Who Would Win Each of MLB's Most Likely 2014 World Series Matchups
With each passing day, regular-season games become all the more important as the clock continues to tick on the regular season.
It's not as if the season is going to end tomorrow—there's still more than a month of action left to unfold—but as teams jockey for position in the standings, it's hard not to think about some of the matchups we could see in the World Series.
Four division races—the AL Central, AL West, NL Central and NL West—find the current leaders ahead in the standings by 3.5 games or less while 13 teams are either currently holding onto or are within six games of one of the four Wild Card berths available.
A lot could—and will—change between now and the end of the regular season.
The pool of teams available to us for this exercise are those that would have qualified for the playoffs if the season had come to an end on August 18. Unfortunately, there were 13 teams that met that criteria, so one—the Seattle Mariners—has my apologies for becoming the odd team out.
We'll take a position-by-position look at what each team brings to the table and see how these likely—and intriguing—World Series matchups might wind up.
Baltimore Orioles vs. Washington Nationals
There's no love lost between Baltimore and Washington, teams that find themselves embroiled in a heated lawsuit over television revenue that could have long-lasting ramifications on the Orioles finances.
What better way to settle things than in the Fall Classic?
Catcher: Were Matt Wieters healthy and able to play, the Orioles would have the clear advantage over the Nationals behind the plate. But without him, Wilson Ramos is clearly the top backstop in this series, with neither Nick Hundley or Caleb Joseph able to match his offensive production.
First Base: Chris Davis is still hitting for power, but Baltimore's hulking first baseman left the rest of his game back in 2013. Adam LaRoche, on the other hand, has raised the level of his play from a season ago, hitting for average, power and getting on base with consistency.
Second Base: Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop has the edge over Asdrubal Cabrera defensively while the former All-Star shortstop has a leg up on the rookie at the plate.
Third Base: Perhaps the most interesting head-to-head battle of the series pits Baltimore's Manny Machado vs. Washington's Anthony Rendon. The pair of upstart youngsters are both threats at the plate, but Machado's Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner gives him the slightest of advantages.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond has an advantage over Baltimore's J.J. Hardy at the plate, but it's the erstwhile veteran that remains the premier defender at a premium position.
Outfield: If Bryce Harper were swinging the bat like many expected him to, this would be an overwhelming victory for the Nationals. But Harper continues to flounder at the plate, putting more pressure on Denard Span and Jayson Werth to produce.
Baltimore has a pair of consistent performers itself in the always underrated Nick Markakis and All-Star center fielder Adam Jones while Delmon Young has been productive in limited playing time.
Advantage: Orioles (Unless Harper's bat awakens)
Designated Hitter: Assuming the oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman is able to play, the Nationals are sure to use him as a DH as often as they can to try and limit the wear and tear on his body. He's still no match for Baltimore's Nelson Cruz, however.
Washington boasts a trio of No. 1 starters in Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, with veteran Doug Fister and upstart youngster Tanner Roark more than capable of taking the ball in a Game 4 without an issue.
Despite improved performances across the board, the Orioles don't have a true ace, instead relying on a No. 2 starter in Wei-Yin Chen and a handful of mid-to-back-of-the-rotation arms to fill things out.
If we assume that the starters will give each team six innings, it comes down to which bullpen is best suited to shut down the opposition over the game's final three frames. While the Orioles have been good from the seventh inning to the ninth, the Nationals have been better.
Zach Britton has found a home in the ninth inning for the Orioles, but the experience and talent that the Nationals back end of the bullpen has with Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and closer Rafael Soriano give Washington the edge.
The Nationals. While the team's offense can be erratic, the Nationals simply have too much pitching for the Orioles to contend with.
Detroit Tigers vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Without a rivalry between the clubs to harp on, Detroit and Milwaukee would get together in what some would call a "must-miss" World Series.
But that would be a mistake, for a World Series between the Motor City and Brew Town could be incredibly entertaining.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy has arguably become the best all-around catcher in baseball. Alex Avila has not.
