Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings: Playoffs edition


This is not a predictions post, really. We’ll be doing previews of each of the first round series tomorrow and Wednesday. This is more of a snapshot of where the teams sit as we head into the madness that is playoff baseball. For example, I may have the Braves last, but I think they got a serious shot at taking down the Giants. We’ll save that for the previews. For now, just let my subjective judgments wash over you.

1. Phillies: I’m going to be on the “no one can beat Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels” train until someone beats them. No one has shown us that the big Russian can be cut yet.

2. Yankees: I know the Rays won the division. I really don’t care. A-Rod got healthy and hot at the right time. I refuse to believe that Rivera and Jeter and all of the rest won’t simply amp things up a bit now that the playoffs have started. Yes, they try to win every game, but if you asked Lance Armstrong if he felt winning those early sprints were important a few years ago he would have said yes too. Bull. He was saving it for the mountains. I think the Yankees are too, and I’d have a seriously difficult time betting on anyone else coming out of the AL.

3. Giants: In most years Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez would be called the big three of the playoffs. They suffer this year only by comparison. Their infield defense scares the crap out of me, though.

4. Rays: The best defense of any team in the playoffs, but can you depend on anyone in the rotation beyond David Price? I could see them mowing everyone down in the AL, or I can see them losing in the first round 3-1. How does it feel to have so much riding on Matt Garza, Rays fans?

5. Twins:  Say all you want about past playoff history between the Twins and the
Yankees not mattering as much as people say it should, but Minnesota is 18-54 against the Yankees since Ron Gardenhire took over the club and that’s hard to ignore.

6. Reds: The best offense in the NL, but so much of it came at the expense of a really weak NL Central. The thing I’m waiting to see in the first round more than anything else: close game, late innings, Aroldis Chapman coming in to face Utley and Howard.

7. Rangers: Texas was a combined 0-12 at Yankee Stadium, Target Field and Tropicana Field. That’s . . . troubling.

8. Braves: Bright side: Now that they’re in the playoffs they don’t need fourth and fifth starters, really, neutralizing a late-season weakness. Not so bright side: they still have to fill out their lineup card with two guys from the following group in every game: Melky Cabrera, Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz and Rick Ankiel. I’m approaching this like I approach my son’s soccer games: Hey everyone! Let’s just have some fun! There will be snacks afterward!

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.