The 2019 season, particularly in the American League, saw the gap between the haves and have-nots of baseball widen further than it ever has in history. A record four teams passed the 100-loss mark, and a record four teams eclipsed the once-rare 100-win mark. While this enormous gulf between the best and worst clubs made for some woefully lopsided matchups during the regular season, it means that this October will feature postseason clashes between historically great players and teams. With these trends in mind, below are my predictions for the postseason, although, baseball has a way of becoming unpredictable come October.
NLDS: Braves over Cardinals in five games
The Cardinals and Braves followed different paths to division titles, as the Braves locked up the NL East on Sept. 20, while the Cardinals did not win their crown until game 162. The Braves, despite more time to rest starters, enter the series with offensive linchpin Freddie Freeman nursing bone spurs in his elbow and superstar leadoff hitter Ronald Acuña Jr. dealing with a groin issue — both will be playing through their ailments. The Cardinals’ red-hot starting pitcher Jack Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA after the All-Star break, but he will not appear until Game 2. The St. Louis offense, though stronger in the second half, posted a team wRC+ of 95 this season and should not strain a somewhat inconsistent Atlanta pitching staff. If Atlanta’s offensive stars produce, Atlanta will edge out the Cardinals, but this matchup is a coin flip.
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals in four games
On paper, the Dodgers own the best roster in the National League, but the Nationals could be the team best equipped to slow their pennant run. After winning a Wild Card thriller, the Nationals enter the five-game series with the only NL rotation that can rival the Dodgers’ aces. The series will likely come down to which group stumbles first, Washington’s Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin or Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers’ lineup, featuring likely-MVP Cody Bellinger and boasting an NL-best 111 team wRC+, tends to force pitchers to stumble.
ALDS: Astros over Rays in three games
The Astros have constructed one of the greatest rosters of all time, as evidenced by their reasonable shot at becoming the first team to win the Cy Young (Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole), MVP (Alex Bregman) and Rookie of the Year (Yordan Alvarez) in the same season. The Houston offense hit to an MLB-leading 125 wRC+, which is equivalent to their entire offense performing as well as Bryce Harper in 2019. This is the team to beat in 2019, and if they are toppled — emphasis on “if”— the team to do it will need a healthy dose of luck.
ALDS: Yankees over Twins in five games
The 103-win Yankees intend to lean heavily on their MLB-best bullpen, but the performance of their starting staff will make or break their World Series hopes. If James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and the newly-healthy Luis Severino can eat some innings, the Yankees could cruise. The Twins lineup, though, led MLB in homers and finished second in runs … behind only the Yankees. There will be home runs galore from both teams, but the Yankees have the advantage in what will be a tight series. Note: The Twins are 37-94 against the Yankees since 2003, and losing to the Yankees again in the playoffs would sting for a long time.
NLCS: Dodgers over Braves in six games
In what would be a rematch of the 2018 NLDS, which saw the Dodgers take three of four games from the Braves, the Dodgers would once again have the edge. The Braves have improved significantly since last year’s postseason, particularly thanks to free-agent signing Josh Donaldson, who was worth 4.9 fWAR this season, and a remarkable rookie season from Mike Soroka, who posted a 2.68 ERA.
The Dodgers, though, are the class of the NL, and navigating their lineup would present a tremendous challenge for Atlanta’s pitching staff. It may be a close series if the Braves offense clicks, but expect the Dodgers’ depth to carry them to a third-straight World Series appearance.
ALCS: Astros over Yankees in five games
The Yankees, who battled through injury problems all season, would be a World Series favorite in normal years, but the Astros are not normal. These are arguably the two best offenses in baseball, but Houston’s pitching will allow them to limit the damage New York can do offensively. Houston’s pitching dominated its way to an AL-leading 3.66 ERA, while the Yankees posted a good-not-great 4.31 ERA. That will make the difference in October.
World Series: Astros over Dodgers in six games
This would-be rematch of the 2017 World Series figures to be another classic, but while the Dodgers could be the second-best team in the game, Houston just seems unbeatable in a seven-game series. The Astros are the first in MLB history to both strike out fewer times than any other team and strike out more opposing hitters than any other team. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow built a juggernaut, and Houston is prepared to take home another World Series.