MLB’s most bizarre season reaches its conclusion

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Photo courtesy of The Mercury News

The Oakland A’s earned the second seed in the American League playoffs after winning the AL West for the first time since 2013.

Andrew Sousa, Sports Editor

After just 68 days since opening day, Major League Baseball is ready for postseason baseball. 

What a year.

With a 60-game season and an expanded 16-team postseason format, the final week of the season was chaotic to say the least. But the teams have finally been decided and the first-round matchups are set. 

Let’s take a look at each team in order of their postseason seeding and see if they have what it takes to cement their spot in baseball history, and be crowned champion in a year no one will want to talk about ever again.

National League

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Greenbacks – I mean Dodgers – are once again the best of the best in the NL. Following a franchise best 106 win season last year, the Dodgers went out and traded for one the best players in baseball in Mookie Betts, and then signed him to a massive extension. 

The lineup is as deep as ever with Betts, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger leading the way. The pitching staff was the best in the NL this year, manned by Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. 

The Dodgers definitely have the talent to win it all, but the question is if they can put it all together when it matters the most. They’ve had this talent for years, but have never won a title with this group. And that 106-win team last year lost in the NLDS to the Washington Nationals, who would end up winning the championship. 

If the Dodgers’ bats can stay hot, and their bullpen can get the outs they weren’t able to get last year, then there’s no stopping them.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have kind of flown under the radar this year, but this team is still very, very good.

Their hitting is potent with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. continuing to mash baseballs. Their pitching is a bit lackluster outside of Max Fried, but their offense has more than made up for it.

If the Braves want to go far, they’ll need their offense to continue to be as powerful as it has been, and they’ll need their starting rotation to perform better than it has this season.

Chicago Cubs

Coming off a disappointing 2019 season when they missed the playoffs, the Cubs have had a bounceback year and reclaimed the NL Central title.

While the Cubs haven’t really excelled in anything, they’ve been pretty good in a lot of things, which has given them stability throughout an uncertain season.

The hitting has been consistent. Consistently bad. The Cubs hit just .220 on the year, good for 27th in all of baseball. Their pitching has been solid, led by…Yu Darvish? Really? I guess anything can happen in 2020.

But with such a lackluster offense, I can’t see the pitching picking up the slack, and can see them being upset in the first round.

San Diego Padres

A team that every baseball expert has said is “just a year or two away” for about six years has finally emerged.

Behind a MVP caliber season from Fernando Tatis Jr, a bounceback year from Manny Machado, and a rebuilt rotation led by mid-season acquisition Mike Clevinger, the Padres are looking dangerous for October and beyond.

The Padres were actually the second best team in the NL record-wise, but because of how this year’s seeding works, they’ll be the fourth seed behind the three division champs. I fully expect them to easily get past the first round, and give us all an exciting matchup between them and the Dodgers.

St. Louis Cardinals

They’ve had so many games postponed due to COVID-19 that everyone has kind of forgotten they existed, since it seems like they’d played no games. Nevertheless, here they are, as the fifth seed surprisingly.

Like the Cubs, the Cardinals don’t really stand out anywhere, but they get solid production in many areas, ranking 13th in hitting and ninth in pitching.

But going up against a loaded team like the Padres in the first round spells trouble for the Red Birds. While the Cardinals are a good team, they just don’t seem to have the firepower to compete with the top teams of the NL. They should have a hard time reaching the peaks they did last year, when they made the NLCS.

Miami Marlins

I have no clue how they made it. Not only did they make the playoffs, they were two games over .500… with a -41 run differential. Wow!

The cause of the Marlins success has been their lockdown bullpen. This season, the Marlins were 27-0 when they had a lead in the seventh inning or later. That’s outright dominant.

The Marlins were actually below average in both hitting and pitching, ranking 17th and 21st, respectively, but that elite bullpen has carried them along, especially with so many players being in and out of the lineup due to COVID-19.

If the Marlins can jump ahead in games, then they should be a dangerous team.

Cincinnati Reds

One hot streak is all it takes to make the playoffs this season, and the Reds are a perfect example of that. With a 21-26 record at one point, the Reds finished the year 10-3 to sneak into the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Led by starters Sonny Gray and Trevor Baeur, the pitching has pretty much been the only bright spot for them this year, and the only reason they’re in the postseason. The offense, expected to be good this year, has been god awful, ranking dead last in the MLB in hitting percentage.

If the Reds can get their bats going, then the pitching can take them far.  But that’s a big if.

Milwaukee Brewers

For people who were complaining that the expanded postseason bracket would ruin the quality of teams that would be playing, the Brewers are justification for that reasoning.

With a 29-31 record, the Brewers, along with another certain team I’ll get to, became the first team in MLB history to make the playoffs with a losing record. What a tragedy.

The hitting, which has been good for the last couple years, has fallen off a cliff this season, including 2018 NL MVP Christain Yelich. The team’s decent pitching and good bullpen has carried the team to a third straight postseason berth, but it’s hard to see them getting very far. 

American League

Tampa Bay Rays

While people were talking about the upstart White Sox or the Yankees, the small market Rays were quietly putting together the best record in the AL and looked great throughout the season.

They don’t have any truly great players, but they have a large group of good players that do their jobs well.

The Rays pitching is still top notch, with the third best ERA in the majors. Their offense hasn’t been great, but it’s been good when it has needed to be. They will be a very scary team to play this postseason.

Oakland Athletics

Stuck playing second fiddle to the Astros for the past two years, the A’s have broken through and cemented themselves as one of the top teams in baseball, winning the AL West for the first time since 2013.

The pitching core has been great all year, being fifth in the majors in ERA. The bullpen has been locked down as well.

The hitting has been OK because the team has dealt with injuries and some regression from key players such as Khris Davis and Marcus Semien.

If the bats can get going, the A’s can beat anybody, and could go far if things go their way.

Minnesota Twins

This iteration of the Twins has been much more well-rounded than last year’s squad, and a late surge saw them steal the AL Central crown from the White Sox.

This year’s Twins haven’t mashed the ball like they did last season, but their pitching has been much better, ranking near the top of the majors. The hitting, led by Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton, has been ok, but not as powerful as they were last year.

The Twins should be a tough out against any team, especially once their bats get hot. Unless they’re playing the Yankees. Then they’ll probably get swept.

Cleveland Indians

After missing the postseason in 2019, the Indians rode a hot streak at the end of the season to clinch a playoff spot and earn the fourth seed.

The pitching, manned by likely AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, has remained dominant. The offense has lagged behind, but a resurgent Jose Ramirez has helped keep the hitting afloat.

With a tough set of matchups, including the Yankees and then the Rays if they advance, the path to championship glory will not be easy.

New York Yankees

After a torrid 16-6 start to the season, the Yankees once again fell victim to injuries and actually had a bit of a down year, at one point falling to 21-21. A late season 10-game winning streak, however, gave them a boost in the standings and some momentum heading into postseason.

Prized off-season acquisition Gerrit Cole has disappointed some, as he was far from his 2019 dominant self. The rest of the starting pitching didn’t fare much better either.

The team was carried by its prolific offense, with Luke Voit emerging out of nowhere as an MVP candidate. If the starting pitchers can round into form, then the Yankees will be very scary in the postseason.

Houston Astros

Oh Astros, you poor, poor little things. After being caught illegally stealing signs during their 2017 World Series winning season, the Astros came out this year and silenced their critics by going…29-31.

The only reason this team made the playoffs is because the rest of their division, except for Oakland, is kind of a joke. Going from a 0.660 win percentage last year to 0.483 this year was the biggest drop in the majors. Maybe they did need to steal signs.

Their pitching, which was dominant for the past three years, has been ravaged with injuries, including their ace Justin Verlander. Many of their best batters, such as Jose Altuve, have struggled mightily, adding to their woes.

The Trashtros have little momentum going into the postseason, losing their last three games, so it’s hard to see them turning their problems around against hard opponents. It could happen though, it is 2020.

Chicago White Sox

A trendy pick of a sleeper team heading into the season, the White Sox certainly didn’t disappoint, securing a playoff berth for the first time in 13 years.

The White Sox actually had the best record in the AL until about two weeks left in the season, when a six-game losing streak saw them plummet to the seventh seed.

The pitching has been so-so, but the real threat to opponents is their white hot offense. Led by Jose Abreau, Tim Anderson, and likely AL Rookie of the Year Luis Robert, the hitting has been dominant all year long.

The offense should continue to perform at a high level, even against elite pitching talent, and if their pitching can back them up, don’t be surprised if we see them playing for the championship.

Toronto Blue Jays

The rebuild has finally shown some promise for the Blue Jays, as they’ve made it back to the postseason after a three-season absence.

The hitting has rounded into form, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. leading a quiet but consistent offense, which is more than they can say about last year’s dumpster fire of an offense.

Offseason addition Hyun Jin Ryu has improved their pitching staff, which is still not amazing, but likely won’t lose them many games.

While it might be a tad bit premature to say they’ll be a force to reckon with this postseason, they should be fun to watch, and should be good in the future as well.

Prediction

After a crazy year inside and outside of baseball, the end of the 2020 MLB season is here, and when the World Series rolls around, we’ll see the Dodgers taking on the White Sox. It should be an exciting matchup being a high powered White Sox offense and an elite Dodgers pitching staff.

But as much as I hate to admit it, the Dodgers will just be too good for the White Sox. The pitching will quiet the White Sox bats and LA’s offense will come through with timely hits.

I expect close games, but the Dodgers will prevail in five games, and truly cement 2020 as the worst year of our lives. Play ball.