Tom Verducci: Why Texas Rangers are team to beat in AL
2:23 | MLB
Tom Verducci: Why Texas Rangers are team to beat in AL
SI MLB Staff
Thursday October 6th, 2016

Experts from and Fox make their predictions for the four Division Series matchups:

Tom Verducci

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: The sequel to last year's dramatic ALDS looks familiar: another tightly contested series with the home team winning Game 5. That bodes well for Texas, which had the AL's best home record in 2016 and would play Game 5 at Globe Life Park in Arlington. More good news for the Rangers: They had the best one-run record in history (36–11) and the second-best record ever against teams .500 and above (60-31). Texas in 5.

Indians vs. Red Sox: Boston posted the highest OPS (.810) of any team since the 2008 Rangers. The Red Sox have a relentless offense that constantly stresses an opposing staff, especially one without a healthy Danny Salazar (strained right forearm) or Carlos Carrasco (broken finger).​ Cleveland, meanwhile, had a notable split in its OPS: .827 at home and .691 on the road. Fortunately for the Indians, they have homefield advantage. That, plus a better bullpen built around Andrew Miller, will be enough. Cleveland in 5.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers: Somebody actually has to win a series between two teams that are 25–42 (.373) in postseason games over the past quarter century, losing 11 of their combined 15 series. This is a coin flip, but Washington scored more runs and allowed fewer runs than L.A., so I'll go with the Nationals to win the franchise’s first series since the 1981 Expos beat the Phillies in the Division Series. But if Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts is able to get four starts out of Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the Dodgers will win. Either way, we’re looking at five games. Washington in 5.

Cubs vs. Giants This series features the blessed (San Francisco has won three World Series titles this decade alone) against the cursed (Chicago hasn't won a World Series since 1908). The Cubs, though, enter the postseason as the heaviest favorite since the 1998 Yankees. They are first in the league in on-base percentage, first in the league in ERA and first in the league in defensive efficiency. Joe Maddon's team just has too many ways to win a baseball game, and it has the superior bullpen and home field advantage. Chicago in 4.

Ken Rosenthal

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: Team No. 1 led the AL in ERA, had a plus-93 run differential and finished with a .755 OPS. Team No. 2 was 13th in ERA, had a plus-8 run differential and also finished with a .755 OPS. So, Team No. 1 is the favorite, right? Well, Team No. 1 is the Blue Jays, winners of 89 games. Team No. 2 is the Rangers, winners of an AL-high 95. Which is just a way of saying, objects in Texas's rear-view mirror might be closer than they appear. Toronto has the deeper rotation, the Rangers the deeper bullpen, and they will benefit from playing at home in Game 5. Texas in 5.

Indians vs. Red Sox: Don’t underestimate Cleveland, a delightful surprise all season. The question is whether Cleveland's depleted rotation can stifle Boston; even staff ace Corey Kluber will be coming off a strained quad and pitching Game 2 on 10 days of rest. Still, the Indians shorten games with their bullpen and are well-rounded enough to steal at least one game at home. Things could get interesting after that: The Red Sox’s Games 3 and 4 starters, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and righty Clay Buchholz, are hardly invincible. Another concern for the Sox: closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been disturbingly wild. Boston in 5.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers: Los Angeles finished last in the majors with a .622 OPS against lefthanded pitching, but Washington is ill-suited to take advantage; the erratic Gio Gonzalez is the team's only lefty starter, and none of its lefty relievers will scare the Dodgers. Daniel Murphy, meanwhile, had only one at-bat after Sept. 20 due to a sore buttocks. Bryce Harper, also banged up, had a .625 OPS in September. The loss of catcher Wilson Ramos further compromises the Nats against L.A.'s lefty starters, Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. Los Angeles in 4.

Cubs vs. Giants: Coming off the wild-card game win against the Mets in New York, it's tempting to pick San Francisco and pretend as if its second half never happened. The Giants' rotation goes four deep, same as Chicago's, and the quality is nearly as good. The offenses also are comparable when San Francisco is in first-half form, and if a split at Wrigley occurs with Madison Bumgarner pitching Game 3 at AT&T, look out. Still, picking the Giants would require too much of a suspension of disbelief. Their bullpen will not suddenly be elite. And the Cubs' run-prevention prowess will not suddenly disappear. Chicago in 5.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Ben Reiter

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: Many view the Rangers’ 36–11 record in one-run games as a warning sign, one that represents an unsustainable fluke. Another view, though, is that Texas is packed with veterans—designated hitter Carlos Beltran, third baseman Adrian Beltre, centerfielder Ian Desmond—who aren’t only immune to pressure, but also thrive on it. Despite the success of the Jays’ Aaron Sanchez this year, the Rangers' Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels still probably represent this series’ best two starters. Texas in 4.

Indians vs. Red Sox: This seems like a cruelly lopsided matchup, and injuries to top starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar might well cripple Cleveland. But if the Indians take the series to its limit, I think they will advance, as they’d get a Game 5 started by Corey Kluber at home in Cleveland. The depleted Indians, though, won’t get that far against this October’s most balanced club. Boston in 4.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers: It’s a mistake to focus on what Washington is missing—specifically Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos—over what it has. Among the Nationals' attributes are three of this postseason’s most dangerous hitters, in Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and, now, Trea Turner; the likely NL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer; and another starter, lefty Gio Gonzalez, who struggled this year but gets to face a lineup that was baseball’s worst, by OPS, against southpaws. Washington in 5.

