MLB Playoffs: Power Ranking the Contenders in Both Leagues
There are only three days left until the MLB regular season is over and the playoffs begin. The final weekend brings with it an anticipation like kids experience on Christmas Eve.
With eight of the 10 playoff spots already determined, this weekend is going to be about jockeying for seeds and getting home-field advantage.
So, how do the teams stack up? Here's a look at where all the playoff contenders rank against each other as we head into the final weekend.
Note: All stats obtained from Baseball-Reference.com.
11. Texas Rangers
At this point in the year, it's hard not to believe the Rangers will collapse once again. They did so in the final week of the season last year when they were swept by the Athletics and lost the AL West. And they've faltered again this year, going 9-15 over the course of September.
Right now, the Rangers sit one game out in the AL Wild Card and have three more games with the Angels to finish the season. Texas has won four in a row, but that doesn't take away from what it's done the rest of the month.
Let's take a look at what the Rangers have done at the plate in September:
|Stat Category||Rangers||MLB Rank|
While the numbers aren't entirely bad, they're not great either. The Rangers have just been OK at the plate at a time when they need to be great.
Alex Rios, whom the Rangers acquired from the White Sox during the waiver trading period, has been pretty good, batting .286 with six home runs and 22 RBI. But, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports, the Rangers are to blame for not getting more than Rios in the lineup.
Rosenthal points to the team's inability to acquire an impact bat, the decision to sign Lance Berkman over other capable designated hitters and Matt Garza's poor performance since the Rangers traded for him from the Cubs.
Speaking of Garza, he is 4-5 with a 4.56 ERA in 12 starts in Texas. He's given up at least four earned runs in seven of those starts and seven or more hits in eight. But the rest of the rotation hasn't been that great in September either:
|Stat Category||Rangers||MLB Rank|
As the numbers show, it hasn't just been the hitting. The pitching staff has struggled, which is a big reason why the Rangers have only won nine games in September.
If they can storm back to take one of the two wild-card spots, they'll obviously move up. But for now, last year showed us we can't be confident in that happening.
10. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, thanks in large part to a pitching staff that has held its own this year.
However, out of all the playoff teams, their offense has to be one of the worst:
|Stat Category||Pirates||MLB Rank|
Pitching has saved the Pirates for most of the year. The pitching staff ranks second with an ERA of 3.29 and an opponents' batting average of .239.
Additionally, the Pirates are the only team in which the entire starting staff has an ERA under 4.00. That's what has allowed the team to be successful this year. Here's how the pitching staff stacks up in major categories:
|Stat Category||Pirates||MLB Rank|
Still, I don't like the Pirates' chances in a one-game playoff, much less a five-game series. For them to be successful, their hitters have to do more at the plate.
Since the trade deadline passed, the Pirates have been outscored 215-198. They've also only played .500 ball since then, going 26-26.
Waiver deadline acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau have been decent, batting a combined .278 with two home runs and 16 RBI. But for players that were supposed to get the Pirates going offensively, they've severely lacked in that department.
9. Tampa Bay Rays
After going into their own little free fall, the Tampa Bay Rays have improved as of late and are holding the first wild-card spot down.
The Rays are tied with the Indians for the longest winning streak in baseball and have looked good in the last seven games.
If the playoffs started today, David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA) would likely pitch in the Wild Card Game against the Cleveland Indians. His last four starts have been really good, as he gave up just two runs in each over the course of 26.1 innings.
And when you look at the rest of the rotation, there's a lot to be confident about come playoff time. Here's how the rotation ranks in 2013:
|Stat Category||Rays||MLB Rank|
When looking at the numbers and the rankings, they don't seem all too impressive. But consider that Jeremy Hellickson's 5.16 ERA and 6.9 K/9 ratio is in there, along with Roberto Hernandez's 4.89 ERA and 6.7 K/9 ratio.
If you were to just take out just their ERA numbers, the Rays starters would have an ERA of 3.20, which would rank them second. That's important to note that since Hernandez and Hellickson won't be part of the playoff rotation.
Hitting-wise, the Rays have been the fourth-best team at getting on base this year (.330), but they only have three guys with 70 or more RBI. The difference is, there are six other players with at least 40 RBI, which makes a huge difference.
Like any team, the Rays could get hot and win the whole thing. But for now, ninth is where they're at.
8. Cleveland Indians
Most people still can't explain how the Indians are competing for a playoff spot. It's unimaginable to think that a rotation currently led by Ubaldo Jimenez is within a few games of making the playoffs. But it is, and it's thanks in large part to the team's pitching, especially in September.
|Stat Category||Indians||MLB Rank|
Okay, so the WHIP is higher than the Indians would like it to be for the month, but you can't argue those other numbers. The starting rotation and the bullpen have gotten the job done.
