Gregory Bull/Associated Press
The 2020 MLB postseason rolls into the Division Series with big names, bigger underdogs and the sport’s biggest villains—no, not the New York Yankees, though they are here too.
The action kicks off with an American League Division Series double-header on Monday, and it will look much different than fans are used to.
For starters, all games are being played at neutral locations because of the coronavirus pandemic. That also means there won’t be any travel days, so pitchers coming in after short rest is even less likely in 2020. To advance this year, it will take more of a full-team approach than ever.
Here’s where things stand as MLB’s final eight teams prepare to take the field.
Oakland Athletics vs. Houston Astros
Schedule: October 5-9
Venue: Dodger Stadium
Series Odds: Houston Astros +100 (wager $100 to win $100), Oakland Athletics -121 (wager $121 to win $100)
The Houston Astros head into their fourth straight division series as baseball’s undeniable heel.
In their first season since MLB uncovered a massive, technology-based sign-stealing scandal that the team used en route to a World Series title in 2017, Houston greatly underperformed at 29-31 yet promptly swept the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins in two games at Target Field in the Wild Card Round.
Now they will face an AL West rival for the right to play for the pennant, and there’s no question the Oakland Athletics wouldn’t enjoy finally sending the Astros home.
The A’s defeated the Chicago White Sox in three games to advance and proved their starting pitching can match their AL-leading bullpen when needed. Oakland won the season series between the clubs 7-3 and shouldn’t have much trouble in the postseason, either.
Prediction: Oakland in three.
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Schedule: October 5-9
Venue: Petco Park
Series Odds: New York Yankees -148, Tampa Bay Rays +120
Despite winning the American League East by seven games and brushing past the Toronto Blue Jays in the Wild Card Round, the Tampa Bay Rays enter the ALDS as slight underdogs—with good reason.
The Yankees are as healthy as they have been all year long, with Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela and Giancarlo Stanton continuing to rake. That should make life a lot easier for a starting rotation that features Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka as its top arms.
Unfortunately for New York, the Rays matchup quite well through Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.
As long as the bats of Mike Brosseau, Brandon Lowe, Hunter Renfroe and Mike Zunino don’t suddenly cool off, Tampa should be able to do what it did eight times this season and put away the Yanks with ease.
Prediction: Tampa in five.
Atlanta Braves vs. Miami Marlins
Schedule: Oct 6-10
Venue: Minute Maid Park
TV: FS1/MLB Network
Series Odds: Available via DraftKings Sportsbook.
When teams cry out “no one believed in us,” seldom are they as correct as this year’s Miami Marlins.
Following back-to-back seasons finishing last in the National League East, the Marlins came back from an early-season COVID-19 outbreak to take control of the division. Without many marquee names, the Marlins have instead relied on timely contributions from the likes of Jon Berti, Garrett Cooper, Miguel Rojas, Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar.
Credit to Miami, it’s worked—especially with pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez developing into legitimate tier one starters.
One of the only teams it didn’t work against, however, was the Atlanta Braves, who went 6-4 against the Marlins—including a 29-9 beatdown in early September.
The Braves boast one of the most exciting teams in baseball thanks to Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies and likely NL MVP Freddie Freeman. The big question here is whether their pitching can hold up to allow their offense to break out of slump that saw scoring become nearly impossible in their Wild Card Round victory against the Cincinnati Reds. The same question could be asked of a Marlins team that defeated the Chicago Cubs in straight games.
Yet the Marlins have yet to lose a postseason series in franchise history. It’s tough to bet against that kind of strange baseball magic.
Prediction: Miami in four.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres
Schedule: October 6-10
Venue: Globe Life Field
TV: FS1/MLB Network
Series Odds: Available via DraftKings Sportsbook
Who wins when arguably the most exciting team in baseball matches up against the most dominant regular-season team eight years running? Everyone who doesn’t have a stake in this series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been MLB’s model franchise for nearly a decade, but they have yet to break through in the postseason. The San Diego Padres are young, uber-talented and probably inexperienced enough to not feel the weight of the moment.
Shockingly, these teams mirror each other quite well.
Both rely on homegrown talent, with Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw leading the way for Los Angeles and Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Chris Paddack doing the same for the Padres. Both made major offseason moves to bring in elite batters: Manny Machado (San Diego) and Mookie Betts (Los Angeles). Both have fanbases that are desperate for a World Series title. The Dodgers last won it all in 1988; the Padres haven’t won a title period.
As well as the teams matchup, it may come down to who isn’t playing. Starters Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger were unavailable for San Diego during a three-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Round, while the Dodgers had little trouble with the Milwaukee Brewers in reaching the NLDS.
It would be better for baseball if both these teams could advance.
Prediction: Los Angeles in five.