The Kansas City Royals have been the class of the American League all season, but can they possibly reach the World Series again when their closer is headed for surgery, and their newly acquired ace is pitching like a fifth starter?
The Toronto Blue Jays could be the most dangerous team in the tournament, and no one has a more powerful offense, but when you’re relying on a 20-year-old closer, with an All-Star shortstop who hasn’t played a game in three weeks, how confident can you be?
The New York Mets certainly can scare the life out of anyone with their vaunted starting rotation, but if your ace spends more time talking about inning limits and pitch counts than performance, would you be comfortable?
The only certainty this October will be the uncertainty, with no clear-cut favorite, and no decisive underdog, and the only folks looking stupid will be the ones making their predictions.
I’ve got the Pittsburgh Pirates and Blue Jays in the World Series, but hey, this is coming from the same guy who made the worst forecast in baseball history: The Seattle Mariners would beat the Miami Marlins in the World Series.
So, yeah, might as well keep the tradition of ludicrous predictions alive.
This October, though, is different.
There are so many flaws, and so many glaring weaknesses in this playoff field, that there’s precious little separation from the best teams to the ones who’ll squeak in on the final day of the season.
You can make an argument for just about any team to win the World Series, turn around, and hear all of the reasons why they won’t survive the first round.
The team that was supposed to have that powerful rotation will be sitting home with everyone else when the playoffs start.
The Washington Nationals were mercifully eliminated Saturday.
There are six teams that have already qualified for the postseason, and two more knocking on the door -- the Dodgers and New York Yankees -- so why not pick the brains of the dozens of scouts and talent evaluators who are paid to exploit teams’ weaknesses.
The Cardinals: No team has had more impactful injuries, from everyone from ace Adam Wainwright and electrifying starter Carlos Martinez, to power hitters Matt Holliday and Matt Adams, to Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina.
They may be the most resilient team in baseball, but these injuries have crippled their depth. And now Molina has been ruled out the rest of the regular season with his torn thumb ligament, and it’s unknown whether he’ll be even able to play in the postseason. The Cardinals have a tenacious approach, and are fearless in crunch time, making them impossible to count out. Still, scouts believe this team may be fatigued, and question whether their injuries will prevent them from advancing past the first round.
The Mets: Sure, they've got a powerful rotation that could create havoc against the Dodgers in the first round. The trouble is that they're awfully young, their bullpen is soft, and their best pitcher, Harvey, is expected to be limited to one start a playoff series after already pitching 183 1/3 innings this season. The Mets' best chance to beat the Dodgers several scouts insist, is to gain the homefield advantage, and open at Citi Field. If they have to start in Los Angeles, facing Greinke and Kershaw in the twilight, their dream season could end in a hurry.
The Dodgers: It's hard to believe a team with a record $300 million payroll wouldn't have a reliable starter after Kershaw and Greinke. And no, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood are hardly reliable. Kenley Jansen is fine as the closer, but they're having fits finding relievers capable of maintaining that lead. And, oh, yeah, Yasiel Puig -- out since Aug. 27 with a hamstring strain -- still isn't playing and might not be on the postseason roster.
The Cubs: They migh be the X factor because of their youth and talent. They strike out too often, and their bullpen is too thin to be a prototype World Series team. And teams already are planning on pitching around All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Logic tells scouts that the Cubs are a year away from a World Series contender, but still, there's not a team who wants to play them.
The Pirates: They suddenly have emerged as the scariest team in the field. They have all of the components to reach their first World Series since 1979, particularly with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano pitching the best they have all season. Yet, they'll have to catch the ball, and they've struggled mastering that element, leading all of baseball with 117 errors. Their biggest key, scouts say, is first baseman Pedro Alvarez. They need that bat in the lineup, but coming with those 26 homers are those 21 errors. There won't be a worst defensive player in the playoffs, but his bat could help cover that flaw.
The Yankees: Their rotation could be the worst of any playoff team, power hitter Mark Teixeira is out and DH Alex Rodriguez is showing his age. If they have any chance of going deep, they'll have to rely on their bullpen, which has struck out an AL-record 573 batters, led by Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. It's hard to imagine the Yankees, with ace Masahiro Tanaka bothered by a hamstring strain, have staying power.
The Royals: The best overall team, scouts say. Certainly, they have the most balance. Wade Davis should have no problems moving into the closer’s role for Greg Holland, but it does take a valuable piece from their vaunted bullpen. Their fate, scouts believe, rests with the arm of Johnny Cueto. They acquired him simply for the month of October. He has to be the Cueto of old for them to return to the World Series, and not the guy who has gone 3-6 with a 4.99 ERA since his arrival -- including an ugly five game stretch, yielding a 9.57 ERA with 48 hits in 26 1/3 innings.
The Blue Jays: They have the most terrifying lineup, hitting a major-league leading 220 home runs. They'll match their ace, Cy Young candidate David Price, with anyone. Yet, with Roberto Osuna struggling of late in the closer's role and Tulowitzki still not knowing whether he'll be ready by the first round, there are plenty of concerns.
The Texas Rangers soon should be entering the playoff field, too, perhaps joined by the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels or Minnesota Twins. Hey, even the Cleveland Indians have an outside shot.
They all are flawed, and have plenty of weaknesses, but once they officially clinch a playoff berth, you know what?
They’ll fit right in.