The 2020 MLB Playoffs have officially begun, and it’s unlike any postseason in the history of baseball. After a pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season, a best-of-three Wild Card round will determine the first squads to advance in the 16-team playoff bracket that will end with a World Series champion.
Any fair-weather fan can select the higher seeds as the top contenders to win it all. Let’s delve a bit deeper and take a look at which squads could get hot at the right time and come away with World Series glory in the weirdest year of all time.
The World Series Frontrunners
Los Angeles Dodgers – 43-17, best in MLB; No. 1 seed in NL, +350 to win WS
The top consensus pick to make it all the way this year is ironically the team that has fallen just a bit short the past few seasons. The Dodgers lost in the World Series in 2017 to the Astros and 2018 to the Red Sox, and then lost in the NL Divisional Series to the eventual-champion Washington Nationals last season. The Astros are now the sixth-seed in the AL, and the Red Sox and Nationals did not even make the postseason.
The Dodgers would consider it a failure to bring in anything less than the NL pennant this year. They topped the MLB in average runs per game with 5.82, while also maintaining a league-leading 3.01 team ERA. They finished first in the league in home runs (118) and slugging (.483), while also giving up the fewest opposing home runs (66), runs (213), and walks (145).
Why They’re the Favorites
The offseason addition of superstar right fielder Mookie Betts has been tremendous for the Dodgers. His five-tool skills played a huge part in LA’s staggering 213 run differential, which averages out to 3.55 per game. That’s the fourth-best run differential per game since 1900. The meat of the Dodgers’ order has been highlighted by Betts and fellow outfielders Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock. Shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Max Muncy have also made solid contributions. Five different Dodgers finished with 12 or more home runs and at least 30 RBI.
LA’s rotation has what it takes to go the distance, as well. Clayton Kershaw, an ace’s ace, has once again led the charge. The three-time Cy Young winner went 6-2 in 10 games this shortened season, finishing with a 2.16 ERA, 0.840 WHIP, 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and 7.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He and 26-year old righty Walker Buehler (0.955 WHIP, 10.3 SO/9) highlight a deep rotation that includes 21-year old stud Dustin May, 26-year old Tony Gonsolin, and 24-year old Julio Urias. The Dodgers should steamroll No. 8 seed Milwaukee and then await their second-round opponents, likely the hot-hitting young San Diego Padres.
This has been said many times before, but this just feels like the year for manager Dave Roberts’ Dodgers. They enjoyed the highest winning percentage this season since 1906, despite cold streaks from slugger Muncy and 2019 NL MVP Bellinger. The addition of 2018 AL MVP Betts, and the health of 2014 NL MVP Kershaw make this seem like a club destined to finally get over the hump and take down the World Series pennant. Of course, just their luck—it’ll come with an asterisk thanks to COVID-19.
New York Yankees – 33-27, 2nd in AL East; No. 5 seed in AL, +600 to win WS
Only in a pandemic-shortened year could a team that finished with the fifth-best record in the American League have the second-best odds to win the World Series. The Yankees got off to a scorching-hot start in 2020, going 16-6 out of the gate, but they stumbled mightily with a 5-15 midseason stretch. They rebounded with a ten-game winning streak, but then went cold again toward the end of the regular season. It was an injury-ravaged roller coaster.
That said, the Yankees are relatively healthy again, they have one of the best pitchers on the planet in offseason acquisition Gerrit Cole, and their offense still has as much pop as any other team. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and surprise MLB leader in homers Luke Voit can all go nuclear at any point. And playoff stud veteran Brett Gardner (16 for his last 38), team batting leader DJ Lemahieu (.364 on the season, 1.011 OPS), and doubles machine Gio Urshela (.298, 11 doubles) can all get on base in front of their sluggers.
New York may be the only AL team not shaking to face the Cleveland Indians’ stud rotation in the Wild Card round. No team had a higher OPS against right-handed pitchers this season (.811), and all three of Cleveland’s studs are righties. Voit, who launched 22 homers, drove in 52 runs, and maintained a .610 slugging percentage, enjoyed a .291 average against righties.
If Cole’s postseason success can rub off on second-in-rotational command Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees could very well mash their way to the World Series. It will hurt not having James Paxton and Luis Severino, but if there’s any year the Bronx Bombers could make up for those losses, it’s this year.
Quick-hitters: The Best of the Rest
Tampa Bay Rays – 40-20, best in the AL; No. 1 seed in the AL; +600 to win WS
Rays fans probably curse my name for not including their squad as one of the two top contenders, but so be it because the Yankees are better when healthy. Still, the top-end of Tampa’s rotation—consisting of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow—has been fabulous. Their bullpen has been even better, leading the MLB with a 3.6 fWAR. Their lineup, while not as powerful as the Yankees, is comprised of players who have postseason experience. A deep run for this squad, which won two-thirds of its regular season games, would not surprise anyone.
Oakland Athletics – 36-24, first in AL West; No. 2 seed in the AL; +1,000 to win WS
The A’s always seem to have the potential to go all the way, but fall short in the early rounds. This year could be different, as they have a strong 1-2-3 rotational punch in Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo, and Sean Manaea, they have the best bullpen in baseball, and their lineup has plenty of pop. GM Billy Beane once again worked his magic when star third baseman Matt Chapman went down, replacing him with Jake Lamb after he was cast away by Arizona. The result? Twelve hits, three homers, and nine RBI in 13 games. The ‘little engine that could’ of the MLB might finally break its way into the World Series this year, if they can find a way to make contact with the breaking balls of some of the best pitchers in the league.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images