McGuinness: Previewing the 2020 MLB postseason — Wild Card round
Andrew McGuinness | Tuesday, September 29, 2020
We made it. There were times when it looked like coronavirus would end the season prematurely, times when the owners’ and players’ greed threatened having a season at all and probably times where your favorite team looked like they might not make it here.
But in the end, we have reached the 2020 MLB postseason. This year’s field is larger than ever, with baseball expanding from 10 postseason teams to 16, granting a batch of mediocre clubs that would usually be on the golf links right now a second wind to their season. For the first time ever, every team will be competing in a best-of-three Wild Card round, with every game played at the higher seed’s park. The winners will travel to bubbles to carry out the rest of postseason play. Who’s made it to baseball’s big dance, and who is slated to come out on top?
No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers (29-31)
It’s a rematch of the 2018 NLCS, where the Dodgers made their second-straight World Series appearance only to fall short. Much like the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, the Dodgers are just too good to suffer another humiliating first-round defeat. Mookie Betts is the biggest addition in baseball since last season, and he and company have been as good as advertised. Add in a struggling Brewers lineup and suspect rotation, and this is LA’s series to lose. Granted, that hasn’t stopped them before. But still, Dodgers in two.
No. 2 Atlanta Braves (35-25) vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Reds (31-29)
Cincinnati has been my dark horse team for a while, as I really like their team on paper and they have one of the best 1-2-3 rotation punches in baseball. Touching Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo will be tough. But much like Los Angeles, the Braves have a chip on their shoulder after allowing 13 runs in a do-or-die Game 5 last year in the NLDS. Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park saw more home runs than any ballpark this year, but the entire series will be in Atlanta’s Truist Park, which ranked 17th in long balls. Ronald Acuna, Jr., fresh off his 2020-record 495-foot home run stroke, will lead the Braves to their first series victory since 2001. Braves in three.
No. 3 Chicago Cubs (34-26) vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins (31-29)
In their 28-year history, the Marlins have only made two postseason appearances, both as a Wild Card team. Both times they have won the World Series. It’s their first meeting with the Cubs in the playoffs since the infamous Steve Bartman series, but unfortunately, it comes in the typical “learning experience” year for Miami. They don’t have a true superstar like the ‘97 and ‘03 champions. Chicago’s big bats like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are bound to turn things around sooner rather than later. Cubs in three.
No. 4 San Diego Padres (37-23) vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals (30-28)
I’ll opt for consistency in picking a battle-tested veteran club over exciting youth. Yes, the Padres are a popular World Series darkhorse sporting the third best record in the Majors (and yet they’re the No. 4 seed — thanks, MLB!) with exciting youth and star power. Fernando Tatis Jr. is an absolute stud, and Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado are living up to their mega deals. They have an NL Rookie of the Year favorite in Jake Cronnenworth. However, the Cardinals have a knack for winning series they don’t deserve to, and if this year is the end for catcher Yadier Molina, it won’t come in this series. They have a young star of their own in Dylan Carlson, and in a tight series, their veteran presence will be the difference maker, as much as I hate to admit it. Cardinals in three.
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (40-20) vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays (32-28)
The Rays have one of the most unorthodox rosters in the MLB — the league’s lowest payroll with no one truly playing over their heads. Yet somehow they have the best record in the AL for the first time since 2010. Continuing the theme, the Blue Jays’ young core is playing with house money rather than for a ring, and Tampa should knock them off without much trouble. Toronto will be back before long, but for now, Rays in two.
No. 2 Oakland Athletics (36-24) vs. No. 7 Chicago White Sox (35-25)
Missing Matt Chapman is a devastating blow for the A’s in this battle of teams that haven’t won a series in a long time. Oakland’s bullpen is great, but the Sox potent lineup featuring MVP contender Jose Abreu and top prospect turned ROY candidate Luis Robert should push their rotation to the brink. The A’s lineup, which didn’t have a single batter hit over .250, won’t be able to keep up. For the first time in MLB history, both Chicago teams will win a postseason series in the same year. White Sox in three.
No. 3 Minnesota Twins (36-24) vs. No. 6 Houston Astros (29-31)
Sometimes you have to pick with your heart over your head. It’s been a trying season for the Astros, even without fans in the stands to relentlessly mock the cheating scandal that tarnished their 2017 title. They’ll be looking to win one fair and square this year (at least we assume so), but the Twins won’t go down easy. Minnesota boasts a stacked lineup and an underrated starting rotation that Houston’s underwhelming offense won’t get to enough. Without Justin Verlander or Roberto Osuna to lock down the Twins’ bats, a third World Series run for the Astros in the last four years is a tough sell. Twins in two.
No. 4 Cleveland Indians (35-25) vs. No. 5 New York Yankees (33-27)
On paper, the Yankees boast one of the top teams in Major League Baseball. However, injuries and poorly timed spells of underperformance from stars like Gary Sanchez and the $300 million man Gerrit Cole led them to a bit of an underwhelming season. Meanwhile, the Indians traded away one of their best starting pitchers during the season after he broke COVID-19 protocols, and the team has little to offer on offense outside of sensational shortstop Francisco Lindor. As much as I’d like to pick Cleveland, this is where I reverse my trend from the Twins-Astros series. We’re getting a condensed carbon-copy of their 2017 ALDS meeting. Yankees in three.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.