MLB Playoff power rankings, World Series odds: Pitching-rich Cleveland Indians are team to beat

By Jack Magruder, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 2, 2017 at 10:33 AM
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PHOENIX -- In baseball's season of abundance, one thing became abundantly clear.

The Cleveland Indians are the team to beat this postseason.

A year after coming up short in extra innings against the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, the Indians have the two-way strength to break their own less-celebrated title drought, which stands at 69 years since the 1948 team beat the Boston Braves in six games.

Cleveland's rotation is strong and deep, led by top American League Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber. Infielder Jose Ramirez is having such a breakout year that second baseman Jason Kipnis has been tried in center field. Edwin Encarnacion hit his stride in the second half, as usual, and there is always Andrew Miller and a deep bullpen.

The Indians may not have the best record coming in -- the Los Angeles Dodgers do -- but that means little. Since 1990, only five teams with the best regular-season record have won the Series, although it has happened four times in the past 10 years -- the Boston Red Sox (twice), the New York Yankees and last year's Cubs.

The playoffs will be something special if the games can build on a regular season of plenty.

Major league teams hit a season-record 6,105 homers -- pitchers would like you to remember that the seams on the ball were lowered this year, leading to less wind resistance. Forty-one players hit 30 homers, and each playoff team save Boston has at least one. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies have three apiece.

Three teams won at least 100 games in the regular season, only the sixth time that has happened.

While Cleveland appears stacked, there are plenty of contenders. And do not discount wild-card entrants Arizona, Colorado, the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins. The winner will have momentum moving forward.

Two wild-card teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, met in the 2014 World Series. The Cubs made the National League Championship Series after winning the wild-card game in 2015, and Toronto played in the AL Championship Series after winning the no-Zach Britton wild-card game against the Baltimore Orioles a year ago.

Here are the playoff teams ranked from No. 1 to No. 10 in terms of their chances of winning the World Series:

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (102-60)

No one is hotter than Cleveland, which won 33 of its last 37, a stretch that began with an AL-record 22-game winning streak. Kluber, last year's postseason star, is likely to claim his second Cy Young Award. Carlos Carrasco is a strong No. 2 starter after missing last year's playoffs because of injury, and Trevor Bauer is 9-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his past 13 appearances. The Indians got plenty of offensive production from Encarnacion (38 homers), Francisco Lindor (44 doubles, 33 homers) and Ramirez (56 doubles, 29 homers, 17 stolen bases).

No. 2 Washington Nationals (97-64)

The Nationals are stacked. Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman rank in the NL's top 15 in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and Bryce Harper would be second had he not missed six weeks with a knee injury. Leadoff man Trea Turner steals bases. Defending NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez ranked Nos. 2, 3 and 5 among the league's ERA qualifiers, and general manager Mike Rizzo's retooled bullpen led by Sean Doolittle seems just fine. Scherzer was pulled from his Saturday start because of a hamstring cramp, a concern. Harper has not played a full game since his Aug. 12 injury.

No. 3 Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58)

The Dodgers were on pace to win 116 games during mid-August before careening into a course correction in which they lost 16 of 17. Clayton Kershaw tops a staff that led the NL in ERA, and Cody Bellinger will be NL Rookie of the Year despite spending the first three weeks in the minors. Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Rich Hill, when right, make for a rotation that is capable of winning any game, and Kenley Jansen (41 saves) has been the most reliable closer in baseball.

No. 4 Houston Astros (101-61)

The Astros had a torrid start, winning 67 of their first 100 games, and they can hit. Houston led the majors in runs, and it comes at opponents fast with George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the first four spots in the lineup. Top MVP candidate Altuve had his fourth consecutive 200-hit season, and Springer belted 34 homers. Houston's key is getting enough starting pitching, and newcomer Justin Verlander has been a big help in that regard. He won all five of his starts since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 31, giving up four earned runs in 34 innings (1.06 ERA).

No. 5 Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69)

No one made a better trade-deadline acquisition than D-backs general manager Mike Hazen, who acquired J.D. Martinez from Detroit in mid-July. Martinez produced 29 homers and 65 RBIs in 62 games with Arizona, another big bat to complement 30-homer guys Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray pitched well all season, and Patrick Corbin showed flashes of the form that made him a 2013 All-Star. Bullpen pieces Archie Bradley and Fernando Rodney helped rookie manager Torey Lovullo shorten games to seven innings.

No. 6 Chicago Cubs (92-70)

The Cubs are peaking. They won 15 of their last 19 and went 24 games over .500 since the All-Star break. Only Cleveland has been hotter. Defending NL MVP Kris Bryant had 14 RBIs in his last 16 games, and after a slow start, Kyle Schwarber hit 13 homers since Aug. 6 in a lineup that includes six 20-homer guys. The starting pitchers have a 3.36 ERA since the All-Star break, also second only to Cleveland in the majors, but rotation questions remain.

No. 7 Boston Red Sox (93-69)

The Red Sox do not have a cavalcade of great individual numbers -- Mookie Betts leads the team with 24 homers, 102 RBIs and 26 stolen bases, and Chris Sale is the only starter with an ERA under 3.30 -- but consider this: Boston has won 20 games in which it trailed after five innings, and it has a major-league-high 17 victories when tied or trailing after eight innings. That sort of resolve, along with a bullpen now featuring erstwhile starter David Price as well as closer Craig Kimbrel, can go a long way in a postseason setting.

No. 8 New York Yankees (91-71)

Behind rookie masher Aaron Judge and a stacked bullpen, the Yankees won 20 of their last 28. Judge, the certain AL Rookie of the Year, set a rookie record with 52 homers. He leads an offense that also features Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. After trading away closers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller and watching them thrive in the World Series a year ago, general manager Brian Cashman restocked his 'pen -- Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle -- and manager Joe Girardi is not afraid to use it.

No. 9 Colorado Rockies (87-75)

Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds put the bombs back on Blake Street this season, combining for 104 homers and 331 RBIs. Each had at least 30 homers, and Arenado recorded his third straight 130-RBI season while flashing Gold Glove hand/eye skills. First-year manager Bud Black worked wonders with his young rotation -- four rookies made at least 16 starts, and youngsters Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson combined for 35 more. Closer Greg Holland had a monster first half before scuffling in August. He was better lately.

No. 10 Minnesota Twins (85-77)

Paul Molitor will win the AL Manager of the Year award by acclamation as the Twins became first team since Tampa Bay in 2008 to reach the playoffs after having the worst record in baseball the previous year. The Rays made the World Series that year. It is a good thing the Twins hung onto Brian Dozier (34 homers) last winter. Miguel Sano (28 homers) returned Friday after missing six weeks due to a left shin stress reaction, and rising star Byron Buxton came into his own the last two months. Ervin Santana won 16 games and tied Kluber for the major league lead with five complete games and three shutouts.

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Topics: Andrew Miller, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion, Max Scherzer, Zach Britton, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Mike Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Kenley Jansen, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, Fernando Rodney, Torey Lovullo, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Aroldis Chapman, Brian Cashman, David Robertson, Joe Girardi, Mark Reynolds, Paul Molitor, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Ervin Santana, Cy Young, Manager Joe Girardi, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, P. Diddy
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