The Cincinnati Reds were a common pick to win the NL Central this season, and while they likely won’t unseat the Cubs for the Central, they did punch their playoff ticket Friday night. They may have the most complete rotation in the National League this year behind Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray but Tyler Mahle has also pitched well enough to be included in a four-man postseason rotation.
Their offense is very much boom or bust though, they are currently 7th in home runs this year (90 home runs this season) but only the Rays and Brewers have struck out more than Cincinnati this season. Nicholas Castellanos and Jesse Winkler have both been great for the Reds this season, but they’ll need Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto to play closer to their career numbers to help balance the offense. But with starters like Bauer and Gray, the Reds don’t need tons of runs to win games – the Reds are a team nobody wants to face in the Wild Card round.
Houston’s pitching took a hit when Justin Verlander was officially shut down for the season, leaving Houston with 36-year-old Zach Grienke and Lance McCullers Jr as the only starters with postseason experience. Their offense hasn’t been terrible with four players with an OPS over .800 but outside of George Springer and his 14 home runs, there isn’t another hitter with double-digit longballs on the roster.
Losing the reigning 2019 Rookie of the Year Jordan Alvarez after just two games this season hurt their offense, but having proven postseason players in Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve could make them a surprise team in the American League. Trash cans or no trash cans, this Houston team is still one of the more talented groups in the postseason – don’t count them out.
There may not be a team in baseball that has more talent than the Cubs, but they’ve failed to get any reliable production from their core of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras this season. Their best offensive player this season has been Jason Heyward who has a 1.9 WAR and .870 OPS – both teams highs. Ian Happ (12 home runs, .862 OPS) has also been excellent this season after finally getting a chance to start every day in centerfield.
But it’s the Cubs starting pitching that’s carried them this season, with Yu Darvish continuing where he left off last season with a 2.01 ERA and is currently leading all NL pitchers in WAR at 3.0 this season. The bullpen was terrible to start the season but since August 1st the Cubs relievers have a 3.42 ERA and a 10.69 K/9 – which is the best in baseball. The Cubs offense needs someone like Bryant, Baez, or Rizzo to get on a hot streak if they plan on making another deep postseason run. It’s worth noting that Bryant was 3-8 with two home runs, one being a grand slam, in his final two games of the season.
Despite a 2-8 stretch over their last 10 games, the White Sox are one of the most explosive offense’s in baseball this year with the best team WAR in the American League this season at 12.3. No team in the AL has hit more home runs than the White Sox either with Jose Abreu looking like a legit MVP candidate. The White Sox’ young bats in Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez have both shown they can mash big-league pitching but are also prone to strikeouts.
The top of their rotation with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, who has a 1.99 ERA this season on the South-Side, have been excellent all season. But who manager Rick Renteria will throw in the following games is one of the few questions this team has but former top prospects Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning are solid options in a postseason rotation. Chicago was thought to be a year away from competing for a championship, can they handle the pressure of the postseason? We’re about to find out.