The Angels finished their wild season Sunday by announcing that they had fired GM Billy Eppler, to whom they had recently extended for some reason. Dave Dombrowski is the “hot name” per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, but who knows whether or not he will actually be the replacement. The Halos will pick ninth in the 2021 MLB draft.
For sixteen other baseball teams, the season is not yet over. The time for debating the postseason format and its merits and demerits is in the past, and it’s time to purely enjoy the baseball that’s in front of us, whether or not these teams deserve to be here.
The Wild Card round is first. The three-game sets mean that AL teams will play on September 29th, 30th, and October 1st if necessary, while the NL teams will battle on the 30th, 1st, and 2nd. This means that on September 30th and possibly on October 1st, we will have eight nationally televised playoff games to watch. Enjoy this moment!
AL 3 vs. 6: Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros (9/29, 11 AM Pacific, ABC)
Kenta Maeda takes on Zack Greinke as everyone’s favorite team sneaks into the playoffs with a losing record. Small sample size and all that, but:
2020. Nature is healing. pic.twitter.com/PqIGHuoNYM— 2020 Astros Shame Tour (@AsteriskTour) September 28, 2020
Meanwhile, the Twins feature an ageless Nelson Cruz, a Byron Buxton who may finally be living up to his hype, and an assortment of other lesser-known sluggers who can still knock the ball out of the park. You’re probably rooting for them to knock the Astros out of he postseason as quickly as possible. Also, baseball back on ABC? Sign me up.
AL 2 vs. 7: Oakland Athletics vs. Chicago White Sox (9/29, 12 PM Pacific, ESPN)
The AL Central was fairly stacked this season, with three teams making the playoffs. Of the three, the White Sox drew the short stick and are a Wild Card team, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a pushover. They get to throw Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, both aces in their own right, and the offense features AL MVP candidate José Abreu, the ever-fun Tim Anderson, and AL ROY candidate Luis Robert.
The A’s have not announced their starters yet, but it makes sense for them to go Sean Manaea-Chris Bassitt-Frankie Montas. The lineup is deep, even though Matt Olson is having a down season and Matt Chapman is out. Former Angel Tommy La Stella will play for this team.
AL 1 vs. 8: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays (9/29, 2 PM Pacific, TBS)
Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton are as good a front-three as any team in Major League Baseball can throw, but Toronto/Buffalo can counter with Hyun-jin Ryu, Taijuan Walker, and I suppose they can hope the series doesn’t go to a Game 3? Brandon Lowe is a borderline AL MVP candidate, and it’s always fun when Tampa Bay pulls some random reliever out of the middle of nowhere to deliver quality innings with a sub-1.00 WHIP. The Blue Jays counter with fun young talent as Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and most recently, Alejandro Kirk. This series has the potential to be low-key fun.
AL 4 vs. 5: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees (9/29, 4 PM Pacific, ESPN)
The top AL series for me, it’s fair to say that both fanbases are worried about the other team, at least a little. Yankees Twitter has been extremely volatile over the past month, with the sluggers led by Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, and DJ LeMahieu constantly alternating between hot and cold, driving fans crazy. They have Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka up front, but if this series goes the distance, some combination of JA Happ, Deivi Garcia, and a bullpen that makes fans want to tear their hair out will have to hold down the fort.
The Indians, despite trading away Mike Clevinger, are the top 2nd-place team in the league. The offense has struggled, although Jose Ramirez has rebounded to possibly make him the AL MVP favorite, and Francisco Lindor is always a threat, but in general, this team will win with pitching. They have 2020 AL Cy Young Shane Bieber (yes, it’s a done deal) followed by Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac. As if that weren’t enough, Triston McKenzie will likely get looks out of the bullpen, and superstar James Karinchak will look to show his mettle on the postseason stage.
Power pitching against power hitting? Sign me up!
NL 2 vs. 7: Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds (9/30, 9 AM Pacific, ESPN)
At this point, the aura around Trevor Bauer means that the Reds might actually be the favorites, right? Bauer wrapped up a stellar 2020 campaign pitching on short rest, and he looks to do that throughout the postseason. After him, the Reds have Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, which means they will be dangerous if they can get hitting. Joey Votto is diminished but can still get on base, and Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, and Jesse Winker form the backbone of that lineup.
The Braves may not have any pitchers behind Max Fried, as Mike Soroka was lost to an unfortunate injury earlier this season, but the lineup can hit. Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, and Ronald Acuña Jr. are top sluggers, and Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall provide depth. Honestly, since the Dodgers and Padres are both at home, there was no way this game could be later in the day, but it still deserves a bigger audience than a 12 PM Eastern start gives.
NL 3 vs. 6: Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins (9/30, 11 AM Pacific, ABC)
Remember that the Marlins have never lost a postseason series. In the history of their franchise. (They’ve never won their division either, but that’s another story.) After they had the first COVID-19 debacle of the season, they stormed back to make the playoffs, led by young staff ace Sixto Sánchez. Other than that, they’re a very interesting team, full of names that the casual fan cannot recognize. Matt Joyce starts for this team!
The Cubs, on the other hand, have “underachieved” their way to first place in the NL Central. Kris Bryant has had a disastrous season. Javier Baez has an OPS of .599. When Jason Heyward, who has been much-maligned by Cubs fans for his contract, is a top offensive contributor on the team, you know there’s some offensive issues. On the pitching side. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have formed a one-two tandem as good as anyone else’s in baseball, and Alec Mills has been a nice find. If the Cubs find their offense, they are a top-tier team in baseball.
NL 4 vs. 5: San Diego Padres vs. St. Louis Cardinals (9/30, 5 PM Pacific, ESPN2)
Slam Diego hosts a postseason series! There’s not much to say about the Padres, because we’ve pretty much heard it all, but they are fun. Mike Clevinger will probably miss the Wild Card Series, and Dinelson Lamet is suffering discomfort, but even with their aces they would still be favored to win with a top-tier lineup featuring Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Eric Hosmer, Trent Grisham…the list goes on and on.
The Cardinals rebounded from a point in time when they sat out for a good two weeks, and they didn’t even play a full 60 games. Although Paul Goldschmidt has had a bounce-back campaign, the offense has struggled, and they will rely on Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, and Kwang Hyun Kim to pitch them into the second round.
NL 1 vs. 8: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers (9/30, 7 PM Pacific, ESPN)
It’s absolutely crazy that the World Series favorites can be bounced in two games. Despite Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy having down seasons, the Dodgers finished with the best record in baseball. Mookie Betts is the best right-fielder in the game. Will Smith might be the best catcher in baseball. Corey Seager might be the best shortstop in baseball. Justin Turner is good. AJ Pollock is good. Someone named Edwin Rios has a .946 OPS. Walker Buehler is an ace. Clayton Kershaw is an ace. Tony Gonsolin has pitched well. Kenley Jansen is partially back (although basically the team’s only weakness, if we’re grasping at straws). Brusdar Graterol throws an effortless 97 mph. Pitchers named Adam Kolarek and Victor Gonzalez have sub-0.80 WHIPs.
The Brewers limped into the playoffs, riding Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader, and Devin Williams. Expect all to get a ton of innings in the postseason. Christian Yelich had a down season. Keston Hiura regressed. Daniel Vogelbach has been a nice find, but he’s always hit-or-miss. Everything went wrong for the Brewers in 2020, and they still snuck into the dance. And they’re only two games away from knocking out the Dodgers. Go figure.
(Photo from Ian D’Andrea, usage allowed under Wikimedia Commons)