MLB Playoff Preview: It’s Finally the Dodgers’ Year

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers during a pitch in 2016
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers during Game 6 of the NLCS in 2016. PHOTO CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III//Flickr

October playoff baseball is here, and it’s honestly a miracle that we even got to this point. Greedy owners and players almost never let the season get off the ground, and coronavirus outbreaks seemed to threaten the season every week. However, two months and 60 games later, we are here: the MLB Playoffs.

Because of the shortened regular season, the MLB expanded the playoffs this year to include 8 teams from both leagues. The first round will only be a 3-game series, which could mean several “upsets.” This could be the most unpredictable playoffs we have ever seen.

The Matchups:

National LeagueAmerican League
1. L.A. Dodgers vs. 8. Milwaukee Brewers1. Tampa Bay Rays vs. 8. Toronto Blue Jays
4. San Diego Padres vs. 5. St. Louis Cardinals4. Cleveland Indians vs. 5. N.Y. Yankees
3. Chicago Cubs vs. 6. Miami Marlins3. Minnesota Twins vs. 6. Houston Astros
2. Atlanta Braves vs. 7. Cincinnati Reds2. Oakland A’s vs. 7. Chicago White Sox
Note: The winners of each division are seeded 1-3 The second place team in each division were seeded 3-6 followed by two wild card winners.

National League

Initial Thoughts:

I already know what you’re thinking, how in the world did the Miami Marlins make the playoffs? Quite frankly, I’m asking myself the same question. Their playoff berth with an expanded field of teams is definitely a step in the right direction for a team that didn’t have a single winning season during the last decade. But don’t expect the Marlins to make any more noise in 2020.

The Marlins have some nice pieces offensively. Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez should be great for years to come in their starting rotation. But, they’re too young for you bro. The Miami Marlins are not ready for October baseball. This will be a great learning experience for a young team that will surely be back in the mix in the next few years; unless they blow it up like when they traded away Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

What to Watch:

The San Diego Padres are probably the team most baseball fans are excited to watch this postseason in the National League. They’ve been a dumpster fire for years. But when they signed Eric Hosmer in 2018 and Manny Machado in 2019, you could sense the culture changing. Top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. has blossomed into an MVP candidate. Now, the Padres are a real threat for the first time in ages.

On top of their hitting, the rotation was becoming just as good as their lineup. Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger, who they acquired at the trade deadline, all sported E.R.A’s under 3.00 since joining the team. However, recent injuries to Clevinger and Lamet bring their elite rotation into question. Even at the four seed, the Padres are the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They are the story of the National League this season.

Sleeper Team – Cincinnati Reds:

If you’re into the fashion scene, you’ve probably heard of Kanye West’s iconic shoe the “Red Octobers,” but have you heard of the Reds playing in October? They may not be as flashy as the shoe, but the Braves should not tread lightly with the Reds in their first series.

In my opinion, pitching outweighs hitting in the playoffs and that’s where the Reds thrive. Led by Cy Young frontrunner Trevor Bauer, the Reds have a nasty rotation. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Bauer, of course, give the Reds a chance to win every time they toe the rubber. However, these guys will have to be lights out because Cincinnati is not going to score many runs.

Cincinnati’s hitting is abysmal. I mean they’re so bad that they almost finished with the worst batting average ever as a team. EVER! The MLB has been around for almost 150 years! If they were playing in the American League, the Reds’ .212 batting average would have been tied for the worst average ever. But, the 1888 Washington Nationals saved the Reds from complete embarrassment. They posted a .207 batting average that year. Because of this, I don’t expect the Reds to get out of the first round. But, I think they can make it dicey for the Braves with their pitching.

I see all chalk in the first round for the N.L., so if I had to take a sleeper, the Reds are my pick. They are one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning 11 of their last 14 games. But how long can the hot streak continue?

N.L. Winner – L.A. Dodgers:

No surprise here, the Los Angeles Dodgers are just simply the best team with the most playoff experience. I hate talking the obvious choice, but it’s the only answer this year. The Dodgers’ +136 run differential in a 60-game season is just absurd, and this team is hungry to earn a ring after the Astros cheated them out of one in 2017.

The Dodgers have the hitting. They posted the second highest team OPS at .821. Their league leading 118 home runs would have challenged the all-time mark set by the Minnesota Twins last year if this was a full season, and it isn’t just one guy hitting taters. The Dodgers have 5 separate players with over 10 home runs.

They also have the pitching. Led by Clayton Kershaw, who had another disgusting year and finished with a 2.16 E.R.A., the Dodgers rotation is nothing to mess with. Following Kershaw is Rookie of the Year candidate Dustin May. Some of May’s pitches are simply mind-boggling and I’m excited to watch this youngster get his postseason career underway. Finishing out the rotation is phenom Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin and Walker Buehler, who all finished the season with E.R.A.’s under 3.50. And their pitching doesn’t stop there.

The experience is also there. Many guys on this Dodgers team were on the 2018 team that went to the World Series. The Dodgers also added Mookie Betts this offseason, who’s already won a ring. If they don’t at least get back to the World Series, it would be a huge disappointment for Dave Roberts and company. Their toughest matchup might come in the second round against the Padres, but if Kershaw can figure it out this postseason, I don’t see anything holding them back to another run at a ring.