At the plate, Cleveland doesn't have any big home run hitter, as Nick Swisher (21) is the only one with more than 20. No everyday player is batting over .300 either.
So, how are the Indians doing it?
On-base percentage has been the key this year, as six players are getting on base more than one-third of the time. And per Billy Beane's Moneyball theory, the only way you can score runs is by getting on base.
Not much is expected out of the Indians in the playoffs, but they've shown teams that they are competitive and aren't just going to give games away.
7. Cincinnati Reds
- CF Shin-Soo Choo: .286 AVG., .424 OBP, 21 HR, 20 SB
- 2B Brandon Phillips: .260 AVG., 18 HR, 102 RBI
- 1B Joey Votto: .304 AVG., .434 OBP, 24 HR, 73 RBI
- RF Jay Bruce: .264 AVG., .330 OBP, 30 HR, 107 RBI
- LF Ryan Ludwick: .258 AVG., 2 HR, 12 RBI (*only 120 at-bats due to injury)
- 3B Todd Frazier: .314 OBP, 18 HR, 72 RBI
The Cincinnati Reds are one of the hardest teams to judge, mainly because you don't know what's going to happen with Johnny Cueto when it comes to the playoffs.
Cueto has missed a lot of time this year due to injury, but he is back for a playoff run. He was Cincinnati's best pitcher last year, going 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA. This year, his ERA is low again (2.82), but he's only had two starts since coming back from the DL...and those were against the New York Mets and Houston Astros.
Other than that, you have to like what the Reds have on the mound with Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. In the playoffs, only Latos is guaranteed a starting spot, as most teams go with a four-man rotation. I guess it will all depend on what Cueto can do as to who will go to the bullpen.
At the plate, I fall more and more in love with Cincinnati's lineup with each day. The thing I love the most is the uncertainty that surrounds Billy Hamilton each game. He can start the game and make a huge impact on defense and on the basepaths, or he can come in as a pinch-runner in a close game and do some damage there.
I think it's safe to say that we haven't seen speed like Hamilton's since Ricky Henderson. All you have to do is watch this video to see how he affects the game.
Outside of Hamilton, this is what I love about the Reds' lineup:
The first six spots in the lineup are so dangerous for the Reds. Each hitter is capable of going deep at any moment.
Regardless, in a one-game playoff, anything can happen. We saw it last year with the Cardinals and Braves, and it could happen this year once again.
6. Atlanta Braves
I'll go ahead and address the elephant in the room: What do the Braves do with B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla? Both have been abysmal this year, batting .184 and .181, respectively. There's no question they both bring power, but are they worth the risk?
The rest of the lineup is hit or miss as well, as evident by the Braves' recent struggles. But there's no question that when guys like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Brian McCann are on top of their game, the Braves are hard to beat.
From the leadoff spot, Heyward is batting .311 with five home runs and 15 RBI. From the No. 2 spot, Justin Upton is batting .290 with 10 home runs and 20 RBI. They're the guys setting up Freeman (.317 AVG., 23 HR, 107 RBI), McCann (.256 AVG., 20 HR, 57 RBI) and Johnson (.323 AVG., 11 HR, 67 RBI).
Then there's a starting staff full of youngsters and a bullpen that's been lights-out all year. Altogether, the Braves have the best pitching in baseball.
|Stat Category||Braves||MLB Rank|
While teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers get more recognition for their pitching, the Braves have shown that they can get it done, whether it's early in the game or in the late innings.
The pitching is not the problem. The inconsistencies on the offense are what have the Braves ranked sixth.
5. Detroit Tigers
If it came down to the first three pitchers in the rotation, the Tigers would be right up there with the Dodgers.
Detroit is led by Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA), Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.56 ERA) and Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.64 ERA). And as a starting staff as a whole, they're pretty good:
|Stat Category||Tigers||MLB Rank|
No doubt those numbers are improved by the presence of the three mentioned above, but Doug Fister (14-9, 3.68 ERA) and Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.38 ERA) have more than held their own as well.
As for the offense, not starting with Miguel Cabrera would be a mistake. Cabrera is simply the best player in the game and he is going to be the X-factor for the Tigers in the playoffs. His postseason career numbers include a .276 batting average with 10 home runs and 30 RBI. In last year's World Series, he was largely absent, batting .231 with one home run.
After Cabrera, you have more big boppers in the lineup, most notably Prince Fielder (.281 AVG., 25 HR, 106 RBI) and Torii Hunter (.304 AVG., 17 HR, 84 RBI).
