AL West NL West
Wild Card Series: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Seattle Mariners
The wild card system makes it difficult for teams to beat opponents with fantastic starting pitchers. The entire MLB season contains series' of games, with the lone exception of this one game play in. However, in recent years, teams that have gone on to win this game have had favorable luck further into the playoffs (see: Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants in 2014). The Royals were able to beat the pitcher Oakland traded for that was brought there to win that specific game in Jon Lester. This year in my fantasy world, the Blue Jays, even through losing their young ace Marcus Stroman, will still power their way into a Wild Card spot. Truth be told, I'm very skeptical of this happening, but I'm going to continue to go with my gut even with the injuries they've suffered this Spring. They will take on the best team to not win a division in the league, the Seattle Mariners. But more importantly, they would be going up against Felix Hernandez in his first career playoff start. If this indeed becomes the matchup, there's no way I can bet against King Felix to move the M's into the next round!
Advantage - Mariners
Division Series: Chicago White Sox vs. Boston Red Sox
The battle of the Sox will ensue as both revamped teams will challenge for a spot in the Championship Series. In this Best of 5 series, I can see this going both ways. At the end of the day though, I like Chicago more than Boston because of their pitching. Both teams are loaded with talented lineups, and the John Farrell managed Red Sox may have a recent advantage in playoff games, but the trio of Chris Sale/Jeff Samardzija/Jose Quintana along with an improved bullpen should prove to be the difference in this matchup. If the Red Sox were to swing a trade for an ace caliber pitcher, maybe they could stand a better chance, but for now I'd say that will be the cause for their demise.
Advantage - White Sox, 3-2
Division Series: Seattle Mariners vs. Los Angeles Angels
With all the talent the Angels have had over the years, they've always seemed to fall a bit short. Watching Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton all struggle in their 2014 postseason embarrassment by the Royals was telling of their future. I feel like they will play extremely well in the regular season, as Mike Scioscia appears to have managed that portion relatively well. A key for the Mariners in this series is having a strong performance from either Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, or both. Kershaw has had his challenges in the playoffs, but I feel like Hernandez could be much different and dominate the Angels lineup. The Mariners offense isn't overly dynamic, but a healthy, good year from Nelson Cruz could be the deciding factor for all of these predictions coming true. Between he, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and some other sneaky candidates may also be clutch through this stretch.
Advantage - Mariners, 3-1
Championship Series - Chicago White Sox vs. Seattle Mariners
I've been using pitching as a key determinant for most of this post thus far, but at this point these teams are about even in that respect. Felix/Iwakuma/Paxton/Walker plays out well against Sale/Samardzija/Quintana, so there will be more to this decision than simply good pitching. I don't think the Mariners will run the table against the Angels, but I think at this point in October they will be feeling extremely confident. This late in the playoffs, momentum is a huge factor, and those days of a regular season record are long gone. Both teams will feel confident, but I'm anticipating the Wild Card game winner to once again prevail and win the pennant. Is this a flaw in the MLB system that the winners of that game get to stay in the same rhythm as they were in all season? These games have the potential to be even more exciting than any other playoff games outside of tiebreaker elimination games, and I can't even imagine how good the Royals felt after knocking out the A's in extra innings. I don't know if this is something that needs to be fixed, but I think it will be determined by the results of the next few years. Don't get me wrong, these 1 game series' are extremely fun to watch and I look forward to them every year now since the idea started in 2012, but I don't know if it hurts the other teams not to be feeling the same momentum after the intensity those games bring.
Advantage - Mariners, 4-2
Wild Card Series: Miami Marlins vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Marlins don't have the caliber pitching staff as the Washington Nationals, which will most likely cause them to finish behind them in the NL East. But that's just the regular season, and a little bird told me that a guy named Jose Fernandez will be returning to their staff around midseason. With a healthy, MVP caliber season out of Giancarlo Stanton, along with production from their various improvements up and down the lineup, they can pose a huge threat into the postseason. St. Louis seems to be on the cusp of trending in the opposite direction, although they still do have young players that will develop into stars. I think this year is part will be the beginning of a trend for St. Louis, where they may still win games and make the playoffs, but could continue to fall short of advancing. Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday aren't getting any younger, and until some of their touted prospects and young players improve they will be on the outside looking in during the World Series this year. In a game that could possibly be Fernandez vs. Wainwright, I'll take the fish's upside here.
