Fall's shorter days and cooler temperatures get people thinking about back-to-school, football games and Halloween. For baseball fans, though, the return of fall means one thing: World Series time. As the regular season winds down, which teams are looking like the favorites and which ones are looking toward next year?
Teams That Are Looking to Play October Baseball
While the Cubs were a popular pre-season pick to make the World Series, no one predicted the total dominance they would display. Led by the best pitching rotation in baseball along with 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, the North Side favorites grabbed the NL Central division lead on day one and never let it go.
On the pitching side, the Cubs currently have the third best rotation in the game, with 14.7 fWAR from their starters. With an incredibly weak free agent market, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see the exact same group back together next season as they will all be under contract.
Jake Arrieta (will be 31), Jon Lester (will be 33), John Lackey (will be 38), Jason Hammel (should be back, as the Cubs have a team option on him, will be 34) and Kyle Hendricks (who will be 28) have proven to be an effective group, it will just be a matter of how long they can keep playing at a high level.
Texas RangersDespite a number of crippling injuries, including the medically-mandated retirement of offensive powerhouse Prince Fielder, the Rangers are on track to repeat as AL West division champs with an even better record than last season. A potent mix of veterans such as Adrian Beltre and youngsters like Roughned Odor has resulted in a productive lineup to offset the temporary absences of Yu Darvish and other key starting pitchers.
In 2015 the Nationals were heavy favorites to win the World Series. Perhaps buried by the weight of high expectations, they ended up spending the post-season watching the games on TV. The Nats seem to have learned a valuable lesson from that experience, and in 2016 they have been far more consistent, even though last year's MVP Bryce Harper has been struggling with a disappointing performance.
For the first time in years, the Indians have legitimate World Series hopes. With a team earned run average (ERA) of 3.81, second best in the AL, their starting pitching has the talent to go far in the playoffs.
The team’s star pitcher, Corey Kluber, is leading the rotation with a 15-8 record with a sterling 3.09 ERA. Even when their bats go cold, the Indians can still beat teams with their running skills. They lead the league in steals by a wide margin. Center fielder Rajai Davis leads the charge, already swiping 34 bags this year.
Teams That Will Be Vacationing Earlier Than Expected
Kansas City Royals
As the defending World Series champs, the Royals were justifiably on everyone's radar this season. But the team appears to be suffering from a victory hangover, with their stellar pitching staff losing a bit of its luster. KC went through a mid-season swoon that saw them drop to double-digits behind in the AL Central, and while they seem to have righted the ship, it may be too little, too late.
New York Yankees
For years, it's almost been a given that the Yankees will be in the post-season one way or another. Although their payroll is second only to that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team's aging roster doesn't appear to be up to the task this season.
At the trade deadline the Yanks offloaded some hefty salaries in exchange for an infusion of fresh young talent, but the moves will probably bear more fruit in 2017.
It's never too early to start thinking about next season. Be sure to check out our line of premium baseball and softball products!