American League

Initial Thoughts:

Wow, we are in for a treat. Every team that made the playoffs in the American League deserves to be here, except the Houston Astros. Screw the Astros. Besides the fact that they cheated last year, they are the only team with a losing record in the American League playoffs and they somehow get a 6 seed because they finished second in their division.

I’m sure the Twins have never had more fans on their side, as most of America will be rooting for a sweep. To make things more interesting, Kenta Maeda, a pitcher who was on the Dodgers when they lost to the Astros in the World Series, is scheduled to start game one on Tuesday.

We could see some upsets, and a lot of them. Upsets will already be easier in the first round because it is only a three game series, but the Blue Jays, White Sox and Yankees are nothing to mess with. All three of these teams can absolutely rake, and if they get hot at the right time, watch out. As much as I hate the Astros, hell, they have a chance too. I think we could legitimately see all upsets in the first round. Not saying it’s going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

What to Watch:

It’s simple. Just tune into every game of the series between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees and you won’t be disappointed. Now healthy, the series features probably the best lineup in the A.L., the Yankees, against the best pitching rotation in the A.L., the Indians. Even better, the first game of the series features the reigning Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole and this year’s Cy Young frontrunner Shane Bieber. The Indians also will have Carlos Carrasco and, if needed, Zach Plesac who have a 2.91 and a 2.28 E.R.A. respectively. It’s going to be a classic battle of great hitting versus great pitching. You won’t want to miss it. That series gets underway on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Sleeper Team – Chicago White Sox:

I thought it would take a little longer for the White Sox to be this good, but they are a real threat already in 2020. I honestly feel bad for the Oakland A’s having to matchup with Chicago in the first round. The White Sox were only one game away from winning the A.L. Central and are by far the most dangerous wild card team this season.

Chicago hit the third most dingers this year, behind only the aforementioned Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. They have serious pop and also have a MVP candidate in Jose Abreu. However, what makes them deadly in a 3-game series is their 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Lucas Giolito has the stuff to be untouchable on a given night and Dallas Keuchel looks like he’s back in form with a 1.99 E.R.A. this season. To say the least, I would not feel confident if I was a member of Oakland A’s.

But one thing concerning about the sneaky White Sox is that they stumbled into the playoffs, losing 7 of their final 8 games. Hopefully they can turn it around just in time for a deep run.

A.L. Winner – Chicago White Sox:

They may be a few pieces away from making it to the World Series, but fuck it, let’s go White Sox. Their rotation past Giolito and Keuchel is sketch, but it’s not terrible. Their talent at the plate, however, is capable of overcoming average pitching performances and their bullpen is solid to make up for the lack of starting pitching.

The Rays scare me, I get a lot of 2015 Kansas City Royals vibes from this year’s Rays team, but is it enough? The Rays do all the little things right and it led them to the A.L.’s best record. But, they rely a lot on their bullpen and starters Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow haven’t been as dominant as they usually are. I think Rays-White Sox is the most likely ALCS matchup, but I don’t want to take the top seed in both leagues, and who doesn’t like rooting for the “underdog.”

World Series Champion – L.A. Dodgers:

It’s time! After winning the N.L. West for the 8th straight season, the Dodgers will finally get it done in the postseason in 2020. If they don’t, Dave Roberts could be on the hot seat, which is crazy to think about, but the Dodgers with Roberts have crumbled too many times in October.

I’ve talked about their hitting, starting pitching and experience, but their bullpen could be the best part of their team. Led by Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen, the Dodgers’ bullpen is probably the best in the Bigs. Including their starters, the Dodgers have 13 pitchers who have pitched more than 18 innings this year with an E.R.A. under 3.90. Los Angeles has a legit chance to get through this playoffs without ever sending a guy with an E.R.A. above 4.00 to the mound. On paper, they shouldn’t lose.

However, one thing that concerns me is Clayton Kershaw’s playoff jitters. The 3-time Cy Young winner has a career 4.43 E.R.A. in the playoffs. If the Dodgers want to capture the title, Kershaw simply has to be better. One thing in his favor might be the lack of fans in the stands this year because of coronavirus. So, maybe that will take the pressure off Kershaw, and he can be his true self this postseason. If Kershaw is Kershaw, the Dodgers might run away with the title this year.

The postseason gets underway at 2 p.m. on Friday with the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Even if all of my predictions are wrong, I’m just happy the MLB will be able to get through the 2020 season (knock on wood) after it looked like the season wouldn’t even get off the ground.

A.Scott, Deputy Editor for The Challenge. Lifelong Jets, Mets, Nuggets and Flyers fan still looking to celebrate his first pro sports championship. Retired degenerate sports gambler who likes to come out of retirement. Learned how to count cards at the age of 18, but has yet to put the skill to good use. Primarily writes about the MLB, but will dip his toes into the NFL, NBA, college basketball and UFC. When I’m not writing for The Challenge or for a local news station in Syracuse, you can catch me either on the golf course or pounding brews with bros. “Don’t worry, be happy!” R.I.P. Mac Miller

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