Down The Stretch Predictions

August 30, 2021

With the MLB Pro season soon to be entering the final full month of the regular season, this week’s Power Rankings shifts to focusing on what GM’s expect to see happen the rest of the way. Balloters were asked to submit their picks for division winners, World Series matchup, and World Series outcome. Here are the results:

American League East: Toronto Blue Jays (8 of 8)

The Toronto Blue Jays were selected to win the American League East by all 8 voters. While the Jays are still looking to fire at all cylinders in relation to the very best in the league, their status at the top of the East remains clear. With a 12 game lead in the standings and a run differential that is 161 runs better than the second best mark in the division, Toronto’s final month of the season will be focused on health, bullpen management, and chasing down the Twins for home-field in a likely ALDS matchup. If the bullpen can figure things out, the Jays remain a World Series contender, if not, their playoff run could be over quick.

American League Central: Minnesota Twins (8 of 8)

While the Twins lead in the Central is just three and a half games (a mere two in the loss column), all eight voters selected the Twins to end the season on top of the division. Minnesota’s remaining opponents have a .491 winning percentage (slightly harder than Cleveland’s .486). Don’t be fooled by that sub-.500 mark though, as that includes six with Cleveland, seven with Toronto, six with Kansas City, and three against the improving Detroit Tigers.

Trade deadline acquisition Lucas Giolito has found his groove in Minnesota, winning each of his last five starts. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of those starts, striking out 44 batters over 29 innings of action. With Giolito leading the way on the mound, likely MVP Gary Copeland in the middle of the order, and a strong bullpen, the Twins are going to be a tough out moving forward.

For all that is going wrong publicly in Cleveland, the Indians are consistent having won at least 14 games in each of the past three months. Will they be able to set up the rotation in a way to maximize Strasburg and Swift starts come the nine game stretch against Minnesota and Milwaukee beginning in the second week of September?

American League West: Seattle Mariners (7 of 8), Los Angeles Angels (1 of 8)

Seattle gained ground in the West last week after the Angels lost two of three in Baltimore. The Mariners up four game in the standings also have a run differential that is 68 runs better than the Angels who have the second-best mark in the league. Some rumblings in Seattle about the arm of Mark Appel. After missing more than 14 months on the mound, Appel had been brilliant to start the year, but has pitched beyond the 5th inning just once over his last three starts. Will his arm handle the workload of a full season and playoff run?

Even if Appel were to be somewhat limited, let’s not forget about Hultzen and Hooper…and Kelly, and Bradley, or a lineup that boasts the top OPS, the most runs scored, or a bullpen that despite all of its headlines for late-game struggles, that ranks in the top half of the AL in bullpen ERA.

Seattle’s schedule the rest of the way includes six games with Arizona, six games with Houston, and six games with the Angels, including a season-ending three game set.

For the Angels to chase down Seattle, they will need more consistency. A team that one week hits the tar off the ball, comes back the next with an inability to make contact. On the mound, Kyle Funkhouser has picked up just a pair of wins over his last ten starts, a sign of concern for the squad. They could soon be adding to the league’s best bullpen with the return of Armando Romero from injury.

While Houston or Cleveland will have a say in things, there remains the strong likelihood that these two teams could square off in the ALDS.

National League East: Atlanta Braves (5 of 8), Washington Nationals (3 of 8)

While the American League is rather chalky with predictions, the National League provides more intrigue and that begins in the East. Washington holds a one and a half game lead over Atlanta, with each having won five straight. Pythagorean records suggest the Braves hold an edge the rest of the way, while Stats+ gives the Nationals a 69% chance of winning the division.

For Washington to stay on top, it will need some of its hot bats to continue. In August, Ed Palmer has slugged 10 homers and driven in 28 of his 76 RBI’s. Questions about his defense at third-base will continue, where in 17 games, his zone rating is already -1.9. By moving Palmer to third though, Devin Lewis is in the lineup everyday. In August, Lewis is 23-of-74 (.311) at the plate with 11 walks (OBP of .400). They must find a way to get more from Loren Rogers who is hitting just .200 this past month with an on-base percentage of .247.

On the mound, Mark Davies has really picked up his game of late, with a 1.65 ERA in August, holding opponents to a batting average of .196 over his last 27 innings, striking out 32 and walking just three. Good time to shine for a player who can opt-out of his contract and re-negotiate via arbitration. Alongside Davies has been a productive Ed Reith whose only shortcomings of late have been a propensity of giving up the long ball.

September comes with no easy tasks for Washington as they have a stretch with 14 games in 13 days including a six-game trip through Atlanta and Pittsburgh. In addition to that, the Nats will take on the first-place Rockies for six-games in the final month of the year.

