Wild-Card Predictions: Who Can Survive a Best-of-Three Series?

The first-ever wild-card "round" is here, with 16 postseason teams vying to win two games.
Author:
Publish date:

The postseason is here, and so is a new playoff round. Welcome to the wild-card bonanza, where MLB's Sweet 16 will be whittled down to an Elite Eight by the end of the week. Sports Illustrated's MLB experts make their picks on all eight series, setting up a best-of-five Division Series round we're all more accustomed to. Onward!

National League

No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Brewers

Tom Verducci: Dodgers

The injury to Corbin Burnes severely hurts Milwaukee’s upset chances. Los Angeles has the league’s best offense and a deeper pitching staff than the Brewers.

Stephanie Apstein: Dodgers

Not too much to say here. Best team in baseball versus a club that never spent a day over .500.

Emma Baccellieri: Dodgers

What happens when a team known for its poorly timed playoff luck meets a bracket built to be even more dependent on timing and luck? ... They still win. (Probably.)

Connor Grossman: Dodgers

The Brewers backed into the postseason as a sub-.500 team, and their reward is facing the World Series favorite.

Matt Martell: Dodgers

The Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Clayton Kershaw leads a staff that can carve up a so-so Brewers' lineup. The Los Angeles offense is good enough to get to Milwaukee's elite bullpen arms—Josh Hader, Devin Williams—if it comes to that, but without the injured Corbin Burnes, the Brewers' starters will struggle to contain the Dodgers' bats.

Michael Shapiro: Dodgers

The Dodgers are unlikely to coast through October, but they will in Round 1. The talent discrepancy is too big for even Craig Counsell to overcome. 

Ronald Acuña Jr. swings a bat

No. 2 Braves vs. No. 7 Reds

Tom Verducci: Braves

Fascinating matchup. Cincinnati has baseball’s top strikeout staff (11 Ks per nine). The Braves have the top slugging team. In the end, you go with the team with the better bullpen.

Stephanie Apstein: Braves

The Reds have very impressive top-end starting pitching, but they had the worst batting average (.212) in all of baseball this year. Eventually the inability to make contact is going to be a problem.

Emma Baccellieri: Braves

Trevor Bauer against Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Marcell Ozuna should be fun, but Atlanta's a stronger pick to take the series.

Connor Grossman: Reds

The Reds need to win only two games, and they, more than almost any other team in this tournament, are equipped to do that on the mound.

Matt Martell: Braves

It's Bauer's time to shine. The likely NL Cy Young Award winner faces one of the best offenses in baseball, and the only chance the Reds have is if he can pitch them to a Game 1 win. Still, Atlanta's bats will be too much for Cincinnati, and the Braves will take this series in three games.

Michael Shapiro: Reds

Atlanta's lineup remains elite, but anything can happen in a three-game sample. Bauer and Luis Castillo are a terrifying tandem. Atlanta's pitching depth is shaky. This could be the upset of the first round.

No. 3 Cubs vs. No. 6 Marlins

Tom Verducci: Cubs

Two below-average offenses in a coin flip of a series. The Cubs are the better defensive team, which may play big in a low-scoring series.

Stephanie Apstein: Cubs

The Marlins have been a lot of fun to watch, but to advance they'll have to beat at least one of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish, and it's hard to see that happening.

Emma Baccellieri: Marlins

C'mon, there have to be a few upsets in the mix here. The Marlins' unexpectedly feel-good story from this year is ripe for one. 

Connor Grossman: Marlins

For a division winner, the Cubs have just been O.K. this year. Darvish or Hendricks will stumble just enough to allow a coin-flip Game 3. Miami moves on.

Matt Martell: Cubs

The Marlins are a nice story, but the Cubs are angry. Kris Bryant actually cursed while talking to reporters this weekend! Chicago is more talented than Miami, and Darvish and Hendricks will pitch the North Siders into the bubble.

Michael Shapiro: Cubs

Sandy Alcantara will shut down the Cubs in his postseason start, but it's hard to see the Marlins hanging with Chicago's lineup for three games. Good on Miami for a playoff appearance far ahead of schedule.

Three Padres celebrate

No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Cardinals

Tom Verducci: Padres

St. Louis is dangerous because its pitching-and-defense game traditionally shows well in the postseason, when runs get tight. But San Diego has game-changers up and down its lineup.

Stephanie Apstein: Padres

The Padres' starting pitching depth suddenly looks a little shaky—Mike Clevinger is out for at least the first round, and I won't believe Dinelson Lamet is healthy until I see him take the mound—but they still have two MVP candidates (third baseman Manny Machado, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.) and the probable Rookie of the Year (second baseman Jake Cronenworth), so it's hard to pick against them.

Emma Baccellieri: Cardinals

Without Clevinger and with Lamet's status still unclear, San Diego's positioning here is less than ideal.

Connor Grossman: Padres

Even accounting for injuries, the Padres still have enough quality arms to brush aside the Cardinals in a three-game series.

Matt Martell: Cardinals

This is the toughest of the NL wild-card series to pick. The Padres are an exciting and balanced team, but I think this is a favorable matchup for the Cardinals. St. Louis has a great pitching staff, and two of San Diego's top starters—Lamet and Clevinger—left their last starts with injuries. The Cardinals have struggled to hit good pitching, but they can eke out just enough run support to win this series in three games.

Michael Shapiro: Padres

This could be a favorable matchup for San Diego, which could eliminate the Cardinals in a hurry with a string of homers. Expect a big postseason for Machado.

American League

No. 1 Rays vs. No. 8 Blue Jays

Tom Verducci: Rays

The Rays won the season series, 6–4, though Toronto outscored them. Nobody controls pitcher-batter matchups from innings one through nine better than Tampa Bay.

Stephanie Apstein: Rays

The Rays have almost no weaknesses.

Emma Baccellieri: Rays

The Rays held the No. 1 seed for much of September, with a roster that should capably make it (at least) into the first full week of October.

Connor Grossman: Blue Jays

The Rays are better than the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays can still beat the Rays twice. Welcome to the wild-card crapshoot.

Matt Martell: Rays

If this series was in Buffalo, where they went 17–9, the Blue Jays would have a shot. The Rays' pitching staff will keep the young Blue Jays lineup in check.

Michael Shapiro: Rays

Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton will be too much to overcome at the Trop. Don't fret, Toronto. Your time will come at some point in the 2020s. 

Matt Olson celebrates his walk-off

No. 2 A's vs. No. 7 White Sox

Tom Verducci: White Sox

Oakland is the better team, but I expect Chicago to rise to the moment of the postseason.

Stephanie Apstein: White Sox

This is a tough one. Neither team has much in the way of starting pitching, but the A's have the better bullpen and the White Sox have the better offense. I'll lean toward the bats.

Emma Baccellieri: White Sox

The White Sox' final week and a half has been a struggle, but this is still the team that made a convincing run at the top seed earlier this summer, and it's well-situated for an upset here. 

Connor Grossman: A's

The White Sox have been a fun story this year and will be for seasons to come. Their journey will end in Oakland as the A's win their first postseason series since 2006.

Matt Martell: White Sox

The White Sox cooled off after clinching a playoff berth and settled for a wild-card spot. However, they are a better team than the A's. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will silence the Oakland bats, and Tim Anderson and José Abreu will continue to hit.

Michael Shapiro: A's

These could very well be the best two teams in the American League. Oakland's park provides a legitimate home-field advantage, and there could be some playoff jitters for the young White Sox. Look for Oakland to advance to an AL West battle with Houston.

No. 3 Twins vs. No. 6 Astros

Tom Verducci: Twins

Minnesota had a top-three pitching staff as ranked by ERA. Houston is not the same power-loaded team. Minnesota out-homered Houston, 91–66.

Stephanie Apstein: Twins

The Astros had a team on-base percentage of .312 this year, 24th in baseball. That doesn't leave them much margin for error if they struggle to hit for power against the Twins, who allowed the fewest home runs of any team in baseball this season.

Emma Baccellieri: Twins

After getting swept in the ALDS in 2019, Minnesota's postseason losing streak sits at 16, tied with the '70s Chicago Blackhawks for the longest in North American major sports. Here's a guess that the streak will end here.

Connor Grossman: Twins

Congratulations to the Twins for not facing the Yankees—yet.

Matt Martell: Twins

The Astros are the worst playoff team this year, and they made it only due to the Angels' incompetence. The Twins do not have to play the Yankees in the first round, and therefore they will win their first postseason series since 2002.

Michael Shapiro: Astros

Houston isn't exactly sprinting into the playoffs, but this lineup can find its groove at any moment. Another October could mark another bitter exit for Minnesota.

DJ LeMahieu runs the bases

No. 4 Indians vs. No. 5 Yankees

Tom Verducci: Indians

New York’s penalty for stumbling to the finish was drawing the game’s hottest pitcher, Shane Bieber.

Stephanie Apstein: Yankees

This is another tough one. Those Indians arms are so good. But the Yankees might be able to win the Bieber game—they counter with Gerrit Cole—and after that, all bets are off.

Emma Baccellieri: Yankees

Bless this series for giving us Bieber vs. Cole—on paper, one of the best pitching duels that we might see all postseason. 

Connor Grossman: Yankees

This is going to be the most exciting series of the first round. The Indians are set up well on paper to take it, but the Yankees will find a way to squirm out of Cleveland and onto San Diego.

Matt Martell: Yankees

Gerrit Cole against Shane Bieber in Game 1 is going to be the must-watch pitching matchup of the wild-card round. The Yankees have been wildly inconsistent this year, but they are also the better team.

Michael Shapiro: Indians

The Yankees' nightmare season could very well end in Cleveland, especially if Bieber blows away the Bronx Bombers in Game 1. This is the most exciting Round 1 series, and the winner remains firmly in the Fall Classic mix.