This is going to be a baseball postseason unlike any MLB fans have ever seen. It’s almost certainly unlike any that MLB fans have ever imagined. Eight teams from each league will be competing to see who can get to the World Series. The Wild Card round will be played at the home stadium of the higher-seeded teams, the remaining rounds will be played at neutral stadiums culminating with the World Series at the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. All players will be in a “bubble” as the postseason starts which will hopefully prevent the playoffs from being derailed by any further COVID outbreaks as we saw earlier in the season.
The 2020 MLB playoff bracket is set‼️— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 27, 2020
RT if your team made the postseason: pic.twitter.com/po2ZZrMpZ0
The most important changes, from a gameplay perspective, are the inclusion of the designated hitter in National League games - as previously seen during the regular season - and a lack of off-days during the playoff series themselves, though there will always be at least one day off between series. Now that the stage is set, let’s talk about who you should be rooting for.
The heated rivalries
This rivalry has gone on for decades. At first, it was a battle between two titans of the American League but as the Royals gradually slipped into obscurity the Yankees just kept turning out great baseball teams and generally made the Royals feel as if they were just a farm team for them and other teams with more money to spend. Either way, this rivalry strongly precludes most Royals fans rooting for them.
Everyone should be familiar with the I-70 rivalry as much as the Yankees rivalry. There are many reasons for this one, between the Cardinals generally being better, geographic closeness, and going to the wrong high school. Some of you will think I should have placed it below the Yankees but the only time the Royals faced the Cardinals in the postseason they beat them, so it’s just hard to hate them as much.
In recent years, nearly two decades it seems, the Indians have churned out quality starting pitcher after high-quality starting pitcher while the Royals watched pitching prospects bust like the team’s farm system was secretly a large-scale sculpting studio.
The teams who are boringly good
The Cubs made the postseason in four straight years starting in 2015. They missed out last year but still had a winning record. which gives them six straight seasons with a winning record. That would be a nice thing to have, don’t you think?
This will be the eighth straight postseason the Dodgers have competed in. They also were in two straight World Series in 2017 and 2018. For a while, it was fun to root for such an amazing team to finally win it all, but that’s gotten old. Pick a more interesting team!
I live in Atlanta so maybe I’m a bit biased, but these guys are fun to watch hit. They’ve got three guys with OPSes near or above 1.000. And a bunch of strong hitters behind them, too. Still, they’ve made the postseason for each of the last two years and made 17 out of 22 postseasons from 1991-2013. It’s hard to get excited about a team that’s been there so many times, now.
Yeah, they did the whole cheating thing in 2017 but they got their league-mandated punishment so we can all move on from that. The real reason to not root for them is that they’ve gone to the postseason in four of the last five years and two of the last three World Series. They even won it all in 2017. They do have Zack Greinke, though. It’d be nice to see him get a ring.
The exciting young teams
9. Blue Jays
The team from Toronto that played all their home games in Buffalo this year hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2016. They look almost nothing like that collection of attitude problems, now. The next generation of baseball lives in Canada with Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette all starting and providing a lot of memorable hits for that team. They’re up-and-coming and a lot of fun to watch.
8. White Sox
If the White Sox weren’t in our division it would be easier to be excited for them. After more than a decade of struggling, they finally got all of their hitting prospects and pitching prospects to come together at the same time. Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiminez provide much of the punch with Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert occasionally pitching in while Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease do a lot of the work for the rotation. They’ve got some veterans pitching in with Dallas Keuchel carrying a 1.99 ERA and Jose Abreu going for an MVP nod, too.
The Rays made the postseason last year for the first time since 2013 and they’re chock full of young talent. Brandon Lowe is their starting second-baseman and has 14 home runs this year. Their entire infield is made up of guys under 30 who hit above-average and their rotation is full of high-quality young guys, too, from Tyler Glasnow to Ryan Yarbrough, to Blake Snell and Josh Fleming. Charlie Morton rounds it out as the elder statesman but he still seems to have a bit of life left in him, as well.
The Athletics are going to their third straight postseason and sixth in the last nine years. But they’ve now lost three straight Wild Card Games starting with Kansas City’s amazing comeback in 2014. It’s a huge bummer that slugger Matt Chapman is out for the year but they’ve still got Matt Olson, Khris Davis (who isn’t having a great year), a rebounding Robbie Grossman, and catcher Sean Murphy is someone to keep an eye on as well. Chris Bassitt and Mike Fiers might lead the rotation but youngsters Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea have held their own as well. Their bullpen is also full of former Royals like Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, and the currently-injured Burch Smith.
