This has been one hell of a baseball season so far. Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger put up two of the best rookie first halves ever. Right when they started to fade, Giancarlo Stanton exploded, smashing 12 homers in July before belting 18 in August. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have been putting together a tremendous regular season, on pace for the most wins since the 2001 Mariners, even with their recent swoon. Joey Gallo has become a viable major leaguer, and Andrelton Simmons has made himself a viable MVP candidate. The AL Wild Card race has been a dogfight, providing entertainment through the doldrums of August. Despite the fact that Vin Scully is gone and Harper, Trout, and Kershaw have missed lots of time, 2017 has been a year to remember.
But all that regular season nonsense is about to be rendered meaningless by the start of October. Playoff time, baby. Despite that tussle for entry into the AL Wild Card Game, most of the field is already set, with teams like the Dodgers, Nationals, Astros, and Indians running away with their divisions.
So to gear up for the postseason, I’m giving you my 10 best hypothetical playoff series. I’m basing this on entertainment value, quality of play, players and personalities involved, and a dash of history. Let’s begin.
10. Minnesota Twins vs. Colorado Rockies (World Series)
Huh? Is this even possible? Well yes, technically, but very unlikely. And that’s why it would be so fun. The Twins would have to beat a superior Yankees team (who could throw either Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, or Masahiro Tanaka) in the play-in game, then somehow take down the Astros, then win the ALCS. The Rockies would have to survive Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks before heading to LA to take on the juggernaut Dodgers, and if they somehow are still alive, they’d have to beat either the Nats or the Cubs. The odds couldn’t be more against this matchup. But they are two feel-good stories, two organizations who just a year ago were considered trash, two great Midwest cities. The entertainment value of Byron Buxton’s defense alone would be worth the price of admission. MLB is lucky this won’t happen, because it would be a ratings nightmare.
9. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (World Series)
If the Angels were to grab that last playoff spot and somehow Cinderella their way to the Fall Classic, that would be an all-time great underdog story. And if we’re being realistic, the only way they possibly do that is if Mike Trout has a 2002 Barry Bonds-esque run through the playoffs. But crazier things have happened, and getting to see baseball’s best hitter face its best pitcher on the biggest possible stage would be quite a treat. Plus, I live in LA, so maybe this is a selfish choice.
8. Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Cubs (World Series)
Most of America is probably sick of the Cubs after their glorious 2016 season, which is why giving the Indians another shot at them would be so satisfying to watch. After the Cubbies ended their World Series drought, the Indians would get a chance to end theirs against the team that snatched the 2016 title away in that crazy Game 7. Cleveland has a healthier rotation this time around, and the experience of their recent run.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals (NLCS)
The Nationals/Expos franchise has only been to October four times, and two of those times the Dodgers ended their season. The first time in 1981, and the second, of course, was last year. The Nats are gaining strength, having returned a slew of injured players to their starting lineup in recent weeks. If they can get Bryce Harper back by the NLCS (and get past the Cubs without him), this would set up for one of the most star-studded playoff series on record. The pitching match-ups alone are enough to give a baseball fan wet dreams – Scherzer vs. Kershaw, Strasburg vs. Darvish, Gio vs. Hill.
6. Houston Astros vs. Chicago Cubs (World Series)
This would be fun because the whole world would be rooting for Houston. The city’s bravery in the face of Hurricane Harvey makes their team eminently likable (maybe that’s dumb, but it’s true). But this is also a match-up of two of the smartest organizations in the league; two teams that re-built from the ground up, stockpiling talent until they had enviable rosters. The ‘Stros got even stronger with the addition of Justin Verlander, and they will return Carlos Correa to their lineup soon. The collection of young hitting talent on display would be jaw-dropping: Correa, Altuve, Bryant, Rizzo, Springer, Bregman, Baez, Schwarber… the list goes on. Please let this happen.
5. New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox (ALCS)
I know, I know, this was cool more than a decade ago. But maybe these two powers squaring off would rekindle that 2003-2004 excitement. These two AL East powerhouses really haven’t been good in the same year in a long time, so it’s only fitting that they would somehow meet in October. The Yankees could avenge the greatest playoff comeback of all time on a huge stage – and they could do it with an exceptional cast of youngsters led by the mighty Aaron Judge.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs (NLCS)
The Dodgers are out for blood. After falling short in 2016 to this team of destiny, they have absolutely shredded the league in 2017. A mix of dynamic youth (Bellinger, Taylor) and grizzled veterans (Turner, Hill) have led the way, even when their superstars ailed. Meanwhile, the Cubs have had a good-not-great season, and would surely enter this series as underdogs. That – of course – is a position they are used to being in. And given that Jake Arrieta is rounding into form and they’ll be adding the booming bat of Willson Contreras back to the lineup soon, they are a very dangerous team. This would also be a match-up of two powerhouse front offices, and two analytically-minded skippers in Joe Maddon and Dave Roberts.
3. Texas Rangers vs. Houston Astros (ALDS)
Hurricane Harvey kumbaya moments aside, these two teams HATE each other. The Texas bad blood would be boiling in this match-up. The Rangers have played the big brother role for years, mercilessly thrashing the Astros 53-23 in their match-ups since Houston joined the division. But this year, things are different. The Astros have been the de facto AL favorite, and the Rangers are hanging on by a thread. It would be a huge shock if Texas actually grabbed a Wild Card spot after recently losing Adrian Beltre for the year, and of course dealing Yu Darvish. But if it happened, and if they got through the Yankees, we’d be in for a real treat. Cole Hamels would definitely bean Altuve within the first 5 innings of the series, and Brian McCann would surely have some vigilante justice in store for whichever Ranger stepped to him.
2. Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (World Series)
This would be the ultimate match-up of strength on strength: the best offense (possibly ever) vs. the best pitching staff. Frankly, I’m not going to be able to outdo Sam Miller’s preview of this hypothetical series, so go read that when you’re done here. But suffice to say, I’ll be licking my chops if this heavyweight clash comes to bear. It would feature two of the best young shortstops we’ve seen in a long time in Corey Seager and Carlos Correa, as well as two of baseball's new crop of superpowered utility-men in Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Taylor. Maybe they would bring Vin Scully back to do the World Series…
1. New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (World Series)
This is the match-up that Commissioner Rob Manfred is hankering for. Two storied franchises, two massive media markets, and a buttload of star power. The Yankees would be clear underdogs, but the additions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to go along with the electric duo of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman give the Bombers the better bullpen – a big edge in the series. This would be ratings gold, and could very well signal the start of a new Yankees dynasty, led by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Cross your fingers we get this lucky.
Image Sources: Sports Illustrated, Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports, Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports, Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports, Michael Owens/USA TODAY Sports, Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Kevin Sousa/USA TODAY Sports, Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports, Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports, Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports, Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports