MLB’s postseason is bigger and ... well, definitely bigger than ever. The 16-team derby for World Series rings — capping a difficult, pandemic-shortened season — begins Tuesday afternoon. Eight teams will be eliminated by the weekend, and the rest will proceed to unprecedented neutral sites to increase safety amid COVID-19 and play on until a champion is crowned in Texas in late October.
But there will be a lot of playoff baseball to watch.
Before it gets started, here are predictions that — with any luck — won’t go quite as wrong as everything else in 2020.
Wild Card Series upset alert
Tim Brown: One big-league team beating another twice in three days doesn’t sound like much of an upset, which is probably why they don’t typically insist on series so short and shouldn’t when we’re all back to normal. This, however, is the corner into which the higher seeds have been pushed. The Miami Marlins will win two at Wrigley Field. Not because they won three of four there in an October 17 years ago, but because, among their virtues, the Marlins are one of three teams to win as many as 20 road games. The other two — the Dodgers and Rays.
Hannah Keyser: Cincinnati Reds over Atlanta Braves. I'm not sure where we all landed on whether or not momentum heading into the postseason is a real thing or not, but even if it's just psychosomatic, the Reds should feel like something more than a No. 7 seed after going 11-3 to finish the season, with five consecutive series wins. And they'll be going up against a Braves team that scratched Ronald Acuña Jr. from the final game of the season with wrist soreness, the same ailment that had him on the 10-day IL about a month ago. Of course one player can't make all the difference — unless it's your starting pitcher. With Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray, the Reds have one of the best rotations in October. The Braves got the NL’s No. 2 seed without their best pitchers, but it's an especially bad time for them to be without Mike Soroka or Cole Hamels.
Mike Oz: Reds over Braves. The Reds have what the Braves don't — three solid pitchers you can depend on. While the Braves' offense is better than Cincinnati's, the Reds' lineup ain't bad itself. We know that pitching is what wins in October. And the Braves just don't have it.
Mark Townsend: Reds over Braves. The Braves have the toughest draw because they're facing a Reds team that's prepared to throw Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray in a best-of-three series. That's brutal. I like this Braves team, but I hate this matchup and their immediate outlook.
Zach Crizer: Chicago White Sox over Oakland A’s. This wouldn’t have qualified as an upset two weeks ago. The late White Sox slide is concerning but the offense remains stacked. The A’s bullpen has been a revelation, but I’m more concerned about them stumbling upon an arm or two that doesn’t have it that day than I am about disaster outings from Lucas Giolito or Dallas Keuchel.
Bold postseason prediction
Brown: There’s an instinct here to predict they’ll actually finish this postseason, all the way to the end of the World Series and with no major outbreaks. On a smaller scale, the rising star in the coming weeks will be Sandy Alomar Jr., a forever managerial candidate who will lead the Cleveland Indians in place of Terry Francona. A guy looks good surrounded by all that pitching, sure, but Alomar has found his time to shine.
Keyser: No actual outcome this year would be as surprising if you had told me it back in April or even July than what I now think will be true: That by the time we get to the World Series, the teams competing for, and the ultimate winner of, the championship will feel totally "legitimate" — whatever that means. Whether in spite of or because October is setting up to be such a gauntlet, I don't think fans will feel less invested in the World Series just because we can never know how the contenders would have fared over a 162-game regular season. That's right, I'm calling it now: No asterisk for the 2020 champs.
Oz: People will actually like the expanded field, best-of-three wild-card round and bubble format.
Townsend: There will be a postseason no-hitter. Someone will join Don Larsen and Roy Halladay in the exclusive postseason no-hitter club. Shane Bieber, Yu Darvish and Gerrit Cole are the most obvious candidates to do it, but don't sleep on a veteran like Adam Wainwright or Zack Greinke reminding us of their brilliance on the big stage.
Crizer: Offense will be the story. All the weird factors about this October are a boon to batters. Warm or climate-controlled environs, for one. But more importantly, the lack of off days means a smaller share of innings will go to dominant arms.
Brown: In Will Smith, the Los Angeles Dodgers have discovered another guy who hits good pitching. In Mookie Betts they have a player who gets better with closer examination and familiarity. Yet, the player most likely to drive an offense that has disappeared too often in recent Octobers is Corey Seager, whose .943 OPS across two months was better than Fernando Tatis Jr.’s, Tim Anderson’s and Trevor Story’s. He lived a lot of this summer on his bat barrel.
Keyser: Fernando Tatis Jr. Is that too obvious? Maybe. Or else it's wishful thinking. But why wouldn't one of the best players in baseball this season continue to perform with pizzazz at a high-level while lifting his young team to an unexpected Fall Classic appearance? (See below.) I know that more often than not it's the Marco Scutaros of the world who get hot in October and are forever memorialized with a series MVP, but rather than trying to predict this year's iteration, I'm going to bank on Tatis making some pivotal play that feels like it defines the San Diego Padres' wild ride to relevance. (Again: see below.)
Oz: Mookie Betts. Nothing cute here. The Dodgers traded for Mookie so they could win in October and he'll deliver exactly what they need.
Townsend: Fernando Tatis Jr. Last October was Juan Soto's time to shine. This October it will be Fernando Tatis Jr.'s time. The 21-year-old shortstop can change the game in every conceivable way. I believe his talent and will to win will set the tone for the entire postseason.
Crizer: Kenta Maeda. Never trusted enough to take on a starring role in the Dodgers’ always ambitious, perpetually doomed postseason runs, Maeda has been spectacular for the Minnesota Twins and will be used like an ace. Finally.
World Series predictions
ALCS: Indians over Twins
NLCS: Dodgers over Braves
World Series: Dodgers over Indians
You won’t be able to convince the Dodgers or the people of Los Angeles, who’ve seen far too many Kirk Gibson videos as the last great moment in franchise history, that a 60-game season followed by a four-round playoff commotion is not legitimate. It’s not the same, of course. But everybody knew that going in. The winner gets a banner, this one free to flutter before the San Gabriel Mountains.
ALCS: Rays over White Sox
NLCS: Padres over Reds
World Series: Rays over Padres
Call it the Ratings Disaster World Series.
ALCS: Yankees over Twins
NLCS: Dodgers over Reds
World Series: Dodgers over Yankees
Finally, the Dodgers shall win the World Series after all these years of October disappointments, and it will immediately be called not legit by every person in San Francisco. Seriously, though, the Dodgers have the deepest roster and everything required to win in October. This year, whether it came after 60 games or 162 games, they'll take it.
ALCS: Rays over A's
NLCS: Padres over Cubs
World Series: Rays over Padres
Score one for the "underdogs." The Rays win consistently because they rarely beat themselves. I also believe their pitching staff gives them an advantage in a short series and is built to handle the rigors of an expanded postseason schedule. The Rays will rise in 2020.
ALCS: Twins over Indians
NLCS: Dodgers over Braves
World Series: Twins over Dodgers
The Bomba Squad wasn’t quite as prolific this season, but the Twins have quietly built a fully operational Death Star. This is now a powerful, seasoned lineup combined with a pitcher optimization machine that is starting to take after Cleveland, the rival they hired President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey away from. I think it will net Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson and several Dodger castoffs their first rings.
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