It has been a long, winding road for Major League baseball fans this year, as many teams have bounced in and out of playoff contention over the last few months–even the Boston Red Sox, who have had a notably disappointing season, were only 4.5 games out of the second Wild-Card spot in mid-July. With the exception of a few teams— the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers, for example—this has been a season of mediocrity and surprise for many. Who would have thought that the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros would be contenders throughout the season? Or that the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays would turn their seasons around and catapult themselves to the tops of their divisions? It has been a very dynamic season—teams seem to fall out of contention, only to rally again.
Although there will likely be a few more shake-ups in standings before the end of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals have officially clinched the first playoff birth, so it is now time to make predictions regarding October baseball. If the season ended on September 19th, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, both of whom have fallen from the tops of their respective divisions in the last week, would square off in the American League Wild-Card elimination game, and the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, division rivals, would square off in the National League game. The American League division winners would be the Toronto Blue Jays in the East, reigning American League champion Kansas City Royals in the Central division, and the Texas Rangers in the West. In the National League, the division champs would be the New York Mets in the East, St. Louis Cardinals in the Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West.
The wild-card race is not quite over, however. In the American League, the Los Angeles Angels are threatening to overtake the Houston Astros for the second wild card spot. At the time of writing, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians were within four games as well. On the other hand, the National League, due to the presence of a Central division consisting of three of the best teams in the league—the Major League-best Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs, has no teams within 10 games of overtaking the Cubs’ second wild card slot.
My prediction is that the teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today are the same teams that will indeed make the playoffs in a few weeks. The only club that does not comfortably have a place in the postseason is Houston. For many months the best team in the American League, the Astros had lost seven of their last ten games at the time of writing, and their division lead was overtaken by the suddenly-hot Texas Rangers, who now appear to be a different team than they were in the first half of the season. The Angels, powered by yet another MVP-caliber season from Mike Trout, are also hot as of late, and are knocking on Houston’s door. However, with two of the best pitchers in the American League, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the Astros will fend off the advances of the Angels.
In the American League Wild Card game, I expect to see the New York Yankees prevail over the Astros. While the Astros will have been able to hold the second wild-card position secure, they will not be the same team that took the baseball world by surprise earlier this year. Plus, the Yankees will likely have home-field advantage—the momentum will point to a Yankees victory. The Yankees will then defeat the reigning American League pennant winners, Kansas City Royals, in a fiercely fought series. The Yankees’ powerful offense, led by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera (currently on 15-day DL), and Brian McCann will be able to overcome the Royals’ pitching staff. The Blue Jays, led by a recovered Marcus Stroman, the dominant David Price, and a star-studded offense that includes Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and a hopefully healthy Troy Tulowitzki, will overcome both the Texas Rangers and the Yankees to advance to the 2015 World Series.
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs will defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card game with the help of Cy Young-contending pitcher Jake Arrieta. They will then fall to the other division rival, St. Louis Cardinals, at the hands of a stellar pitching staff led by Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and John Lackey. The Los Angeles Dodgers will defeat the New York Mets in a battle between two of the best pitching staffs this year—Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw will form an unbeatable 1-2 punch. This duo, however, will not be enough to overcome the Cardinals, a team with more depth both in their pitching staff and in their offense.
The World Series will feature one familiar team–a team just two years removed from its last Fall Classic appearance; one that has been at the top of the Majors since the beginning of the season– and one surprise team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto will be viewed as the underdog, but will end up hoisting the World Series trophy come late October. The Blue Jays’ offense will explode—Donaldson, Bautista, Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnación will lead the attack. Meanwhile, the Toronto pitching staff, led by David Price, Marcus Stroman, and Mark Buehrle, will fend off the Cardinals’ bats, and will have an abundance of run support.
Of course, these are just predictions—but it is clear that this will be one exciting October for baseball.