The 2020 Major League Baseball Playoffs are officially a reality. That is a sentence that should not be surprising, yet in reality, is truly an accomplishment by the MLB in their handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic; yet, these playoffs are not lackluster either. 16 franchises will vie for the World Series this fall, and that alone is completely unprecedented in the sport.
There are teams with a sub .500 regular-season record who have a chance to win the World Series, again a complete anomaly. To add to the drama, small-market teams ran the table in the American League, and the National League Central division, regarded as a relatively weak division compared to others in the league, is sending 80 percent of it’s teams to the playoffs.
All of this makes for an interesting fall classic, and Jack Murray will be providing his predictions for the wild card round in this column.
(1) Tampa Bay Rays Vs. (8) Toronto Blue Jays
If someone would have predicted the Rays to have the best record in the American League before the season started, they probably would have been laughed out of the room. The Rays had a chance to make the playoffs, probably as a wild card, but were viewed as inferior to the New York Yankees. However, the Rays showed up this season, finishing 40-20 behind breakout performances from players like shortstop Willy Adames and second baseman Brandon Lowe showing improvement this season while pitchers Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Ryan Yarbrough have eaten up innings for the team. Nick Anderson has been lights out in the closer role for the Rays, and reliever Peter Fairbanks leads the team in wins with six. The Rays grind out games despite a lack of superstar talent and that will only benefit them in the postseason.
The Blue Jays are lucky to be in the playoffs, but it is still a huge accomplishment. Finishing 32-28, the Blue Jays have been led offensively by several players, including outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Teoscar Hernandez, and Randall Grichuk, as well as first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and third baseman Cavan Biggio. Shortstop Bo Bichette was also productive when he was not battling injuries. On the pitching end, Hyun Jin Ryu has been sensational and his continued success will be vital for the Jays to make a playoff run
Prediction: Rays advance– Despite the Jays having some nice talent, they will prove to be no match for the Rays depth.
(2) Oakland Athletics Vs. (7) Chicago White Sox
The Athletics are similar to the Rays in which they win on a small-ball mentality, however, they have some flashy names to boast as well. The loss of third baseman Matt Chapman will hurt, but they have received production from shortstop Marcus Semien, first baseman Matt Olson, and outfielders Ramon Laureano, Mark Canha, and Robbie Grossman. While none of these players have a high batting average, they have still done enough to lead the Athletics to an AL West Crown and a 36–24 record. On the pitching end, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt and closing pitcher Liam Hendriks have been outstanding, otherwise, their pitchers have done enough to be serviceable.
The White Sox were the best team in the AL at one point, and a late-season slide put them in a tough position. Still, a 35–25 record is impressive for a team with a long postseason drought. Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, and Tim Anderson have been stars this season, and Dallas Keuchel has truly returned to form. However, their depth needs to step up in order for them to advance in the playoffs. For more on the White Sox, please check out my previous column on them.
Prediction: White Sox Advance- Despite the seed difference, only one game separates these teams’ records. Despite the White Sox recent struggles, they have more talent and without Chapman, I think the Athletics lose out here.
(3) Minnesota Twins Vs. (6) Houston Astros
The Twins need to win this series. They have failed to win a playoff round with this core and they are not playing the New York Yankees this time. Unfortunately for them, they are facing the Astros, the king of the AL the past few seasons. However, these Astros are different this year, something that will be addressed later. The 36–24 Twins are a powerful bunch, and that is perhaps underselling them.
Four players, outfielder Eddie Rosario, first baseman Miguel Sano, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and outfielder Byron Buxton all have double-digit home runs on the season, and several other players are almost there. On the pitching end, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda has been a true ace while the rest of the staff has been solid. Relievers Tyler Clippard, Matt Wisler, Tyler Duffey, and Jorge Alcala have all stood out as well.
The Astros have had a brutal season, plain and simple. A 29–31 record had no chance of going under the radar due to their tumultuous offseason, highlighted by the sign-stealing controversy that dominated headlines for months. Second baseman Jose Altuve dramatically dropped off and overall the team struggled this season. Pitching wise, they are without their ace Justin Verlander who is undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, the talent on the Astros is undeniable and a run is very possible.
Prediction: Astros advance- This decision is difficult, and the Astros do not deserve to win this series but if their talent can turn it on they will defeat an inexperienced Twins team.
(4) New York Yankees vs. (5) Cleveland Indians
This is perhaps the most interesting series in the wild card round, as either team who wins could make a run for the World Series. On paper. the Yankees are probably the best team in the AL. When healthy, this may be true as well. However, health is their biggest issue. The Bronx Bombers finished 33–27, good for second place in the AL East. Led by AL Batting Champion D.J. Lemahieu, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Starting pitcher Gerritt Cole is the best pitcher in the league when healthy and Luke Voit is emerging as a bonafide star for the team.
