After losing three National League Division Series - to the Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers - the Nationals are in the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Nationals, who finished with 97 wins and start the NLDS on Friday at home against the Cubs, have the deepest rotation, a rebuilt bullpen, depth, and a versatile offense that has power, speed and a blend of left-right hitters. They are the favorite to win the NL pennant and bring a World Series to Washington for the first time since 1933.
The American League favorite is the 102-win Indians.
The Indians are one of three teams with triple-digit wins, joining the Dodgers (104) and Astros (101). The playoffs also have two teams with turnaround seasons in the Twins (103 losses in 2016) and Diamondbacks (93 losses). The Yankees, too, are a turnaround team, considering they started the rebuilding process in the middle of last season.
But how often do the favorites make it to the World Series?
The sleeper team is the Diamondbacks because of their rotation and lineup. In the AL, it’s the Yankees because of their lineup and deep bullpen.
Here are the story lines for other postseason teams:
Astros: The Astros have their second triple-digit win season in club history. The other was in 1998 when they went 102-60, but lost to San Diego in the NLDS. ... The Astros offense is explosive with Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa leading the way. Altuve, the AL batting champ at .346, has four consecutive 200-hit seasons. He finished with a .410 on-base percentage, 24 home runs and 32 steals. ... Springer hit 34 home runs and Correa, a shortstop who missed a chunk of the season with injury, hit .315-24-84. ... The rotation has two Cy Young winners, lefty Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander (5-0, 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts), who has dominated since arriving from Detroit in a trade. .... How good are the third and fourth starters? Lance McCullers has had three starts since coming back from injury, and how much can the Astros rely on Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers, Collin McHugh and former Nats prospect Brad Peacock? ... The bullpen’s closer Ken Giles is unproven in big games, but he’s been strong all year. ... Reliever Chris Devenski is durable and capable of multiple innings, so he could be to the Astros what Andrew Miller was to Cleveland last October.
Cubs: The Cubs, who last season won their first World Series since 1908, are back in the postseason after a hot second half. The Cubs were 43-45 at the break. ... The Cubs have rotation issues. Jake Arrieta was slowed by a hamstring injury in the final days of the regular season. Lefty Jon Lester has been inconsistent and has trouble throwing to first base, which is an advantage for the speed of the Nationals’ Trea Turner. John Lackey, a World Series hero with the Angels in 2002 and now 38, has been inconsistent, but better in September. Kyle Hendricks (3.03 ERA) has been their best pitcher. Lefty Jose Quintana, acquired from the White Sox, will be making his first postseason appearance after posting a 3.74 ERA in 14 starts. ... Kris Bryant, the NL MVP in 2016, hit .295-29-73 and catcher Willson Contreras, despite time on the disabled list, hit 21 home runs. Kyle Schwarber, who missed all of last season with an injury and then hit .412 in the World Series versus Cleveland, hit 30 home runs this season. ... Ian Happ hit 24 home runs after getting called up in May.
Diamondbacks: After a 93-loss season in 2016, Arizona is back in the postseason for the sixth time since becoming a franchise in 1998. The Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. .... Ace pitcher Zack Greinke made up for a bad first season in Arizona with an excellent second: Greinke had 17 wins and a 3.20 ERA for the Diamondbacks this season and will pitch the wild card game versus the Rockies. ... Lefty Robbie Ray, a former Nationals prospect traded to Detroit for Doug Fister in 2013, has come of age with 12 strikeouts per nine innings. ... The biggest question for the Diamondbacks is a thin bullpen with Fernando Rodney at closer. ... The Diamondbacks made the best midseason acquisition in outfielder J.D. Martinez, who hit 29 home runs in 61 games for Arizona since coming over from Detroit. ... Martinez joins a nucleus of hard-nosed hitters: NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt .297-36-120), Jake Lamb (30 home runs), David Peralta (.293, 14 home runs) and A.J. Pollock (14 home runs).
