After a wild final night of the MLB season, the 2011 playoff teams are set. Now the question is who has the best chance to take home a World Series title? Here’s how I would rank the eight teams on the eve of the Divisional Series:
1) Milwaukee Brewers
This pick is going to surprise some people, but it is hard to argue against the Brewers in a short series. While they may not have four aces, like Philadelphia, their pitching matches up with theirs much better than anyone could’ve imagined.
While Zack Greinke is sporting an ERA that hardly appears to be ace-like (3.83), keep in mind that he has suffered from a .318 BABIP and 69.8% strand rate. He has shown a tremendous strikeout rate (10.54 K/9), great control (2.36 BB/9) and has a 2.59 ERA since the All-Star Break. Yovani Gallardo has been as good as anyone, especially over his last three starts, with 36 K over 20.1 innings. He finished the year with at 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and will take the ball in Game 1 of the playoffs. Let’s also not forget about Shaun Marcum, who has made the transition to the NL as expected, posting a 3.54 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
Throw in an offense that can match-up with any, led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and this team is primed to make a deep run into the playoffs. Their window could be extremely small, depending on what happens with Fielder in the offseason, and they have the opportunity to capitalize.
2) Philadelphia Phillies
Is there any doubt who has the best chance of running through the playoffs? We all know that pitching wins in October, so when you have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt it is hard to argue against you.
The scary thing is that, unlike the 2010 San Francisco Giants, the Phillies have a lineup that can out slug you as well, assuming everyone is healthy. That’s the real issue when it comes to Philadelphia right now. Chase Utley has not been the same player in 2011, Jimmy Rollins always appears to be banged up, Ryan Howard was recently forced to have a cortisone shot in his ankle and Hunter Pence missed some time late in the year. Would I bet against them? Of course not, but there are enough questions to keep them from the top spot.
3) Detroit Tigers
After the top two teams, there is a pretty sizable drop-off. There are questions up and down the list, especially in the rotations. So, when you have the best pitcher in baseball in 2011 it is hard to bet against you. We all know how great Justin Verlander has been. The question was always if they could find pitchers behind him to keep them in games. Enter Doug Fister, who has come in from Seattle and helped pick up the slack. If Max Scherzer can get on a roll, this could be as dangerous a team as there is.
4) New York Yankees
They are going to have to hope that they can out slug most teams, as the questions in their rotation are plentiful. Lucky for them, most of the other AL playoff teams have similar concerns. Their lineup gives them a distinct advantage and it is easy to see it carry them to the World Series.
Will that offense bring them a World Series title? If you get there anything can happen, but they will need someone to step up behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in order to get the job done. Does anyone have faith in A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia, though?
5) Tampa Bay Rays
Every time you want to write off the Rays, they come back and show how great of an organization they are. The roster underwent unbelievable changes from 2010 to 2011, yet they just continue to get things done. Now that they are in the playoffs, it is impossible to count them out. With James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson anchoring the rotation, they have the pitching to compete on any given night. Throw in the momentum they’ve built and it is hard to pick against them. They have the bats (Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton & Ben Zobrist have all been hot down the stretch) and the experience, which will go a long way. They are going to be a scary team to face.
6) Texas Rangers
A year after making it to the World Series, I’m just not sure that they have the pitching to repeat. While C.J. Wilson has been great, is there anyone else that you can slot in and count on? It’s great that they bulked up the bullpen, but if they can’t turn to it with a lead it’s not going to matter. Alexi Ogando is the real wild card. With the number of innings he’s thrown, I’m not sure you can depend on him at this point. If he was a viable #2 option, then they would likely be bumped up a spot or two. Unfortunately, without pitching that you can depend on, it is hard to produce October victories.
7) Arizona Diamondbacks
Making the jump from worst to first, there are a lot of questions in Arizona. Can their young bats continue to produce with the pressure on? Will they get anything from the rotation after Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson? Will anyone at the top of the order step up as a table setter? This is a team that is on the rise and could be a competitive force for years to come. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine them getting out of round one, especially taking on the Brewers (who have home field advantage).
8 ) St. Louis Cardinals
It was an unbelievable story that they made the playoffs and overcame the lead that the Braves had built. However, there are some huge questions hanging over them. Will Matt Holliday be able to play? Will the bullpen, which has been pieced together throughout the season, be able to produce? Aside from that, the starting rotation may be the worst of any of the playoff teams, especially with Chris Carpenter only able to go once in the first series (since he was forced into action on the final day of the season). When you have the best hitter in the game you always have a chance, but I’m not sure they have the overall talent to compete deep into October.
Who do you believe has the best chance of winning the World Series? How would you rank the 8 teams?