After six long months and a lot of hypotheticals, the October stage is finally set.
Ten teams have made it through the 162-game gantlet for a shot at the Commissioner’s Trophy. The final day of the regular season had potential to turn wacky in all kinds of ways, but ultimately settled on a conventional (yet still captivating) playoff field that gets underway on Tuesday with the Yankees and Red Sox in the win-or-go-home AL wild-card game. That will be followed by the defending champion Dodgers taking on the Cardinals on Wednesday night—sign us up, please.
Before the race to the Fall Classic begins, we’ll take a stab at ranking the 10 remaining teams based on their chances of winning the World Series, along with how and why each club can do so. Let’s dive in.
10. Boston Red Sox (Last Week: 10)
Boston’s path to a title will rely on an underwhelming starting rotation finding its stride at the right time. Nathan Eovaldi has been strong all season, but the rest of the group has gone through fits and starts. Chris Sale will be an obvious key figure, as well as youngster Tanner Houck. Eduardo Rodríguez could be the X-factor here, as the lefthander put together a 5–2 record with a 3.32 ERA over his last 11 starts. This offense can score plenty of runs, so the onus will be on the pitching staff to keep the Red Sox in close games.
9. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 6)
The Cardinals' main strength, their defense, should seamlessly carry over into the playoffs. And Adam Wainwright, who's already beat the Dodgers once this season and holds a 2.66 ERA against Los Angeles in 17 career games, is as steady of a starter as they come, even at age 40. The key for the Cardinals will be maintaining some semblance of the offensive firepower they’ve conjured over the last few weeks. Before their franchise-record winning streak, St. Louis ranked 20th with a 93 wRC+. Since the first of their 17 straight wins on Sept. 11, their 124 wRC+ ranks second, with the best slugging percentage (.512) in the majors. Paul Goldschmidt has been the hottest bat of late, but Tyler O’Neill is the team WAR leader. As the No. 3 hitter between Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, he’ll be relied upon as a consistent source of runs.
8. New York Yankees (LW: 9)
The Yankees will win their 28th title if their bullpen continues to dominate in key spots. Closer Aroldis Chapman has returned to form after a rough stretch over the summer. Jonathan Loasiga has had the best season of any Yankees reliever and is one of the best in the league. When Chad Green gets burned it's via the long ball (14 home runs allowed this year), but he's is very good at limiting baserunners (0.884 WHIP. Lefthanders Lucas Luetge and Wandy Peralta have emerged out of nowhere as reliable relievers, while righthander Clay Holmes has been lights out since New York acquired him in an overlooked deadline deal. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have caught fire at the right time, and they’re two of baseball's most impactful game-changing hitters when they’re locked in. If they can get help from some of the other mashers in the lineup—namely Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo—this team has the pieces to make a run.
7. Atlanta Braves (LW: 8)
Charlie Morton and Max Fried have come on strong in the second half to combine for a one-two punch that can match up with anyone, and Atlanta’s bullpen is the only one in the majors with three relievers (Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter) who ranked in the top 10 in holds. But the back end of both Atlanta’s rotation and bullpen doesn’t stack up well compared to the other NL contenders. Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa, the likely Game 3 and 4 starters, are both just 23 years old and have yet to showcase the ability to consistently pitch deep into games against quality competition. Ynoa has a 5.05 ERA and zero wins in nine starts since returning from his broken hand. Will Smith, meanwhile, has seven losses, the most of any closer in the playoffs. If he can avoid the meltdowns that have occasionally plagued him this year, the Braves could surprise some folks despite entering the playoffs with the fewest wins (88) of any team.
Watch MLB games online this postseason with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!
6. Chicago White Sox (LW: 7)
What’s Carlos Rodón’s health status? The White Sox are mum on whether the lefthander will pitch in the first round, but his availability is among the biggest question marks for any postseason team. Rodón has made just five starts and amassed only 23 innings since Aug. 26, though he's remained effective, posting a 2.35 ERA with 25 strikeouts and just two home runs allowed. Chicago still has reliable options to start games, but Rodón would give them arguably the best starting pitching depth in the American League.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 2)
The Dodgers would certainly rank higher on this list if they weren’t forced to play an elimination game right off the bat. Oddsmakers still have them installed as the World Series favorites, which is sort of absurd but speaks to their status as the best wild-card team in MLB history. The reigning world champions lead the majors in run differential (+269) and ERA (3.01) while pacing all NL squads with 5.1 runs per game. Los Angeles compiled MLB’s best second-half record (50–21) despite wringing just 15 1/3 innings out of Clayton Kershaw’s left arm, which is barking again and will seemingly be kept on ice throughout the playoffs. They should be fine with Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin forming the postseason rotation. Los Angeles is also equipped with the offensive depth to overcome the potential loss of Max Muncy, whose status is unclear after he injured his wrist Sunday.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 4)
Milwaukee’s World Series case case begins and (mostly) ends with its rotation. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are the three Brewers with the most WAR this season. In fourth place is shortstop Willy Adames, who was acquired from the Rays in mid-May. If the Big Three can prove as dominant in October as they were the rest of the year, the Brewers will be in a good position to win the first championship in franchise history. But it seems likely the offense, which doesn’t boast a single 30-home run hitter, will need to benefit from unlikely clutch heroics at some point. Will the real Christian Yelich (nine HRs in 399 plate appearances in his injury-hampered 2021 season) please stand up?
3. Houston Astros (LW: 5)
The Astros had the best offense in baseball during the regular season, leading the majors with a 116 wRC+. That’s tied for the fifth-highest of any offense in the past decade (excluding 2020’s 60-game season), and it’s that unmatched lineup depth that gives Houston as good a chance as anybody to win the title. The bridge to closer Ryan Pressly will be a key factor to the Astros’ chances as well—Houston’s bullpen has the second-highest walk rate of the five AL playoff teams (4.0 BB/9), leaving manager Dusty Baker with some critical decisions to make in the late innings. If the Astros score enough runs to avoid being in too many close games, though, their bullpen won’t matter.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 3)
Surprise, surprise: Last year’s AL champs are pegged as the top dogs again to win the pennant. The Rays have no glaring weaknesses, and their ridiculously deep and talented bullpen has the potential to take over the postseason and guide Tampa Bay back to the World Series. But the Rays will actually win it this time if another rookie steals the show over the next month. Last year it was Randy Arozarena—who’s still a rookie, actually—and this year it will be 20-year-old phenom Wander Franco. Franco has been everything he was promised to be to start his MLB career. Now, he’ll do so on the game’s biggest stage.
1. San Francisco Giants (LW: 1)
The Giants have won eight World Series titles and 23 pennants, but the franchise had never won 107 games in a season before this one. Even if you look at this roster and can’t fully grasp how it finished a game above the Dodgers both in the NL West and in their season series, you can’t deny San Francisco deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point. The Giants led the NL with 241 homers, a .769 OPS and 108 wRC+. The loss of team home run leader Brandon Belt (broken thumb) could sting, but Gabe Kapler has nine other batters with double-digit home run totals to choose from to help compensate for his absence. The pitching staff also ranked first in the majors in FIP (3.55), walk rate (6.9%) and home runs allowed (151), while the team’s defense ranks second among NL teams in outs above average. This was the most well-rounded team in baseball during the regular season. The only question is if it can carry over to the postseason—especially during an odd-numbered year.
More MLB Coverage:
• Expert Predictions: Who Will Win the World Series?
• The Blue Jays Build Up Some Scar Tissue
• Trade Deadline Review: Which Moves Made a Difference?
• Will the Cardinals' Hot Streak Matter in the Playoffs?
Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.