Dodgers: The Dodgers, trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1988 when they beat Oakland, will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their 104 wins give them the best record in baseball and most win since the team moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958. ... The Dodgers, making their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason, had a 69-18 run during the season and followed it up with an 11-game losing streak. ... The Dodgers have two of the brightest young stars in baseball, Cody Bellinger (.269-39-77) and Corey Seager (22 home runs). ... There’s also Chris Taylor, who hit 31 home runs. ... Lefty Clayton Kershaw, who earned the save in the Dodgers’ Game 5 NLDS win against the Nationals last season, finished the season at 18-4 and 2.31 and says he’s feeling as good as ever, despite missing two months with a back injury. The rest of the Dodgers’ playoff rotation includes Yu Darvish, who has struggled since being acquired from Texas in July, and lefty Rich Hill. ... The bridge from starter to closer in the bullpen is the Dodgers’ biggest question, but if they get to the closer, Kenley Jansen is as automatic (41 of 42 saves).
Indians: Cleveland lost Game 7 of the World Series last season to the Cubs and takes aim at its first World Series title since 1948. The Indians also lost World Series in 1954 and 1995. ... The Indians, champions of the AL Central with the best record in the AL, were helped with an AL-record 22-game winning streak during the regular season, four short of the major league record set by the 1916 New York Giants. The Indians pitching staff had a 1.58 ERA during the streak with 200 strikeouts in 199 innings. The lineup outscored opponents by 106 runs. ... The Indians rotation is stacked with AL Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber (1.79 ERA since the All-Star break), Carlos Carrasco (3.12) and Trevor Bauer (3.01). Bauer ripped up his right pinkie repairing a drone before last year’s World Series. ... Kluber led the AL with 265 strikeouts. ... Cody Allen is the closer, but Andrew Miller, who spent time on the disabled list, had a 1.45 ERA, spending part of the season on the DL. ... The Tribe’s offense is led by two AL MVP candidates: Francisco Lindor, who hit a career-high 33 home runs, and José Ramírez, 25, who hit 29 home runs. DH Edwin Encarnacion had 38 home runs. ... Outfielder Michael Brantley, the heart and soul of the Indians roster who missed last year’s postseason, returned on the final weekend after missing 50 games because of injury. He averaged .299 in 90 games.
Nationals: Expectations are high in D.C. for the Nationals, so is the season a failure if the Nationals don’t win the World Series? ... The last time the World Series was in Washington was 1933. The last time Washington won the World Series was 1924, when the Senators beat the New York Giants in seven games. ... The best news for the Nationals from the final weekend is that Bryce Harper appears to be recovered from the calf strain and knee bruise that had sidelined him since mid-August. Harper is running fearlessly and is 3-for-18 since his return with two hard-hit balls in Sunday’s 11-8 season-ending loss to the Pirates. For the season, Harper hit .319-29-87 in 111 games. ... After three seasons of injury and speculation that he was done, Ryan Zimmerman rebounded with .303-36-108 season. Anthony Rendon hit .301-25-100 and Daniel Murphy .322-23-93. .... Trea Turner’s speed at the top of the order - he had 22 steals in June - is always a factor for opposing pitchers, but especially Cubs lefty Jon Lester, who has trouble throwing to first base. ... Nationals manager Dusty Baker managed the Cubs, the Nationals’ first-round opponent, in 2003, the year they lost to the Marlins in the NLCS. ... The Nationals won the NL East in a runaway with 97 victories, but they could have had 100-plus wins if they didn’t have the league’s worst bullpen in the first half. GM Mike Rizzo stabilized the bullpen, the most improved component of the team, in July by trading for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from Oakland and Brandon Kintzler, a closer with Minnesota. Kintzler pitches the seventh and Madson the eighth to complete the bridge to Doolittle. ... Of NL teams, the Nationals have the deepest rotation with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, lefty Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, and the Nationals will finally go into the postseason with their two best pitchers - Scherzer and Strasburg. Either could pitch two games in the NLDS. ... Strasburg, who has pitched in only one career postseason game for the Nationals, had a 2.52 ERA and 35 consecutive scoreless innings during the season. He’s had a 0.86 ERA since the All-Star break. In his only playoff start in 2014, Strasburg pitched five innings and gave up eight hits. ... Scherzer had a 2.51 ERA with 268 strikeouts during the regular season. He’s made 12 postseason starts, 10 with Detroit. ... Jayson Werth, 38, who missed two months with a broken foot, is in the final season of his contract and hasn’t hit well since his return from injury. He won a World Series title with the Phillies in 2008. Can he do the same with the Nationals?
