MLB’s final field of four is extremely strong, with all four teams left in the derby winning 90-plus games, three 95-plus and two winning more than 100 games.
The belief here is that the two best teams in each league are left, and that’s the way it should be.
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And perhaps the ultimate proof of the strength of the quartet is that the hottest team is the one seen as least likely to win it all, at least here (and presumably by real oddsmakers, too). But don’t count out the little Milwaukee Brewers, who haven’t lost in half a month (18 days as of Thursday if you’re scoring at home).
Without further ado, here are all the strengths, the weaknesses, the intangibles and the odds.
Strengths: In the age of bullpenning, the team seen most on the cutting edge still relies on a great rotation, which is the best in the game (perhaps just ahead of the Indians). Justin Verlander remains one of the game’s great pitchers, and Gerrit Cole — the best trade pickup of the winter among pitchers (behind only Christian Yelich among all players) — isn’t far behind. The bullpen is ridiculously deep with at least 10 viable to excellent relievers to choose from; even the guys who’ll be left out are good. The young nucleus remains fantastic, and George Springer reigns as one of the best big-game power hitters going, if not the best.
Weaknesses: Not many. They have only one lefty in the pen, Tony Sipp.
Intangibles: Their young nucleus isn’t resting on its laurels, so they remain hungry, which was a spring observation made by no less than Verlander himself.
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2) Red Sox
Strengths: They won 108 games and beat another 100-win team in four games, so you know they are good. They have two MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and several other productive to pesky hitters. Chris Sale is back on his game after a sketchy September. Craig Kimbrel, ALDS Game 4 notwithstanding, is one of the best closers in the game.
Weaknesses: It’s still mix and match and a bit of a mystery how they will get from the starters to Kimbrel.
Intangibles: It takes something special to get a team to 108 wins, and most teams that get that far do make it all the way (though most didn’t have to beat two other 100-win teams in the playoffs to do it).
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Strengths: This is one of the deepest teams on record, with the bench often containing multiple 30-homer hitters and multiple All-Stars. Manny Machado vacillated between bad at-bats and great ones in the NLDS but ultimately he had the biggest hit, and Justin Turner is one of the better postseason players of this era. Clayton Kershaw is on his game, and with an edge, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has been his equal (or actually even a little better) in recent weeks. Kenley Jansen is among the top few closers in the game, and the pen, with Jose Baez hot and Kenta Maeda now in it, is better than you think.
Weaknesses: Not everyone is at his best position (Shortstop Machado is better at third base, center fielder Cody Bellinger better at first and Joc Pederson and Kike’ Hernandez are more acquainted with previous positions).
Intangibles: They might be just a little hungrier since they came within a game of winning the World Series last year (though we’ve been saying that since 1989).
Strengths: If not for the Dodgers, this would be baseball’s deepest team, with great power threats and young former starters like Jonathan Schoop and Domingo Santana on the bench. Christian Yelich is the best player on the planet right now, almost unstoppable it seems. The bullpen is the best in the game, and Josh Hader, Corey Knebel and Corbin Burnes are especially on their games right now. Jhoulys Chacin is better than you think.
Weaknesses: Their rotation has been a seeming weakness for two years, but it’s better than we all have thought and manager Craig Counsell has showed he’s willing to hook quickly for the pen (perhaps the bigger question is whether all the relief arms will hold up).
Intangibles: The city is excited about its small-market heroes, and rightfully so (plus, 12 in a row means George Webb’s, an old-time Milwaukee institution, is handing out free hamburgers). The 11-game winning streak has everyone around the team thrilled, not just folks hankering for free burgers.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.