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Sports

Moller: October Madness lies ahead

| Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The 2020 MLB regular season is coming to an end soon, which means that the postseason is just around the corner. The regular season has been anything but normal, and it appears that the postseason will be just as crazy as well. 

The format for the 2020 postseason is very different compared to a normal season. Typically, there are only five teams in each league allowed into the playoffs (division winner plus two wildcards). This year, however, there will be a total of eight teams from each league (top two in each division plus two wild cards). 

To make matters even crazier, the opening round of the playoffs will be only the best of three series. This expanded field and three-game series could allow lower-seeded teams with strong starting pitchers to upset higher-seeded teams. 

Consider a team like the Cleveland Indians. Although Cleveland hasn’t officially clinched a spot in the playoffs yet, it appears that the Indians will be the number seven seed and will play one of the division winners. 

The Indians will surely pitch Shane Bieber in the first game. Bieber has arguably had one of the most dominant seasons for a starting pitcher in the last decade, and he is basically a lock for the Cy Young Award this season. On the year, Bieber has a 1.74 ERA and is averaging an absurd 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings as of Sunday. Additionally out of his eleven starts on the year, Bieber has an 8-1 record. If you’re not a baseball stats person, this means that a win is practically guaranteed when Bieber is on the mound. 

In addition to Bieber, the Indians have Zach Plesac and Carlos Carrasco in their starting rotations. While neither of them have been near the dominance of Bieber, both of them are proven starters who will keep the Indians in the game at the very least. 

The point that I am making with the Indians is that while they are a team with a below-average offense (27th in MLB in runs scored and 24th in batting average), their dangerous starting rotation gives them the ability to beat any team in baseball in a three-game series. 

There are other teams who — like the Indians — look like they are going to make the playoffs as a lower seed, but have a strong ace on their pitching staff that could prove vital in a three-game series. Some examples include the Saint Louis Cardinals and their ace Adam Wainwright and the Cincinnati Reds with their ace Trevor Bauer. One of these teams may match up with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round, and although the Dodgers have been the best team in baseball throughout the year, facing either of these aces in the first round could put them on upset alert.

Another interesting aspect of the first round is that all three games will be played at the higher seed’s home ballpark. Without fans, that doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but for some teams, home-field advantage has still been very important this year. Look at the Minnesota Twins, for example. The Twins have been virtually unbeatable when playing at Target field this year, and they currently boast a league-best 21-5 home record. On the road, however, the Twins have been less than stellar and have a record of 12-17. The Twins are likely looking at the four or five seed, and this last week of the season will be very important if they want to be in a good position to break their abysmal 16-game playoff losing streak.

Looking past the first round, the playoff format will look similar to what it has been in the past. The second round will consist of a best of five series that is played in San Diego and Los Angeles for the American League and Houston and Arlington for the National League. The League Championships will be a seven-game series in San Diego for the AL and Arlington for the NL. The World Series will then be a seven-game series in Arlington.

I think most of the upsets that occur this postseason will occur in the first round because of the shortened series, and then after that, I expect the top teams to dominate for the most part. While I think it is good to create a bubble for the later rounds of the playoffs, it could be a disadvantage for teams like the Twins who have played significantly better at home this year. 

With all this talk about the playoff format, you are probably wondering who I think has a good chance to win the World Series title. A lot of this will depend on the matchups in the first round, but I’d like the Yankees and Dodgers to meet in the World Series. This was the matchup that everyone anticipated when the season began, and it is looking more and more likely with the Yankees finally hitting their stride over the last two weeks. 

In my opinion, the Dodgers are the clear favorite in the National League, and the American League is more wide open. Other than the Yankees, I could see the Rays, White Sox or Twins being in the mix if things play out right. The Rays arguably have one of the most balanced teams in baseball, the White Sox have a solid rotation with a young, dangerous lineup and the Twins have finally gotten their potent lineup healthy. The Athletics have also been great this year, but the loss of third basemen Matt Chapman has hurt them greatly as of late.

Although this postseason might be one of the craziest baseball has ever seen, I am very excited about it. I’m a big proponent of allowing extra teams in the playoffs, and I’m excited to see what baseball looks like under this expanded format.

Let the October Madness begin.

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