MLB: Examining The Likely Playoff Field

by Power Sports

With only one week left in the regular season, this will be my final monthly “check-in” (article) on 2021 Major League Baseball. I thought now would be an opportune time to take a special look at the teams we know will be competing in the playoffs. 

In the American League, it’s been pretty obvious for awhile now who would be claiming the respective pennants. You’ve got Tampa Bay (East), Chicago (Central) and Houston (West). 

Unless they lose the rest of their regular season games, Tampa Bay will set a new franchise record for regular season wins. They have already set a new record with 14 series sweeps this year. But before sweeping the Marlins this past weekend, they were actually below .500 in September. They are just 3-3 vs. the White Sox this season and 1-2 vs. the Astros, who they face this week. I think it’s worth mentioning the Rays dominated both the Orioles (18-1) and Interleague Play (15-5) this season. Other than that, they are “only” 11 games over .500 against everyone else. I bring all this up because I think this team is ripe to be upset in the LDS as the team that wins the AL Wild Card game is likely to be a division rival that is quite familiar with them. 

Now the Rays are tied for the most home wins (52) in all of MLB and - barring a complete collapse this week - they will have home field advantage in the AL portion of the playoffs. So that could be their saving grace. The key to their success at Tropicana Field is they only allow 3.2 runs per game there. Not to be dismissed is the fact they average a MLB-high 5.7 runs per game on the road. That’s needed as the number of runs they allow per game rises to 5.1 when away from home. No team has a higher percentage of Overs on the road than do the Rays. 

The Rays are 40-19 in day games and 19-4 as a favorite of -200 or more. Those situations will not arise much moving forward.

Based on their 40-41 road record, you’d think it would be imperative for the AL Central Champion White Sox to finish with the second best record in the AL and thus have home field advantage in the LDS. But something interesting that I found is that the Sox have actually outscored their opponents by a fairly comfortable margin when on the road this season (4.7 to 4.1 per game). So there could be some value with this team on the road come playoff time. They are just 2-5 against the Astros, who they will likely face in the LDS. Entering Tuesday, the White Sox are 2.5 games back of the ‘Stros in the race to see who gets home field advantage in that series. 

As of press time, Houston has yet to officially clinch the AL West. But they do have the distinction of having the top overall run differential in the American League (+205). If I were a betting man (and I am!), then I’d make the Astros the favorites to represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series. Right now, Houston is the highest scoring team in all of baseball and their home/road split is a lot more consistent than the Rays, who are the second highest scoring team. 

The Astros have a better record in night games compared to the Rays and White Sox as well. 

As for who will get the two Wild Card spots in the AL, that’s going to come down to the wire. I’ll continue to cite Toronto’s run differential (+172) as proof they “deserve” to be in while also citing Seattle’s run differential (-52) as a reason they don’t deserve to make it.

Now we turn to the National League. The teams with the two best records in all of baseball - the Giants and Dodgers - both reside in the NL West, so one of them is going to be forced into a one-game playoff, likely against a Cardinals team that is on the longest win streak MLB has seen in four years (16 straight entering Tuesday). What a scary proposition that is! 

For what it’s worth, I believe the Dodgers are the favorites to repeat as World Series Champs. Beating this team over the course of a five - or seven - game series is going to be very difficult. The Dodgers have been underdogs in only two regular season games! Now anything can happen in a one-game scenario, if they were to end up as a Wild Card. Like the Rays, the Dodgers have really beaten up on the bad teams on their schedule, going a combined 42-9 vs. the D’backs, Rockies, Pirates and Nationals. They are just 4-2 vs. Atlanta, 4-3 vs. St. Louis, 1-3 vs. Milwaukee and 9-10 vs the Giants.

The Giants have been the most profitable team to bet on this year at +42.6 units. They have the most road wins with 53. It’s interesting they’ve been underdogs in 54 regular season games, a far cry from how linesmakers have viewed their rivals in LA. Against the four other likely NL playoff teams, the Giants are just 18-20 though. There is no doubt that San Francisco would be the underdog, even with home field advantage, in a potential LDS showdown with the Dodgers. I’d be looking to go with LA if that comes to fruition.

Milwaukee has phenomenal starting pitching and could be the darkhorse in the Senior Circuit. It’s curious how much better the Brewers have been on the road (49-26) than at American Family Field (45-36). Unlike the White Sox road record, there’s really nothing misleading about the Brew Crew’s home mark. In fact, they are probably a little bit lucky to even be nine games over .500 at home considering they allow the same number of runs per game that they score themselves (4.3). They’ve allowed by far the fewest number of runs on the road in all of baseball.

Atlanta also has a better record on the road than at home. Incredibly, that would be the case with four of the five likely playoff entrants in the NL. Now the Braves must first clinch the NL East, a race they can put to bed by taking out the second place Phillies this week in a three-game series. Given the respective run differentials, it’s clear to me that the Braves are the better of those two teams.

St. Louis, despite its franchise-record win streak, will be a huge dog to either the Giants or Dodgers in the NL Wild Card Game. But, as I said earlier, anything can happen in a one-game scenario. They’ve been competitive with both of those teams this year. 

See you in October!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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