As we gear up for the postseason, it’s a good time to evaluate what each team headed to the playoffs did in the regular season, to help figure out what to expect of them moving forward.
One way to learn more about each club is to assess the facts that defined them throughout the season and any important elements of their postseasons past. There’s no single stat that encapsulates each team, given all of the elements that comprise a postseason-ready squad, but there are certainly trends and notable players worth pointing out.
Here’s one amazing stat for each playoff team.
The Astros led the Majors with a 116 wRC+ this season, outpacing every other team in that category. What does that mean? Their offense was 16% better than league average, across the board. Part of their offensive prowess comes from avoiding strikeouts: the club had just a 19.4% strikeout rate, lowest in MLB. And by the way, manager Dusty Baker deserves a shoutout, too. The 72-year-old has now guided Houston to the playoffs in consecutive seasons, becoming the first manager in MLB history to manage a team to the postseason in separate years at the age of 70 or older.
This October will be Wander Franco’s postseason debut, and given how his first regular-season stint went, we could be in for an all-time performance. From July 25 through Sept. 29, Franco reached base safely in a whopping 43 consecutive games, tying 1956 Frank Robinson for the longest such streak by a player age 20 or younger. What could be in store for Franco in October? Only eight players have homered in the playoffs at age 20 or younger, and it’s quite the list: Miguel Cabrera, Juan Soto, Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Rafael Devers, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuña Jr. And as for picks of Franco as a potential ALCS or World Series MVP, should the Rays get that far? Only two players have won a postseason MVP Award before turning 22: 21-year-olds Steve Avery in the 1991 NLCS and Bret Saberhagen in the 1985 World Series.
After Rafael Devers propelled the Red Sox to the postseason with his multi-home run game on Sunday, which included a go-ahead shot, we’ll get to see this young star playing October baseball again. Devers appeared for the Sox in the postseason in both 2017 and the World Series-winning ‘18 campaign. He’s hitting .311 with a .511 slugging percentage in 15 career postseason games. Only five Red Sox have slugged better in their first 15 career postseason games (min. 40 PA). And in the regular season, only Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro have more home runs for the Red Sox before turning 25 than Devers’ 112.
The White Sox lost their AL Wild Card Series to the A’s last year, but their offense showed up in a big way. Luis Robert crushed a 487-foot homer, and he is liable to do something similar this time around. And Tim Anderson was practically unstoppable, going 9-for-14 with three games with three hits. That’s the most consecutive three-hit games to start a postseason career, and it's tied with 1968 Lou Brock for the longest streak of three-hit games at any point in a postseason. That’s right, Anderson can set a record if he tallies another three hits in Thursday’s Game 1. His nine hits are the most in a player’s first three postseason games. The record for first four is 11, by Marquis Grissom.
One key to the game for the Yankees always seems to be: have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton go yard. Since acquiring Stanton entering the 2018 season, the Yankees are 16-1 when both of those sluggers homer in the same game. The one loss was in this year’s Field of Dreams game on Aug. 12, after which the Yanks reeled off a 13-game winning streak. And by the way, that 16-1 includes the postseason -- with three of those wins coming in playoff games: two last year, and one in 2018. Of the regular-season instances, 10 were this year, which has by far been the best demonstration of what the Yankees can do with both Judge and Stanton healthy and crushing baseballs at the same time.
The Braves have triumphed over injuries all year, including losing Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka being unable to return this year. But one strong point was this team’s infield -- as in, a historic, slugging crew. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson each hit at least 25 home runs. They’re the second team in MLB history with four infielders with at least 25 homers, along with Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs, Hanley Ramírez and Dan Uggla of the 2008 Marlins.
How about the starting pitching from the Brewers this year? Their 3.13 starters' ERA trailed only the Dodgers (2.93), and the Brewers boasted a strong top three of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Burnes (2.43) and Woodruff (2.56) ranked first and fourth, respectively, among qualified starters in ERA. It’s the first time in franchise history that the Brewers have had two pitchers finish among the top five qualifiers in ERA in a single season.
The story of the Cardinals has included Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina for many, many years. They’ve started 304 games as a battery, the fourth-most common regular-season starting battery since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only duos with more are Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan (324), Warren Spahn and Del Crandall (316) and Red Faber and Ray Schalk (306). With both back in the fold for 2022, they’re likely to climb that list next year. But first, they’ll get some chances to add to their postseason battery total. Assuming Molina catches Wainwright in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, it’ll be their 15th postseason start together, tying Mike Mussina and Jorge Posada for fifth-most all-time, according to Elias. The only duos with more postseason starts together: Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada (24), Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez (19), Chris Carpenter and Molina (18) and Roger Clemens and Posada (16).
Yes, they’re a Wild Card team this year, but just how dominant have the Dodgers been lately? They’ve led the NL in runs scored and runs allowed in four straight seasons -- scoring the most and allowing the fewest. That’s tied for the longest such streak by a team leading its league in both categories, with the 1936-39 Yankees, according to Elias. By the way, the Dodgers’ 106 wins tied their franchise record set in 2019, and also tied the record for a defending World Series champion, set by the 1939 Yankees. Those 1939 Yankees repeated, winning their fourth World Series in a row. Meanwhile, in 2021, the current MLB drought without a repeat champion is the longest in the history of MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL. Can the Dodgers become the first team to do it since the 1998-2000 Yankees?
The Giants boast the best record in MLB this season, at 107-55. So, what might that portend for the postseason? Of the 26 World Series champions in the Wild Card Era, seven have had the best record in MLB that year -- the 2020 Dodgers, 2018 Red Sox, 2016 Cubs, 2013 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees, 2007 Red Sox and 1998 Yankees. The Giants are the 17th team to win 107 or more games since the first World Series in 1903. Of the prior 16 teams, 10 won the World Series, another five lost the World Series, and just one failed to reach the Fall Classic at all -- the 2001 Mariners.