A Different Final Four

MLB teams have a tough route making it to the Championship Series. Rarely do the best four teams make it. So who are these final four teams and how did they get here?


Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 16, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Enrique Hernandez (5) and third baseman Rafael Devers (11) celebrate after the Red Sox defeated the Houston Astros in game two of the 2021 ALCS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Smith, Staff Writer

As the MLB season comes to a close, we get to see the elite of the elite baseball teams battle each other out for seven grueling and utterly entertaining bouts on the diamond to see who deserves to take home the crown.

While this postseason was filled with early round upsets and great performances, baseball is an unforgiving sport. You could be the best team on the planet and lose a series to a team that barely scrapes fifty wins. That’s the beauty of the sport. It is truly one of the hardest to consistently win.

So while they’re here, let’s take some time to appreciate our final four teams and the unique paths and windy roads they took to get a chance to play for the pennant.

The first team in the AL coming from the eastern seaboard is the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox — recently a very successful franchise — struggled during the pandemic-shortened season, finishing dead last in their division and earning a top five draft pick.

The Red Sox pitching was what failed them last year. Their staff had an abysmal 5.18 ERA, amounting to bottom three in the league. The Sox really failed to have a solid rotation that year, not knowing which starters to select for their rotation. The bullpen also struggled mightily, with a 4.23 ERA as a unit.

General Manager Chaim Bloom turned the team around, though, making various moves to bolster the pen and getting a few guys to step up in the rotation — such as young guys like Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and Nick Pivetta — all posting career years. The team ERA plummeted almost a whole point down to 4.26 as a result.

The Red Sox lineup stayed solid if not better than 2020 and had a key addition by the name of Kyle Schwarber, acquired at the trade deadline. Surprising performances by offseason addition Kike Hernandez and second-year player Bobby Dalbec also helped keep the bats hot.

All this unexpected success — between 18 and 21 in most preseason power rankings — led the team to shock the world and beat the powerhouse Yankees in the wild card on the back of star shortstop Xander Bogaerts and then go on to beat the consistently great Rays, who were one of the World Series favorites heading into the postseason.

All around a great year for the Sox and a great sign as to what the future holds.

Next is their AL counterpart and, at this point, rival Houston Astros.

The Astros are no stranger to the ALCS, making the series for their fifth straight year. The team has continued their success as arguably the best hitting team in baseball not named the Dodgers. 

The biggest question surrounding the Astros was their pitching. Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers of the 21st century went down with a bad injury that cost him his season. Luckily, the rotation for the ‘Stros really stepped up this year.

Luis Garcia — the current AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner — was one of the four starters in the rotation to post below a 4.00 ERA, which is almost unheard of in modern baseball. With Garcia, Valdez, McCullers, and Urquidy, the Astros cruised to another AL West division title and look to add some of their key pieces back to their roster that were on injured reserve.

Transitioning over to the NL, the Atlanta Braves were the only team in this final four to win fewer than 90 games. Now, that shouldn’t mean the team should be shortchanged; the competition in the NL East was very high, and the Braves are coming off a 2020 NLCS appearance last year as well, being the closest to taking down the Dodgers.

No one expected the Braves to repeat their success, especially after the loss of league star Ronald Acuna Jr. But a few hitters stepped up in a big way. Third Basemen Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson posted career years. 

The most memorable part of the Braves season, though, has to be the historical second halves pitcher Max Fried and trade acquisition outfielder Jorge Soler had. Soler somehow added .224 points to his OPS after coming to Atlanta, skyrocketing from a 72 OPS+ to a 128.

All this late season magic propelled the Braves past the Mets and allowed them to take the division on the second-to-last day of regular play — a dark horse World Series candidate, and a very realistic one at that.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are no surprise as they have been here for what seems like every year at this point. The Dodgers were the World Series favorite entering the year and had a great offseason as well.

The team added Trevor Bauer — the 2020 NL Cy Young winner — and the second and third best players on the Nationals in Trea Turner and Max Scherzer at the trade deadline, forming practically an MLB super team.

Unfortunately, Bauer and Clayton Kershaw are not available this postseason due to various reasons. You would think that the pitching staff is thin, but no, the Dodgers still have three of the top 20 pitchers in baseball and are poised for another World Series victory.

Baseball is a game of luck sometimes, and the best teams do not always win. So you have to appreciate the top four while they’re in contention. Good luck to all four ball clubs, and congrats on making it this far.