The Indians have been a source of wasted potential over the past several seasons, and the time is running out for the core. After dealing with starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, it looked like The Tribe was giving up open the year, but they are here and ready to rumble. Starting pitcher Shane Bieber will most likely win the AL Cy Young Award this season, and Third Baseman Jose Ramirez is enjoying a nice redemption season. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is and always will be a problem for opposing teams as well.
Prediction- Yankees advance- The Tribe is a solid team but if the Yankees show up and stay healthy they will prevail.
(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (8) Milwaukee Brewers
This series has a story that overshadows the actual baseball being played; Outfielders Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. Each is the face of their franchise and despite struggles from each this year, they will still dominate headlines. Bellinger is far from all the Dodgers have, outfielder Mookie Betts is another superstar, and shortstop Corey Seager has also returned to form. On the pitching side, Clayton Kershaw had another solid year while rookie Dustin May emerged as an ace in the making. Their MLB leading 43–17 record will be irrelevant in the eyes of many if they do not make some noise this year.
The Brew Crew was not worthy of a postseason berth this year but the expanded playoff got them in. They finished 29–31 and were boggled by Yelich’s struggles. While baseball is far from an individual game, Yelich’s impact on the game is remarkable and the Brewers respond off of his energy. Second baseman Keston Hiura broke out this season, and the Brewers will need more bats to emerge if they want to take down the Dodgers. For their pitching staff, the Brewers were led by Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, both will need to step up for them to win this series, and closing pitcher Josh Hader is imposing and a plus for the Brew Crew to have.
Prediction: Dodgers advance- If the Dodgers do not advance past this stage it will be devastating to the organization.
(2) Atlanta Braves vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
This is an interesting series as it showcases two of the MLB’s rising teams. The 35–25 Braves are stacked on offense, boasting the likes of first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr, and shortstop Dansby Swanson. Ozuna especially put MVP-like numbers up this season and looks to be ready to take charge in the postseason. The pitching side for the Braves is much weaker, and their best option appears to be starting pitcher Max Fried, who was awesome this year, but he is battling an ankle injury that could be troublesome in the postseason. Rookie Kyle Wright must step up for the Braves to find success this season.
The 31–29 Reds are interesting, to say the least. The top hitters are outfielders Nicholas Castellanos and Jesse Winker, as well as Third Baseman Eugenio Suarez and first baseman Joey Votto. This offense is relatively unremarkable, but they shine with their pitching staff. Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer led the team this year, while Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo also pitched remarkably well. Closer Raisel Iglesias and reliever Amir Garret headline a bullpen that is solid as well.
Prediction: Reds advance- In a battle between pitching and hitting, pitching usually prevails. The Reds are built better for the postseason than the Braves as a result of this. It truly could go either way, however.
(3) Chicago Cubs vs. (6) Miami Marlins
This series pits the two teams involved with the Steve Bartman incident against each other in very different circumstances. The 34–26 Cubs are now a consistent contender and the Marlins are in the postseason for the first time since then. The Cubs are not led by the usual suspects, although the likes of shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Kyle Schwarber are always dangerous. The top hitter has been outfield career, while Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, and Jon Lester round out a solid pitching core.
The 31–29 Marlins are a shocker to be here, as they were expected to be quite awful this season. They are designated as being in rebuild mode, and this placement does not change that reality. However, it is a step in the right direction for this team and the ownership group. The offense was led by first baseman Jesus Aguilar, third baseman Brian Anderson, and outfielder Corey Dickinson. The pitching was led by starting pitchers Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, and Sixto Sanchez, while closer Brandon Kintzler broke out this season.
Prediction: Cubs advance- The Marlins do not have enough to take down the Cubs, and them being here is reward enough for their fans.
(4) San Diego Padres vs. (5) St. Louis Cardinals
The “Slam Diego” Padres are exciting, to say the least. After finishing with 37–23, they are ready to make some noise in the postseason. They are led by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s controversial grand slam set the Padres on a destructive path. He is joined by a rejuvenated Manny Machado at third base, with outfielders Trent Grisham and Will Myers standing out as well. On the mound, Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddock, Garrett Richards, and deadline pickup Mike Clevinger are formidable and reliever Drew Pomeranz is revitalizing his career in the bullpen. The Padres are a force to be reckoned with.
The 30–28 Cardinals death with Covid-19 Issues and had an absolute grind of a schedule up to this point. Remarkably, they were able to make it to this point. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is keeping up the production he had in Arizona which has been huge for the Cards, and shortstop Tommy Edman and second baseman Kolten Wong are players who could break out this postseason. Third baseman Matt Carpenter had a tough year, but still could be a candidate for postseason stardom. Pitching-wise, Adam Wainwright showed flashes of the past this season and Jack Flaherty may be the best pitcher in the league when on. Relievers Andrew Miller and John Gant round out a solid bullpen as well.
Prediction: Padres advance- The Cardinals are solid but the Padres are too deep to lose this quickly.
These are Jack Murray’s prediction for the wild card round. Keep with Border Fuel over the next few weeks for more predictions for each round.