The 10 postseason lineups, ranked

October 5th, 2021

We enter the postseason knowing full well that it’s a fool’s errand to put too much stock into anything that has come before. Because for as much as we can study and scrutinize six months’ worth of stats, there’s always some random utility player coming off the bench to hit a clutch home run that makes our jaws drop.

Ah, October.

But hey, some lineups are deeper and more accomplished than others. So just for fun, while we await the next unexpected hero, let’s rank this year’s remaining World Series hopefuls by their offenses. Here’s how we line 'em up.

1. Astros

Major League ranks: first in runs (863) and wRC+ (116), second in wOBA (.336) and OPS (.783), ninth in home runs (221)

Bottom line: The Astros were a little more explosive in the first half than the second, and Michael Brantley’s knee issue is a current concern. But for the year, they have five regulars -- Kyle Tucker, Yordan Álvarez, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and Jose Altuve -- with OPS marks above .800 (Alex Bregman, at .799, and Brantley, at .777, are just below). This is the third straight season -- and fourth time in the last five seasons -- that the Astros have had a Majors’ lowest strikeout percentage. That contact skill matters come October. The Astros’ experience might matter, too. Last year, when hardly anybody was picking them, they nearly mashed their way to another AL pennant.

2. Rays

Major League ranks: second in runs (857), fourth in wRC+ (109), sixth in home runs (222), 10th in OPS (.749) and wOBA (.322)

Bottom line: The Rays’ reputation is to churn out pitching, pitching and more pitching. But they’ve managed to build an elite lineup with little in the realm of sure starpower. Mike Zunino, Brandon Lowe and last year’s October sensation, Randy Arozarena, have all put up OPS+ marks more than 25% better than league average. And the arrival of 20-year-old Wander Franco has significantly lengthened one of the most productive lineups in the game. The Rays are also an exceptional baserunning team, which definitely matters this time of year.

3. Red Sox

Major League ranks: third in OPS (.777) and wOBA (.333), fifth in runs (829), sixth in wRC+ (107), 10th in home runs (219)

Bottom line: The late-season emergence of Bobby Dalbec and the addition of Kyle Schwarber have made Boston even more dangerous. In Xander Bogaerts, Dalbec, Rafael Devers, Kiké Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Hunter Renfroe and Alex Verdugo, the Red Sox have an MLB-best seven players with at least 45 extra-base hits. Boston is also among MLB’s best at bashing the breaking ball -- a skill that can really play up in October.

4. White Sox

Major League ranks: third in wRC+ (109), fourth in wOBA (.329), seventh in OPS (.758), 19th in home runs (190), seventh in runs (796)

Bottom line: The Sox played the majority of this season without arguably their best hitter in Luis Robert, and Eloy Jiménez also missed a ton of time and has provided only a fraction of his 2020 output since his late-July return. So the full-season numbers are only a window into the South Siders’ capabilities. Two things that could work in this club’s favor in the postseason are an on-base percentage second in the AL only to the Astros and a relative lack of reliance on the long ball, with only about 39% of the Sox runs scored on home runs (the Major League average is just shy of 43%).

5. Dodgers

Major League ranks: fourth in runs (830) and home runs (237), seventh in wRC+ (106), seventh in wOBA (.327), fifth in OPS (.759)

Bottom line: Though still deep and plenty productive, the Dodgers have had some trouble getting all of their lineup pieces gelling at the same time this season, which is why they aren’t ranked as high as they ordinarily would be. Despite the addition of Trea Turner and the return of Corey Seager from injury, the Dodgers were more productive in the first half than the second, with Max Muncy (who is now out with an elbow issue) and Chris Taylor slumping. Cody Bellinger cratered this season, and Mookie Betts has dealt with hip issues. Still, there’s an awful lot for opposing pitchers to think about with this crew.

6. Giants

Major League ranks: second in home runs (241), fifth in wRC+ (108), fourth in OPS (.769) and wOBA (.329), sixth in runs (804)

Bottom line: This is how you spread the love around. The Giants have 10 players with at least 10 homers (not counting Kris Bryant, who joins the list if you count his Cubs homers) and none with 30. The Giants set the franchise’s single-season home run record with contributions up and down the lineup and by hunting fastballs. And while Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey have all had extraordinary seasons, that depth of contribution -- including a record number of pinch-hit home runs -- is what makes this offense so dangerous on the October stage. Belt’s broken thumb, however, is a big concern. While the Giants might have the depth to overcome the absence of their best hitter, it affects their ranking here.

7. Yankees

Major League ranks: seventh in home runs (222), ninth in wRC+ (101), 12th in wOBA (.317), 13th in OPS (.729), 19th in runs (711)

Bottom line: The Bronx Bombers have drastically underperformed expectations, with their lowest full-season run total since 2016. The in-season additions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo have provided added balance but not as much impact as hoped. On the bright side, the Yankees turned in MLB’s highest hard-hit rate. And as we’ve seen in stretches, if Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are both slugging, that can overcome a lot.

8. Braves

Major League ranks: third in home runs (239), eighth in OPS (.754) and in runs (790), ninth in wOBA (.323), 12th in wRC+ (98)

Bottom line: Losing Ronald Acuña Jr. midseason was a huge blow, but it hasn’t prevented the Braves from again ranking in the top 10 in MLB in runs scored. A breakout from the 24-year-old Austin Riley, a second-half surge from the great Freddie Freeman, and the in-season additions of Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson have helped the Braves offset the absences of Acuña and Marcell Ozuna and get back to October.

9. Cardinals

Major League ranks: 15th in home runs (198), eighth in OPS (.754), 12th in wRC+ (98), 16th in wOBA (.312), 20th in runs (706)

Bottom line: The Cards’ team on-base percentage is the lowest of any of this year’s postseason entrants. But this has been a fundamentally different offensive team in the second half than in the first (their second-half wRC+ ranks fifth in MLB). Much of that is attributable to Paul Goldschmidt playing like the star he is and giving the Cards the fearsome middle of the order they envisioned when they acquired Nolan Arenado. The maturation of Tyler O’Neill and a second-half spark from Harrison Bader have also lengthened this lineup, and St. Louis’ smart and aggressive baserunning was a major factor in the team’s late-season run.

10. Brewers

Major League ranks: 12th in runs (738), 18th in home runs (194), 19th in wOBA (.310), 20th in OPS (.713), 23rd in wRC+ (91)

Bottom line: Milwaukee scored just 3.76 runs per game in the first two months of the season. The addition of Willy Adames ignited this team in a big way, with an average of more than 5 runs per game from June 1 forward. But this lineup is still not the threat it would be if Christian Yelich were swinging like his old, MVP self. The Brewers’ slugging percentage is in the bottom 10 in MLB.