James Rowe’s Takes On American League Wild Card Round
Toronto Blue Jays vs Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays were expected to make the playoffs, but with how unconventionally they have constructed their roster, they are leading the American League going into this expanded postseason. With the one seed locked up, it would seem the Rays have a great chance at winning the AL pennant. Pitching and defense have also been big factors for the team’s success so far. The Rays lead the league in UZR and also are in the top seven in several defensive categories. Essentially, if they aren’t scoring many runs, they won’t give up much either. If that’s the case, it works in the Rays favor as if they can score just enough runs, their pitching will lead the way.
Offensively, the Rays don’t pose too much of a threat with a team batting average of .238 and an OPS of .753. That being said, they do score lots of runs because they manufacture them. One of the keys to the Ray manufacturing runs is they steal a lot of bases and have an 85% success rate. They also have hit the seventh-most home runs with 80. However, with the athleticism and versatility that the team possesses, their offense can match up against any pitching staff. The Rays have talented batters such as Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau, and Hunter Renfroe on the team. They also have power from Yoshi Tsutsugo and Randy Arozarena. Just don’t take their offense too lightly. It would be nice for them if Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and Austin Meadows could come back. That being said, they should be satisfied with the lineup they already have.
The pitching has been phenomenal for the Rays this season as the rotation and bullpen have led this team to an AL East title. The pitching staff has a collective ERA of 3.56 and has also struck out the second most batters in the AL with 552. Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell are their two best starters and are a lethal combination to have in any playoff matchup. That being said, don’t sleep on Ryan Yarbrough, Charlie Morton, and Josh Fleming either as they are putting up strong numbers in 2020.
The rotation though has not been the biggest reason for their success; the bullpen is. Undoubtedly, this bullpen has been so good, that it has allowed manager Kevin Cash so much flexibility. Cash could even use his bullpen as an “opener” and have the rest of his relievers go two innings because they have been so reliable. While Nick Anderson is listed as the closer, they don’t have a traditional finisher as it’s a closer by committee situation. Even some of their key bullpen guys are injured this season such as Andrew Kittredge, Jose Alvarado, Chaz Roe, and Colin Poche . Plus their two-way player Brendan McKay has been sidelined. But, with how strong their player pool has been, the depth has proved to be a blessing as some guys have stepped up and are reliable relievers. Nick Anderson, Aaron Loup, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson, and John Curtiss have shown how useful they can be and are good reasons for the success of their bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays
The surprise team of the American League is the Toronto Blue Jays, who are ahead of schedule on their rebuild. With a collection of young talent who are exciting to watch, they could surprise people in the playoffs. That being said, this team could make noise, but their future is looking very bright.
Blue Jays Offense
The collection of young talent is highlighted by some promising sluggers that are some of the most exciting players that one team could have developed. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Alejandro Kirk are a nice core for a young lineup to build around. These guys are producing and make for a scary lineup. The hope is that they can get Rowdy Tellez from injury as that would bring more thunder into the lineup.
Blue Jays Rotation
The pitching seems to be the more interesting part here though as there are lots of rotation options, but also questions on how it should be set. Hyun Jin Ryu has been the team’s best signing this season as he has pitched like the ace they wanted him to be. Taijuan Walker has been a low risk, high reward type of signing too, but after those two it’s all question marks. Matt Shoemaker and Robbie Ray have looked alright, but Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark have been struggling. The rotation might match up fine in the Wild Card round, but past that, it gets dicey.
Blue Jays Bullpen
The bullpen on the other hand has been good. It’s possible a bullpen game could be used if the team advances past the Wild Card round. Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, A.J. Cole, Ryan Borucki, and Tom Hatch have all been outstanding. The hope is that Shun Yamaguchi and Ross Stripling can step it up. Also, if the top pitching prospect Nate Pearson comes back from injury he would be a welcomed addition to the bullpen. If he can do that, Pearson would be a nice shot in the arm come the playoffs.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in two
Chicago White Sox vs Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics have been another team that has caught the league by storm as they have surprised everyone by winning the West Division. The A’s are a super talented team that is also winning a lot of games with offensive numbers that make people scratch their heads. However, this is a team that keeps getting the job done, like the Rays, and keeps on winning.
