As the leaves begin to fall and the temperature starts dropping, it’s time for playoff baseball. In a year when there has been so much uncertainty as to whether there would even be a baseball season, we have finally made it to October and the post-season.
With the shortened 60 game season every organization knew there was no time to waste. Each game virtually counted as 2.7 games of a regular 162 game season. The standard slumps and skids suffered by every team at some point had to be avoided, the prolonged injuries meant seasons would end for some players, and the notion that losing one game didn’t matter had to be forgotten.
It was inevitable that some teams would hit a bump in the road that could cost them a playoff spot, and in an attempt to make the playoffs slightly more inclusive, this year was the first in which the MLB decided to expand the playoffs to 16 teams (from the original eight). During a normal season, the three division winners and two “wildcard” teams from each league made the cut. The two wildcard teams would then face off in a play-in game with the winner advancing to play the number one seed in the Division Series. This year, with 16 teams, things will be slightly different.
Heading into the last weekend of play there was no shortage of drama, especially in the national league where four teams were competing for two spots. The top two teams from each division (AL East, Central, West and NL East, Central, West) plus the top two remaining teams in the league qualified. The eight teams from each league were then seeded (based on record) one through eight.
American League First Round Matchups:
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays
No 2. Oakland Athletics vs. No. 7 Chicago White Sox
No. 3 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 6 Houston Astros
No 4. Cleveland Indians vs. No. 5 New York Yankees
National League First Round Matchups:
No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers
No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Reds
No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins
No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals
Given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, no fans were allowed to watch games in person during the regular season. Additionally, for the playoffs the MLB will be implementing their version of a bubble. The first round of games will be played at the home stadium of the higher seed. However, for the four divisional series and the series that follow, the teams will be moving to neutral sites. For the American League that is the Padres’ and Dodgers’ stadiums in California and the National League will be playing at the Astros’ and Rangers’ stadiums in Texas. The World Series and National League Championship Series will both be played with a limited number of fans permitted to watch the games.
As the playoffs get underway, there is a lot to watch for. The two league leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays (finished with an AL best 40-20 record) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (NL best 43-17 record) look to stay sharp coming off their impressive regular seasons. The Rays have remained dominant behind their stellar pitching and impressive hitting and hope to continue these trends as they move into October. The Dodgers have been swinging a hot bat all season and come into the playoffs with a +136 run differential, the highest in the MLB with only the San Di-
ego Padres coming close at +84. Both top seeds closed the season going 8-2 over their last 10 regular season games.
Other notable teams that could make a run this postseason include the Oakland Athletics who have been reliant on their impressive bullpen for much of the season. The Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox battle for the fourth seed came down to the last day of regular season play, so either team is fully capable of going far into the playoffs. The former American League favorites, the New York Yankees, undoubtedly have a roster capable of winning a World Series. As of late, the Yankees have shown a lack of consistency that could hurt them in the playoffs, but if they stay healthy for the month and play to their full potential, they may prove it was for good reason that they began the season as favorites.
In the National League, look for the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Padres to all make serious runs at a title and give the top-seed Dodgers a tough battle. All four of those teams have stars in their lineups and serious potential in their pitching staffs’ but once again it will come down to consistency and who can maintain the top level of play throughout the month.
Ultimately, you can count on October to be an exciting month, especially with 16 highly qualified teams who are all serious contenders for taking home the World Series trophy at the end of the month.