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2021 MLB Postseason Preview

Date: October 11, 2021

By: Michael Bellifemini

The MLB postseason graphic is shown with a white background.

MLB.com

Note: Written on Oct. 5

After six action-packed months of regular season baseball, it is time for the playoffs to begin. Twelve teams will enter the postseason with the chance to raise the World Series trophy, so let’s see who’s made it this far and what to expect from each team in October.

1st Seed in the American League - Tampa Bay Rays (100-62) 

Two Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate during a MLB game.

David Butler II – USA TODAY Sports

Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the entire league and after trading away former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell in the offseason, the Rays have continued to dominate their competition under manager Kevin Cash.

The Rays boast a lineup including power hitters Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, Austin Meadows, and veteran Nelson Cruz, who was acquired in a trade with Minnesota before the deadline. The Rays’ rotation might not have a true ace, but they can throw several relievers at you, capable of pitching a couple scoreless innings.

After coming up short in last season’s fall classic, it's safe to say the Rays are hungry for redemption.

2nd Seed in the American League - Houston Astros (95-67)

Houston's Carlos Correa interacts with the crowd during an Astros game.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

This is Houston’s fourth AL West title in five years, and they are looking for their third AL Pennant since 2017.

Although Justin Verlander will not be on the mound for this playoff run, pitchers Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, and Luis Garcia have been solid starter options the whole season and most of them have playoff experience.

Houston’s lineup has most players back after their run to Game 7 of the ALCS, including Jose Altuve, impending free agent Carlos Correa, and this year’s AL batting title winner, Yuli Gurriel.

However, George Springer’s absence will be noticed, as his numbers are outstanding in October, but the breakout season of Kyle Tucker should have Astros fans optimistic for another chance at a World Series berth.

3rd Seed in the American League - Chicago White Sox (93-69)

The Chicago White Sox sit in the dugout during a MLB game.

Ron Vesely/Getty Images

We have heard about the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox talent for a few years now, and this season, it was on full display. The White Sox had the AL Central in control virtually from beginning to end, as they won the division for the first time since 2008.

Carlos Rodon was the star of the pitching staff this year, as he hurled a no-hitter to compliment his 2.37 ERA. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease provide the White Sox with top tier rotation depth and their back end of the bullpen has All-Stars Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel closing out games. Hendriks had 38 saves this season while Kimbrel has struggled since being traded from one side of Chicago to the other, so the time is now for Kimbrel to turn around his rough stint with the White Sox.

Chicago’s lineup mixes the veterans, like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal, with the youth starring players like Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Andrew Vaughn. At the top of the lineup, Tim Anderson will be sure to bring his swagger up to the plate to set up the power hitters behind him all postseason long. 

4th Seed in the American League - Boston Red Sox (92-70)

Two Boston Red Sox players hug during a MLB game.

Getty Images

It has been a while since we last saw the Red Sox in the playoffs, as they have struggled to make it back to October baseball ever since they won it all back in 2018.

The return of Chris Sale was a big morale booster down the stretch, but it will be Nathan Eovaldi taking the mound in the Wild Card game at Fenway. The lineup still features several members from the 2018 World Series team like JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez, but the absence of Mookie Betts and others like Andrew Benintendi and postseason hero Steve Pearce will be felt this time around.

However, the new sluggers in town have like Alex Verdugo, who was acquired in the Betts trade, Hunter Renfroe, Kike Hernandez, and Bobby Dalbec have fit into this team’s lineup nicely. The bullpen will be this team’s x-factor this October, as there has been no set closer on this team for the second half of the season which saw Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and Hansel Robles each pick up saves.

If Boston wants another deep postseason run to formulate this year, the bullpen needs to step up and shut the door on the opposition consistently.

5th Seed in the American League - New York Yankees (92-70)

Aaron Judge gives a high-five during a MLB game.

John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

It has been quite the roller coaster ride for the Yankees and their fans this season, as there have been points during this year that the Yankees have looked both dominant and lost on the field.

The ace of the team, Gerrit Cole, will take the mound tonight in the winner-take-all Wild Card game in enemy territory at Fenway Park, where the Yankees just swept the Red Sox a little over a week ago. Like Boston, their pitching staff has looked shaky at times this season both in the rotation and in the bullpen due to injuries and underperformance.

“The Bronx Bombers” need no introduction, as we know what Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and newly acquired Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo can do when they are hot and healthy. The Yankees won the AL Wild Card game in both 2017 and 2018 and have reached the ALCS twice in the past five seasons so recent history has shown that the Yankees are capable of going far on the AL side of the bracket as a division winner and a wild card team. 

