The long regular season has finally come to an end, and it’s on now to decide who will be crowned champion of baseball. The great thing about the 2015 playoffs is that there’s also a breath of fresh air. Perennial playoff teams Detroit, Boston, Anaheim and San Francisco are out while the new faces of Toronto, Chicago, Houston and New York are in. As usual, the St. Louis Cardinals enter the playoffs as favorites, but is there a dark horse lurking in the field? Could we see a Wild Card team make a run like last year when two ended up in the World Series?
Let’s take a look at which WC team has the best chance of making it.
Houston Astros: 86-76
The Astros are the surprise of the season, making the playoffs after losing well over 400 games the past four years. The team’s youth, headlined by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa combined lethally with a dynamic rotation lead by Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel. A.J. Hinch is likely going to win AL Manager of the Year, and anything at this point for the ‘Stros is just gravy on top of an already fantastic season. Houston does have a lot of talent, but they struggled down the stretch and pretty much backed into the playoffs. If it wasn’t for the Angels terrible bullpen, they’d likely be in a Game 163. With the amount of young talent they have, Houston will have their year, but this just isn’t it.
New York Yankees: 87-75
The most illustrious team in baseball history just keeps finding ways to get it done. Despite a core made up largely of aging veterans, the Bronx Bombers find themselves back in the postseason, thanks largely in part to their dynamic 8th-9th bullpen combo, and the resurgence of Alex Rodriguez. Outside of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, no one really had a spectacular year offensively for the Yanks. Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner were both solid, but neither were world beaters. The big help came in the bullpen, where Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were all but shutdown. With C.C. Sabathia checking into rehab, the 27-time world champs will turn to Masahiro Tanaka to try and get them past the wild card round to face Kansas City. Even if they can sneak past Dallas Keuchel and the Astros, the Yankees will almost surely fall victim to the high powered offense, and shutdown pitching of the defending AL Champs.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 98-64
The Buccos return to the playoffs for a second straight year, sporting the second best record in baseball. Both the Pirates, and their foe the Cubs would have won every other division in baseball. They just happen to play in the same one as the Cardinals. There is a lot to like about the Pirates this year. The pitching is brilliant, and the offense was steady and consistent throughout the year. Budding star Gerrit Cole will take to the hill Wednesday and attempt to score the Pirates a date with the Cardinals.
The problem for the Pirates though is simple. They just do not get a good matchup in this situation. As tremendous as the aforementioned Cole is, the Cubs are sporting someone better. Jake Arrieta has not only dominated the entire league this year, he’s been untouchable in the second half and against the Pirates. As good as Pittsburgh is this year, beating Jake Arrieta just doesn’t seem likely.
Chicago Cubs: 97-65
The lovable losers are back in the playoffs, and out of all four teams battling it out in the Wild Card games, have the best chance to make noise in October. Their offense is fantastic at times, charged up by likely NL ROY Kris Bryant and MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo. As mentioned earlier, Arrieta has been one of the very best this year, and will lead the rotation throughout the playoffs. Behind Arrieta though, is the almost forgotten Jon Lester. The former Boston ace hasn’t had quite his usual success this season, but history has shown that when the lights shine brightest, the big lefty finds a whole new level.
The one difficulty the Cubs will face is a massive lack of experience, but they’ve got the talent and the arms to knock off the Pirates, and then go head-to-head with the best in the league in the Redbirds. If the Cubbies can knock off those two teams, I can’t see anyone stopping them. This team is going to be good for an incredibly long time, but this year may just be theirs.