MLB

Weekly Top-10: World Series Contenders

Last week in the Fantrax top-10, we profiled 10 pitchers that could be affordable targets for your fantasy squad. This week we switch back to real life and look at the top World Series contenders this season.

You know the old saying, “Pitching and defense win championships.” When I was a youngster, I disagreed with that notion. My eight-year-old brain would think, “Well, you need to score runs to win games!” This might have been because I was eight during the infamous 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But I soon learned that even the most potent offensive teams can run into great pitching in the playoffs and falter quickly.

Good pitching is the one aspect that every team on this list shares. All 10 teams rank in the top-11 in team ERA. I didn’t base this list solely off that statistic, but that’s how it worked out. Teams without solid pitching always seem to fall short when it matters. Just ask the Baltimore Orioles.

The below 10 teams, as it stands today, have the best chance to be the last team standing in October.

Honorable Mention: Colorado Rockies (3rd in NL West) – Sorry, Colorado. Go get more pitching and then come talk to me.

10. Tampa Bay Rays (3rd in AL East)

The status quo for Tampa basically every year has been good pitching and mediocre hitting. Outside of Evan Longoria, there hasn’t been much offensive firepower at Tropicana field over the last decade or so. That hasn’t been the case this year. In addition to Longoria, Logan Morrison, Steven Souza, and Corey Dickerson have been having spectacular offensive seasons, which has been fueling Tampa’s recent climb up the AL East standings.

Overall, Tampa looks like a team good enough to be a wild card playoff entry, but a deep run seems unlikely. They’re a good team through and through, but they just don’t have enough firepower offensively or in the rotation to beat the other teams on this list.

9. Milwaukee Brewers (1st in NL Central)

If I’m right on the Cubs, then Milwaukee might not even make the playoffs. The Brewers’ success just doesn’t smell right. They have scored the sixth most runs and have the eighth best team ERA in all of baseball, but when you look deeper, it just doesn’t seem sustainable.

Basically everyone in the rotation is having the best season of their career. That’s wonderful, but none of them is considered a true staff ace. I’d go as far as saying none are true No. 2 starters, either. This staff, consisting of Chase Anderson (DL), Jimmy Nelson, Zack Davies, etc. are just a bunch of mid-rotation starters. They would be going into basically every playoff game at a disadvantage on the hill. That’s not going to get it done in the playoffs. The offense is legit, but this staff wreaks of regression in the second half.

8. New York Yankees (2nd in AL East)

As much as I love to see the Yankees fail, baseball is stronger when the Evil Empire is in contention. With all the young talent New York acquired over the last 12 months, it was only a matter of time before they became relevant again. However, not many in the industry had them back in the hunt this quickly.

The biggest reason for the quick ascent has been the behemoth patrolling right field at Yankee Stadium. I’m not going to waste your time telling you how good Aaron Judge has been this season. If you follow baseball at all, you already know he’s been a stud. What is going to determine how far the Yankees go this season is their pitching staff.

The progress from New York’s young starters has been promising, but this current staff isn’t going to get it done come October, especially with Michael Pineda now done for the season with an elbow tear. New York needs to add a top-of-the-rotation arm if they want to make a deep playoff run.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks (2nd in NL West)

It’s taken awhile, but I’m finally becoming a believer in this Arizona squad. Their offensive potential was obvious, but the pitching staff had several question marks entering the season. Those questions have been silenced, as Arizona has the second lowest ERA in the league, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a down 2012, Zack Greinke is back to being an ace-caliber pitcher, and both Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker have made great strides this season.

In addition to the strong offense and starting rotation, Arizona’s bullpen has been a bright spot, as well. I’d feel safer swimming in shark-infested waters than being a Diamondbacks fan watching Fernando Rodney and his 5.58 ERA try to close out games. Like every season, he’s probably going to lose the closer role at some point, but Arizona has plenty of other options that can step in and pitch the ninth.

6. Cleveland Indians (1st in AL Central)

While the rotation has been solid, Cleveland’s bullpen has been the real key to their success so far. There are six guys in this bullpen that have pitched over 30 innings this season and all of them have an ERA under 3.41. That must make Terry Francona’s job easy when he can turn to one of a half dozen arms and feel confident about it.

With the way this roster is set up, it will be difficult to beat Cleveland in a seven-game series. Mainly due to the fact that they could throw aces Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco at you four or five times a series. After coming so close last season, Cleveland appears poised to make another deep playoff run.

