They’ve opened up the Major League Baseball playoffs to 12 teams, yet it may be harder than ever to navigate.
A handful of teams found themselves well-equipped to attack October after major trade deadline acquisitions. But their paths to glory may be blocked.
Did your team win baseball’s trade deadline, or at least try? If so, congrats. It also won’t mean much when the playoffs arrive and commissioner Rob Manfred’s bracket shootout becomes reality.
With that, in the wake of Tuesday’s trade deadline, we take a look at the top eight clubs poised to win it all, a ranking based as much on path as it is talent:
You gotta get there to win it and nobody does that better than the Astros, who have reached five straight AL Championship Series and last year came two wins shy of a World Series title. This time, they’ll have ace Justin Verlander in tow, and it’s hard to argue anyone in the AL is throwing the ball better than the 39-year-old with a majors-best 1.81 ERA. They can stack the now playoff-hardened Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy behind him – all after coasting to a division title and first-round bye.
They’re merely 22-5 since June 1, administering knockout blows to opposing pitchers before many fans have taken their seats. A fearsome 1-2-3 in any combo – pull Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner’s names out of a hat and go from there - is backed up by suddenly fearsome cleanup hitter Will Smith, who has an .821 OPS and a .906 mark in his last 35 games. The pitching is something of an adventure but the tonnage of arms will clear a path to the World Series, one way or another.
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Not sold on Frankie Montas as the man to slay their longtime tormenters in Houston, but New York will coast to the East title and hold a significant advantage over their wild card survivor. We’re left to trust that they know something about Jordan Montgomery that we don’t, but his trade does make you wonder if they’re once again too smart by half.
4. Blue Jays
Bold pick here, but it’s largely based on a 1-2 punch of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman that could make for a painless trip through the wild card round, particularly if the Jays hold on for the right to host the best-of-three at Rogers Centre. A streaky team that will be volatile but fun in October.
Jacob de Grom is back, perhaps just in time for a natural ramp-up to join Max Scherzer as the problematic pitching duo Steve Cohen envisioned when he paid Scherzer $43.3 million to pair with de Grom. Stubbornly, the Mets haven’t yielded the NL East lead to Atlanta since April 12, in part because they are so well put together in every facet. Envisioning a long-awaited Queens star turn for shortstop Francisco Lindor.
They’re way low here, and feel free to bump them up to No. 3 if you believe they'll win the East. At this point, we’re not going to doubt whether Austin Riley can carry the offense through a hot summer and challenging autumn, but he will need help. Ronald Acuna Jr., whose extra-base hit percentage has dropped from 12% to 6%, would greatly aid the cause should he regain his MVP-quality form.
They made arguably the best trade-deadline pickup – and paid a decent price for it – in adding Luis Castillo to front the rotation. But questions dog the club, most notably if rookies Logan Gilbert and Julio Rodriguez stay healthy and avoid hitting the figurative wall and whether high-priced lefty Robbie Ray will resemble the shutdown guy they paid for and not the inconsistent one with a 4.11 ERA. Too many potholes to get through three series.
Juan Soto might be the greatest deadline pickup in history – or at least since the invention of MLB Trade Rumors. But the NL is a doggone snakepit and the Padres, trailing the Dodgers by 11 ½ games, aren’t winning the division. Those hitters? They face a steep mountain with Scherzer and de Grom, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers machine all plotting against them. Those pitchers? Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are a nice combo, but running a table of Braves-Mets-Dodgers, say, will expose the staff’s overall depth.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB playoff rankings: World Series contenders post trade deadline