Around the Horn: MLB Wild Card round predictions

(Photo Courtesy of  Abbie Parr, Associated Press)

By Finley Rogan

We made it. After 162 games, October is here, and with it, playoff baseball. This is the second year with the new Postseason format, with two three-game wild card series in each league. With only two wins needed to advance, there will be no shortage of excitement. The winners will advance to the divisional series starting this weekend. Before we get there, this is my best attempt at predicting the wild card round.

Milwaukee Brewers (92-70) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78)

The Brewers enter October hot off of a great second half of the season. They coasted to the NL Central title, despite the division being tight for most of the season. Milwaukee is frontlined by their dangerous starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and Brandon Woodruff. The Brewers pitching staff leads the MLB in WHIP, and ERA. The starting pitching is a strength, but the Brewers will also be able to lean on their bullpen, starring all-star closer Devin Williams. The Brewers are also excellent in the field, leading the MLB in OAA and UZR. The weakness for Milwaukee is the lineup, which only had a 93 wRC+ this season. Milwaukee needs to find offense if they are hoping to make a run. If the Brewers find success, it will be because the starters pitch deep into games, and their stellar defense holds.

For the Diamondbacks, just making it to the playoffs is a success. They lost more than 100 games in 2021. After quickly rebuilding, Arizona is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The D’Backs are led by Corbin Carroll, who’s already established himself as one of the best position players in the MLB this season. The rest of the lineup for Arizona is largely unimpressive, as the team ranks in the bottom half of most hitting metrics. Like Milwaukee, the D’backs are an elite defensive team (2nd in OAA). Arizona will need to rely on starter Zac Gallen, who has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. Past Gallen, the D’backs rotation is questionable. If Arizona wins, it will be due to their baserunning, pitching, defense, and of course, Corbin Carroll.

This should be an interesting series with some great pitching and defensive play. Milwaukee has the better rotation, manager, and defense. The Diamondbacks only advantage is their lineup. The Brewers inability to score should keep the series close, but I see them pitching well and scoring just enough to win.

The Pick: Brewers in 2.

Tampa Bay Rays (99-63) vs. Texas Rangers (90-72)

For the fourth time in five years, the Tampa Bay Rays will be playing in October. This team is no different from past Rays teams. They have a platoon-heavy roster, with guys you have never heard of dominating in the rotation and the bullpen. The Rays will be without stud starters Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffery Springs. If there is any team who can cope with these losses, it is the Rays. Tampa Bay has a premier offense that ranks second in wRC+ (118), fourth in wOBA, and fourth in runs scored. The Rays are also fourth in SLG%, OBP%, and stolen bases. The pitching staff isn’t any worse as Tampa Bay pitchers are first in FIP, and WHIP, and they are fourth in strikeouts. Barring a collapse, the Rays look destined for another run.

For Texas, playing games in the first round is a disappointment. The Rangers needed to win Sunday to clinch their first division title since 2016, and a first-round bye. They lost. Now, they have to travel from Seattle to Tampa Bay to play for their season. Luckily for Texas, they have a chance. This team has tons of issues, the bullpen is a disaster, and they have over 80 million dollars invested in injured starting pitchers. However, Texas can hit. With studs such as Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Adolis Garcia in the lineup, the Rangers finished fourth in wRC+, and third in runs scored. The lineup should give them a chance every single game. The Rangers pitching staff on the other hand is highly questionable. The Aroldis Chapman trade has been a disaster, and the entire staff had an ERA over 5 in the month of September. With injuries to Jacob deGrom, and Max Scherzer, Texas will lean on Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi to carry the rotation.

I think that Texas will find themselves ahead a couple of times this series, but the bullpen will once again fail to get outs and will struggle. Tampa will throw numerous different arms this series and will keep Texas guessing with their platoon-heavy lineup. The Rays have been here before, and in a three-game series, should have enough to beat Texas.

The Pick: Rays in two

Minnesota Twins (87-75) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

The Twins won fewer games than every other AL playoff team. Luckily for them, they played in one of the worst divisions in MLB history. Because they won the division, the Twins received the third seed in the AL and will host the opening round at Target Field. The Twins are better than many people perceive them to be. Starting with the lineup, the Twins are sixth in wRC+ and third in home runs across all of baseball. They are in the top ten of most other relevant offensive statistics as well. The lineup is led by Rookies Eddie Julien, and Royce Lewis, along with veteran shortstop Carlos Correa, and outfielder Max Kepler. Unlike past Twins teams, this group can pitch as well. The Twins lead the MLB in strikeouts and are fourth in WHIP. The front of the rotation is led by Pablo Lopez and veteran Sonny Gray. Minnesota also has a solid bullpen, with the flamethrower Jhoan Duran leading the way (He can throw 103 MPH by the way). The Twins have quietly been one of the best teams in baseball since the All-Star break. It is due to note that the Twins have lost eighteen straight playoff games, so it is safe to say that the baseball gods won’t be on their side.

Toronto snuck into the last wild-card spot, beating out the Mariners by just one win. The Blue Jays still have their core largely intact, with Vladamir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Kevin Gausman, and George Springer. The Jays are solid top to bottom, with a formidable offense, and a great overall pitching staff. Toronto has had to lean on their pitching this year, which is second in strikeouts, and finds itself top ten in WHIP, ERA, and FIP. The Jays have also allowed the third-lowest amount of runs this season. The offense has been good for the Jays this year, finishing seventh in wRC+. Unlike the Twins, the Blue Jays have not shown elite power, having hit 45 fewer home runs than their counterparts. The Jays should have a slight advantage in the bullpen, and have more lefty pitchers at their disposal than the Twins.

This should be one of the better series in the first round. Neither team has fully proven themselves as one of the league’s very best this season, but both have a high ceiling and could still make a run. We will be treated to some great pitching matchups as well, with both rotations fully intact entering October. I think this series will go three games, and because they have the better bullpen and more recent postseason experience, I expect Toronto to sneak by.

The Pick: Blue Jays in three

Philadelphia Phillies (90-72) vs. Miami Marlins (84-77)

The Phillies enter October looking to defend their NL crown. They started slow, with their new $300 million shortstop Trea Turner beginning the season awfully. However, the Phillies had a great second half, going 34-23 since August. The Phillies have a top-10 offense this season, led by the same core as last year. The pitching staff is also good, but not great. The Phillies will go as far as their star players take them. If Bryce Harper and Trea Turner perform to their standards, the Phillies are very dangerous. All-Star pitcher Aaron Nola is the X-factor for Philadelphia. He had a down year for his standards but will look to return to elite form in October. The Phillies have also been one of the league’s best home teams this year, going 49-32 at Citizens Bank Ballpark.

The Marlins are one of the surprise teams from this season. After going only 69-93 last year, Miami made some key additions on offense and somehow made the playoffs. They are one of two teams in the postseason with a negative run differential and are missing two of their best starters, Sandy Alcantara, and Eury Perez. Miami is a very similar team to Milwaulkee, both have bad offenses coupled with elite pitching. The staff for Miami has been the bright spot of the season. They rank towards the top of the league in most categories and have struck out the fifth most batters. On offense, the Marlins struggle to score runs. For anything to happen at the plate this series, keep an eye out for NL batting champ Luis Arraez, deadline acquisitions Josh Bell and Jake Burger, and of course the exciting and youthful Jazz Chisholm.

This series would be much more fun if Miami had their top two starters. It will be incredibly difficult for the Marlins to continue their magical season. There might be a close game, but I think the Phillies will handle the Marlins easily, and will set up an NLDS rematch with the Atlanta Braves.

The Pick: Phillies in two