September 29, 2020

2020 MLB Postseason Preview and Predictions: AL and NL Wild Card Series

After a COVID-19 shortened season, the MLB Postseason is finally set.

In case you didn't know, the playoff field has expanded to 16 teams, which means more than half of the league will have a chance to win the World Series this season. 

The AL Wild Card Series begins Tuesday and the NL Wild Card Series begins the following day. The Wild Card Series will be a best-of-three series, the following round, the ALDS and NLDS, will be a best-of-five series. Then, the ALCS and NLCS, as well as the World Series, will all be the best-of-seven series.

But to get to the World Series, these teams have to win what could be a wild three-game series. Here are our previews and predictions for the eight upcoming series. 

AL Wild Card Series

Tampa Bay Rays (40-20) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (32-28)

The Rays had the best season in the AL thanks to their team ERA of 3.56, which was second-best in the AL. The Toronto Blue Jays snuck into the postseason because of their seventh-ranked scoring offense. 

A young Blue Jays team could be on the rise again as their talented young core grows and gets better. For now, a brief playoff stint is going to have to be rewarding enough. While they could match up well against some other power-hitting teams, the Rays are a nightmare matchup for Toronto as they have one of baseball’s best pitching staff. Good pitching beats good offense in this one.

Rays Advance 2-0

Oakland A’s (36-24) vs. Chicago White Sox (35-25)

The Oakland A’s were fourth in the AL in ERA (3.77) while the Chicago White Sox were right behind them at fifth (3.81). Offensively, the White Sox have a big advantage as they scored the second-most runs in the AL this season (306). Oakland scored just 274 runs this season, good for ninth in the AL.

Oakland’s best pitching option is Chris Bassitt. Luca Giolito is likely to open the series for the White Sox. Bassitt just pitched on Sept. 25 so he might not see the mound until Game 2. After Bassitt, the pitching edge leans towards Chicago with Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease likely to pitch Games 2 and 3. The White Sox have a more dangerous lineup and a solid bullpen to back up their rotation. While it will technically be an upset with a seven-seed downing a two-seed, the better team will be advancing.

White Sox Advance 2-1

Minnesota Twins (36-24) vs. Houston Astros (29-31)

As long as trash cans are banned in the Houston dugout, the Twins are the better team in this matchup. Watching Minnesota is like taking a look into the immediate future of the Toronto Blue Jays. They have a young and talented lineup — even though they didn’t have the run production they probably should have. However, they have something that Toronto doesn’t quite have yet: an excellent pitching staff. The Twins were third in the AL with a 3.58 ERA.

Houston was lucky enough to have a 2020 season that had just 60 games and no fans, avoiding the ridicule from opposing fans. Now, sneaking into the playoffs with a sub .500 record, everyone outside of the Houston fanbase will be rooting for Minnesota in this series. The Astros were an average team both on the mound and at the plate this season. 

Zack Greinke is the Astros’ biggest threat on the mound, but he has struggled in the last half of the season, allowing three or more earned runs in his last seven starts. Minnesota is averaging over five runs per game in their last seven games. A hot Minnesota offense against an average Astros and struggling Grienke, the Twins should please the MLB world and eliminate the Astros in two.

Twins Advance 2-0

Cleveland Indians (35-25) vs New York Yankees (33-27)

This is the best matchup in the AL Wild Card Series and, perhaps, in the entire first round. A historically good Yankees’ lineup goes up against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Yankees, despite an insane amount of injuries for the second-straight season, put up 315 runs, the most in the AL. The Indians led the AL in ERA (3.29).

The problem for the Indians is that they scored the third-fewest points in the AL this season. While the Yankees pitching staff was average on the season, they still have Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. With a bullpen featuring Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman, this Yankees staff is too talented on both sides of the ball for a struggling Cleveland offense to overcome. 

Unless Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and potentially Zach Plesac can pitch the games of their lives, it will be hard for Cleveland to get past New York. They need a low-scoring series and keeping this Yankees’ lineup down for two out of three games will be difficult.

Yankees Advance 2-1

NL Wild Card Series

Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (29-31)

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the most dominant team in baseball this season. They led the league in ERA (3.02) and runs scored (349). The Brewers backed their way into the playoffs with a sub .500 record. They scored the fourth-fewest runs in the NL but did have a respectable 4.16 ERA on the season.

The Dodgers have five pitchers that could start any game for them and they all have an ERA 3.44 or lower. The scary thing is that their bullpen might be even better as it features nine arms with an ERA of 3.86 or lower — including five below a 2.90. LA led the league in home runs with 118, which was on pace to break the Major League record in a 162-game season. Good luck, Milwaukee (and the rest of baseball, for that matter).

Dodgers Advance 2-0

Atlanta Braves (35-25) vs Cincinnati Reds (31-29)

While the Dodgers were the goliath of this baseball season, the Braves were sort of like goliath's little brother, at least on offense. They scored only one fewer run than the Dodgers this season and they were the only other team to hit more than 100 homers (103). Their weakness, though, is their pitching staff which was in the middle of the pack with a 4.41 ERA.

The fact that the Reds are in the playoffs shouldn’t surprise anyone. Cincinnati has a great pitching staff that ranks second in the NL in ERA (3.84). Their offense was fourth in the NL in home runs (90) but they struggled to score runs otherwise (third-lowest in the NL). 

The Braves pitching, especially their starting pitching, will give their opponents plenty of scoring opportunities. Outside of Max Fried, Atlanta is in trouble starting pitching-wise. We know Atlanta will put up the runs and it’s just a matter of how many runs they give up. Facing the likely NL Cy Young winner in Game 1, Trevor Bauer, the Braves could find themselves down 0-1 to start this series. The Braves struck out the third-most in baseball this season and Bauer has struck out 100 batters in 73 innings.

This Reds team is built better for the postseason with a top-heavy pitching staff and some very good arms that will be coming out of the bullpen. Expect three low-scoring games with the Reds finding a way to win thanks to the Braves pitching.

Reds Advance 2-1

Chicago Cubs (34-26) vs Miami Marlins (31-29)

The biggest surprise of the playoffs is the fact that the Miami Marlins will be a part of it. It may come as an even bigger surprise considering the Marlins were in the bottom half of the league in both runs scored and runs allowed. Still, they managed to find a way into the postseason thanks to poor play from the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals.

Yu Darvish, who will likely finish second in the NL Cy Young voting, and Kyle Hendricks, both had great seasons and will be a nice 1-2 punch in this series. After that, it might get a little rougher for the Cubs pitching-wise. However, they should get through this series in two games with Hendricks and Darvish having great performances. The Cinderella story ends quickly for a Miami team that performed well above expectations.

Cubs Advance 2-0

San Diego Padres (37-23) vs St. Louis Cardinals (30-28)

Outside of the obvious favorites like the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees, the San Diego Padres are a solid value pick to win the World Series this year. They were third in baseball in runs scored (325) and third in the NL in ERA (3.86). Aside from the Dodgers, you could argue that the Padres are the most complete team in the NL, maybe even in the entire league.

The Cardinals have a solid pitching staff as well (3.90 ERA) but their offense is a major liability. St. Louis scored the second-fewest runs in the NL (240), ahead of just the MLB-worst Pittsburgh Pirates. This aging Cardinals team certainly has the talent to pull off the upset against a younger and more talented Padres team but it seems unlikely.

San Diego is the better all-around team and can win both high-scoring and low-scoring games. Many think the Braves might be the biggest threat to the Dodgers in the NL but don’t sleep on this Padres team that handed the Dodgers nearly a quarter of their losses this season.

Padres Advance 2-0

Photo: Getty Images