Many have picked the Tigers to win it all, but the AL is not going to be as easy as some think.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
- Clayton Kershaw: 15-9, 1.88 ERA, 224 K's
- Zack Greinke: 15-3, 2.67 ERA, 141 K's
- Hyun-Jin Ryu: 14-7, 2.97 ERA, 150 K's
Like the Tigers, the Dodgers are loaded at the top of their starting rotation. Imagine being their opponent and coming into a series where these guys will get things going for the other team:
That would almost make you want to pack it in, knowing you're not going to get much—especially against Kershaw, whom you might see three times in a seven-game series.
If anything, the bullpen is where teams can get to the Dodgers, as their ERA ranks 18th (3.58) and their opponents' batting average (.242) ranks 12th.
Then there's the offense and the motor that is Yasiel Puig. Puig is batting .324 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI. But how will he react to being in the playoffs? Will it be anything different for him?
Other than that, the Dodgers are still trying to get Matt Kemp back (who missed a lot of time due to injury ) into a grove and ensure they're fully healthy for a playoff run.
With four outfielders in Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Kemp and Puig, there's going to be one guy sitting on the bench. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. The bad thing is that the Dodgers will have a decent bat on the bench, but the good thing is that they'll have it for late-game pinch-hit situations.
Ultimately, Hanley Ramirez will be the key for the Dodgers—as he was early in the season. While some credit Puig with helping the Dodgers get going, Ramirez played a big role as well. Since returning from the disabled list for good on June 14, he is batting .347 with 19 home runs and 54 RBI. He's been the key to the Dodgers coming back, and he will have to play a big role for the Dodgers in the playoffs as well.
3. Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics are another one of those teams that goes quietly about their business without much respect. Their hitting is probably one of the most underappreciated bunch in baseball, as there are four players with at least 20 home runs and five players with at least 65 RBI.
Compared to the rest of baseball, Oakland stacks up pretty well at the plate:
|Stat Category||Athletics||MLB Rank|
From these stats, we know the A's hit a lot of home runs, but they also don't strike out much. They're average may be in the middle of the pack, but at least they're making contact.
As for pitching, the A's have been led by Bartolo Colon (17-6, 2.64 ERA). Meanwhile, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily all have ERAs under 4.00 and are showing that the A's aren't going anywhere.
Right now, it looks like the A's will face the Tigers, a team they won four of seven from this year, in the ALDS. Three of those wins came in late August, with the only loss in that series being by one run.
The A's got five runs on Max Scherzer and three runs on Justin Verlander, showing they can handle Detroit's best.
2. Boston Red Sox
It's amazing what one year can do for your team, but that's exactly what it took for the Boston Red Sox to go from worst to first. The Red Sox currently have the best record in baseball at 96-63, and they have also scored the most runs this year with 830.
The lineup is dangerous throughout and is at or near the top in most offensive categories.
|Stat Category||Red Sox||MLB Rank|
When looking at their numbers, it's no wonder they have the best record in the MLB. Led by David Ortiz with a .307 batting average, 29 home runs and 100 RBI, the Red Sox have shown their muscle at the plate this year.
Dustin Pedroia (.296 AVG., 9 HR, 83 RBI) and Mike Napoli (23 HR, 90 RBI) are also a part of the offensive charge.
Pitching-wise, Clay Buchholz (11-1, 1.60 ERA) is dominant at the top of the rotation, while John Lackey (3.52 ERA) and Jon Lester (3.67 ERA) are also having nice seasons.
Where teams can get to the Red Sox is in the bullpen, which ranks 19th with a 3.60 ERA. But those teams better bring their pitching as well, as Boston's offense will determine the team's fate in October.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have the most complete team of all contenders. They have great starting pitching and a great offense that will be able to compete with any team in the playoffs.
On the mound, the Cardinals can throw any number of pitchers at you. From Adam Wainwright (18-9, 3.01 ERA) to Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06 ERA) to Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09 ERA) and Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78 ERA), the Cardinals can shut you down with their rotation.
Here's how the starting staff ranks among other MLB staffs:
|Stat Category||Cardinals||MLB Rank|
The main thing I notice is that the starters are keeping the ball inside the park, which will go a long way to helping a team win a World Series. The only question is, can they keep it in the park against the AL team they would face if they made it to the World Series?
As far as the offense goes, the loss of Allen Craig does hurt, but Matt Adams is showing he's more than capable of taking his spot with a .285 average, 17 home runs and 51 RBI.
Meanwhile, Yadier Molina is batting .315 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI, Matt Carpenter is batting .321 with 11 home runs and 78 RBI, Matt Holliday is batting .296 with 20 home runs and 91 RBI and Carlos Beltran is batting .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI.
From an opposing pitcher's perspective, as you look up and down the lineup, the only player you're confident facing is Pete Kozma with his .216 batting average.
Heading into the playoffs, the Cardinals look to be the strongest team. But that could change.
What do you think?
Agree with me or think I'm full of it? Comment below of hit me up on Twitter @chris_stephens6.