Several MLB teams could make a surprising run in October.
The MLB season seems like it just began and now the playoffs are set to begin next week. The new format will feature 16 teams competing for the World Series and that means plenty of surprise contenders to choose from in the office pool.
10 teams have already clinched a playoff spot entering play Wednesday. That leaves six spots up for grabs and there is also the question of seeding to be determined in both leagues. The final five days should provide plenty of drama before we get into the best-of-three series to begin the postseason.
The shortened season has made it more difficult to determine the true nature of certain teams. Is a losing streak indicative of a collapse? Or is it just blown out of proportion because of the 60-game schedule? There are questions surrounding nearly every playoff team and a few also stand out as teams that should not be slept on when it comes to chasing a World Series title.
Keeping an eye on a few contenders
The Houston Astros are arguably the most intriguing team in baseball this season. The club has not won fewer than 100 games since 2017 and is now struggling just to stay above .500. However, the team is set to take the second spot in the American League West, barring a total collapse.
One would think the Astros are mentally prepared for any postseason format after making two World Series appearances in the past three years. But the absence of Justin Verlander looms large in a year that also saw Gerrit Cole sign in New York.
The real problems come on offense. Jose Altuve is slashing .215/.282/.314 and looks like a completely different player. Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman are also playing below expectations. Still, this is an experienced Astros team when it comes to postseason play. The pressure will turn up in October and fans will be expecting the lineup to improve when the games mean more. It is tough to count the Astros out until they fail in October.
The Cleveland Indians are another team having an odd season. An eight-game losing streak earlier this month seemed to show that the club was not a contender at all. Then came five wins in six games and the Indians also have two legitimate MVP contenders in Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber.
The issue for the Indians is consistent hitting. Once again, that narrative has been flipped this week as the team has scored at least five runs in three straight games. The past two games were wins over the first-place Chicago White Sox.
The lack of consistency makes the Indians a true wild card in October. Dominant performances from Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, and Zach Plesac could mean the offense only needs a few runs per game. Getting hot at the right time may be all it takes and the Indians could still enter the postseason with a division crown by finishing the week the way they have started it.
We switch leagues now to look at one of the best stories in baseball this season. The San Diego Padres are 34-21 and would be in first place in most divisions. Unfortunately, they happen to play in the NL West with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Padres have made the postseason for the first time since 2006 and have one of the top winning percentages in the league. Fernando Tatis Jr. has emerged as a legitimate star and is part of a lineup led by Manny Machado. Acquiring Mike Clevinger from the Indians was a huge coup for a team already sporting a plus-82 run-differential as of Wednesday afternoon.
The tournament-style season gave more teams a chance to compete. The playoffs begin next week and fans should keep a close eye on these three teams to piece it all together when it matters most.