A Casual’s Guide to the MLB Playoff

Dawson Deng ‘23

The 2021 baseball season has been an eventful one as a sense of normalcy returned after a shortened 2020 MLB season that saw no fans due to the global pandemic. There were epic highs, like the Field of Dreams game that saw record viewership numbers, or the emergence of young international stars like Vladimir Guerreo Jr. and Shohei Ohtani, as well as the unprecedented run of San Francisco Giants from being predicted to finish dead last in the NL West to beating the defending World Series champions Dodgers for the division crown. There were also no shortage of controversies, from the domestic abuse allegations against Dodgers star pitcher Trevor Bauer to the league-wide cheating scandal with pitchers using foreign substances. Nevertheless, with fans back in stadiums and multiple contenders vying to be World Champions, the 2021 playoffs promises to be an exciting conclusion to an exciting season.

National League Division Series(Best out of Five)

Giants vs Dodgers

The San Francisco Giants:

It’s really been a season ripped straight out of a movie for the Giants. Going into the season, even the most optimistic of pundits were only predicting the Giants to finish around .500 in a stacked division with the up and coming Padres and the defending champion Dodgers. And rightfully so, with a team full of past their prime veterans (Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford) and career benchwarmers. Even now, the Giants are devoid of many “recognizable names” or “stars”. So what made the Giants good? First, the resurgence of former All-Stars Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. For Posey, it was coming back from 2 years marred by injury and subpar play to become an All-Star for the 7th time. For Crawford, it was somehow having a career year at 34 years old and cranking out career highs in almost every major batting category. Expect these two stars to be the 1-2 punch at the heart of a deep Giants playoff run. On a similar note, the Giants have succeeded in finding diamonds in the rough, undervalued players that the small market franchise can pick up without expending too many resources. Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr, Wilmer Flores, and Kevin Gausman are all having career seasons after being picked up by the Giants. Probably the most important factor is the team mentality that the Giants have adopted. No stars translates to no big egos in the locker room, and many of the leaders in the Giants locker room have noted the chemistry, the “unselfishness” and the “hunger” that the team plays with [1]. Case in point, the Giants only have a single player in the top 50 home run hitter list, but have a MLB leading 241 homeruns. The Giants also set the record for the number of pinch hit home runs, a testament to how deep their team is. With the Giants, it’s a team effort where anyone can be the hero and the production is spread throughout the team. Overall, the Giants are a fantastic team with good starting pitchers and a deep lineup despite team home run leader Brandon Belt being ruled out due to injury. The Giants are coming into the postseason hot, with September being their best offensive month. Finally, the Giants can rely on a bullpen that led the majors in WHIP(Walks and hits per inning) and ERA(Earned Run Average per 9 innings), which helped the Giants be the best team in the MLB in one run games and when they were the first team to score[5].


The Los Angeles Dodgers:

(Disclaimer, I’m a Dodgers fan) The Los Angeles Dodgers are almost the exact opposite of the Giants. Think of the Giants as a Toyota Prius, it’s a cheap car with cheap parts, but it runs smoothly and up to its full potential. On the other hand, the Dodgers are a malfunctioning Bugatti Veyron, they have all the parts to be the best team in baseball and are the best team by far on paper, but have struggled to bring their talent to fruition. Don’t be mistaken though, the Dodgers still might be the 2nd best team in the playoffs behind the Giants. They are favored in this series versus the Giants and have been the best team in terms of run differential in low, middle, and high leverage situations. They utilize a  1-2-3 punch of the pitching staff in Walker Bueler and Max Scherzer, two Cy Young contenders, and Julio Urias, the MLB leader in wins. The Dodgers bullpen is similarly stacked with talent, from Blake Trinen to Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers are missing all-Star Max Muncy from their lineup, with fellow All-Stars Chris Taylor slumping and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger completely falling off of a cliff this season. Even so, Cody Bellinger performed well in the wildcard game, and Chris Taylor hit the walk off homerun to win the game. Meanwhile, the core of the offense in Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Corey Seager and Justin Turner is still as strong as ever. Even though the Dodgers are not 100% healthy (no team truly is in the playoffs), they are still a well rounded team with an treasure trove of star players.



The Giants  have been the best team in the MLB with no signs of stopping. They are coming into the postseason as one of the best teams analytically speaking. Also, the Giants are an old team consisting of a majority of players whose last chance to win the World Series is likely this year. Fun fact, there are only 3 players on their 27 man postseason roster that are under the age of 25, and more than half their roster is over the age of 30. As a result, the Giants are coming into the series as the better team record wise with more motivation and drive. While one may argue that many of the core players for the Giants, Kevin Gausman, Tyler Rodgers, etc, have little playoff experience, the Dodgers have never been a team that performed very well in pressure situations. Also, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has proven to be more of a liability than an asset with his volatile coaching style in the playoffs. Another interesting factor is the fact that the Dodgers have struggled against teams above .500 this year, having a record of 27-28 whereas the Giants have a record of 32-24, which favors the Giants, also providing for the fact that the Giants beat the Dodgers in the season series. 

