigger bats in the middle of the order. This series is a toss-up, especially due to the Rays’ bullpen advantage. The Rays typically win games that they take an early lead, but the Red Sox have the firepower to combat that. Either way, the Rays-WC winner ALDS should be a great series.

ALDS: White Sox vs Astros

Astros in 3

The White Sox will travel to Houston for the first two games of the ALDS as the AL Central and West division winners will meet in the ALDS. The Astros have made deep playoff runs every year since 2017, and this year doesn’t look any different from the past few.

George Springer is gone, but Kyle Tucker‘s breakout has almost replaced his production. Alex Bregman struggled in 2021, but he’s still one of baseball’s best players. The Astros have the deepest lineup in baseball with seven elite hitters, and there’s no way to pitch around them.

If anyone has the pitching to stop the Astros, it’s the White Sox, but Carlos Rodon is injured once again. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease will get the three starts for the White Sox, but I don’t see any of them having good enough a start to completely shut down the Astros’ lineup. It should be a fun, high-scoring series, but I still have the Astros in a three-game sweep.

NLDS: Dodgers vs Giants

Giants in 5

The most anticipated series of the entire postseason for many fans is the one between the NL West’s two top teams. The Giants finished with a record one game better than that of the Dodgers, and therefore avoided the Wild Card round to reach the NLDS. It’s no guarantee that it is the Dodgers rather than the Cardinals, but I already picked them to win the Wild Card game behind Max Scherzer, so that’s the matchup I’ll look at.

The Dodgers are the betting favorites to win it all despite the one-game Wild Card round, but they’ll have to beat San Francisco on the road to the Fall Classic. The Giants don’t have the superstar firepower that the Dodgers do, but they play well together and have as good a pitching staff as anyone. The game 1 starter will likely be Kevin Gausman, but Logan Webb is the best pitcher on the staff.

For the Dodgers, it’ll be Cy Young candidates Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer, as well as breakout star Julio Urias on the hill for the first three games. They also have one of baseball’s deepest lineups, but the Giants platoon as well as anyone and took the season series this year. This series feels like a guarantee to go five games, and I like the Giants to win that deciding game, even without their star first baseman Brandon Belt.

NLDS: Braves vs Brewers

Brewers in 3

The Milwaukee Brewers are a lot of people’s pick to win the NL this season. They get the easiest matchup with the Braves, who are missing their best player, superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Without Acuna Jr., the Braves lineup doesn’t really have the power to keep up with Milwaukee’s incredible pitching staff.

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta all had the best seasons of their careers in 2021 and will start the first three games of the series for Milwaukee. They don’t have the high-powered offense of the Dodgers or Astros, but their pitching is the best in baseball, even without Devin Williams.

Willy Adames has been Milwaukee’s best player since the trade, but they’ve also gotten great production from Kolten Wong, Avisail Garcia, and others. 2018 MVP Award winner Christian Yelich didn’t have a great season, but he could always break out for a series. Otherwise, they’ll rely on consistency throughout their lineup to scratch enough runs across to win close games, as they’ve successfully done all season long. They should be able to take care of business behind their three aces, and they even have good options for Game 4, if they don’t go back to Burnes.

Championship Series

ALCS: Red Sox vs Astros

Astros in 5

In a rematch of the 2018 ALCS, the Astros and Red Sox meet again. This time, the Red Sox aren’t in the midst of a historic season, and Houston’s high-powered offense should steamroll the Red Sox’s pitching staff. The Astros were my pick, as well as many others, to win the AL before the season, and they remain, as they still have one of baseball’s best offenses.

The consistency of the Astros’ lineup is unrivaled, and they have above-average hitters at every position, except for catcher, where Martin Maldonado provides immense defensive value. The big names from the past few years are still elite, and the emergence of Kyle Tucker as the team’s best hitter has kept this lineup up there with some of the greatest of all time.

NLCS: Brewers vs Giants

Giants in 7

The Brewers and Giants have played some great games this season, including their mid-July extra-innings affair. These two teams match up very well, as both have elite pitching staffs and have two of the three best records in the National League. The difference? The Giants also have one of baseball’s best offenses.

The Giants have one of the deepest lineups in baseball, fronted by Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt, who may be back for a potential NLCS. They are another team without a below-average hitter, as their worst position is 2B, where they have Wilmer Flores (113 wRC+) and Donovan Solano (105 wRC+).

The addition of Kris Bryant seemed huge at the deadline, but he’s cooled off down the stretch, with just a 113 wRC+ since the deadline. The Giants had 13 players with at least a 105 wRC+ and at least 130 PAs this season, which is incredible consistency from a lineup of misfits that was projected not to make the playoffs. This series should be a long, low-scoring, hard-fought series, but I have the Giants pulling it out in seven games.

World Series: Astros vs Giants

Astros in 6

The powerhouse looking to prove themselves after a scandalous 2017 ring versus the team of spare parts who have banded together to win 107 games. It’s an amazing storyline, and it should make for an intense, hard-fought World Series, which we missed out on last year due to a multitude of factors.

The Astros’ underrated pitching staff will be put to the test, as they’ll have to match up with the likes of Logan Webb, Kevin Gausman, and Anthony DeSclafani, who all had sub-3.20 ERAs in 2021. The Giants’ offense is deep, but they don’t quite have the firepower to match up with the consistent home-run threats in Houston, especially given their track records in the postseason. The Astros will win their second championship in five years behind the bats of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, as they did in 2017.

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main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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