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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ranking the 10 teams most likely to win the World Series

JD Martinez

We’re headed toward what has the potential to be one of the best MLB playoffs in quite some time. A loaded American League features several elite teams that will have to square off in heavyweight battles, while the National League playoff picture looks wide open and could go any number of directions. We do have a clear idea of who’s likely going to make it, though, and thus we can begin to assess how these contenders stack up against each other.

Here are the ten MLB teams most likely to win the World Series, from least to most.

10) St. Louis Cardinals

New manager Mike Shildt has engineered a remarkable turnaround in St. Louis, with the team going 23-11 in his first 34 games and apparently getting hot at the right time. This has been largely predicated on Matt Carpenter’s offensive tear, with his 34 homers pacing the National League. St. Louis has a young rotation that hasn’t yet been tested in a pennant race, but they’ve pitched well on the whole. Getting Carlos Martinez back quickly will be a big bonus. If any team knows how to get hot late and make an October run, it’s the Cardinals, and that bears watching.

9) Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks boast one of the keys to October success: a strong pitching staff with a good bullpen to match. Zack Greinke remains an ace, and Patrick Corbin has been very effective as well, while Brad Boxberger and Archie Bradley anchor the ‘pen. They lack rotation depth and they’re not an elite hitting team, which could harm them in October, but they’re well-positioned to make it there.

8) Oakland Athletics

You’d do well to avoid counting out the A’s, who have hands-down been the hottest team in baseball over the last two months. It’s a similar routine to past Oakland successes. They’re solid up and down the lineup, boast a good amount of pop in several lineup spots, and have a defense led by third baseman Matt Chapman that ranks highly. No one presently in the starting rotation has an ERA over four, and they’ve built an outstanding bullpen led by closer Blake Treinen. You may not have heard of all their players, but the Athletics must be taken seriously — especially if they knock the Houston Astros into a one-game playoff and get the chance to play a full series, which they very well may do.

7) Atlanta Braves

The Braves’ youth movement has paid real dividends, with a lineup led by young studs Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies boasting the best team batting average in the National League. Add in the veteran skills of Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis and you have an impressively deep lineup. They have a sound pitching staff led by Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, both of whom have really come into their own, plus the surprising success of veteran Anibal Sanchez. This will be a first October test for many of these players if they make it, but don’t let that lead you to think they’re not ready; many expected them to fade after a good start. They haven’t done that.

6) Los Angeles Dodgers

As of Wednesday, the Dodgers weren’t even qualified to make the playoffs. Why are they so high on this list, then? Because the bet is that talent will win out and they will get hot at some point and seize control of their destiny. The offense has the best slugging percentage in the NL, and Manny Machado hasn’t even gotten hot yet for them. Clayton Kershaw looks healthy and effective, even if he isn’t as dominant as he once was, and there is solid depth in the rotation. One issue that may prove their undoing either before or in October is the bullpen, which lacks depth and has really struggled in Kenley Jansen’s absence.

5) New York Yankees

A preseason World Series favorite, the Yankees now look like a certainty to wind up in a do-or-die wild-card game without anyone pitching at an ace level. That may change in a month, but for the moment, they look a lot less trustworthy after Luis Severino fell off after the All-Star break. The bullpen should be excellent, though, especially if new acquisition Zach Britton can find his feet beneath him. They also have immense power, especially when Aaron Judge returns to action, which should happen before the postseason. They can hit well enough to win the whole thing, but they have to find some starting pitching to gut them through the playoffs. It could be a short stay if they don’t, but if they do, they have all the ingredients you look for.

4) Cleveland Indians

Cleveland came so close in 2016 — obscured by the Cubs’ comeback that year is the fact that they really should’ve won it — but they blew a 2-0 ALDS lead against the Yankees last season. This is still a very good ballclub. They’ve coasted through baseball’s weakest division with one of the AL’s elite offenses that boasts two MVP candidates in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Corey Kluber remains one of the steadiest aces in the game, and Carlos Carrasco is great too. The two major wild-cards? A bullpen that has lacked consistency and the injury to Trevor Bauer, who may have won the Cy Young Award if not for his fractured leg. Will he be able to contribute in the playoffs? If he can, they will have a real shot.

3) Chicago Cubs

The Cubs look to be the class of the National League. In terms of average and OPS, they have the best offense in the NL, paced by Javier Baez. They’re strong defensively and have so much depth in terms of players who can contribute, and they’ve done it without having Kris Bryant available for a good part of the season due to a bum shoulder. Their one problem is that the rotation hasn’t been nearly as good as they thought it would be, which is definitely a concern. They will be banking on the track records of Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels in the postseason, especially with Yu Darvish out for the year. If that pitching holds up, they can win it all.

2) Houston Astros

Houston is getting Jose Altuve back at the right time, just as Oakland is pushing them for AL West supremacy in a pennant race few would have likely seen coming. The reigning champions still have a deep and talented offense that will be further bolstered by the recent returns of Altuve and Carlos Correa. Justin Verlander is a Cy Young contender, and Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton ensure that the Astros may have the best rotation in October. Do you trust the bullpen? It’s a big question surrounding the Astros, but their depth is such that it may be their only weak spot.

1) Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are doing things not seen on a baseball field since potentially the 2001 Seattle Mariners. If they continue winning down the stretch, they may break the regular season wins record set by that Mariners team (116). It’s unlikely, but possible. Even if they don’t, we’re looking at one of the sport’s best-ever regular season teams. The offense, led by J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, is the AL’s best in average, OBP, and slugging. They have a legitimate shutdown closer in Craig Kimbrel. Their rotation isn’t quite as good as Houston’s, but it does boast Chris Sale, whose health is up in the air and will be a key to their playoff success. Being the best regular season team is far from a guarantee of success, but even in a loaded American League, the Red Sox appear to have the best chance of playing deep into October.

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