Red Sox: Boston clinched the AL East on the second-to-last-day of the season, giving the Red Sox consecutive division championships for the first time in team history. ... The Red Sox rotation took a turn from preseason plans. Chris Sale led the AL with 308 strikeouts - the first pitcher with at least 300 since Pedro Martinez of Boston in 1999 - but lefty David Price faltered and will pitch out of the bullpen and Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young winner, has struggled. ... The Red Sox’s second-best pitcher behind Sale is Drew Pomeranz, who had 17 wins and a 3.32 ERA. ... Without David Ortiz, the Red Sox’s home run production dropped, but their lineup had a core of young players that includes Mookie Betts (.264 with 20 home runs, 26 steals), Xander Bogaerts (.273, 10 home runs), Rafael Devers (.284) and Andrew Benintendi, who joins Ellis Burks (1997) and Nomar Garciaparra (1997) as Red Sox players with least 20 home runs and 20 steals.
Rockies: Colorado is in the postseason for the fourth time in franchise history. The Rockies’ only World Series appearance was 2007, when they were swept by Boston. ... Carlos Gonzalez is the only player remaining from the last time the Rockies were in the postseason. That was 2009 when they lost to Philadelphia in the first round. ... The Rockies are under first-year manager Bud Black. ... The lineup has two NL MVP candidates, third baseman Nolan Arenado and outfielder Charlie Blackmon. Arenado and Blackmon hit a combined 74 home runs with 234 RBIs. ... The Rockies’ best pitcher is Jon Gray, who battled injuries, but wound up 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA, and their comeback story is closer Greg Holland, a lights-out reliever for the Royals in two World Series. Holland missed 2016 with injury, but came back to convert 41 of 45 saves for the Rockies this season. ... Former National Ian Desmond hit .274 with seven home runs for the Rockies.
Twins: The Twins are in the postseason for the first time since 2010, when they lost to the Yankees in the ALDS. The Yankees beat the Twins in the Division Series in 2003, 2004 and 2009, as well. The Twins lost to Oakland in the 2006 Division Series and to the Angels in the ALCS in 2002. ... The Twins were 4 1/2 back of the second wild card team, trailing five teams, on Aug. 1. ... The Twins’ outfield defense with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler from left to right, was one of the tightest in the AL. ... Joe Mauer hit .305 in a comeback year and Brian Dozier was the team leader in home runs (34), although Miguel Sano hit 28 before he missed 38 games with a shin injury. Sano was reinstated from the DL on Sunday. ... Byron Buxton, the Twins’ speedy centerfielder, hit .216 in the first half, .300 in the second. ... The Twins traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals at the deadline. With Kintzler gone, ex-National Matt Belisle is the Twins closer. ... The Twins will start Ervin Santana on Tuesday in the wild card game in New York. Santana won 16 games with a 3.28 ERA. ... José Berríos had a 3.89 ERA in his first full season for Minnesota. ... The Twins were only shut out twice this season, a team record. The previous record was three shutouts by the 1965 Twins, a team that lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.
Yankees: In July 2016, the Yankees were selling off big-name players at the trade deadline. This postseason, they take aim at winning the World Series for the 28th time. Their last postseason was 2015, when they lost the wild card game to Houston. ... From 1995 through 2012, they were in the postseason 17 of 18 seasons. ... The Yankees’ dynamic duo of catcher Gary Sánchez and rookie outfielder Aaron Judge, has combined for 85 home runs and 204 RBIs, bringing back memories of 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61 and Mickey Mantle 54. ... The Yankees’ wild card game pitcher will be Luis Severino, who was 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts. ... The Yankees rotation also has CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray (acquired from Oakland) and Masahiro Tanaka. .... Their strength is the flame-throwing bullpen that has Chad Green, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and closer Aroldis Chapman.