1st Seed in the National League - San Francisco Giants (107-55)

Two San Francisco Giants high-five during a MLB game.

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

It's safe to say that I did not see this coming—the Giants’ hitting core turned back the clock, and San Francisco owned the best record in baseball.

Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt were the top three veterans that come to mind that had a career resurgence this season, as the Giants also got production out of unlikely pitchers both in the rotation and in the bullpen.

Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood both had solid campaigns, and Kevin Gausman had a career year as he will surely get consideration for NL Cy Young. The young hurler of the pitching staff, Logan Webb, also put up a breakout season, going 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA. The bullpen turned to veteran Jake McGee to close out games, putting up 31 saves and who could forget about Tyler Rogers and his wild submarine pitching windup, generating nasty breaking pitches as he put up an ERA under three over 80 appearances.

It has been seven years since the Giants won it all, and their record over this season shows that this is a prime opportunity to claim championship glory once again. 

2nd Seed in the National League - Milwaukee Brewers (95-67)

A Brewers player stands at home plate during a MLB game.

Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth season in a row, the Brewers will be a part of the postseason as they claimed their second Central title in this span.

Milwaukee has quietly had the best rotation in baseball, led by the one-two-three punch of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. This impressive pitching staff carries over to the bullpen, as Josh Hader is one of baseball’s best closers; however, the injury of Devin Williams is a huge blow to the bullpen as Williams was Hader’s elite setup man, manning the eighth inning.

The role of Devin Williams will most likely go to Brent Suter or Brad Boxberger, but he is not easy to replace. As for the lineup, Willy Adames completely turned around his slow start after being traded from Tampa Bay to the “Brew Crew,” and the other main trade acquisition Eduardo Escobar has also provided solid offensive production.

Christian Yelich has not had the same impact he did during his 2018 MVP campaign, but he is still a dangerous hitter who can spark an offense in the blink of an eye. 

3rd Seed in the National League - Atlanta Braves (88-73)

A Braves player runs and drops his bat during a MLB game.

Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t the way Atlanta hoped their season would go, but they still made it into the postseason after their fourth consecutive division title.

The biggest obstacle faced by the Braves over the course of the season was trying to replace their young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr, who tore his ACL in Miami back in July. The Braves responded by making trades for Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall, and they provided more power to an already stacked lineup that features Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Dansby Swanson.

The pitching was solid this season even without Mike Soroka, as Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Ian Anderson won a combined 37 games for Atlanta. In the bullpen, Will Smith has been inconsistent at times during the year but the acquisition of Richard Rodriguez has given him some help with big situations late in games. Relievers Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek also had great campaigns and will provide more help to the back end of the bullpen.

The Braves came up one game short of the fall classic last season and even though they have the least number of wins of any playoff team in the field this year, you know they are hungry and motivated to try and make it back and finish off a NL Pennant.

4th Seed in the National League - Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) 

Two Los Angeles Dodgers teammates high-five each other during a MLB game.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

I thought it was impossible for the reigning World Series champions to get any better this year, and then they went out at the deadline and brought in Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Those additions in late July, stunned the baseball world and added two more phenomenal players to an already stacked roster.

Julio Urias became the latest member of the 20-win club, as Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw put up solid numbers as usual. However, Kershaw left his last start with an injury so his postseason might be in jeopardy.

Aside from the NL batting champion Trea Turner, the Dodgers also find top-tier production from Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Mookie Betts, among others. However, the one player who has struggled mightily this season has been 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, but if he could turn his season around in October, the Dodgers should be the favorites to win it all and repeat as World Series champions.

Nevertheless, the Giants still beat them out for the division title, meaning that the Dodgers will host the winner-take-all Wild Card game against the hottest team of the last few weeks.

5th Seed in the National League - St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)

A St. Louis Cardinals player stands on a base during a MLB game.

Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

The Cardinals were hovering above .500 in the early days of September, and then they went on a franchise record 17-game winning streak to pull away from the rest of the NL Wild Card race. Cardinals legend Adam Wainwright has shown this season that he can still bring it, as he is set to face off at Dodger Stadium against another veteran pitcher in Max Scherzer.

The main strength for this team has been the lineup, which features young sluggers like Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Tommy Edman, and Dylan Carlson, mixed in with veterans Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Yadier Molina. If this Cardinals team gets hot again to start this postseason, St. Louis could be a sleeper pick to make a run all the way to the fall classic, completely turning the playoff field upside down. 

So there you have it, the 10 teams fighting it out for the World Series trophy have been set, and the talent level of these teams should make for an unforgettable month of playoff baseball. It’s time to play ball.

Michael Bellifemini can be reached at michael.bellifemini@student.shu.edu.

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