The Road to the Final Four: MLB Edition

It all comes down to this.

Four teams left and what fun the playoffs have been so far. Of the 20 games played, 10 have been decided by one run, the ball has left the yard 42 times, and potential Cy Young candidate Zach Britton finished with 0.0 innings pitched over that span. If that’s not putting yourself in contention, I don’t know what is.

Before we bust out the champagne and mute Joe Buck, let’s take a look at the improbable runs of each contender.

Cleveland Indians

First and foremost, let’s examine Titletown, USA. In the past four months alone, Cleveland has the most championships of any city in the continental U.S. — rivaled only by Pittsburgh.

From the get go this team was guaranteed to finish atop the AL Central. It’s a surprise they took it by such a slim margin — eight games. They had not just one, but two players finish with a batting average over .300. Not to mention perennial All-Star Tyler Naquin finishing just shy at .296. And that’s just their batting. The pitching staff has been the true dominating force. I know you’re thinking about Corey Kluber or Danny Salazar, but let’s look at the real hero — Bryan Shaw. Not only did he have 25 holds in the regular season, but already three this postseason. On top of that he’s chalked up one — count it — ONE strikeout in the playoffs. Injuries just can’t hurt a team with this much depth.

Key Stat: Mike Napoli shattered his personal record for strikeouts and recorded 194 this season. He’s on pace to go well above 200. This team is breaking records and partying hard.

PHOTO VIA MLB.com
PHOTO VIA MLB.com

Odds to win the World Series: 68-1. One for each year they haven’t gotten it done.

Toronto Blue Jays

I know what you’re thinking. They’re a snooze fest, the most boring team in baseball. But this happens every year with well-managed teams. So strategic that they outsmarted the top-seeded Texas Rangers. Their strategy? Eight home runs, 10 RBI and two quality starts in four games. A 1.00 WHIP, five players with an OPS of 1.000 or better, and two extra-inning thrillers. Like I said, boring.

Their real strategy? Celebrations. They just do it better. They just look like they’ve taken the series before they’ve actually finished the game. This ALCS will come down to whether or not they can perfect the bat flip.

Key Stat: Jose Bautista was knocked out once this season, but has yet to be punched in the postseason. Look for that to change in Cleveland.

Odds to win the World Series: Likely.

Odds to have a good time: Very likely.

Los Angeles Dodgers

This is just a well-rounded team. I don’t care if Clayton Kershaw accounts for almost half of their innings pitched, strikeouts and saves in the NLCS. I don’t care that Corey Seager has gone 0-for-23 in innings not named the first. It doesn’t even matter that Kenley Jansen might start Game 4. This team is well-rounded and can beat you every way — so long as Justin Turner is batting, or on deck, or in the hole, or due up in the inning.

The Dodgers had a stellar second half of the season, most importantly due to a transaction they made several months beforehand — replacing Don Mattingly with Dave Roberts.

Key Stat: Roberts has zero stolen bases this postseason. He’s never won a championship without doing so.

Odds to win the World Series: 4-1

Chicago Cubs

It’s been a run that no one saw coming. At the beginning of the season, they were compared to the 1927 Yankees and were on pace to have the greatest record of all-time. Boy, did they underperform. They had an abysmal mid-season performance, and very nearly had a losing record in the month of June, going 17-13. At the All-Star break, they only had the second-best record in baseball. It’s a miracle they even made the playoffs. On top of that, not one of their pitchers had a 20-win season and Jake Arrieta only threw one no-hitter. Talk about blowing it.

Though, as many analysts say, it’s all about getting hot at the right time. Coming into the playoffs, the Cubs were riding an extended one-game winning streak and took the NLDS handedly. They now ride a TWO-game streak going into Game 2 tonight. Should be exciting.

Key Stat: The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. Aroldis Chapman only throws 103. May not be enough.

Odds to win the World Series: None. Not until Cubs fans appropriately blame their misery on the team rather than Steve Bartman and some vague story about a billy goat.

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