First Base: Two words: Miguel Cabrera. Two more words: Mark Reynolds.
Second Base: Scooter Gennett has left little doubt that he's the Brewers second baseman of the present and future, but he continues to platoon with the always underwhelming Rickie Weeks. Ian Kinsler has returned to his All-Star form in his first season as a Tiger, both at the plate and in the field.
Third Base: Nick Castellanos may one day prove to be an outstanding third baseman, but Aramis Ramirez has been producing at a high level for nearly two decades.
Shortstop: Jean Segura hasn't been able to equal his rookie-year success for the Brewers while rookie Eugenio Suarez has been mediocre at best for the Tigers, who have played without their starter, Jose Iglesias, all season long.
Outfield: Torii Hunter continues to produce at a high level despite the fact that he's pushing 40. But Rajai Davis is best suited as part of a platoon, and J.D. Martinez doesn't exactly have a track record of success to point to as a reason to believe he'll continue his high level of play.
Ryan Braun has been disappointing—and his lack of power troubling—but the Brewers still have one of the game's premier outfielders in Carlos Gomez while Khris Davis has more than held his own in left field.
Designated Hitter: No matter who the Brewers might stick in this spot against Detroit's Victor Martinez, the result remains the same.
Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza form a formidable foursome for Milwaukee's rotation, but they're no match for the rotation that Detroit can trot out to the mound.
Max Scherzer and David Price are superior talents to anyone the Brewers have in their rotation while Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello are closer to Milwaukee's speed. The wild card in this series is Justin Verlander.
Which pitcher shows up for the Tigers? The one who gave Clayton Kershaw a run for his money when it came to naming the best pitcher on the planet? Or the one who has been hit hard and looked like a mere mortal for much of the season?
Advantage: Detroit (With or without a Verlander-like Verlander)
It seems as if the more the Tigers do to try to fix the bullpen, the worse things get. Case in point: All-Star closer Joakim Soria lasted only 4.1 innings in Detroit before hitting the disabled list with a strained oblique.
That's done nothing to help a Tigers bullpen that has been historically bad in the ninth inning this season. Only eight other teams in baseball history have pitched to a higher ninth-inning ERA than Detroit's 6.13 mark, the highest baseball has seen since 2004, when Colorado had a 6.17 ERA.
With four blown saves, Francisco Rodriguez has made things more interesting in the ninth inning than the Brewers would like, but the Brew Crew is in much better shape when their starters leave the game than the Tigers are.
The Brewers, though this is the toughest of the five World Series matchups to figure out. Detroit's reliance on stopgap pieces (Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez) and a lack of a quality bullpen makes them far more vulnerable than they've been in the past.
Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
There isn't another rivalry that began on a bigger stage than the one between the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, with the two teams meeting for the first time in the 1985 World Series.
The Royals, in their last playoff appearance, would go on to win the Fall Classic in seven games, becoming the first team to raise the commissioner's trophy after losing the series' first two games at home.
A rematch nearly 30 years in the making would add some fire to an already contentious I-70 series.
Catcher: Salvador Perez has quickly established himself as one of the best young catchers in baseball, but not even he can contend with the mastery of Yadier Molina. Currently injured, Molina may be the most valuable member of any team in the game, both for his contributions at the plate and behind it.
First Base: Whether it's Billy Butler or Eric Hosmer, neither one can hold a candle to Matt Adams, who has thrived at the position with regular playing time for the first time in his career.
Second Base: Neither the Cardinals nor the Royals can thump their chest about the production that they've gotten from second base this season. Both Kolten Wong and Omar Infante have been disappointments offensively and provide only average defense up the middle.
Third Base: Matt Carpenter vs. Mike Moustakas? No contest.
Shortstop: Alcides Escobar has been good for the Royals, but Jhonny Peralta has been great. His power and superior fielding ability make this a pretty lopsided victory in the Cardinals' favor.
