c/o CBS Sports

c/o CBS Sports

162 games flew by. The field was set, the wild card games were certainly wild, and now only eight teams remain in contention for the MLB playoffs. In contrast to many other seasons in recent memory, 2021 has seen a fairly even and mixed playing field.

We’ll start with the Giants and the Rays, the two front-runners in their respective leagues. Both smaller market teams, Tampa Bay and San Francisco exceeded expectations this past spring and summer. Tampa Bay has the obvious weakness of an inexperienced pitching staff, but their lineup depth and surprising offensive prowess could carry them past the first round. The mid-season addition of young stalwart Wander Franco bolstered the already powerful top of the lineup. The Giants could similarly make a run through October. Honestly, the odds are high that the winner of the Giants–Dodgers matchup will go on to the World Series. The Dodgers have a four-headed monster of a pitching rotation that will make for a very exciting matchup against the savvy veterans (and Kris Bryant) of the Giants’ starting lineup. Don’t discount the Giants’ pitching staff either, who could easily sway the series.

The Brewers and Braves have a less anticipated series, but an interesting one nonetheless. The Braves snuck into the playoffs from a weak NL East, but hit tons of home runs, and finished third in the league. The starting infield for the Braves is rock solid, with Freeman and Riley looking especially dangerous in clutch situations. However, Zach Kram of “The Ringer” believes that the pitching abilities of the Brewers (bullpen and starting rotation) could carry them past any of the lineups in the National League.  In an era of baseball where strikeouts and home runs reign supreme, and a starting shortstop can retain his spot while batting .220, a postseason with a plethora of 1–0 and 2–0 games is very feasible.

The White Sox are the American League counterpart of the Brewers, with a fairly deep pitching roster that performed above expectations during the regular season. Besides Jose Abreu, though, the White Sox have few players with the necessary October instinct. It’s hard to see them making an exciting run. That leaves the last two teams of the East: Houston and Boston.

My prediction is that the Red Sox and Astros will face off in the ALCS, and the winner will win the World Series. It’s easy to envision the success that both teams could have in these playoffs and the playoffs of years to come. Sure, there will be short starts and bullpen mishaps, but both of these franchises have been at the top of the league for the past five years, and come into the 2021 playoffs with composed lineups of young stars (Rafael Devers, Yordan Alvarez), perennial All-Stars (J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve), and backbone-type players like Carlos Correra and Xander Boegarts (a great shortstop battle) who have been with the teams for years.

Whatever happens this October, fans should be prepared for changes to come in MLB baseball. There have been whispers around the league about a possible 14-game playoff slated for the next season, which would change the approach of many teams during the regular season. With the eight-team playoff, the majority of the baseball clubs in the MLB have already discounted their seasons by early September. The trade deadline has become almost NBA-esque with trades like Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers and Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees. The difference in who becomes the MLB champion could be the player that a team like the Rays couldn’t afford because of their small market. The 14-game playoff would widen the field to a huge degree, as well as eliminate the wild card drama that ensues at the end of the season. Teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, who just missed the wild card, would have a chance to capitalize on end-of-season success, instead of sourly having to wait until next season.

To every fan out there, just remember that 50 years ago there was just a World Series with no ALDS or NLCS. Baseball will continue to change and adapt over the years as America’s greatest pastime grows older than time itself. Some things, however, will always stay the same. The Yankees will always be villains (and have a special place in my heart), the Orioles will always be horrible, and the Astros will continue to find ways to cheat.

Lewis Woloch can be reached at lwoloch@wesleyan.edu

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