Playoff baseball is nearly here, with just a couple days of mostly inconsequential games this weekend. The Rockies have a 2 game lead over the Brewers for the second Wild Card spot and the Red Sox are 2 games up in the NL East over the Yankees as the two remaining races. The Rockies would have to lose both games and Brewers win both to force anything extra, and I think that won’t happen. Likewise the AL East race wouldn’t be about going home – but nobody ever wants to risk a one game wild card. That said I don’t see any changes in the standings there easy.
So is this what you expected? In many ways it is, but doesn’t mean some intrigue can’t be found. The Nationals opened the season as heavy favorites – then lost their big center field acquisition Adam Eaton in spring training. They also made the 2016 Giants bullpen look good. They ended up fixing the bullpen eventually at the end of July and though Bryce Harper had more injuries to prevent him from winning an MVP award, he and Stephen Strasburg will finally be playing together in the playoffs together and this team is very dangerous.
The Cubs took their time but did end up winning the NL Central with a rotation that doesn’t really scare anyway – but became the first team to win their division the year after winning the World Series since the Phillies in 2009. No team has won back to back World Series since the 1999-2000 Yankees and it is the first time the Cubs have made it to the playoffs three years in a row in 100 years.
The Dodgers look like they will finish with the best record in baseball a rough stretch in September where they lost 14 of 15 games. This also shows just how far ahead they were of everyone else heading into that stretch which also saw the Indians win 22 games straight and still not catch them in the battle for the best record. They do have the top payroll in the sport by leaps and bounds at $260M…but ask the Giants how their own $189M worked out this season or the Tigers and their $199M?
Arizona was a great story this year which I somewhat saw coming(predicting a second place finish) – and the acquisition of JD Martinez has to go down as one of the best mid-season trades of all time this side of Carlos Beltran with the Astros in 1999 or CC Sabathia with the Brewers. With Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation – this team can be really dangerous if they can get past that pesky one game playoff. What is remarkable about this team is they rank 20th in MLB payroll, lower than even the Twins among playoff teams at $118M. That is even more impressive considering Zack Greinke commands $34M and 28.66% of that total payroll. Yasmany Tomas is next on their payroll list(though injured) at $9M and potential NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt is only at $8.8M.
They’ll likely be going against the Colorado Rockies and first year manager Bud Black, who follows Bruce Bochy in taking a team to the playoffs his first year managing away from the Padres(Andy Green take note). This is the Rockies first playoff appearance since 2007 when they went all the way to the World Series and is exciting for a franchise that kept hearing the same refrain about a great offense and no pitching. They have young pitching – now the question might be if their offense is getting too old to build on for future seasons?
In the American League, the Astros(my pre-season World Series Champion pick) left little doubt about the AL West all season long. Getting Justin Verlander after the trade deadline in my mind might be the biggest move any playoff team made. There are so few pitchers who seem to have great stuff AND a way to will themselves to win. Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Jack Morris are some in recent memory and of course Madison Bumgarner is the new standard-bearer after what he did in the 2014 playoffs. I think Justin could be that guy – but I know Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber are looking to do the same for their teams this year.
Speaking of Corey Kluber and the Indians – what a second half these guys had! The fact that they went to 7 games in the World Series last year with just the bare cupboard of pitching they have this year and without Edwin Encarnacion AND without Jay Bruce shows how good this team is. Andrew Miller may not have to be as much a factor this year as he was last just because they have more than Kluber in the rotation and Trevor Bauer is staying away from drone’s.
The Red Sox might be on paper the least intimidating of all the playoff teams minus the Twins – and yet they are about to win the AL East. Whereas the other teams can power the ball out of the ballpark at will, the Red Sox are aggressive base runners and have great defense along with some great pitching. How it will pan out in the playoffs remains to be seen. The Braves of the 90’s/00’s never had a power pitcher like Chris Sale but position player-wise I can see a resemblance between this year’s Red Sox and the Braves. Quick reminder that they too are third in payroll at $222M.
The Yankees were a surprise to many being so good this year(I picked them for a wild card spot), and of course Aaron Judge’s emergence is a big part of that. The Yankees still did start the season at around $201M, with $25M of that going to a retired Alex Rodriguez and another $25M going to big CC Sabathia. Masahiro Tanaka seemed to be a liability, then in his last regular season start he goes out and strikes out 15. Nicely done.
The only playoff spot I did miss in the American League was the Twins, who seemed to give up themselves on a playoff spot and then win it in spite of themselves. The Twins payroll is just at $138M with Joe Mauer($23M) and Ervin Santana($9M) accounting for 25% of that total number. Two starting pitchers who are hurt (Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago) make up another 10% of the money. Instead, they have a slew of prospects who seem to be outperforming themselves at exactly the right time. They have a tall task to take down the Yankees in the one game playoff, but it should be fun.
It all starts Tuesday. Looking at payrolls and how they got there is fun – but once you start playing none of it matters anymore.