- Who do you have? It's the most loaded playoff field in years, which makes picking a winner harder than ever.
The playoffs are here! This year's crop of teams might be the strongest field in recent memory, making predictions as difficult as ever. Will your World Series champs be the Dodgers, who were competing for the title of "best team ever" before losing 16 of 17 games over the season's final two months? How about the Astros, possessors of one of the best offenses in baseball history and playoff ace Justin Verlander? Or will it be the Indians, the hottest team in the league and vengeful returnees after their heartbreaking conclusion to the 2016 season.
Or could it be somebody else?
Behold, your 2017 MLB playoff predictions!
Prediction: Indians in seven. Like the 2015 Royals, the Indians return to October as a better, battle-hardened team. Last year their thin starting pitching ran out of gas. This year in the second half their starters are 41–8 (with a 2.76 ERA) - the greatest second-half winning percentage (.837) by a rotation ever recorded! Their two keys are Carlos Carrasco and an improved Trevor Bauer, who last year never lasted through five innings in four postseason starts and was six outs from getting the lead to the bullpen in the pivotal World Series Game 5.
Prediction: Dodgers in six. Despite the, uh, tiny little bump in the road they hit over the last month or so, I’m sticking with my preseason pick. They may no longer be in the running for “Best. Team. Ever?” (hey, at least we included the question mark), but the Dodgers remain the deepest team in the league on both sides of the ball. The bullpen is still—even after all these years—this team's Achilles' heel, but L.A. could finally have enough talent to overcome that.
Prediction: Indians in five. What could be a bigger playoff asset than Cleveland's pitching depth? Corey Kluber, who has been baseball's best pitcher in 2017, last year nearly dragged this team to a ring by himself. This year, flanked by a healthy Carlos Carrasco and improved versions of Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, he has the company he needs.
Prediction: Nationals in six. The idea of having to face Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg up to five times in a seven-game series is a scary one for any opponent. It's a duo that could shine like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did for the 2001 Diamondbacks. The Astros will come close to making good on Sports Illustrated's three-year-old prediction, but a well-rounded Nationals club will earn Dusty Baker a long sought World Series championship.
Prediction: Astros in six. It’s Rob Manfred’s worst nightmare! Really, though, despite their lack of a pedigree, these are two exciting and athletic teams – and similarly built ones at that. Each has a leading MVP candidate (Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt) surrounded by a number of near-candidates. Each has a proven ace (Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke) and a deep staff behind him. Really, the one weakness between them is Diamondbacks’ closer Fernando Rodney – who saved 39 games this year, but remains Fernando Rodney. The Astros’ top-ranked offense could win at least a couple games late, which will prove to be the difference. You really thought I’d pick anyone else?
Prediction: Astros in six. Now armed with a dominant Justin Verlander, the Astros are primed to live up to our 2014 cover tout because they appear to be in better shape than the teams in their path, even with Lance McCullers' second-half disappearance. The Red Sox's Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia are banged up, and of their three Cy Young-caliber candidates, Rick Porcello has flopped after winning in 2016, David Price is limited to relief work due to elbow woes, and Chris Sale has been erratic enough over the past two months to cost himself this year's award. The Indians have their share of injuries, an experiment in centerfield (Jason Kipnis) and a gimpy Andrew Miller. The Nationals can't count on Bryce Harper to return to form after a six-week absence, and they've gotten nothing from Jayson Werth since his return, and the Dodgers have far too many bullpen questions even to survive the first two rounds.
Prediction: Dodgers in six. The best team all year long will show itself when it matters most. The Dodgers’ biggest problem in the past has been a bullpen stocked with Kenley Jansen and a bunch of people Dave Roberts didn’t trust. This year they’ve shored that up twice, by adding relievers but also by trading for Yu Darvish. Plus, the SI jinx will have had plenty of time to wear off by late October!
Prediction: Dodgers in seven. I picked the Dodgers as my preseason champs, and I’m sticking with it. Forget the bizarre late-season slump: Los Angeles has a deep lineup, Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish atop a strong rotation and—finally—a reliable bullpen that can close out games. Now let’s all get excited about World Series MVP Yasiel Puig.
Prediction: Dodgers in seven. Will Clayton Kershaw finally get a postseason without having to throw on short rest? Will rookie sensation Cody Bellinger thrive in his first taste of postseason baseball? The Dodgers may not have the shine that they had earlier in the season, but they still boast baseball's deepest roster and a fearsome starting rotation that should anchor them throughout the playoffs. The x-factor, as it has always been, is the bullpen. If the Dodgers can find a reliable way to get to Kenley Jansen, they should win their first pennant and World Series since 1988. If not, it'll be another year of heartbreak.