Division Series Predictions: Expert Picks for ALDS and NLDS – Sports Illustrated

After an absolutely thrilling wild-card weekend, four teams are moving on to the Division Series, where they will face one of the four teams that received first-round byes. 

Three of the four matchups are between teams from the same division (Dodgers-Padres, Braves-Phillies and Astros-Mariners), while the other one (Yankees-Guardians) features two teams with completely different styles of play.

Let’s see how we see it all playing out:

Jose Altuve rounds first base on his way to second for a double.

Jose Altuve just finished his best offensive season (160 OPS+) since his MVP-winning campaign in 2017.

Tom Verducci

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Yankees in four games

The power differential is too large to ignore. Cleveland does get the edge in close games because of the better bullpen.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in four games

The depth of Houston’s pitching staff shows up in the postseason, beginning with this series.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in four games

Atlanta has a glaring edge when it comes to bullpens. Philadelphia’s offense can make this interesting.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in five games

The best team in baseball has the edge in pitching because of the bye, while the Padres were the only team to need three games to get through the wild-card series. If San Diego steals Game 1, though, look out.

Austin Riley rips a double against the Phillies

Austin Riley slashed .351/.407/.514 against the Phillies in 19 games this season.

Stephanie Apstein

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Yankees in four games

More than maybe any other team, the Yankees needed the five-day layoff the bye afforded them. If they’re healthy, they’re dangerous.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in three games

The Mariners are so much fun, but the Astros are so scary.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in five games

The Phillies could make some mayhem, but Atlanta can squeeze two starts out of Max Fried.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in three games

Trent Grisham is the best player in the world, but the Dodgers have most of Nos. 2–20.

Trent Grisham rounds the bases after hitting a home run off Mets righthander Max Scherzer.

Grisham hit two home runs in the NL wild-card series, one off Max Scherzer and the other off Jacob deGrom.

Emma Baccellieri

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Guardians in five games

The Yankees are certainly the better team on paper. But I think the Guardians have a chance to pull off the upset: Their style of play is unlike any other playoff team, which can be a bit destabilizing, and the Yankees’ recent bullpen shakiness is a real cause for concern. The season series here was lopsided (New York won 5 out of 6 against Cleveland), but these two teams haven’t met since early July, and I think the result might be quite different in October.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in four games

This Mariners squad is supremely fun. But the Astros are simply too good—too deep, too balanced, too talented all the way around—to pick against right now.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in four games

The Phillies were exactly the kind of squad that could excel in a short wild-card series: They look really, really good when they only have to use the top of the rotation. The 1-2 punch of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola is capable of dominating just about anyone. But for a slightly longer series, where they’ll also have to look toward Ranger Suárez and Kyle Gibson, particularly against a rested, well-rounded Braves team? That’s a tall order.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in four games

The Dodgers have been to the NLCS in five of the last six postseasons—and this version of the team just might be better than any of those from the recent past. That’s not to say the Padres will be an easy opponent. But the depth and versatility of the Dodgers’ pitching staff just makes facing them a nightmare: They finished the year with a 150 staff ERA+. And consider the effect amplified with L.A. coming off a long weekend of rest while San Diego just had its wild-card series go the full three games—even with its bullpen minimally taxed, thanks to strong performances from starting pitching, that’s a hard matchup.

José Ramírez launches a two-run home run against the Rays.

José Ramírez’s two-run home run in Game 1 against the Rays was one of only three runs the Guardians scored in their two wild-card games.

Claire Kuwana

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Guardians in five games

The Guardians showed us just how good their arms are in their series against the Rays. If (and it’s a big if) their pitchers can continue to perform on a limited amount of rest and cap the number of home runs and walks that the Yankees—mainly Aaron Judge—get, the Guardians have a shot at getting on base more often than New York and pulling out a win in five. Yes, power is still a huge issue for this team, and maybe I’m just picking them because I think they’re the underdog that has the best shot in this round. But FiveThirtyEight gives the Guardians at a 34% chance of making the AL championship, which is higher than the Mariners and Phillies (albeit by one percent), and Padres, have.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in five games

Yes, the Astros are the best team in the league, but the Mariners won’t fold easily and let their 21-years-in-the-making playoff run go to waste. This series will go the distance, and in the end, Houston will be the one that moves on.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in three games

Simply put, the Phillies bullpen is not going to improve fast enough to keep up with this strong of a Braves offense in a five-game series. The Phillies just don’t have the same depth that Atlanta does; they have talent in players like Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper. But this is a matchup of Philly batters vs. fully rested Atlanta pitchers and Braves batters vs. a lesser Phillies staff that had to play in the wild-card series. The edge here goes to the cohort of Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Michael Harris against a top-heavy Philly rotation and unreliable bullpen.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in three games

San Diego’s trade deadline moves finally seemed to pay off in its wild-card series against the Mets. The Dodgers, though, have a huge advantage when it comes to rest: The Padres have one day between its series-clinching victory and the start of the division series, while the Dodgers have a full five days since their last game. The L.A. arms will all be fresh, and with all the talent in the Dodgers’ lineup, San Diego’s pitchers won’t be able to compete the same way they did against the Mets.

Mookie Betts celebrates with his teammates after hitting a home run.

Mookie Betts blasted a career high 35 home runs this season.