The offense lost a huge member after Matt Chapman, arguably the best third baseman in the league went on the injured list. However, there are plenty of other guys in the lineup who have some thump. There’s Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Ramon Laureano, and Khris Davis. Jake Lamb has also filled in nicely for Chapman and that could be key for Oakland. Tommy La Stella is also another name to watch as he is a bat-first player.
The starting pitching is a major question mark and that could be the difference of whether the Athletics make a deep run. Chris Bassitt has undoubtedly been their most reliable starter and should be a dark horse candidate for the Cy Young award. Jesus Luzardo is undoubtedly going to be the number two starter and has looked decent all year long. However, after those two, things get murky. Sean Manaea and Mike Fiers have been inconsistent though Manaea has looked great of late, and Frankie Montas and Mike Minor have struggled. The hope is that this group can step up in the playoffs.
That being said, their strength is the bullpen. Losing J.B. Wendelken hurt, but the depth is what has helped keep it strong. Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit, Jordan Weems, Liam Hendriks, and T.J. McFarland have been outstanding. However, Jake Diekman has been the best all season long and will be key come in the playoffs. If this team gets into their bullpen with the lead, they will be tough to beat.
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox were a hot pick to make the playoffs, but they exceeded those expectations in 2020. This is a team filled with young and talented players and a few veterans to compliment the youth. This team is built for a deep playoff run. Some have clamored that the White Sox are overrated because they only beat struggling teams as they have racked up most of their wins against the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, but aren’t good teams supposed to beat those? Heck, they held the tiebreaker over the Twins who are a good team. Whatever is said about the White Sox, they are still very exciting to watch but are also a dark horse team to win the World Series.
White Sox Offense
The offense for the White Sox is incredible as they are first in the league in home runs with 96. There is no easy out in that lineup with the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Yasmani Grandal, Yoan Moncada, and Nick Madrigal. The offense, however, is led by two MVP candidates in Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson. Despite some of his struggles in September, Luis Robert is another player who provides a big threat in the lineup. He is also a strong candidate to be Rookie of the Year. Heck, even if Nomar Mazara can find his power swing the lineup suddenly gets even scarier.
White Sox Rotation
The pitching was the biggest question mark going into the season, but mostly about their rotation. Could Lucas Giolito replicate his 2019 success? How would Dallas Keuchel adjust to Guaranteed Rate Field? Will the youngsters develop? Well, their starting pitching has been fantastic this year as Giolito and Keuchel are a great one-two combination, plus the unexpected contributions from Dane Dunning. Dylan Cease is a question mark as his numbers look good, but not his peripherals, however, his stuff makes him tough to hit at any point. Cease just needs to work on his control and that would make the rotation even deeper.
White Sox Bullpen
The secret weapon of this team is their bullpen. With weapons like Aaron Bummer, Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, Jace Fry, and Evan Marshall in there, it’s hard to beat that. And the closer, Alex Colome, has been lights out this season. The bullpen gets deeper with Gio Gonzalez and Carlos Rodon as other left-handed options. Then, probably the secret weapon of the bullpen is the southpaw Garrett Crochet who throws 100 miles per hour. If Chicago has the lead, then it would be hard to beat this team.
Prediction: Chicago in three
Houston Astros vs Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins pose a humongous threat to any team in the playoffs as their offense is arguably the most imposing of any in baseball history, however, their pitching is pretty good too. The bullpen has been the strongest suit for their pitching staff, but their rotation got better in the offseason and has helped to have another strong season. If the Twins can get hot, this might be a team that will play in the Fall Classic.
The offense, nicknamed the La Bomba Squad, is one of the most productive in Major League Baseball history. With names like Miguel Sano, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler in their lineup, it’s tough to find an out in there as they have the ability to hit it out of the park. Even once highly touted prospect Byron Buxton has hit the ball hard this season and that makes this offense even better. No pitching staff will want to face their bats.
The rotation was a question mark last season. With the amount of home runs the team hit and how locked down the bullpen was, there wasn’t much worry. During the offseason, the team tried to find pitchers who would improve their rotation and it has paid dividends as the staff has been sensational. Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Rich Hill, and Michael Pineda have all been fantastic this year, including Maeda who has seemingly been unhittable.
But if the rotation has been good, then the bullpen has been lights out. The Twins don’t have many notable names in the bullpen, but they get the job done. Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Cody Stashak have been consistently great all season. It definitely helps to have some veterans like Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo in there too. The Twins’ bullpen might even be the best in the entire league.
