MLB
September 28, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

2020 MLB Playoffs: Pretender or Contender?

There’s no doubt that the 2020 MLB regular season was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. That makes it a safe bet that the playoffs will also be incredibly wild. Unlike the past, eight teams from each league will participate in the postseason with no off-days in between games during a series. That setup changes the equation when it comes to which teams are a threat to win the World Series and what teams don’t stand a chance.

Let’s take a look at all 16 teams in the MLB playoffs and try to figure out which teams are contenders and pretenders.

Tampa Bay Rays: Contender

In recent years, the playoffs have been all about bullpens, which is where the Rays have an advantage over just about every team they’ll face. The Rays' bullpen might be a little lacking in household names and defined roles, but the Rays more than make up for it with an abundance of capable arms.

With such depth, Tampa should be able to outlast most teams because of a lack of off-days in series. Plus, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow should help take some pressure off the bullpen and put the Rays in games where they only need to scratch out a few runs to win.

Toronto Blue Jays: Pretender

The Blue Jays will score some runs and will be a tough out for Tampa in the first round, but Toronto’s pitching just isn’t there yet. Hyun-Jin Ryu lived up to his contract and Taijuan Walker turned out to be a huge acquisition. But the pitching starts to fall off a cliff after those two guys. No matter how good the offense is, Ryu and Walker won’t be enough to win a five- or seven-game series.

While the Blue Jays did well to get here, they are pretenders in the 2020 postseason.

New York Yankees: Contender

The starting rotation beyond Gerrit Cole isn’t as deep as the Yankees would like it to be, but the bullpen has a handful of reliable arms. More importantly, the Yankees can straight-up mash. Despite several key players missing time due to injury, the Yankees led the American League in runs scored this season. They are more or less back to full strength offensively. DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit carried the team during the regular season, and now if Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres can join the party, there’s no reason why the Yankees shouldn’t be a serious title contender. 

Minnesota Twins: Contender

This is not the same lineup we saw in Minnesota last year, but the Twins have just enough pitching to make them a contender. Even without Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, the presumed aces heading into the season, Minnesota’s rotation is deep enough to give them a chance in every game.

Offensively, the talent is there, and so the bats could suddenly wake up in the Divisional Round when the Twins play in a warm-weather bubble. That makes them a dangerous team.

Chicago White Sox: Contender

The White Sox might have the best combination of hitting and pitching in the American League. The lineup is deep and produced the second-most runs in the American League behind only the Yankees. On the mound, Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito is a brutal 1-2 tandem to face at the top of the rotation. There’s also a chance the White Sox can get something from youngsters like Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning. Ultimately, those two could decide whether the White Sox can win the pennant or not.

Alex Colome leads a strong bullpen that should give Chicago a fighting chance despite a lack of postseason experience.

Cleveland Indians: Contender

Only one American League team scored fewer runs than the Indians in 2020, but pitching is still the name of the game, and that makes Cleveland a contender. The Tribe can throw Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac at opponents, and their back-end guys aren’t too bad, either. Meanwhile, closer Brad Hand was perfect in save situations this year, so the Cleveland bullpen can close out games if they can scratch out enough runs to get a lead.

Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana started to heat up late in the regular season, giving the Indians a glimmer of hope that they can score enough runs to get back to the World Series.

Oakland A’s: Pretender

It’s hard to label the A’s as a pretender because their bullpen is exceptional. After running away with the AL West, Oakland has a chance to win at least one series in the postseason. However, over a five- or a seven-game series, the A’s don’t have the starters to match up with other teams.

The Oakland offense has also been a disappointment this season, and with Matt Chapman out, the A’s don’t have the horses to make a serious run.

Houston Astros: Pretender

The Astros are accustomed to being one of the heavyweights in the American League, but after finishing the regular season with a losing record, they are 100% pretender. The offense isn’t quite clicking the way it has in past years — what a surprise. More importantly, the top-flight arms just aren’t there. Justin Verlander is on the sidelines and Zack Greinke has been solid if not spectacular this season.

The Astros are a solid team, but they don’t measure up compared to most of the other American League teams in the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves: Contender

The Atlanta rotation outside of Max Fried and Ian Anderson has been truly terrible this year. But the rest of the team has been excellent. It’s incredible how deep the Atlanta bullpen is with seven pitchers posting an ERA under 3.00.

Behind the trio of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna and Marcell Ozuna, the Braves are also a dangerous offensive team. There will be challenges with such a thin rotation, but the rest of the roster has more than enough to win the pennant.

Miami Marlins: Pretender

Miami making the postseason, even an eight-team postseason, is an incredible accomplishment and easily the biggest surprise of the 2020 season. Remember, the Marlins lost over half their roster to a COVID-19 outbreak early in the season. That being said, they simply don’t have a team that can win three playoff series.

To be fair, the Marlins will be pesky and won’t go down without a fight, but there are too many flaws for them to be considered a serious contender.

Chicago Cubs: Contender

The Cubs have been quietly consistent all season and will be a team to watch closely during the playoffs. Keep in mind there is a lot of championship experience on the roster, and a lot of players will feel like they have something to prove. With Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, Chicago’s top two starters are as good as any in the playoffs. Also, don’t sleep on veteran Jon Lester showing up with a strong postseason. Plus, the Cubs have the bats to win high-scoring games. Guys like Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant didn’t post their typical numbers during the regular season. But the slate is clean in the playoffs, and the Cubs one of the deeper lineups in the National League.

St. Louis Cardinals: Pretender

Granted, the Cardinals played just 58 games, only the Pirates scored fewer runs in the NL this season. The St. Louis lineup that couldn’t hit a lick in the NLCS last year isn’t any better this season.

Pitching-wise, the Cardinals have enough to win a series, perhaps even two. But sooner or later, the Cards will have to score runs to advance, and they just don’t have a lineup that can do that.

Milwaukee Brewers: Pretender

Unless Christian Yelich can suddenly come alive in the postseason, the Brewers have the same problem as the Cardinals: they just don’t score enough runs. Jedd Gyorko is the only regular with an OPS over .800, and that’s just not going to cut it.

With Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee could advance past the first round. But they don’t have the bats or pitching depth to win a five-game series against any of the division winners in the NL.

Cincinnati Reds: Contender

The Reds got a tough draw by having to play the Braves in the first round. But don’t sleep on them because they are a dangerous squad. Trevor Bauer could be the Cy Young winner while Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle give them an impressive amount of rotation depth. Cincinnati also has enough quality bullpen arms to close out games if their starters give them five or six good innings.

Offensively, the Reds have the talent to score runs, they just didn’t do it consistently during the regular season. But if the Cincinnati starters can shut down the Braves in the first round, look out — because the Reds could ride their rotation a long way.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Contender

As the top betting favorite, it almost goes without saying that the Dodgers are serious contenders. It’s hard to find any flaw on their roster. The rotation is stacked thanks to the emergence of youngsters Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. The bullpen isn’t elite but it’s still rock-solid behind Kenley Jansen. Finally, there is no team with a deeper and more dangerous lineup, and reigning MVP Cody Bellinger didn’t even have his best season.

Of course, one could say the same things about Los Angeles in each of the last few seasons. Granted, anything can happen in October, but no matter the competitor, it’ll be difficult to beat the Dodgers.

San Diego Padres: Pretender

A week ago, the Padres would have been surefire contenders. However, injuries have threatened the availability of both Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, which changes the equation. Without those two, the San Diego rotation looks rather average compared to the other teams in the postseason. To be fair, the back-end of the bullpen is in good shape and the lineup is stacked. But making a deep run is unlikely without Clevinger and Lamet at full strength.

The Padres are also likely to run into the Dodgers in the Divisional Round, which is just one more potential obstacle in their way.

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