For Atlanta, the Braves have rebounded from a 24-30 run in May and June by going 31-19 over their last 50 games. While Taylor Sparks has proven to be one of the premier bats in baseball all season long, August brought Mike Ogden to the forefront as he has hit eight homers and driven in a team-high 20 RBI’s. Ogden’s .311 batting average this past month is sixty-points higher than his season average. He’s become a formidable bat in the middle of the Braves lineup.

On the trade block near the end of July, Brady Aiken has put his head down and gotten to work. A 1.05 ERA in August, Aiken has allowed no more than one earned run in each of his last four starts. Working alongside Kolby Allard, Walker Buehler, and Robinson Rivera, the Braves can match just about any NL rotation.

For Atlanta, September comes with six-games against Colorado, four against Arizona, a series with the Nationals, and a not to be overlooked final three-games of the year against the Mets. Only fitting that the season could come down to getting outs against Josh Wilcox and Matt Den Dekker.

National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals (4 of 8), Pittsburgh Pirates (3 of 8), Milwaukee Brewers (1 of 8)

While the Cardinals sit in third-place, three and a half games behind the Brewers and Cardinals, they are the popular pick to win the Central.

St. Louis comes on top in the predictions despite a 10-15 record in August and injuries to Esteban Hernandez and Randy Maley. Without Hernandez and Maley, the Cardinals team on-base percentage is twenty points lower in August than it has been for the season. Their rotation, which has the seventh best ERA among NL teams on the season, ranks 12th in August at 4.30, over half a run worse than their season average.

The Cardinals will have a chance to make up ground in September as they are set to take on the Brewers ten times the rest of the season.

For Milwaukee, 16 of its 26 September games take place at home. The Brewers are 45-20 at home and just 30-36 on the road. After his blazing start to the year, Kwan-yew Yeh is struggling in August, hitting a mere .206 in 97 at-bats with 34 strikeouts. The lineup does not include a single player hitting above .300 the past month.

In addition to struggles in the batters box, the bullpen has become an issue in Milwaukee. Durbin Feltman, Livan Moinelo, and Keegan Thompson each have ERA’s above 4.70 in August, having collectively allowed 24 runs earned runs in 30 1/3 innings of work.

That leaves Pittsburgh, who is currently tied with Milwaukee. The Pirates are a difficult team to figure out for several reasons. The mid-season roster shuffle still is being worked out as is inconsistent play. The Pirates were 35-18 in May and July, but 25-28 in June and August. The Pirates do not take on either Milwaukee or St. Louis the rest of the way, but do have games against what amounts to being the easiest schedule the rest of the way.

Like Milwaukee’s bullpen struggles, Pittsburgh must find ways to close out victories. Tristan Beck has five losses this month and an ERA at 7.53 in 15 appearances. While most of the rotation has been brilliant, they desperately need Melvin Garner and Beck to figure things out. Additionally, while their offense has scored the fourth most runs in the NL on the year, they rank 10th in runs scored in August.

National League West: Colorado Rockies (6 of 8), Arizona Diamondbacks (2 of 8)

The National League West pair each have 74 wins, while Colorado has two fewer defeats as of today. Neither team enters September blazing hot, as Colorado is 24-26 over its last fifty games, while Arizona is 39-38 over the last three months.

While the Rockies have the best team batting average and on-base percentage on the year, their success has tailed off the past month. With a slash line of .261/.335/.418 on the year, those numbers are just .241/.316/.355 in August. Their infield corners are each hitting under .200 in August, with Carlos Correa and Jed McKinley also hitting below .250 this past month.

Trevor Bauer has been up and down, posting recent success against Chicago, Miami, and San Francisco while allowing five earned runs to Arizona and the Cubs in a different start. The additions of Gabriel Flores and Addison Reed have not gone to plan, while the addition of Jordan Walden has. Winning the division could be key for Colorado as they have struggled against southpaws (20-24), and could be staring at a potential wild-card game against lefties Aiken, Allard, Rivera, Cuevas, McCutc, LeBlanc, or Dave Smith.

Arizona’s one-two punch of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bryce Harper have each struggled to come up with the big-hit in August, but each are still getting on-base at good clips. One slight concern out of Arizona is Andrew Morales allowing opponents to hit .304 off of him the past month. Despite seeing more and more runners on-base, Morales has still managed to limit damage.

The D-Backs take on the AL West for 11 games (Seattle 6, Houston 3, Texas 2) in September, along with four at home against Atlanta, before finishing the year with three on the road at Coors.

The NL West is a race that very well could come down to the final day of the season.

World Series Matchups

  • Los Angeles vs. Arizona: 3 (LA to win 3)
  • Los Angeles vs. Colorado: 1 (LA to win 1)
  • Seattle vs. Arizona: 1 (Seattle to win 1)
  • Seattle vs. Atlanta: 1 (Seattle to win 1)
  • Seattle vs. Colorado: 1 (Seattle to win 1)
  • Seattle vs. Pittsburgh: 1 (Seattle to win 1)

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