The MLB Playoffs shine at their most unpredictable

Not-so-surprising news just in from New York: the Yankees are heading into the MLB postseason and are certain that they’ll be celebrating a World Series victory in a few weeks’ time.

“All I can say is that we are a bunch of savages,” Yankees first baseman Luke Voit told the New York Post, evoking the infamous rant aired by manager Aaron Boone earlier this season that became the source for a thousand different T-shirt designs.

From Los Angeles comes a similar message. After a franchise record 106 wins, there is more confidence than ever that the Dodgers can go one better this time around, erasing the painful memories of back-to-back World Series defeats.

“It is a pretty special year,” Dodgers slugger and National League MVP candidate Cody Bellinger told reporters. “But there is more to be done; we all know that.”

And from Texas, to round out the ultimate power trio heading into the postseason, ace Justin Verlander paused to reflect on the reality that the Houston Astros have one of the most almighty pitching triumvirates that October baseball has ever seen in himself, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke.

“I’ll always look back at this season so fondly,” Verlander said. “Just to know how special it is to be surrounded by the guys we have right now. It doesn’t happen too often in this game.”

There is something else that doesn’t happen too often in postseason baseball — or at least that we haven’t seen in a good long while: predictability. The Astros, Yankees and Dodgers dominate the odds list — Houston has +200 odds to win the World Series, the Dodgers are at +260 and the Yankees are at +400 (via FOX Bet) before the postseason begins.

The reality is, it’s hard to find anyone tipping an overall winner from outside that group. But Verlander remembers his time with the Detroit Tigers, where a playoff rotation of himself, Max Scherzer and David Price found nothing but disappointment — including being the only team to be swept in the World Series this decade, falling four straight to the Giants in 2012.

Seeing seemingly-stacked teams get bounced from the postseason early makes us wonder what the true value of regular season wins really is. And while the Big Three of 2019 look really, really big, there are no certainties as elimination ball gets underway.

In truth, what the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers provide is a big, fat target: a group of favorites that every other team will be trying to shoot down. The action starts tonight with the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers and continues with the American League Wild Card Game tomorrow, a Moneyball showdown between the frugally creative Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Astros have gone all out and bucked the recent baseball trend of hedging your bets and keeping at least one eye (or a sabermetrically-crafted number closer to 1.5 eyes) permanently trained on the future. Houston is in win-now mode, having embraced their tanking years and moved well past them.

Acquiring Greinke at the deadline was a bombshell, but perhaps one that shouldn’t have surprised us so much, given that they did the same with Cole last year … and with Verlander a season before that. It’s been evident that with one World Series trophy in the display case, they’re eager for another to keep it company.

It was the Dodgers and Yankees who were more circumspect at the deadline this year, yet their win tallies indicate they’re probably just fine with their approach. How satisfied these teams will be this Winter, however, all boils down to what happens now.

After the Wild Card games, the Yankees engage in what looks to be an utter slugfest against the booming hitters of the Minnesota Twins, who obliterated the single-season team home run record with a month to spare. The Dodgers and Astros both face their respective league’s Wild Card winners. Rounding out the postseason slate, the Cardinals and Braves will line up in the lowest-wattage playoff matchup.

FiveThirtyEight gives the three powerhouses of Houston, Los Angeles and New York a combined 68% chance of winning it all. A panel of ESPN experts all took the Big Three against the field when asked to predict the overall champion.

But baseball is a game with an extraordinary amount of parity — although it doesn’t really feel like it to most fan bases. This season has been historic in the number of very bad (and very good) teams in the MLB, yet the absolute worst of them, the abject Tigers, still won 29% of their games. The NBA would be deliriously happy with such a statistic, while it would be essentially impossible in the NFL. Dominance in baseball is hard to achieve, and even then it is relative.

Each of the MLB powerhouses know a best-of-five series in the opening round can, in less than a week, undo all kinds of fine work pieced together over six months.

“Once you get into the dance, a lot of unpredictable things happen,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the Los Angeles Times. “You can (run into) a team that gets really hot. There are no foregone conclusions in our sport.”

There is a lot to like about this postseason. The Astros are a modern phenomenon, both in the way they go about their business and in how they got to this point. The Yankees and Dodgers add historic panache. The A’s and Rays have done things their own way, and the Braves would have been lauded far more in any other season. The Brewers and Nationals are both red-hot.

It’s finally October, and chilly-weather baseball never ceases to make for compelling drama. Enjoy it. Wonder about what’s going to happen, debate it, and get excited about the potential for some of the most entertaining matchups we could have dreamed up.

Just don’t expect it to be predictable, because that’s one thing the MLB postseason doesn’t do.