Advantage - Marlins
Division Series: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
This matchup may be interesting. For all of the money, time, and effort put into the Dodgers organization over the past few years, you would expect more results by now. It seems to be proven by now, however, that most teams dishing out the mega millions fail to reach the chemistry required to win it all. The Pirates have built their organization in the complete opposite way, developing homegrown players such as McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gerrit Cole into excellent big league players. It's sad to think that a team with $157,183,552 less to spend every year stands a chance against this Dodgers team that has struggled immensely in recent history. But this year, things are going to go differently for the boys in blue, because they're not going to be facing their nemesis St. Louis Cardinals and Clayton Kershaw will solidify his position as the best pitcher in the game that Bumgarner attempted to steal last October. It's great to see Pittsburgh succeed, but I have a bad feeling about their playoff luck this year, because Kershaw will be out for blood.
Advantage - Dodgers, 3-1
Division Series: Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals
These division rivals are going to be a lot of fun to watch if they do get to square off this year. The Marlins will have the momentum in their favor, and the Nationals have not been able to win with their star studded team yet. But even with a staff of Jose Fernandez, Mat Latos, and Henderson Alvarez, nobody in the game can say they have what Washington does with their super staff. Max Scherzer may be able to squeak out victories against Fernandez, and the other starters will be overmatched by either Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg (or Fister, Gonzalez, Roark, etc, etc). As exciting as it will be to see Giancarlo Stanton crush a late inning home run against a weak Nats bullpen, I think they will fall just a bit short. Although both the Mariners and Marlins will be in similar positions at this point in time, the Mariners veterans and a weaker AL competition gives them a better opportunity to reach the World Series, whereas the Marlins may fall just short of moving on. If Bryce Harper can continue to hit the way he has in his limited postseason experience, he could be a lethal weapon as well. This will be a great series without a doubt, perhaps the best of my entire mock playoffs, but this will be the year the Nationals and Dodgers will duke it out for a chance at the pennant.
Advantage - Nationals, 3-2
Championship Series: Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The series many of you have been waiting to see is indeed my NL Championship Series. Both of these teams will be on a level playing field; both with high momentum and a mix of veteran stars to help guide the young players to the top. No longer are concerns of "How many innings can Stephen Strasburg throw?" on the top of all fan's minds. Who knows which players will be out with injuries by this point, but assuming fully healthy clubs, I'm picking the Nationals to defeat Kershaw, Greinke, and the Dodgers. And no, this is not only because of their pitching staff. Despite losing Adam LaRoche at first base, the Nats still have Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, and Bryce Harper to worry about on offense. The Dodgers have their assets too, but who knows what will be running through their star player, Yasiel Puig's mind when it matters most. Last year, he was benched during pivotal moments of their series against the Cardinals. I like the Nationals overall team from top to bottom just a bit more than that of the Dodgers, and with that, they're my pick for the National League side of the World Series.
Advantage - Nationals, 4-3
Seattle Mariners vs. Washington Nationals
I know what you're saying: The Mariners in the World Series? I get the confusion; really, I do. They have actually been a dark horse favorite for the series going into 2015 with a lot of people, although I didn't take other people's opinions into account when I compiled this list myself. A lot will have to go right in Seattle for a chance to make up for their Seahawks' awkward Super Bowl disaster, but I have a strangely positive feeling about them. I'm no Swami, I don't know the answers, but I can say this decision was calculated; crazy as it may seem. The addition of Nelson Cruz to a primarily lefty dominant lineup was critical to the team's success. He may not swat 40 home runs in Safeco Field, but he'll certainly hold his own in the clean up spot of the lineup. Seth Smith, Dustin Ackley, and Austin Jackson will purvey the outfield, while young power hitting catcher Mike Zunino is behind the plate. Future stars James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will take the next step towards reaching their full potential, and that factor could also play huge in their late season run. This team reminds me of a better Kansas City Royals team that we saw in the World Series last year. They won't be making this series easy, especially with the best pitcher in the American League and momentum that will make the entire bleachers a sea of yellow K's.
But if they could beat Kershaw, they can and will beat Felix too. Like many others, the Washington Nationals are my World Series pick for the year. I didn't wish to be cliché with this choice, but I really do feel like if there is any year they will win, it's this one. Dominance isn't as frequent in these relatively even leagues, and the team with the greatest potential to dominate should be the favorite to win it all. Past postseason struggles, injury questions, free agency looming for top players, I don't care what the excuse may be. This is the best team on paper, and outside of Max Scherzer it hasn't changed too much recently. He will help, not hurt, the chemistry of the clubhouse. Recent history has proven that the best teams on paper don't exactly play the way most expect, but this is going to be one of the exceptions. I'm feeling it already.
Advantage - Nationals, 4-2
World Series MVP - Bryce Harper
The point of this post, over anything else, is that I can't wait for baseball to return. These picks could be the worst ever made, or maybe I'll look like a genius. I hope for the latter, although I would take a Yankees World Series win over any of my silly picks in a heartbeat.
Have any World Series predictions? Feel free to share them in the comments below.