The 2020 MLB regular season was anything but ordinary. What is normally a 162-game marathon was shortened to a 60-game sprint, and a play-off field that normally holds only the top five teams from each league was expanded to eight from each league.
Of course, madness ensued. The Miami Marlins, who were the bottom feeders of the National League East for most of the 2010s, snuck in. Four of the remaining seven spots in the National League went to the National League Central, as the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers all made it to October.
The American League picture was already in place and not nearly as wild as the National League, but it still featured some surprises, like the Tampa Bay Rays being the best team in the American League and the young Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox putting the rest of the league on notice. Everyone’s favorite team, the Houston Astros are back, and the Evil Empire that is the New York Yankees remain to be the favorite world series pick.
With the Wild Card rounds behind us, we are in the thick of October baseball. Anything can happen in October, and if anything, expect more surprises. Here is what to look for in each division series matchup.
Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics
What a matchup to begin with. This is one of the hardest series to predict, given the injuries to both teams. Houston is missing their former Cy Young winning pitcher Justin Verlander, and with Gerrit Cole joining the Yankees in free agency, their rotation is now being headed by Zack Grienke. Behind him, a myriad of young arms that are incredibly unpredictable.
On Oakland’s side, they are missing their platinum glove, all-star third baseman Matt Chapman. Chapman hit 36 home runs for the Athletics in 2019, and missing both his bat and his glove is a huge knock for the Athletics. However, guys like Matt Olsen and Marcus Semien pose plenty of offensive threat. Oakland has a young rotation as well, but they have more known entities than what the Astros do.
The Astros are a scary team to play right now as they have adopted the “us vs. the world” mentality. However, their pitching is not enough to get them passed the Athletics.
Athletics in four.
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays
The two best teams in the American League East face off in a matchup between two teams that were built in two completely different ways.
The Yankees are notorious for spending big in free agency, and they continued to live up to that name in the off-season when they brought in Gerrit Cole, the biggest free agent pitcher on the market. Cole was solid in the shortened season, posting an ERA of 2.84 in 12 starts. The Yankees desperately needed pitching, and they got it in Cole.
However, the story for the Yankees is their offensive players not named Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton or Gary Sanchez. Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu had huge 2020 seasons, the former leading all of baseball in home runs and the former winning the American League batting title. With various players getting injured throughout the season, Voit and LeMahieu have been essential to the Yankees’ offense.
On the Tampa Bay side, the Rays tout a loaded rotation that features Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, along with six arms in the bullpen that can all throw 98 with movement. They have traded and built their team to where it is today, and they find a way to win.
However, while they have a loaded rotation and bullpen, the offense scares me. Aside from Brandon Lowe, there is not a name that truly scares me. That being said, pitching usually always prevails, so the Rays have a very good chance to advance.
The Rays are having a special year, and they will continue to be special. However, it is going to be a difficult series for both teams and should be one of the best this post-season.
Rays in five.
San Diego Padres vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
This is the most exciting series. There are superstars all over for both teams, from Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts to everyone’s favorite baseball player Fernando Tatis Jr. There are plenty of storylines to follow, but the biggest has to be the World Series demons that haunt the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are loaded. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are one of the best one-two punches in the league, and the likes of Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner will strike fear into any pitcher they may face. The Dodgers’ time to win is now, and they have the team to do it.
The Padres are a year away from being true contenders, especially considering that two of their top pitchers in Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, are questionable for the rest of the post-season. They managed to escape the Wild Card round against the Cardinals, but the Dodgers have an offense that will make the Padres’ lack of pitching show.
That being said, the Padres will make this a series. Fernando Tatis Jr. is the most electrifying player in the game today. Along with Tatis Jr’s emergence is Manny Machado’s resurgence. Wil Myers is hitting the ball again, and Eric Hosmer has plenty of play-off experience. The Padres have a mix of young talent and veterans, and they will give the Dodgers a run for their money.
I want to pick the Padres, but I truly think this is the Dodgers’ year.
Dodgers in 4.
Miami Marlins vs. Atlanta Braves
This is probably the most unpredictable series of the four. The Braves have one of the strongest line-ups in the game with Ronald Acuna Jr, Marcell Ozuna and National League MVP favorite Freddie Freeman. However, the Braves strongly lack arms in both their rotation and their bullpen. Their game plan is that while they may give up eight runs, they have the offense to score nine and win.
On the Marlins side, it is a team composed of youth with some veteran leadership mixed in. Sixto Sanchez and Sandy Alcantara are two young, promising arms that lead their rotation. Jesus Aguilar was brought in as a veteran leader in the off-season, and he has proven to still be an effective bat in the line-up. The Marlins’ line-up contains a lot of names that many casual baseball fans would not know of, and yet they are in the Division Series. A weird year indeed.
The Miami Marlins have never lost a play-off series in franchise history until now. There is too much inexperience in the Marlins for them to get past the Braves.
Braves in four.
If anything, expect more madness from one of the craziest MLB seasons we have ever seen. Everything about this year’s post-season has been unprecedented, and I expect the results of the Division Series match-ups to follow suit.