Phil Rogers' MLB power rankings

Tigers, Red Sox, Braves lead the way into the postseason

Last week's ranking in parentheses

1. Tigers (1): Sure, you'd rather not get no-hit in the regular-season finale, nor swept in Miami at any point in the season. But none of that will matter on Friday in Oakland, when the division series rolls around. The Tigers are MLB's version of the Miami Heat, a team built to win in October, with little invested in the regular season. They've known they were going back to the playoffs since they unpacked their gear in Lakeland, Fla. In addition to lots of confidence, they 'have Miguel Cabrera and a starting rotation so deep that Justin Verlander could work behind Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. The bullpen is fine with Joaquin Benoit as the closer, and these days they are even catching the ball (fewer unearned runs allowed than every playoff team except the Reds and Braves). They're my pick to win the World Series.

2. Red Sox (2): Nobody has more known thumpers, with Dustin Pedroia the difference-making catalyst, like always. They'll go as far as their starting pitching allows them, and that could be a long way if Clay Buchholz and John Lackey are on their game. One concern: Jake Peavy never has pitched his best in the biggest games.

3. Braves (5): Nobody has a better bullpen, and that can carry you a long way in October. The lineup has been better since Jason Heyward returned, but this is an inconsistent lineup, with Justin Upton the bellwether. The rotation is deep but probably a tick behind the other teams in the ultra-balanced National League field.

4. Reds (7): Johnny Cueto's return is well-timed for a contender built around a deep starting rotation that has three starters (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Cueto) capable of shutting down lineups three or four times around. Aroldis Chapman doesn't allow many late-inning rallies. The key to survival will be the production from a lineup that has serious weapons in Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. If they win Tuesday in Pittsburgh, they could go a long way.

5. Dodgers (4): Nobody has a 1-2 punch like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The Dodgers' pitching staff was the best around in the second half and capable of duplicating the domination that led the Giants to championships in 2010 and '12. The lineup never seems to be at full strength and fielding is an issue, but Yasiel Puig could put on a show.

6. Athletics (3): They hit a ton of home runs, which is impressive based in a pitcher's park. The pitching staff allowed more second-half runs than any of the other AL playoff teams, however.

7. Pirates (8): They finished the regular season on a roll but could be walking into an ambush against the Reds at PNC Field. The lineup was better in the second half, but this is still the lowest-scoring team among those in the postseason. The pitching is the thing, with the bullpen more of a key than the rotation, and Clint Hurdle was improvising in the late innings late in the season. Jason Grilli is back in the closer's role.

8. Indians (10): It took a season-ending 10-game winning streak to capture the first wild-card spot. That capped a 21-6 September for Terry Francona's team. Pitching and defense are both suspect, however, with Chris Perez's late meltdown forcing Francona to consider opening-day starter Justin Masterson as a closing option. It's hard to see the winner of Wednesday's AL wild-card game posing much of a threat to the Red Sox in the division series.

9. Cardinals (6): You expected them higher, right? They were ahead of the Reds and Pirates last week, but those were eye-ball rankings, and these are generated by my tried and (mostly) true statistical formula, which puts a slight priority on run prevention and post-All-Star break play. It's hard to say why, but St. Louis teams consistently perform better at crunch time than their metrics suggest. I think they'll be a true underdog in every series they play, unless they catch the Rays-Rangers winner in the World Series. Among the survivors, they rank in the middle or lower in seven of 13 categories (11th in home runs, 11th in second-half home runs, 8th in second-half OBP, 6th in bullpen ERA, 10th in second-half runs allowed, 8th in second-half blown saves and 11th in second-half opponents' OPS) and as third only in runs, OBP and starters' ERA. They were 40-29 after the All-Star break but aren't generating the same strong team stats they did in the first half. Conventional wisdom will give the Pirates or Reds credit for pulling off a major upset if they knock off the Cardinals, but my formula favors the wild-card team, especially if it's the Reds.

10. Rays (11): Kudos to Joe Maddon for surviving a 4-13 stretch from Aug. 25 through Sept. 11 to tie the Rangers for the second wild-card spot. But the Rays have been outscored by every other playoff team in the second half and don't have enough pitching and defense to offset that lineup deficit.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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