The Marlins have made only two postseasons in their entire existence. Both times they won the World Series, though. Can they make it three for three this year? They’re coming off of two straight years of fifth-place finishes to make the postseason behind some terrific pitching. The younger of their top relievers is 32, but the oldest regular member of their rotation is 25. All but one of them has kept their ERA under 4 with fully half of them keeping it under 3.5. Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez, and Sandy Alcantara are names to definitely keep an eye on in the future.
The Brewers were the last team into the postseason; if that doesn’t qualify them as underdogs, I don’t know what does. They might have some credit among Royals fans for having recently employed quite a few former Royals, including Mike Moustakas, but now they’re down to just Manny Pina, currently on the 10-day Injury List, because Lorenzo Cain opted out of the season when it became apparent the team was not taking COVID-19 as seriously as he thought they should. They don’t have a ton going for them in the way of hitters - among the regulars, only Jedd Gyorko has an OPS over .800 - but their pitching staff has carried them through. Led by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the rotation along with Josh Hader, Brent Suter, Devin Williams, and Eric Yardley in the bullpen, the pitching has been just good enough to help them squeak into the postseason.
Poor Minnesota. They’ve made eight postseasons this millennium but they have been unceremoniously removed in their first round from all but one of them. They haven’t been to the World Series in nearly 30 years. When they kept going to the postseason in the early 2000’s it often felt like they were going because SOMEONE from the miserable AL Central had to go and thus they were promptly removed. The team they’ve put together now actually seems like it should be even better than it is. Somehow Mitch Garver saw his OPS+ drop to 38 before being mostly benched for catching prospect Ryan Jeffers who has hit quite well. Miguel Sano is barely hitting above league average and by far the team’s best hitter is 39-year-old Nelson Cruz.
The rotation is rock-solid with Kenta Maeda, Jose Berríos, 40-year-old Rich Hill, and Michel Pineda carrying most of the weight. The bullpen has had some struggles but Tylers Clippard and Duffey have kept things together even as others have struggled a bit.
The teams with former Royal stars
The Reds haven’t been to the postseason since 2013. They’ve still got sabermetric darling Joey Votto playing first base for them. In a more regular-season they still might not have been good enough to make it to the postseason. The team leader in home runs is Eugenio Suarez, but he also is batting under .200. Still, they’ve got a lot of young guys with promise and you could anticipate seeing them compete for a long time to come. The rotation is led by the controversial Trevor Bauer with a 1.73 season ERA but he’s got backup in the form of 27-year-old Luis Castillo and 25-year-old Tyler Mahle.
But, of course, the real draw to rooting for them is their starting second-baseman, Mike Moustakas. Mike hasn’t been a world-beater, defensively, but he’s still hitting just as well at 31 as he was at 27 and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s also taking more walks than ever which can’t be hurting his cause. Mike has been a star in Cincinnati and I wouldn’t mind seeing him collect another World Series ring.
The Padres haven’t been to the postseason since 2006. But all those prospects and high-profile deals they’ve been collecting seem to have finally figured it out. Their rotation is led by a pair of 27-year-old studs named Zach Davies and Dinelson Lamet. Adding Mike Clevinger at the deadline hasn’t hurt them, either. Matt Strahm, Trevor Rosenthal, and Tim Hill have all been key pieces in their bullpen, too.
Their regular lineup also features seven guys who are hitting well above league-average. The most famous right now is Fernando Tatis Jr. but Manny Machado is far from done at age 27 and is still out-hitting the rookie. Wil Myers seems to have rediscovered himself at age 29 and in right field every day with a .943 OPS which is easily a career-high for him.
But, as with the Reds, the big draw for Royals fans at home is former Royals’ star, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer finally figured out how to stop hitting the ball on the ground more often than he hit in the air at age 30 and the results speak for themselves. He only played in 38 games due to injuries but he still hit 9 home runs. That would be a 38 home run pace in a full season, which would absolutely demolish his career-high. It’s nice to see him finally figuring things out and I wouldn’t mind seeing him and the other former Royals on the team make it all the way.