Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians becoming the first league pitching Triple Crown winner since Johan Santana in 2006, leading the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The 60-game regular season is complete and the MLB playoffs start Tuesday in what has been a rollercoaster, abbreviated season. Before diving into my predictions for the playoffs, let’s review what happened to get us here.
The COVID-19 shutdown for Major League Baseball began on March 11 with the cancellation of the Mariners-Athletics exhibition game on March 24, leading to the season being pushed back into the middle of May on March 16. As we know, after weeks of discussion and plenty of arguments, MLB eventually restarted on July 23.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, as the Miami Marlins suffered an outbreak among the team (20 cases reported) just one week into the season.
Less than a week later, the St. Louis Cardinals had a similar outbreak that left them inactive from July 31-Aug. 14. Because of this, two games against the Tigers were left unplayed because the Cardinals clinched their playoff berth and seeding on the last day of the regular season on Sunday.
Some interesting storylines included the sudden emergence of the Marlins – who finished 31-29, good enough for the No. 6 seed in the National League – and the Triple Crown pitching of Shane Bieber for the Cleveland Indians – first in wins (8), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122).
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) September 29, 2020
Going into the Wild Card round of the playoffs – a three-game series for the first time – the match-up between the Indians and New York Yankees (4-vs-5) should be exciting to watch, with Cleveland stellar pitching coming up against the dangerous Yankees hitters – D.J. LeMaiheu led MLB in batting average (.364) and Luke Voit led in home runs (22).
While the Marlins were certainly the jewel of surprises, especially after overcoming an outbreak, their inter-division rival and defending champion Washington Nationals were disappointing – though not quite surprising – finishing 26-34 and tied for last in the NL East.
With the background set in place, let’s move into the playoff match-ups and who I think will ultimately win the World Series.
American League Wild Card Round
(1) Tampa Bay Rays over (8) Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0
It’s hard to see the Blue Jays getting past the Rays, who have been the best team in MLB besides the LA Dodgers.
(7) Chicago White Sox over (2) Oakland Athletics, 2-1
The Athletics are probably the team that is most-often slept-on, but the bats of the White Sox (namely AL RBI and hits-leader Jose Abreu) might be too much for the Athletics pitchers.
(3) Minnesota Twins over (6) Houston Astros, 2-0
If not for the playoff format allowing second-place teams in each division to make the playoffs, the 29-31 Astros would not even be here. The Twins’ well-balanced team take them out in two.
(4) Cleveland Indians over (5) New York Yankees, 2-1
In a 7-game series format, it’s hard to see this one not going the distance. The same applies in a best-of-three, as the potent Yankees bats come up against the devouring Indians pitching. Defense wins the day in this case, Tribe move on.
National League Wild Card Round
(1) LA Dodgers over (8) Milwaukee Brewers, 2-0
The 29-31 Brewers have no chance against the MLB-best Dodgers.
(7) Cincinnati Reds over (2) Atlanta Braves, 2-1
This should be an interesting series between two solid teams. The 31-29 Reds have been a little disappointing, but with a 16-9 record in September, they carry the momentum and get past the Braves’ bats (Marcell Ozuna leads the NL in home runs and RBIs).
(6) Miami Marlins over (3) Chicago Cubs, 2-1
Cubs fans will shudder from this postseason match-up, and the Marlins, who have been the darling of this shortened season, once again get past the Cubs to advance. In a five-game series, I think the Cubs experience and talent advance.
(4) San Diego Padres over (5) St. Louis Cardinals, 2-1
The Padres have been the hottest team in baseball outside of Los Angeles or Tampa Bay, but did cool down since Sept. 15, losing 6 of 11. The Cardinals have been very inconsistent, but they may be able to steal a game to avoid playing just two games.
(4) Indians over (1) Rays, 3-2
Like Indians-Yankees, this match-up should be fun to watch. However, in this series it’s great pitching versus great pitching. The Rays have proved a lot of people wrong to become the No. 1 seed in the AL, but the playoff experience of the Indians wins the day as they win in five games.
(3) Twins over (7) White Sox, 3-1
In the first divisional match-up in this postseason, these two teams face off after splitting in the regular season (5-5). Now in the playoffs, the Twins face a hard-hitting White Sox team, but ultimately win out to set up another divisional match-up in the ALCS.
(1) Dodgers over (4) Padres, 3-1
The Dodgers edged the season series 6-4, and the Padres have impressed, but the Dodgers just have too much talent for the inexperienced Padres.
(7) Reds over (6) Marlins, 3-2
If this match-up does happen, it would be an exciting series between two teams that would have come out of nowhere to get this far (they’ve impressed to get into the postseason at all, frankly). The Reds have a bit more experience than the Marlins and carry their hot play into the NLCS against baseball’s best team.
(4) Indians over (3) Twins, 4-2
The Twins won the season series 7-3, but the Indians are red-hot right now, winning 9 of 11 to finish the season (Twins went 7-4). Besides an eight-game losing streak that came out of nowhere in mid-Sept., the Indians have the right mix of pitching, clutch hitting and getting hot at the right time to make a postseason run.
(1) Dodgers over (7) Reds, 4-1
Sorry Ohio sports fans, but the Reds don’t have quite enough to shock the world and set up a battle for the Ohio Cup in the Fall Classic. The Dodgers would be a failure if they don’t win the World Series, so don’t expect them to falter here.
Dodgers over Indians, 4-2
Out of the AL, the Indians have the right stuff to make a run. However, against Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers, they don’t have quite enough to get their first championship since 1948, continuing baseball’s longest championship drought. The Dodgers finally deliver and end their own championship curse to conclude MLB’s unique season.