Returning to the normal 162-game schedule felt like a marathon after 2020’s 60-game sprint. That said, the 2021 season gave baseball fans much to be excited about. While we won’t see Shohei Ohtani in October, fans were able to witness him do something that hasn’t been done in over a century. Rising stars like Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Juan Soto will be entertaining to watch for years to come and are great for the sport of baseball. We were blessed with an incredible NL West race between the Giants and Dodgers all year long. And of course, the AL Wild-Card race gave us intense drama down the stretch. Now that we’ve reached the postseason, here are my MLB playoff predictions.
AL Wild-Card: Yankees at Red Sox
This is what we all wanted, right? After 162 games it comes down to this. Arguably the biggest rivalry in all of sports in a one-game sudden death. Doesn’t get any better than that. To make things even more interesting, both teams clinched their postseason berth on the final day of the regular season in what was a AL Wild-Card rollercoaster ride the last couple months.
With Cy-Young candidate Gerrit Cole on the mound and Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez out, all signs point towards a Yankees win. Keep this in mind, though: No more than a week ago, the Yankees swept the Sox in Boston, which I’m sure is fresh in the mind of Alex Cora’s club. Fenway will be absolutely rocking, and I expect the Red Sox to jump on Cole early and never look back.
Winner: Boston Red Sox
NL Wild-Card: Cardinals at Dodgers
The Cardinals are fresh off a 17-game winning streak before losing 3 of their last 5. Meanwhile, the Dodgers win 106 games and are rewarded with a win or go home wild-card game. Life is tough, man. With Max Scherzer on the mound for L.A., all the Dodgers need to do is grab an early lead, which I think they will against Adam Wainwright. Scherzer finished the year with the top WHIP in the NL (0.86) and the 2nd best ERA (2.46) and is 7-0 in his last 11 starts. I expect him to overpower a Cardinals lineup that is hitting just .211 over the last week.
Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
ALDS: Red Sox/Rays and White Sox/Astros
Kevin Cash’s Rays just keep winning, man. Despite suffering numerous injuries to the pitching staff, the Rays finished the year with the lowest bullpen ERA (3.29) and overall ERA (3.67) in the American League. They don’t lack pop in their lineup, either, finishing 3rd in the AL with 222 home runs and 5th with a .749 OPS. They’re clearly the more balanced team than the Red Sox, who will suffer a slight hangover after their dramatic wild-card win over the Yanks. With timely hitting and a bullpen loaded with talented arms, the Rays will win this series handily.
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1
The ‘Stros and the Southsiders is the divisional series I’m most looking forward to. In fact, I’m so torn on this series that I may very well change my mind as I’m writing this. These are very similar teams. Both have lineups that get on base at a high rate and cause nightmares for opposing pitchers. Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve lead a balanced Houston lineup that ranks 1st in the AL in batting average, 1st in on-base %, and 2nd in OPS.
Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu’s Sox aren’t far behind, ranking 4th, 2nd, and 4th in the same categories. Both teams also have a handful of starting pitchers with sub-4.00 ERA’s. In the end, there were two deciding factors that solidified my prediction: 1. The Astros get homefield advantage, and 2. The White Sox are just 27-29 against teams over .500, while the Astros are 45-32.
Winner: Houston Astros, 3-2
NLDS: Dodgers/Giants and Braves/Brewers
A divisional series between two teams with 213 combined wins is unheard of. When you include the fact that this is one of the biggest rivalries in baseball, that makes it even more intriguing. These two teams have the two best bullpen ERA’s in the majors, with the Giants at 2.99 and the Dodgers at 3.16. The starting rotations are lethal on both sides, led by Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, and Logan Webb for San Fran and Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias for LAD. The Giants surprisingly led the NL with 241 homers and a .769 OPS, while the Dodgers got on base at the highest rate in the league. You could pretty much flip a coin on this one, but my gut is telling me something special is happening in San Francisco this year.
Winner: San Francisco Giants, 3-2
Hats off to the Braves for winning the NL East despite Ronald Acuna’s tragic injury back in July. The Brewers recently suffered their own key injury, as reliever Devin Williams fractured his hand during Milwaukee’s NL Central clinching celebration. While I love the Brewers’ 3-headed monster of Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta, I worry about their bats. This is a lineup that finished dead last in the NL in batting average and 11th in OPS. On the flip side, the Braves are the more complete team. The rotation isn’t quite as dominant, but I the big bats of Austin Riley, Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies will prevail in this series.
Winner: Atlanta Braves, 3-1
If anyone can wreak havoc against this Rays pitching staff, I think it’s the Houston Astros. This is a lineup that makes contact and hits the ball hard at a very high rate. Lance McCullers, Luis Garcia, Framber Valdez, and an above average bullpen will be enough to slow down a Rays lineup led by Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows. After all that’s happened in Houston over the past few years, this feels like a revenge tour for them. They have all of the pieces to make it happen.
Winner: Houston Astros, 4-3
Unlike the Brewers, the Giants have a lethal lineup that will cause problems for a Braves pitching staff that is good, but not great. A balanced lineup led by Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Darin Ruf, and Kris Bryant, along with the best bullpen ERA in baseball, will be enough to send the Giants to the World Series.
Winner: San Francisco Giants, 4-1
World Series: Astros/Giants
With a potential Astros/Dodgers World Series that would spike up the ratings massively, the Giants feel like the perfect team to spoil that opportunity. All in all, this just feels like the Giants’ year. This was a team projected by most to be nowhere near the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West. So what do they do? Just go out and win 107 games, the most in franchise history. I think they’re far from done, and 3-4 weeks from now the San Francisco Giants will be your 2021 World Series champs.
Winner: San Francisco Giants, 4-2
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