Cubs vs. Giants: Chicago is popularly referred to as the “prohibitive” favorite to win the World Series. It is not. Baseball Prospectus’s model gives the Cubs just a 25.2% chance to take home a ring; the Red Sox are a close second, at 22.5%. The Giants went 3–4 against Chicago in the regular season, holding Cubs hitters to 3.3 runs a game, 1.7 below their season average. The randomness induced by a short, best-of-five series is one reason Chicago's championship odds remain relatively low, and San Francisco's quality rotation will send the Cubs home early. As Madison Bumgarner said after shutting out the Mets in the wild-card game, “Anything can happen in October.” San Francisco in 5.

C.J. Nitkowski

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: We get the rematch we so badly wanted, and the Rangers will get their revenge. On paper Toronto's rotation is deeper than Texas's, but the combination of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish is better than anything the Blue Jays can counter with. The Rangers' high bullpen ERA is misleading, as some of that is due to the early-season struggles of pitchers who will not factor into the postseason. The back-end for Texas is solid and more than capable of finishing out games. On the other side Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna is dealing with shoulder fatigue and is questionable for at least Game 1. Texas in 4.

Indians vs. Red Sox: The Indians are down but not out. The rotation is missing key pieces in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, but there is a way to get around that: the bullpen. The addition of Andrew Miller from the Yankees could be the deadline deal that has the biggest impact this postseason. Miller has allowed Cleveland's other relievers to slide into more favorable roles, creating the deepest bullpen in the American League. Trevor Bauer as a Game 1 starter is a wild card; he has the swing-and-miss stuff you want in the postseason, but command can be an issue for him, and the Red Sox are patient. David Price has a demon to slay, as he is has never won a postseason start in the eight that he has made (0–7, 5.27). Home field advantage will play a role in this series, and the Indians hit .288 at Progressive Field this season, .237 away. Cleveland in 4.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers: On Sept. 1, it looked like Washington was the best team to challenge the Cubs, but a lot has changed since then. Season-ending injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos are huge blows to the Nationals' World Series hopes. On the flip side, Los Angeles looked to be dead in the water when Clayton Kershaw went on the DL in late June. Instead, the Dodgers roared to the NL West title. Kershaw and fellow starters Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are a formidable 1-2-3 that matches up well with the Nationals. L.A.'s bullpen was strong in September, racking up the most strikeouts in baseball the last five weeks of the season. The Dodgers' .213 batting average against lefthanded pitching was far and away the worst in baseball, but that won't be much of a factor because the Nats have just one lefty in their rotation, Game 3 starter Gio Gonzalez. Los Angeles in 4.

Cubs vs. Giants: Whether they want to admit it or not, the one team the Cubs didn't want to see in the postseason was the San Francisco Giants. Chicago has a near flawless roster but I like the depth of the Giants' rotation. If Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Moore pitch the way they are capable of the Cubs' World Series dream will be crushed. San Francisco's bullpen and offense have been streaky this year, and those are the holes the Cubs wlll need to exploit. San Francisco in 5. 

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Jay Jaffe

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: The fireworks from last October and earlier this year make this a much-anticipated matchup. Though Texas finished with the league's best record, the record-setting .766 winning percentage in one-run games (36–11) isn't sustainable, even with a bullpen and a lineup that have undergone significant upgrades as the season has progressed. The drop from Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish to the rest of the Rangers' starters is steep, and that's even with the latter having not quite regained his pre-Tommy John surgery form. Toronto's bullpen, meanwhile, has had issues overcoming the loss to injury of Joaquin Benoit, but they were nearly perfect in the wild-card game. The Jays' rotation has the greater depth, with the possibility of Francisco Liriano or Marcus Stroman contributing in relief roles in the first three games as well. Toronto in 5.

Indians vs. Red Sox: The losses of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar leave Cleveland relying heavily upon Trevor Bauer, whose ERA and FIP jumped by a full run from first half to second half, and a gimpy Corey Kluber, with shaky options to round out the rotation. Boston's 1–2 punch of Rick Porcello and David Price is in better shape at this stage; the bullpen has Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler together in working order; and the Red Sox' lineup is just fierce. Who wants to bet against David Ortiz in the postseason? Boston in 4.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers: Injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos mean that Washington isn't quite the 95-win juggernaut that it appears to be, and Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and starting pitcher Joe Ross come in with health concerns as well. Los Angeles, despite having set a record for disabled list use this year, is about as healthy as it has been all season, especially now that Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill are both available to make up to four starts in the series. The Dodgers have struggled against lefties, but they ranked third in the NL in OPS against righties and have very few dead spots in their lineup thanks to effective platoons. They also have a bullpen, led by closer Kenley Jansen, that is in good shape compared to recent Octobers. Los Angeles in 5.

Cubs vs. Giants: The playoff format works against powerhouses waltzing to titles, but the depth of the Cubs’ rotation, lineup, bench and bullpen is superior to the Giants. Their offense is stronger against lefties than righties, and with Madison Bumgarner not able to return from his wild-card heroics until Game 3 and a significant falloff to Matt Moore in Game 4, this should go Chicago’s way. Chicago in 4.

Joe Sheehan

Rangers vs. Blue Jays: The most evenly matched Division Series comes with an undercurrent of dislike and could go either way. Picking Toronto is a vote for the Jays' defense and righthanded pop from the likes of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. Toronto in 5.

Indians vs. Red Sox: The injuries to Cleveland's pitching leave its staff compromised just as the best offense in the league comes to town. The Indians have to hope they can get into the Sox' bullpen and win games 9–8. Boston in 4.

Nationals vs. Dodgers: A full-strength Washington team would have made this more interesting. As Nationals dropped like flies, the Dodgers got healthy and now look dangerous heading into October. Los Angeles in 3.

Cubs vs. Giants: The pitching matchups in this series are amazing, but the Cubs have the edge everywhere else, including the best defense in the game. Chicago in 5.

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