6 MLB Teams Designed for Deep Playoff Runs
October is about pitching.
It's about front-line starters like Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw and airtight bullpens like those of the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. Since teams are consistently facing off against the best pitching in baseball, October is also the time of year when lineups have to scratch out runs by any means necessary. Clubs have to be capable of scoring in a variety of ways, from clutch home runs to perfectly executed small ball.
What follows is a rundown of the six MLB teams who check all those boxes and are designed for deep playoff runs. The list includes three squads from the American League and three from the National League. The teams are ranked in order of how likely they are to actually pull off just such a run during the 2014 postseason.
6. Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners are far from a lock to make it to the postseason.
If the club does, the M's will be downright dangerous. It all starts with Felix Hernandez, whose name should already be etched on the 2014 AL Cy Young Award trophy. The right-hander recently reeled off a string of 17 starts in a row in which he allowed two runs or less. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that run set an AL record.
The dominance of the starting rotation doesn't end with King Felix, either. Seattle also has Hisashi Iwakuma and out-of-left-field ace Chris Young to round out one of the most formidable top threes in baseball. The bullpen has also been lights out, as the Mariners relievers own a 2.37 ERA, which is the lowest mark in MLB.
The only reason that Seattle remains stationed in the No. 6 spot in the rankings is that the club's offense has been uninspiring. The Mariners have the worst OPS in all of baseball, which could prove to be a major problem in October.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers have the most imposing offense of any contender in the NL.
Carlos Gomez, who is one of the best all-around position players in baseball, anchors the attack. With 29 doubles and 21 home runs, the 28-year-old has all kinds of power. Plus, with 28 steals, Gomez also has the ability to impact the game on the basepaths.
While Gomez's numbers are impressive, what makes the Brewers such a postseason threat is that the team gets production from all over the lineup and off the bench, as well. Gomez is just one of five players on the club who owns an OPS north of .800, and that doesn't even include Khris Davis, who has hit 20 home runs.
The Brewers are the only team that make the grade primarily based on offense, but it's not as though the team is devoid of pitching talent. Admittedly, the bullpen has been a minor weak spot for manager Ron Roenicke's club. However, starters like Yovani Gallardo and Mike Fiers have been pitching their best right as the playoff chase hits the stretch drive.
4. Oakland Athletics
The second half of the season hasn't gone to plan for the Oakland Athletics.
Still, it's difficult to find a more dominant potential playoff rotation in the entire AL than the group of pitchers assembled in Oakland. Two-time World Series champion Jon Lester headlines a four-man staff that could also include Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija. Lester has an incredible postseason resume with a 2.11 ERA in 13 games.
The team's bullpen has also been one of the best in baseball. Even with closer Sean Doolittle shelved, manager Bob Melvin still has plenty of top arms to choose from. Luke Gregerson has owned the eighth inning and lefty Fernando Abad has allowed just one inherited runner to score all season.
The big concern for the Athletics is whether the team can score enough runs. Since jettisoning Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox, the club's lineup of platoons has looked flat-out weak.
However, the team does have a knack for scoring runs at the perfect moment. Oakland has won 12 games this year when trailing after seven innings, which leads all of baseball, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The ability to put together late rallies will be crucial if the Athletics make their way into October.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw has been a scheduled win for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014.
With a 16-3 record and a 1.73 ERA, the left-hander has been dismantling the NL. Kershaw has been making everyone he faces look like Triple-A hitters, as he has held the opposition to a .522 OPS.
The starter isn't just the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, but he could also scoop up the MVP trophy. His manager, Don Mattingly, already gave his vote for Kershaw, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
"I do think it needs to be one of those years where it seems like it's almost extraordinary, and it seems to be one of those years."
The problem for the Dodgers is that the club faces some serious question marks after Kershaw. Zack Greinke has been dealing with an elbow problem and Hyun-Jin Ryu just came back from the disabled list.
There's also no avoiding the mess that the bullpen has been. The team's group of relievers ranks No. 20 in baseball in terms of ERA.
At the plate, there's a lot to like about the Dodgers offense. The lineup is loaded with stars, but Los Angeles has also been getting considerable production from some unheralded names. Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner stand out in particular.
If the Dodgers can get Greinke and Ryu fully healthy before the playoffs, the team will climb even higher up the list in these rankings.
2. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are rolling along.
The AL Central club won the most games of any team in baseball in August, and have pulled in front of the Detroit Tigers in the division. With an underrated starting staff and the best bullpen in the big leagues, the Royals are primed to make some noise in the postseason.
It's been pretty much a done deal if Kansas City's starters hand off a lead to the team's relievers. The Royals have lost just once while leading after the seventh inning, as Rany Jazayerli of Grantland notes. Closer Greg Holland has been dealing in the ninth, but no one has been more impressive than Wade Davis. The right-hander hasn't allowed a run since June 25.
At the plate, the Royals certainly don't have much power, as the team ranks last in baseball in home runs. Kansas City does, however, have disruptive speed. The Royals lead the AL in stolen bases, and three players on the roster have racked up more than 20 steals. That means that Kansas City is perfectly set up to manufacture runs in low-scoring playoff game.
1. Washington Nationals
Nobody wants to face the Washington Nationals in October.
General manager Mike Rizzo built the team to succeed in the postseason. With Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark atop the rotation, Washington has three starters with sub-3.00 ERAs. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are also part of the playoff rotation conversation, but ultimately manager Matt Williams will have to leave one of those arms out.
On offense, the Nats' best attribute is that the club doesn't rely on any one bat. Denard Span sets the table for Washington, while Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond all supply the power.
The NL East leaders have also made a habit of producing late-game heroics. Earlier in August, the Nationals totaled five walk-offs in a six-game stretch. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Washington was the first team to accomplish that feat since 1986.
Note: All stats and videos courtesy of MLB.com.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.
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