Winner: Giants

Milwaukee Brewers vs Atlanta Braves

Milwaukee Brewers:

The Milwaukee Brewers are a good team, and the favored team going into this round versus the Champs of the NL East. The Brewers have arguably the best 1-2-3 pitching rotation punch in the entire MLB. Corbin Burners, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta have carried the Brewers this season to success while the rest of the roster has been middling. The kryptonite on this team? The bullpen. A formerly talented group, the Milwaukee bullpen has crumbled in the second half of the season after finishing the first half as a top tier bullpen. Moreover, Devin Williams, one of the bullpen’s premier talents, injured his hand and won’t be able to participate in the postseason. The Brewers now will have to rely on dominant closer Josh Hader even more than usual. The offense won’t help in either, as it is quite possibly the worst lineup of any team in the playoffs. The Brewers’ offense isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks any power or danger, as the team was middle of the pack in home runs(18th) and bottom 10 in the league for slugging percentage.  Former MVP Christian Yelich might be the guy to spark the offense, but he hasn’t shown any signs of returning to the player he once was. 

Atlanta Braves:

Looking at the season stats and record, it appears as though the Atlanta Braves are not a serious contender for the World Series, as they have the worst record out of any team in the National League Division Series. However, it was a tale of two seasons for the Braves. For the first half of the season, the Braves struggled mightily and were a below .500 team. To add on to the troubles, their star player Ronald Acuna Jr, and their best pitcher Mike Soroka were out for the season due to injuries. However, stellar play by the Braves infield and amazing performances by their remaining starting pitchers would propel the Braves to become NL East division champions in the second half of the season. Key free agent acquisitions such as Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler, and Joc Pederson have bolstered the dangerous Braves offense. The prolificness of the Braves offense is matched directly with the inconsistency however. The pitching staff on the other hand relies mostly on the amazing play of Charlie Morton, who is a proven performer in the postseason.


Prediction: This should be an amazing series to watch, especially the first game with an amazing pitching matchup between Charlie Morton and Corbin Burnes. Both teams have things going for them. In a short 5 game series where a team only needs to win 3 matches, the Brewers’ 3 star pitchers give them an excellent chance in the first 3 games. This could spell trouble for a Braves team that was No.1 in the league in swing rate at the first pitch, as a talented pitching staff like the Brewers’ could dismantle an aggressive and trigger happy Braves team.  However, everything else is in the favor of the Braves. This was a team last year that gave the World Champion Dodgers all they could handle, and this year, while they lost MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr, the breakout of Austin Reilly and the addition of players such as Joc Pederson potentially make this Braves offense even more dangerous . Coming into the series with a team that is clicking on all cylinders and with the potential to blow any game wide open, the Braves are the more dangerous team. The Brewers in contrast only have their 3 starting pitchers to win them games. 

Winner: Braves

American League Division Series(Best out of 5)

Houston Astros vs Chicago White Sox

Houston Astros:

Coming off of another stinging defeat in the postseason and the sign stealing cheating scandal, the Astros are the most hated team in the MLB. However, one would be mistaken in believing that the Astros are not a good baseball team. On the contrary, the Astros are favored in their match up against the White Soxs and are right behind the Giants and Dodgers as World Series favorites. The Astros’ strengths are their entire team. Their offense is perhaps the most talented in the entire league, boasting a star studded lineup of All Stars such as Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman, with talent and depth at every position. Their offense was first in runs, while being elite at getting on base( second in the league) and driving in runs with power(9th in home runs). The Astros over the last 5 years also have the lowest strikeout percentage of any team. There are no weaknesses on this team, with the only concern being the walk rate of Astros pitchers, which was in the bottom 3rd in the regular season.

Chicago White Sox:

The Chicago White Soxs are an up and coming young team brimming with talent. But is this talent enough to topple the baseball giant that is Houston? Well, the White Soxs certainly have a chance. They have a dynamic offense that is unique in the fact that they rely more on getting on base(2nd best On base Percentage in MLB) as opposed to homeruns. Exciting players like Luis Robert and Tim Anderson lead the offense charge.  Their pitching staff is just as dynamic, boasting the MLB’s highest average velocity and the second highest strikeout rate after the Brewers. If White Soxs starters can hold the lead, then a talented lineup of  Craig Kimbrel, Garrett Crochet and Liam Hendricks will likely close the door on the poor team tasked with facing such a formidable bullpen.


The Astros win this series. The White Soxs quite possibly are the 2nd best team in the American League, but they get the task of facing the juggernaut Astros. The Astros are simply the more experienced and pedigreed team, making deep playoff runs the last 4 years, and winning the World Series. They have proven themselves against the best teams and in pressure situations. On the other hand, the White Sox are a young and inexperienced(and perhaps overrated) team who struggled mightily in the playoffs in 2020, losing in the first round to a subpar Athletics team in a rather uninspired effort.  Moreover, the White Soxs struggled against good teams this year, coming out with a 27-29 record against teams above .500. In comparison, the Astros have a stellar 45-32 when it comes to facing teams above .500. Finally, the Astros won 5 games against the White Soxs this year while only losing 2 games.

Winner: Astros


Tampa Bay Rays vs Boston Red Sox

Tampa Bay Rays

Quitely, the Tampa Bay Rays might be the best team in the league, racking up the first 100 seasons in their franchise’s history. Known historically for their pitching, the Rays have built a prolific offense behind star rookie Wander Franco. However, the production of the offense has mostly been a committee effort, with all members of the team chipping in. While the Rays’ production comes from a diverse cast, their methodology is not so diverse. The Rays have been heavily dependent on the home run, as they had the 3rd highest percentage of runs by way of the home run in the MLB. Also, the Rays lead the league in strikeouts this year. Nevertheless, the Rays’ pitching is also an integral contributor to their team. The Rays’ starting rotation is nothing special, but manager Kevin Cash’s magical ability to mix and match relievers in the bullpen has been crucial in stifling the offenses of teams over the past few seasons.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Soxs are the heavy underdog facing the Rays despite their impressive playoff performance against the Yankees.  The offense of the Red Sox is their hope for a long playoff run, while the pitching will likely be a liability along the way. Boston has 7 players with 45 extra base hits, demonstrating the explosiveness and depth of the Red Sox’s roster. Xander Bogaerts, Jd Martinez, and Alex Verdugo lead an offense that was top 3 in on base percentage and top 10 in home runs. On the other hand, Boston’s pitching staff is suspect at best. The Red Sox’s pitching staff has allowed  the highest runs against average and the highest OPS( a stat that measures how well a batter can hit for power and consistency). Red Sox’s ace Nathan Eovaldi will have to carry the heavy load for the pitching staff if Boston is to go far in this series.


The Rays are the better team overall, with a better defense and comparable offense. The Red Sox are more one dimensional, and in the playoffs where the margin for error is razor-thin, the Red Sox can’t just rely heavily on their hitting to power through poor pitching performances, especially against teams such as the Rays who are just as talented.  When called upon, the Rays also have the best manager in baseball, Kevin Cash,  making decisions in high leverage situations. Though this is a double edged sword, as Cash’s volatile innovative managing style also has the ability to single handedly lose games, as evidenced by his decision to take pitcher Blake Snell out of the game.  Starting a Dodgers comeback that would see them win the game and the World Series. Nevertheless, the Rays were a couple blunders  away from winning the World Series, so expect the Rays to come back more experienced and hungry to avenge their loss.

Winner: Rays

Championship Games(Best out of 7)

NL(Predicted Matchup):Giants vs Braves

Fun fact, every team that has beaten the Dodgers in the playoffs(barring the year they won the World Series) has won the World Series. If the Giants manage to beat the Dodgers, then the Giants will likely find the Braves much easier. Even in their excellent second half of the season, and definitely all throughout, the Braves have struggled against good teams that have the pitching to shut down their offense, going 31 wins-37 losses while the Giants have one of the best records against teams above .500 at 35 wins -28 losses. The Giants are plain and simple the better team in this series, with the overall roster to combat the talented but inconsistent Braves.

 National League Champions: Giants

AL(Predicted Matchup): Rays vs Astros

In the case of the Rays, their first actual title, but in the case of the Astros, their first clean title after their 2017 World Series victory has been marred due to the Astros’ rampant cheating which helped them get to the World Series and win it.Houston’s star power and hitting prowess will be too much for the Rays. The Astros have the best lineup in the league, and it will overwhelm a pitching staff that will need to rely on inexperienced rookies like Shane Baz to win. While both teams are well rounded sides with fantastic offense and defense, the Astro’s star power and veteran experience make them the more dangerous side. While Tampa Bay shocked the world last year by defeating the Astros in the AL Championship game, the Astros are too experienced and professional of a team to underestimate the Rays. Both teams are hungry for their first World Series title. 

American League Champions: Astros

World Series(Best of 7)

The San Francisco Giants are basically the NL’s version of Rays, a smart, well run team with the “little engine that could” mentality. They would have to beat the Dodgers to get to this point and have been steadily an excellent team throughout the year. However, the Astros on the other hand are just a juggernaut offense, but with a questionable bullpen and heavy reliance on starting pitchers. The workload that the starting pitchers took against the powerful offenses of the Red Sox or the Rays will likely be large enough that they will come into the series at less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, since both teams have made the World Series, both teams will have proven that they don’t crumble under pressure already. In the end, Houston simply has too many stars, from Jordan Alvarez to Jose Altuve who can have a magical game to save their team. The Giants will have to rely on a stellar overall team performance to win, something that won’t be sustainable. The Giants can plan with platoons and gimmicks, but in the end, championship talent plays out. That is something that the Astros have, but the Giants simply don’t have. At the World Series, the clock strikes midnight and the Giant’s Cinderella run will be shattered by the Astros.

World Series Champion: Astros


This article’s predictions and coverage of the American League and National League Championship Series and the World Series were written before the finishing of the Division Series, so both the National League and American League Championships series, as well as the World Series are all predicted matchups which may not be correct(As of this moment, the current results are:

  •  NL Championship:Dodgers vs Braves
  •  AL Championship:Astros vs Red Soxs
  •  World Series : Astros vs Braves)