Outfield: A resurgent Jon Jay has helped St. Louis get past a down year from All-Star Matt Holliday while top prospect Oscar Taveras and defensive whiz Peter Bourjos have been underwhelming at the plate.
They're no match for the Royals trio of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Nori Aoki, who comprise baseball's best defensive outfield (and aren't slouches at the plate, either).
Designated Hitter: Kansas City has the clear advantage with either Billy Butler or Josh Willingham filling this role, as the Cardinals lack a potent bat to slide into the spot.
Make no mistake about it: Adam Wainwright is by far the best pitcher in this series. But he can't take the ball for St. Louis seven times. The criminally underrated Lance Lynn and John Lackey—who has been better than his Cardinals' numbers indicate (6.16 ERA, 1.58 WHIP)—give the Cardinals a solid top three.
Kansas City doesn't have a Wainwright to lean on, but James Shields is a nice consolation prize. Along with veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas and up-and-coming youngsters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, the Royals rotation matches up well with St. Louis.
Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore made a shrewd move leading up to the deadline, adding veteran reliever Jason Frasor to an already strong relief corps. Frasor is one of six key Royals relievers with a sub-3.00 ERA, a group that includes all-world setup man Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland.
The bullpen in St. Louis has been bolstered by the rebirth of Pat Neshek, but flame-throwing closer Trevor Rosenthal hasn't been his dominant self for much of the season. A wild card to keep in mind could be the currently injured Michael Wacha, who if he is able to return from injury, won't have time to build up his arm strength and reclaim his spot in the rotation this season.
The Royals. Crazy as it may sound, Kansas City's pitching staff and superior outfield defense makes them a far tougher opponent for St. Louis than the Cardinals are for the Royals.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Angels and Dodgers have met 100 times since 1997, with the Angels winning 57 of those games, but never have they gone head-to-head in the playoffs. The Dodgers did their part this season, however, taking three-of-four from the Halos for their first series win since 2006.
If you were looking for a way to raise the stakes in the Freeway Series, you've found it.
Catcher: A.J. Ellis has been a disappointment on both sides of the plate for the Dodgers while the Angels' two-headed tandem has the bat (Chris Iannetta) and the pitch-framing ability (Hank Conger) that teams hope to find in one neat little package.
First Base: Somewhere along the way, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols became the same player, both at the plate and in the field.
Sure, Gonzalez has a slight edge defensively, while Pujols offers a bit more power, but for all intents and purposes, they are on an equal plane.
Second Base: Equals defensively, it comes down to what you value more: Howie Kendrick's run-producing ability or Dee Gordon's game-changing speed. With neither Conger nor Iannetta particularly good at controlling the opposition's running game, that speed could become a major factor.
Third Base: Juan Uribe is the better all-around third baseman, but it's foolish to discount the Angels' David Freese when the playoffs roll around. It was only three years ago that Freese took home MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. That said, it was three years ago, which is an eternity in baseball.
Shortstop: With all due respect to Erick Aybar, who is a fine shortstop, a healthy Hanley Ramirez is on a completely different level despite his defensive shortcomings.
Outfield: You've got two of the game's most exciting players in Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout and a pair of former All-Stars, Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton, both in search of their former glory.
Kemp looks far closer to ending his search than Hamilton does, and Hamilton found himself called out in the press by his manager, Mike Scioscia. Per Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News:
Josh is not the same that we saw when we were looking at the other dugout. He’s not in the batter’s box with the confidence we know he has. He’s not attacking the ball like he can. He’s working hard to try to find it …but we need him to do what he’s capable of doing, or close to that.
Hamilton agreed with his manager's assessment, as he told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins, but would it surprise anyone if the 2010 AL MVP went on an October tear? He's the X-factor in all of this.
While Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun is underrated, the Dodgers have the depth advantage, with Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke all capable of contributing.
