How can one not be romantic about baseball? In the spring, the ice that covers Midwestern outfields melts and liberates the grass beneath. It’s symbolic of a new season filled with unknowns; in April, hope has a home under every Major League baseball cap. As the heat of summer arrives, teams begin to learn whether those high expectations can be realized. And as the leaves begin to change colors, those that pursue greatness in October can find their hope stripped away in one decisive moment. Baseball is a serial heartbreaker, but, as fans, we always find ourselves coming back for more. Who will be the Fall Classic’s lucky suitor in 2021?
ALDS: Tampa Bay Rays (1) vs. AL Wild Card (4)
Noah Parker: The Rays are the great enigma of baseball — their moneyball-esque style of management and plethora of seemingly random, but incredibly effective platoon players make for a confusing, underrated powerhouse. Tampa defeated both Boston and New York 11-8 in their representative series this year, and the Rays have especially had the Yankees’ number in recent years. It should be an intriguing divisional matchup regardless of the winner of the wild card, but Tampa feels too good to beat three times. Rays in five.
Casey Gray: All season, the sole flaw with the Tampa Bay Rays was their lack of a superstar. They no longer have that problem. Wander Franco is a switch-hitting shortstop with elite plate vision, fantastic defensive skills and an uncanny ability to get on base. While it may seem premature to anoint him as one of baseball’s elite, his production is undeniable. In his past 30 games, he’s put up a ludicrous .355/.409/.545 slash line. He also got on base 43 times in the last 30 games, which seems like a perfect microcosm of Tampa Bay’s consistency as a team. The Rays should win this series in six games.
ALDS: Houston Astros (2) vs. Chicago White Sox (3)
NP: The White Sox quietly put together one of the most consistently good seasons in the MLB this year, though the team did benefit from playing in the weakest division in baseball. Chicago has a top tier rotation highlighted by Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodón and some MVP-caliber players in its lineup, but the window for reaching the ALCS still doesn’t appear to be open. Houston will counter with the best 1-5 lineup in baseball (when healthy, of course) and a chip on its shoulder as it pries to prove it can win in October without cheating. The Astros’ experience and raw hitting talent will be too much for Chicago this postseason, but the White Sox will be back for years to come.
CG: As much as I’d love for the Astros to lose, I don’t think it will happen this early in the postseason. Across the 2021 season, they have been the best team in the league while playing other playoff-caliber teams. Their conga-line offense has been as consistent as a metronome all season, and their pitching has been pretty underrated by most fans. They have the experience over Chicago, and they have superior talent on paper. While Chicago’s starting pitching will make the job difficult, I think the Astros will advance in six or seven games.
NLDS: San Francisco Giants (1) vs. NL Wild Card (4)
Chanun Ong: This year’s Giants set a franchise record for wins in a year, where many struggled to believe that they would break .500. There are unquestionable similarities to the torturous 2010 campaign that ended in an unlikely championship, with contributors such as LaMonte Wade Jr. emerging from the woodwork and veterans such as Buster Posey experiencing a career renaissance. They will have a difficult test against the Dodgers and a slightly more favorable matchup with the Cardinals; regardless of how it goes, they’ve already made it further than anyone thought possible.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: I would love to count out the Giants (hint: I’m from Los Angeles). I would love to tell you that San Francisco’s luck has worn off, the flukes of a regular season are meaningless in the playoffs and the magic ends here. But it’s not just luck, and it’s not a fluke, and though there may be some baseball magic involved, it certainly isn’t the only thing that has the Giants rolling. San Francisco has platooned like a champion and produced runs from every corner of its roster. The Giants’ ability to keep games close and win them late with their bullpen are legitimate October ingredients, and with home field advantage, they should feel confident against the Dodgers and Cardinals.
NLDS: Milwaukee Brewers (2) vs. Atlanta Braves (3)
CO: It was already hard to trust an Atlanta offense missing the dynamic Ronald Acuña Jr. They’ve proved doubters wrong to close out the regular season, but I expect the Braves’ bats to struggle against the Brewers’ three-man shutdown crew of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. I can see the Braves making a deep run with a completely healthy lineup and a fortified rotation behind Max Fried, but their time has not yet come. For now, Brewers in four.
JKS: This matchup is a real offense against defense. Outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Milwaukee allowed the least runs in the NL, and Atlanta scored the most runs in the NL. The Brewers will miss one of their top relievers, Devin Williams, after he broke his hand punching a wall, but their pitching is still dominant. Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta have each registered sub-3.00 ERAs this season. If defense wins championships, it should be more than enough in the NLDS — Brew Crew in five. One fun fact? Both Atlanta and Milwaukee were better on the road than at home in 2021.
Premature World Series matchup and winner?
NP: Rays over Giants, 4-3. The Giants have been able to maintain a few steps lead over the Dodgers and the rest of the NL for the entire year, and I don’t see that ending in October. Meanwhile, the Rays showed they have the talent to make a World Series last year and now have the experience to finish the job in 2021.
CG: Dodgers over Rays, 4-2. Sound familiar? The Dodgers have suffered two key injuries in the past week to Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy, but I still believe they are the best team in baseball. I expect a World Series rematch from last year with a similar result because I trust the Dodgers starting pitching and overall experience more than Tampa.
CO: Giants over Rays, 4-2. Torture 2.0, baby.
JKS: There are so many good playoff matchups, so it feels almost criminal to look ahead to the World Series. Still, we do what we have to. The Brewers have the easiest path to the World Series in the National League, and 2021 has already been a championship year for the city of Milwaukee. It will be a battle of curses in firsts in the Fall Classic. Rays over Brewers, 4-1.