Everyone wondered how the Houston Astros would respond after their cheating scandal was exposed this past January. However, injuries and some underachievement have hurt Houston and they narrowly made the playoffs. That being said, the playoffs are a crapshoot and anything can happen as the Astros could still win the World Series.
The Astros core of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman have all had down years. Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, and Yuli Gurriel’s power have not been there this season. While Kyle Tucker has been a revelation, this offense has struggled. That being said, the lineup still gets on base and that’s dangerous enough. Plus there is the experience on the team and that helps. Don’t sleep on this offense.
The pitching has been the biggest problem all season. The numbers have looked good for them but they are relying on inexperienced pitchers despite being talented. Injuries have hurt especially with Justin Verlander lost for the season. Plus Josh James, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Roberto Osuna have spent time on the injured list. The rotation still has Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr., but Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Jose Urquidy have had to pick up the slack. The inexperience of this rotation could hurt them in the playoffs.
The bullpen is a different story. While the numbers for Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, and Enoli Paredes have looked good, there’s inexperience there. Cy Sneed has struggled and so has Brandon Bielak. Brooks Raley has looked good, but he also struggled earlier in the season when he was with the Cincinnati Reds. Ryan Pressly has been thrust into the closer role and has looked good, but will that translate to the playoffs? So many questions about this pitching staff as things have been hit or miss.
Prediction: Minnesota in two
New York Yankees vs Cleveland Indians
Cleveland Indians have proven that despite losing such a talent like Corey Kluber that they were still a contender. However, this might be the hardest team that anyone in the American League would have to face. They could match up well against any AL team and are a dark horse to advance to the World Series.
The offense for the Indians is not very potent, but that doesn’t mean they won’t score runs off any pitching staff. When they have the likes of Francisco Lindor and Franmil Reyes, that’s a lot of power. That being said, the most important player in their lineup is Jose Ramirez, who has been the hottest hitter on the planet since the beginning of September. The other part of the offense is they have hitters who can hit certain pitchers well like Jordan Luplow whose specialty is teeing off left-handed pitchers.
The pitching is their strong suit and that’s what makes Cleveland such a dark horse candidate. The rotation is probably the best in the American League with Cy Young candidate Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac who might become one soon. There is also Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, and Carlos Carrasco as that makes them incredibly deep. It also means in a short series some of those guys will have to pitch out of the bullpen which makes them even scarier.
Speaking of the bullpen, it’s scary good as well. They have such reliable arms and it’s only going to be better once the playoffs begin and those previous names mentioned join the current ones. With names like Logan Allen, Nick Wittgren, Brad Hand, Oliver Perez, and Cam Hill, they are scary good. There’s also their secret weapon in James Karinchak who has been a reliable arm all year during his rookie season.
New York Yankees
It’s been a weird season for the New York Yankees as they have gone cold for a long stretch, but then suddenly got hot and seem unbeatable. However, this team should be a formidable foe, whoever they face in the playoffs. With an offense that can score a lot of runs and having some decent pitching, The Yankees are always a strong opponent.
The Yankees offense poses a major threat as they can absolutely pummel the ball. With Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup, there are no easy outs. That being said, the player most key to their offensive success is DJ LeMahieu who’s OPS of 1.011 has him in the running for AL MVP. However, injuries have plagued them this season especially to their big boppers in Stanton and Judge. While the Yankees have the depth to cover for them if injuries do occur, they won’t be as much of a threat without them.
The New York pitching staff is very good. However, injuries have also hurt them here as they might not be able to match up well against other strong pitching staffs. That being said, if their offense could click and do a lot of damage, the pitching should do a good job of holding other offenses at bay. It is likely that Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka will be the 1-2 combo for their playoff rotation, but after that, it’s a bit murky. J.A. Happ is likely to pitch after Tanaka, but Jordan Montgomery has been less than stellar and Deivi Garcia is unproven. They might have to go to an “opener” situation if they move on in the postseason.
However, what has been a strong part of the pitching staff is the bullpen. While there have been some injuries, they still have the likes of Zack Britton, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Aroldis Chapman and they are a formidable bullpen. The bullpen throws a lot of gas and is very reliable, something offenses would not like to see.
Prediction: Cleveland in three
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