Advantage: Dodgers (Unless Hamilton is able to find his mojo)
Designated Hitter: Ethier isn't having a fantastic season by any means, but he's still a more dangerous hitter than Brennan Boesch or Colin Cowgill, who have been splitting time at DH for the Angels.
Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards and C.J. Wilson form a formidable top three for the Angels, who would likely turn to rookie Matt Shoemaker if they needed a fourth starter. But they're no match for the Dodgers top three of Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet.
While the Dodgers were content to stand pat with a mediocre bullpen as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, the Angels were busy revamping theirs.
The additions of left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, former All-Star closer Jason Grilli and current All-Star closer Huston Street turned one of the team's biggest weaknesses into a legitimate strength.
The Dodgers have their own share of former All-Stars and recognizable names, including Brandon League, Chris Perez and Brian Wilson, but after closer Kenley Jansen and setup man J.P. Howell, it's hard to find a reliable reliever among the group.
The Dodgers. Despite the presence of Mike Trout, the best all-around player in baseball and quality arms on the pitching staff, the Angels lack the impact bats in the lineup—and the depth—to keep pace.
Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants
In 1989, the last time Oakland and San Francisco met in the World Series, the earth moved.
Hopefully Mother Nature will be far more calm as the Bay Bridge Series continues, 25 years later, in the second Fall Classic meeting between these longtime rivals.
Catcher: Derek Norris has been the more productive player this season, but Buster Posey hasn't exactly been useless when he steps to the plate. Part of me wants to give the nod to Posey based on his resume, but to do so would be to discount Norris' fantastic season.
First Base: There are legitimate concerns about whether Brandon Belt will be able to return to action for the Giants this season as he continues to battle post-concussion symptoms.
That's left the Giants with the uninspiring platoon of Travis Ishikawa and Adam Duvall, which trails the only slightly more inspiring platoon that Oakland employs at the position with Stephen Vogt and Nate Freiman.
Second Base: It's been a fluid position for both teams this season, neither one delivering superb results. Oakland has gone largely with a three-headed platoon of Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto and Eric Sogard while Joe Panik and Matt Duffy are holding things down in San Francisco.
Advantage: A's (Only for the experience that both Callaspo and Punto bring to the table)
Third Base: A pair of All-Stars at the hot corner makes for the toughest matchup of the series. Both Pablo Sandoval and Josh Donaldson are run producers at the plate and Gold Glove-caliber defenders, but Donaldson is a bit more productive—and a tad more impressive with the glove.
Shortstop: It comes down to which tool you consider to be more valuable: Jed Lowrie's bat or Brandon Crawford's glove?
Outfield: Mike Morse, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence are all productive outfielders at the plate, but the trio is lacking when it comes to the defensive side of things.
Oakland's outfield trio of Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick is the superior defensive group and can more than hold their own against the Giants bats.
Designated Hitter: Assuming Belt were able to return, the Giants would likely use him as the designated hitter in order to keep him out of harm's way as much as possible. John Jaso has been productive for the A's as a part-time DH while Jonny Gomes is no stranger to postseason heroics.
Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong and a somewhat resurgent Tim Lincecum give the Giants a quality playoff rotation. But not having Matt Cain available is a major problem.
No team has improved its rotation over the past six weeks or so than the A's, who added Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija to a rotation that already had two of the game's best arms in Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. With Jesse Chavez and Jason Hammel in reserve, the A's have no shortage of arms from which to choose.
Two of the best bullpens in the game would make for a thrilling World Series as each game headed into the late innings. Both teams have changed closers at least once during the season, with Santiago Casilla replacing Sergio Romo in San Francisco and Sean Doolittle ultimately replacing Jim Johnson in Oakland.
San Francisco's relievers have the postseason experience, but it really comes down to which closer you trust more: Casilla or Doolittle?
I'm taking Doolittle for his strikeout ability, but you really couldn't go wrong with either one.
The A's. They've been baseball's best team all season long, and there's no reason to think that's going to change once October rolls around.
Want to talk baseball? Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR