What To Expect In This Year’s MLB Playoffs

With September coming to a close, it’s hard not to get excited for everything October brings.  It’s time to stock up on all the candy we want, enjoy a long Columbus Day weekend, and gett ready for Halloween.

Most significantly for baseball fans, October brings a month-long marathon of walk-off wins, storylines worthy of culminating seven months of action-packed drama, and and all the thrilling game sevens that make up the MLB Playoffs.

As all thirty teams approach their 162nd game—with varying stakes and tension for each—our view of the ten teams who will get a shot at their 163rd is finally coming into focus.  The American League’s five teams are nearly certain; the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and the Cleveland Indians are likely to be the divisional winners, while the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees seem destined to meet in the Bronx for a Wild-Card matchup.  All year long, this league has been marked by extremes. Some teams, most notably the Baltimore Orioles, have put up historically awful records, while the Boston Red Sox have secured their spot as one of baseball’s best regular season teams of all time. Whether they can continue their dominance into the postseason remains to be seen.

The National League has been much more of a rollercoaster, and a lot of unexpected outcomes could still occur.  However, the most likely result is that the Atlanta Braves will be joined by our own Chicago Cubs—assuming they can hold off the surging Milwaukee Brewers—and either the Colorado Rockies or Los Angeles Dodgers from the tumultuous NL West as the divisional leaders.  The two Wild Card slots could still go to a number of teams, but they will most likely go to the loser of the race between the Cubs and Brewers and the second place team of the previously mentioned NL West or the St. Louis Cardinals.

No matter which of these teams on the border makes the playoffs, the general consensus about the favorites to win is nearly set.  In the American League, the Boston Red Sox—led by two front-runners in the MVP race Mookie Betts and the newcomer JD Martinez—have spent all year convincing us not to bet against them; and their exciting comeback style, electric talent for huge plays, and humble yet passionate attitude make it hard to want to.  Still, Alex Bregman and the Astros can’t be counted out to defend their titles, the Yankees have a history of postseason drama against the Red Sox, the A’s have become scorching hot recently, and the Indians have dominated their division—though it is considered baseball’s weakness.

In the National League, the Cubs have a very serious shot at reclaiming their 2016 World Series crown.  A fall classic between the Cubs and Red Sox—which many are predicting would be a fantastic way to end a remarkable season: two teams with a legacy of postseason tragedy but significant recent success battling in the game’s greatest ballparks in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.  However, the Cubs, like the Red Sox, have many obstacles before they can make this a reality; their divisional rivals the Brewers and Cardinals will be just as threatening in the playoffs as the regular season, and they will also be facing an unexpected but well-deserved divisional champion in the Atlanta Braves.  The battle in the NL West has ensured that whichever team emerges—whether it be the Rockies, Dodgers, or Arizona Diamondbacks—will already be accustomed to high stakes.

No matter how many different predictions we make, how many different angles we look at, the only thing that appears to be certain is that something unexpected  will happen. And that’s what makes the postseason great; dominant teams from the regular season like the Red Sox, Cubs, and Astros often fall way short of expectations, teams that we didn’t even expect to see in the playoffs could make shocking late season runs, and new stars seemingly always emerge.  At this point, no matter how hard we root for our teams, the only thing we can really do is sit back and wait for the unexpected, and hope it is a blessing rather than a tragedy.