5. Chicago Cubs (2nd in NL Central)

If I say it enough times, it’s bound to be true sooner or later. The Chicago Cubs are going to get it going. A championship hangover was a good excuse for the first month or two of the season, but now we’re entering the second half of the season and the Cubs are still two games under .500.

The first area I look at as a reason for their struggles this season is their pitching. The Cubs are still 9th in team ERA at 4.10, but that’s almost a full run higher than their 3.15 ERA in 2016. Chicago did their best to help this staff by acquiring left-hander Jose Quintana from the White Sox on Thursday.

The Cubs offense has been a disaster as well. Only Oakland and San Diego have lower team averages than the Cubs’ .239 mark. With the talent on this team, that average is bound to rise substantially in the second half of the season. Having guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the middle of your order will certainly help. They just need others to pick up the slack. Yes, I’m looking directly at you and your .178 average, Kyle Schwarber.

4. Boston Red Sox (1st in AL East)

The post-David Ortiz era in Boston has been going smoothly so far. After early-season struggles, the Red Sox now sit comfortably on top of the AL East standings. This has been largely because of their strong starting pitching and bullpen. To start, Chris Sale has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball this season. He is on pace for an absurd 320 strikeouts this season. The last pitcher to have 320-plus strikeouts in a single season was Randy Johnson back in 2002.

The rotation behind him is finally beginning to hit its stride. The return of David Price was a huge boost to this team, especially with the struggles of 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. With Price back in the mix and Eduardo Rodriguez due back this weekend, Boston’s staff is going to be a huge asset in the stretch run. Add in the lights-out bullpen and Boston is going to be tough to beat in a playoff series. If Dave Dombrowski adds a power bat before the deadline, watch out.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (1st in NL West)

This is the ultimate regular season team. The talent is always there to rattle of 90-plus wins, but when the calendar turns to October, the Dodgers change from contenders to pretenders. The last time this storied franchise played in a Fall Classic was when Kirk Gibson rounded the bases on a busted leg and iconic broadcaster Vin Scully was a young man of 61 years of age.

Let’s start with the obvious. The man that heads this rotation is the best pitcher on the planet, and arguably one of the best pitchers of all-time. However, during the playoffs, Clayton Kershaw has been a different man. His regular season ERA is a video game-like 2.35, but balloons to mere mortal levels at 4.55 in the playoffs.

Backing Kershaw this year is 26-year-old lefty Alex Wood, who is having maybe even a better season than Kershaw at 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA. The Dodgers have a team capable of winning a championship. All they need to do is perform when it matters the most in October.

2. Washington Nationals (1st in NL East)

If it wasn’t for a disastrous bullpen, Washington would be No. 1 on this list. There’s a pair of three-headed monsters on this team. In the middle of the order is Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, and 2016 NL MVP Bryce Harper. All three players should be in or near the top-10 of the NL MVP voting at the end of the season. Just look at their numbers before the all-star break:

Bryce Harper: .325/.431/.590/1.021, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 69 runs scored;

Daniel Murphy: .342/.393/.572/.966, 14 HR, 64 RBI, 57 runs scored;

Ryan Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596/.969, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 52 runs scored.

That three-headed monster in the rotation has been Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez now that he decided to be good again. The rest of the NL East is junk, so the Nationals basically already have this division wrapped up. Any playoff opponent is going to have a hard time overcoming the talent on Washington’s roster. One team that I think can get past Washington is the Dodgers and their lefty-heavy pitching staff.

1. Houston Astros (1st in AL West)

All those years of tanking have finally begun to pay off. This Houston team is absolutely loaded on offense. They lead the majors in most offensive statistical categories, and in most of them, it’s not even close. They have the perfect blend of veterans like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to go along with their star-studded core of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.

Houston had a good offensive team last year as well. The difference between last year and this year has been their pitching, mainly ace Dallas Keuchel. He’s been on the field for only 11 starts but has been masterful whenever he’s toed the rubber. It hasn’t been just him, though. The rest of the rotation and the bullpen have also been stellar. Closer Ken Giles has been shaky at times, but Will Harris and Chris Devenski have become versatile weapons out of the pen.

Overall, Houston currently has the fifth best team ERA in the majors. If they continue to pitch like this, there’s a good chance they’re going to be playing in the World Series.

Thank- for reading another edition of the Fantrax Weekly Top-10. Check back next Saturday for another list. Got a question about a team not covered here? Feel free to comment below or follow me and ask me on Twitter @EricCross04.

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