The first week of the MLB postseason is in the books with only two Wild Card teams, one from each league, packing their bags and heading home for the fall. The club from the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers, met their match at the hands of the Washington Nationals. I had noted that the lack of Christian Yelich would ultimately lead to their demise, and it seems more prescient now, given the result. Backup rookie right fielder Trent Grisham muffed a single by All-Star Juan Soto that allowed three runs to score, turning the Brewers’ 3-1 lead into a final 4-3 deficit. Without further ado, it’s time to give one reason why each American League team still in the running will win the World Series, and one reason why they won’t.
1. Houston Astros (107-55)
Why they will: Trio of aces
Despite an offense that boasts the likes of former MVP Jose Altuve, MVP candidate Alex Bregman and likely Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez, the Astros’ top three starting pitchers are as deadly as any in baseball history. Justin Verlander has been amazing this season, striking out 300 batters and eclipsing 3,000 for his career. If he doesn’t win the Cy Young Award, that will likely be because his teammate, Gerrit Cole, takes the honor. Cole struck out a ridiculous 326 batters, setting the Astros’ all-time mark. When they added a fellow Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, they formed the scariest rotation in all of baseball, and one that they feel confident can lead them to another championship.
Why they won’t: Bullpen
It’s not easy to find a weakness on the Houston roster, so I’ll go something almost every team could improve upon: the bullpen. Their closer, Roberto Osuna, had an excellent season and even led the AL in saves, but he can be streaky, prone to stretches of dominance followed by periods of ineffectiveness. Other pitchers such as Will Harris, Ryan Pressley and Joe Smith will certainly help the cause, but if something goes wrong in the Astros’ title quest, the bullpen will probably be the root cause.
2. New York Yankees (103-59)
Why they will: Offensive depth
The Bombers were one of the most explosive offenses in the majors despite a litany of injuries suffered by the team’s stars. Nonetheless, the Yankees seem to have an endless pipeline of unheralded players making a name for themselves, such as Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, Luke Voit and Mike Ford. Their plan is simply to outslug opposing teams, and with their talent and depth, that could very well work.
Why they won’t: Starting rotation
This is the one question mark that has plagued the Yankees for the better part of two seasons: can their incredible offense and shut-down bullpen outweigh their weak rotation? The answer last year was no, and while New York hopes that this year is different, I’m not so sure. Domingo German, their best regular season pitcher, is set to miss the postseason as the MLB continues to investigate domestic violence charges against him. That leaves James Paxton, who averages barely over five innings per start, Masahiro Tanaka, who had an abysmal second-half of the year and Luis Severino, who is still recovering from shoulder problems that bothered him all season. If the Yankees win it all, it won’t be thanks to this unit.
3. Minnesota Twins (101-61)
Why they will: Home runs
Baseball has never seen a home run hitting team quite like the Minnesota Twins. Their 307 homers set an MLB record for most in a season, one more than their American League Division Series opponents, the Yankees. The Twins also set a record by becoming the first team to have eight players with at least 20 home runs and five players with at least 30 home runs, as Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz all accomplished the feat. Needless to say, this team can mash.
Why they won’t: Lack of experience
It was tempting to say starting rotation, especially after Michael Pineida was suspended for 60 games and forced to miss the postseason. However, what worries me more is the inexperience of this group when it comes to the playoffs. Sure, Marwin Gonzalez was crucial to the Astros World Series victory two years ago and Sergio Romo won three titles with the Giants, but the vast majority of this team hasn’t participated in more than their one-game Wild Card appearance in 2017. With rookie manager Rocco Baldelli at the helm, every decision he makes will be scrutinized.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
Why they will: Pitching
As a small-market team, it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the Rays so good. The front office knows how to use their minimal resources to their advantage and get the most out of overlooked players. Tampa’s strongest unit is probably their starting pitching, where the 35-year-old Charlie Morton continues his late-career renaissance alongside the likes of two 26-year-olds: last year’s Cy Young winner Blake Snell and rising star Tyler Glasnow.
Why they won’t: Lack of funds
Yes, the Rays are a heartwarming story. They have the lowest payroll in the entire major leagues at $63 million. That’s about half of the closest remaining playoff team, with the Twins clocking in at $124 million, less than a third of the Yankees at $218 million. Nothing is impossible, but it’s difficult to imagine them getting past teams like the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers.