Division Series Preview: Each Team's Case for Winning the World Series

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After an eventful wild-card round played around the country, MLB's postseason will now pivot to two locations: Southern California for American League teams and Texas for National League teams.

Eight clubs remain in the hunt to win the World Series, meaning it's time to make a case for each of them to win it all. Yes, even the Marlins. Here we go.

American League

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays have the deepest pitching staff of the remaining playoff teams, with three quality starting pitchers—Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton—atop the rotation and a library’s worth of strong relievers stocked in the bullpen. Despite having only a few standout hitters, the Rays play their platoon matchups well—and they’re certainly not afraid to be unconventional with their lineups (see: their all-lefty lineup).

They’ll win the World Series if… they can generate enough offense to support their great pitching. Including the Wild Card Series, the Rays are 33–7 this season in games when they’ve scored at least four runs. On the flip side, only nine of their 42 wins this year—including their two-game sweep of the Blue Jays—came when they scored three or fewer runs.

New York Yankees

What we saw from the Yankees in their wild-card sweep of the Indians was exactly what we had expected from them when this season began. Their potent lineup, which GM Brian Cashman has dubbed a Fully Operational Death Star, knocked around Shane Bieber, the presumptive AL Cy Young winner, in Game 1 and then rattled the high-leverage Cleveland relievers in the chaotic Game 2 thriller.

They’ll win the World Series if… they can get length from their starting rotation. This year’s playoff schedule has no built-in days off until the World Series, so not taxing bullpens early on will be a must for the Yankees. They do not have as deep a relief corps as they have in years past. 

Cole went seven scoreless innings in Game 1, and the game was so far out of hand that there was no point in pushing him further, but Masahiro Tanaka didn’t last long in the next game, which left the bullpen exposed. They clearly do not have faith in Adam Ottavino to get left-handed hitters out, limiting him to righty-heavy lineups because of the three-batter minimum rule. The Yankees should be able to hit against any team and their rotation looks better than it has in years. They’re going to need both their bats and starting pitchers to be at their best to win World Series No. 28.

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Oakland Athletics

The A’s needed closer Liam Hendriks to throw 68 pitches in Games 2 and 3 combined to get past the White Sox in the Wild Card Series. He was gassed by the end of it, but he had a full weekend off before Oakland’s next game. He and the rest of the A’s bullpen won’t have that luxury in the ALDS and, if they make it, ALCS. Their bats came alive more in the second and third games, though facing their lineup isn’t exactly daunting for opposing pitching staffs. Their starting rotation is thin.

They’ll win the World Series if… they advance quickly in the ALDS and ALCS. As Hendriks said Thursday, Oakland’s strategy is to “ride our ‘pen as hard as we can.” But that won’t work the deeper they go in each of the upcoming series. Even the best bullpens get fatigued, and hitters become more familiar with opposing relievers the more times they face them. The fewer games Oakland plays, the better.

Houston Astros

The Astros are the first team in MLB history to have a losing record in the regular season and win a playoff series. So it goes in 2020. This Houston team is not as good as the ones of previous years, regardless of what Carlos Correa says after beating a Twins franchise that has lost 18 consecutive playoff games. At best, the Astros are an average offensive team (99 wRC+), and without Justin Verlander, their pitching staff lacks the depth it once had.

They’ll win the World Series if… they start stealing signs again. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the Astros are not a good team. In the regular season, they went just 4–13 against teams with winning records, and they lost seven of their 10 games against the A’s—their opponent in the ALDS.

National League

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Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are the best team in the hunt. The quality of arms behind Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are staggering: Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urías can all start or come out of the bullpen. Behind them are a loaded arsenal of relievers that led the National League with a 2.74 ERA. With a lineup that led the majors in runs scored, there’s plenty of depth offensively to stave off any fears of a team-wide slump (despite the Dodgers only scoring seven runs in two games against Brewers pitching).

They’ll win the World Series if… nothing goes wrong. More specifically, the Dodgers will win their first title since 1988 if Clayton Kershaw pitches like he did in Game 2 of the wild-card round. There are too many quality hitters for the entire lineup to slump for a whole series, which shifts the onus on the pitching staff to avoid an implosion. Kershaw’s postseason struggles (relative to his regular-season dominance) are well-documented. If he performs up to his Cooperstown-level credentials, there’s no team that can pull off the upset.

San Diego Padres

The Padres showed a little bit of everything in their series win over the Cardinals: inexperienced mistakes in Game 1; tremendous offensive output in Game 2; and a remarkable pitching display in Game 3, in which nine relievers combined for a four-hit shutout. The Dodgers—San Diego’s NLDS opponents—have no weakness, so versatility will be key to pull off an upset. Their biggest question mark will be starting pitching health, which means all eyes will be on the right arms of Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet.

They’ll win the World Series if… Clevinger and Lamet are healthy and in top form. Both were left off the wild-card roster—Lamet with biceps discomfort and Clevinger with a strained elbow. Each played catch on Friday, with manager Jayce Tingler saying they could “possibly” be available for the division series, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Their availability will go a long way in giving San Diego enough firepower to contend with the Dodgers in a best-of-five series. If the Padres are able to get by Los Angeles, they’ll be the favorites to win the pennant.

Atlanta Braves

Entering the postseason, the biggest question mark for the Braves was whether or not their pitching staff would be strong enough to keep pace with the other contenders. Two wins and 22 shutout innings later, that’s less of a concern. Granted, the Reds featured a historically inept lineup, but the young duo of Max Fried and Ian Anderson is plenty talented enough to keep Atlanta in contention. Behind them are question marks, particularly in starters Kyle Wright and Josh Tomlin. But the bullpen has been stout, and Atlanta’s lineup is dangerous enough to always keep them competitive.

They’ll win the World Series if… Fried and Anderson can keep up the pace. Having two ace-quality starters provides an enormous advantage, particularly for a team with a strong bullpen and deep stable of hitters. The Braves went 6-4 against the Marlins this season, including a historic 29-9 beatdown on Sept. 9, so they likely won’t be too intimidated by their division series opponents. Atlanta’s offense went quiet against the Reds, but the team scored the second most runs in the majors this season, and could be due to erupt at any time.

sixto sanchez

Miami Marlins

What else did you expect? The Marlins have yet to lose a postseason series in their 28-year existence, making quick work of the Cubs in a wild-card sweep. Marlins pitchers ranked 27th in the majors in combined fWAR (2.2), yet held the Cubs lineup to just one run in two games. Miami’s lineup wasn’t exactly lights out in their two playoff games, batting a combined 13-for-64 (.203), yet did enough to eke out a pair of victories.

They’ll win the World Series if… their young, talented starting pitchers continue to shove. Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez are all supremely talented arms aged 25 or younger. They’ll need to be excellent against the Braves for the Marlins to have a chance at continuing their miraculous run. Miami’s bullpen did not allow a run in 6 1/3 innings against the Cubs, yet this is not a strong unit. Marlins relievers ranked 26th in the majors with a 5.50 ERA in the regular season. If their young trio of starters can continue to thrive, then baseball’s most unstoppable postseason force can continue its dominant run to yet another Fall Classic title.