MLB shootaround: Wild wild-card edition

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With the MLB postseason upon us after a shortened 60-game season, our writers make their predictions for this October.

Which teams are in the best position to make a deep run?

Noah Parker: The National League is pretty set to dry — there are the Dodgers and everybody else. “Slam Diego” has been an incredibly fun team to watch this season, and it may have the depth to challenge the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Past the Padres, however, the NL is the Dodgers’ to lose. 

The American League figures to be a lot more competitive. The upstart Tampa Bay Rays went 40-20 this season and have both a formidable lineup and a couple of aces at the top of their rotation. Past the Rays, the Twins have had another stellar year and wouldn’t have to play the Yankees until the American League Championship Series, setting up a possible World Series run for Minnesota. 

Ethan Waters: The Dodgers have now won the NL West eight years in a row. Eight. Of course, they haven’t won a World Series since the late ’80s, but considering the asterisk loss to Houston in 2017, they are almost surely bound for at least an NLDS. Nevertheless, the San Diego Padres, exploding with young talent and bursting at the seams for their first playoff appearance since 2006, are equally poised to take their energy to the World Series. 

Which higher seeds are most vulnerable to a first-round upset?

NP: The Atlanta Braves easily have the worst luck of anyone in the field, drawing the red-hot Cincinnati Reds in the two-seven matchup. The Reds have one of the top rotations in baseball, featuring Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. Meanwhile, the Braves, decimated by injuries to their rotation, have one of the worst staffs in baseball. Atlanta has made up for it by scoring the second-most runs in the MLB, but having a one-man starting rotation isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. It’ll be a classic “can your good hitting hit my good pitching” matchup, but in a three-game set, the Reds pitching figures to have the upper hand. 

EW: The A’s are a No. 2 seed, but they are only one game ahead of the seventh-seeded White Sox in terms of regular-season record. The Sox already dropped three bombs in Game 1, and if Oakland’s bats remain slumped (as they were at the end of the season), the A’s are bound to see a first-round exit for the third straight year. 

Who are the dark horses this October?

NP: The A’s and Yankees, though two top teams that could barely be considered dark horses, have been mostly overlooked this season. The underdog mentality has continued into the postseason, but both have very solid rotations and bullpens and could easily make the ALCS. Meanwhile, the NL consists mainly of dark horses, as most of the playoff teams are barely over 0.500. The Marlins, who dealt with the first MLB COVID-19 outbreak back in July, may be the easiest underdog to root for, and they may have the pitching to make it happen. 

EW: It pains me to my core to say it, but I think the Astros will make a deeper run than predicted this postseason. The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004 (in fact, they’ve now lost 17 in a row), which makes them an easy pass for the Astros, who have more playoff experience (cheating aside) than I will mention here. Besides Houston, the White Sox have potential MVP José Abreu and a whole lot of bat power to make a deep run. 

Wild-card round predictions

AL

No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays

NP: Rays in two.

EW: Rays in two.

No. 2 Oakland A’s vs. No. 7 Chicago White Sox

NP: A’s in three.

EW: Sox in three. 

No. 3 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 6 Houston Astros

NP: Twins in two.

EW: Astros in two. 

No. 4 Cleveland Indians vs. No. 5 New York Yankees

NP: Yankees in three.

EW: Yankees in two.

NL

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers

NP: Dodgers in two.

EW: Dodgers in two.

No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Reds

NP: Reds in three.

EW: Braves in three.

No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins

NP: Marlins in three. 

EW: Marlins in three. 

No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals

NP: Padres in two. 

EW: Padres in three. 

World Series predictions

NP: Dodgers vs. Yankees. This is the matchup everyone wanted to see at the beginning of the year, and while the Yankees have underperformed this season, they definitely have the talent to make a World Series run. 

EW: Rays vs. Padres. It’s practically chalk, and though 2020 has thrown us more curveballs than expected, this one’s a good bet. The Dodgers outplayed the Padres in the regular season, sure, but the fuel of the NL Championship Series atmosphere and San Diego’s first postseason run since 1998 will be enough to propel them to the World Series.

Noah Parker covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].
Ethan Waters is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.