Will Laws

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Yankees in four games

Gerrit Cole is susceptible to the long ball, but the Guardians probably aren’t the team to take advantage of that after they ranked 29th in home runs during the regular season. Cleveland also struck out less often than any other team in the regular season (18.2%), then saw that rate skyrocket to 32.9% in their series against the Rays. They’ll probably struggle to score in this series while finding it much harder to keep New York off the board than it was to keep the Rays at bay.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Mariners in five games

I like Luis Castillo’s chances of carrying Seattle to a Game 2 win in Houston. And while much is made of the Astros’ depth, 10 of the 12 Mariners with the most plate appearances have an OPS+ of 100 or more. Seattle is very familiar with Justin Verlander, having faced him six times this season. One of those times, he allowed a season-high six runs. The other five times, he performed much better and earned the win in each instance. It’s October, and I have a feeling Seattle’s raucous home crowd could help lead to another outlier.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in five games

The X-factor here is Spencer Strider. Will the Braves’ outstanding and newly extended rookie be available to start, or at least provide some bulk innings, at some point in this series? If not, the Phillies have a pretty good shot at an upset here since they hit lefties well, which should come in handy against Atlanta’s Game 1 (and presumably Game 4 or 5) starter Max Fried. I think the Braves can muster some offense against Aaron Nola, who’s given up at least four runs to the Braves in three out of the five times he’s faced them this year. The ability to similarly get to Philadelphia’s bullpen early most of the time in a best-of-five matchup would be a winning recipe for Atlanta.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in four games

San Diego being forced to burn its three best starters in the wild-card series should come to bite them here. I think Los Angeles will be forced to pay for relying exclusively on left-handed starters at some point during these playoffs, but don’t think the Padres (103 wRC+ vs. LHP, 15th in MLB) are the team to take advantage.

Gleyber Torres launches a home run.

Gleyber Torres caught fire over the final month of the season (.962 OPS) after a brutal showing in August (.464).

Matt Martell

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Yankees in four games

The Yankees could very easily hit more homers in the series than the Guardians score runs.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in five games

I nearly picked the Mariners. I still want to pick the Mariners. And, dare I say, if the Mariners win, I won’t be surprised. That said, this season has been hurdling toward another Yankees-Astros ALCS matchup. Seattle isn’t quite on either team’s level yet.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in four games

At some point, the Phillies are going to Philly, right? I mean, this team with at least 3 DHs playing the field can’t continue to play errorless-free ball, and their bullpen can’t hold onto leads without blowing one much longer, can they? Either way, the Braves are too loaded and well-rested for this to matter.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Padres in five games

This is mostly a gut pick. The Dodgers are so incredibly good, yet I don’t think they are 22 games better than the Padres, as they were in the NL West standings. The key here is the bottom of the San Diego order. If Ha-Seong Kim, Trent Grisham and Austin Nola can hit like they did in the wild-card series (combined .400/.559/.720) against a Mets pitching staff that’s roughly as good as the one they’ll see in L.A., this series could get interesting.

Bryce Harper reacts after hitting a solo home run against the Cardinals.

Bryce Harper has struggled since returning from a thumb injury in late August, but he hit the decisive solo home run in the Phillies’ 2–0 win over the Cardinals on Saturday.

Nick Selbe

Matchup: Yankees vs. Guardians

Predictions: Yankees in four games

As masterful as the Guardians’ pitching staff was against the Rays in the wild-card series, their offense was just as abysmal. The Yankees possess as much pitching depth as any team on this side of the bracket, and their bats have begun to wake up at the right time. Cleveland is absolutely good enough to beat New York, but the Guardians’ margin for error is too small to predict an upset victory.

Matchup: Astros vs. Mariners

Prediction: Astros in five games

As much as I’d love to pick the upstart Mariners to keep the good vibes rolling into the ALCS, the Astros are a juggernaut. Seattle has the firepower to keep pace, and clearly will not be overwhelmed by the October spotlight after its remarkable comeback against Toronto. But I don’t trust the rotation depth to be able to avoid a back-breaking inning or two from the Astros’ lineup, and thus I foresee Houston advancing to its sixth consecutive championship series.

Matchup: Braves vs. Phillies

Prediction: Braves in five games

Ranger Suárez is lined up to face Atlanta twice in this series, and the crafty lefty has gotten more than a few cracks at the Braves lineup this year. Suárez made five starts against the Braves during the regular season, posting a 3.21 ERA across 28 innings. He allowed only one earned run over his last three starts against Atlanta, and perhaps has the right approach to keep a stacked offense at bay. Conversely, the health status of Spencer Strider’s strained oblique casts a pall over the series and could present issues for Atlanta’s pitching staff. This will be a tough one for the defending champs, but with home field advantage and extra rest, the edge goes to the Braves.

Matchup: Dodgers vs. Padres

Prediction: Dodgers in four games

It feels like this era of Padres baseball has consistently failed to live up to the hype. But San Diego was mighty impressive in dispatching the 101-win Mets on the road, and appear to be as close to realizing its immense potential at exactly the right moment. It’s fitting, then, that the Friars’ next opponent be their greatest foe, with the behemoth Dodgers waiting to put their little brothers back in their place. The Padres have the pitching and the star power to go toe-to-toe with Los Angeles, and the Dodgers are not without question marks in the rotation. But this is a historically dominant team that went 12–4 against the Padres this season, outscoring them by 50 runs in the process. That’s too overwhelming to pick against, even in a short series.

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