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By Jon Tayler
October 02, 2017

The 2017 postseason is about to begin, and despite the extremes we witnessed in September, from the Indians’ 22-game winning streak to the Dodgers’ 1–16 skid, the slate is now clear. For all we think we know about how the next month will unfold, predictions are more darts than art, and at least half the fun of October is the way it defies our expectations. The 10 teams that qualified for the postseason all have their strengths, some of which matter more than others but all of which provide a reason to believe that they can win it all, or at least playing deep into the postseason.

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It’s tempting to look at Los Angeles’ mystifying stretch of rancid baseball—16 losses in 17 games, including 11 in a row, from late August through early September—and conclude that there’s rot underneath the Dodgers’ surface. But that was the same team that ripped off 41 wins in 51 games through June and July and steamrolled the rest of the NL West en route to 103 wins and a fifth straight division title. So which Dodgers will we get in October? Optimism comes in the form of a healthy Clayton Kershaw; a deep lineup with above-average offense at every position but centerfield; and Kenley Jansen available for as many as six outs if needed to close things out in a bullpen that has been more reliable than previous iterations.

Oh, and for once, Kershaw won’t have to do it all on his own: Los Angeles’ rotation is strong, with Rich Hill and Yu Darvish ready to back the lefty ace; this group is so deep that Alex Wood and his 154 ERA+ won’t start until Game 4, if he starts at all. The Dodgers have all the pieces and depth to make a championship a reality.

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Deep breaths for Nationals fans, who likely were searching for the nearest sharp object after Max Scherzer left his start on Saturday with hamstring cramps. The early reports are that the likely NL Cy Young winner will be okay, though his status for NLDS Game 1 is still uncertain. Assuming he’s avoided major injury, then he and Stephen Strasburg are reasons No. 1 and 1A as to why Washington has real World Series aspirations. Reason No. 2 is the return of Bryce Harper, who missed nearly two months with a scary knee injury and still needs to get his timing back but is an obvious difference maker if he’s fully healthy. And he’s got a stupendous offense behind him, with MVP contender Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and the rejuvenated Ryan Zimmerman making for a strong middle of the order—and leadoff hitter Trea Turner ready to cause chaos on the bases.

Even the bullpen, the source of so much agita in postseasons past, is much improved thanks to the additions of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The formula for success will be deep outings from Scherzer, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez; big hits from Harper and company; and plenty of Doolittle and Madson. If Washington can get that, then there’s no reason the franchise can’t win its first title.

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Well, they did it last year, so why can’t they repeat? You wouldn’t have expected that based on how the Cubs played in the first half, fighting through that World Series hangover and struggling to keep pace with the upstart Brewers. But Chicago looked like its champion self after the break, going 49–24 in the second half to dust Milwaukee and win a second straight NL Central crown. What changed? Led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the offense perked up, going from 4.5 runs per game in the first half to 5.8 in the second.

The rotation, meanwhile, dropped its ERA from a terrible 4.66 before the break to 3.38 after, with Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta turning their seasons around after rough starts. The bullpen is shakier than manager Joe Maddon would like, even with Wade Davis looking near invincible all year long, and Jon Lester has been merely average. But with the offense clicking and the rotation doing better, would you want to bet against the same group that twice overcame series deficits en route to a title?

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The Diamondbacks are no desert mirage: This has quietly been one of baseball’s best teams all season long. The middle of the order is a nightmare for opposing pitchers, featuring MVP contender Paul Goldschmidt, power-hitting third baseman Jake Lamb, and the red-hot J.D. Martinez, who has clubbed a ridiculous 29 home runs in 61 games since coming to Arizona in a deadline day deal. The rotation has been arguably the best in the league, thanks to Zack Greinke’s return to form, Robbie Ray’s breakout and the emergence of Zack Godley. And the bullpen has been incredibly dependable. Fernando Rodney will be good for at least one heart-stopping appearance this postseason, but should the D-Backs win the wild-card game, they have a tremendous relief option in the form of Archie Bradley, who could be an Andrew Miller-style weapon in the late innings. And for what it’s worth, Arizona had a winning record (11–8) against the Dodgers, who await if the Diamondbacks survive the Rockies.

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The team with the toughest path to a World Series in the NL, the Rockies will be underdogs in every series they play, but that doesn’t make them pushovers. Per usual, Colorado’s offense is one of baseball’s best, ranking third in MLB in runs per game (5.1), with Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon set to make life difficult for opposing pitchers. But surprisingly, the rotation has been a strength as well. Jon Gray has developed into a staff ace, and rookie German Marquez has been excellent and dependable, with veterans Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood capable of quality innings as well. The bullpen is struggling, and Colorado doesn’t boast the pitching depth that the NL’s five other contenders do. But this is still a dangerous team plenty capable of bashing its way to a series win—and possibly more.

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