by Julian Spivey
Major League Baseball has completely overhauled its postseason for the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season – but many believe the format for 2020 is one that will likely be here to stay heading into the future. Baseball has added three more playoff teams per league, upping the total to eight per league. The top two teams in each division automatically qualify for the postseason and then you have two wild card teams. All eight teams play in the first round of the postseason in a best of three series to determine which four teams move on to your standard division series.
The National League side of the postseason bracket begins today with four games. The National League East Division champion Atlanta Braves will take on the Cincinnati Reds, the seventh seed on the N.L. side of the bracket at 11 a.m. on ESPN.
The N.L. Central winning Chicago Cubs will play the N.L. East second-place finishing Miami Marlins on ABC at 1 p.m.
The N.L. West second-place finishing San Diego Padres will take on the N.L. Central second-place finishing St. Louis Cardinals at 4 p.m. on ESPN 2.
The N.L. Wild Card Series game ones will wrap with the N.L. West Division winning Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Milwaukee Brewers, the eighth seed in the N.L., at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Game twos from all four American League Wild Card Series games will also be interspersed throughout the day giving baseball fans about 13 or more straight hours of playoff baseball.
One of the controversial aspects of opening the postseason with every team in a best of three game series is the fact that any team could get hot for two games and upset a potentially much better team from the regular season. This aspect of the first round could also lead to more excitement, depending on your opinion of it.
Pitching has always been incredibly important in postseason baseball and I think it’ll play an even more crucial role in a best of three series.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the Atlanta Braves have won a playoff series and Braves fans definitely feel it. I hate to say it, but I think that streak of losing in the postseason is going to continue for the Braves. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind the Braves were a better team this season than the Cincinnati Reds – one only has to look at their respective records to see that. The Braves finished four games ahead of the Reds this season, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot but you have to factor in that in the shortened season every win and loss equals a bit more than three in a normal year. The Reds offense this year was anemic, but in a best of three series the Braves having to face N.L. Cy Young frontrunner Trevor Bauer and then Luis Castillo in game two should be bothersome for Braves fans. If the Braves powerful offense can get to Bauer in game one, I think they will prevail, if not I’m predicting the Reds sweep in two games.
The Miami Marlins are an incredibly story in 2020. Not only were they a last place team in 2019 that lost more than 100 games. They were also ravaged by COVID-19 in the early part of the season and when they came back were fielding a roster with many names even hardcore Marlins fans may not have been knowledgeable on. I don’t expect the Marlins Cinderella story to last much longer. The Cubs have their ace Kyle Hendricks going in game one and he’s been lights out in past postseasons with a 2.98 ERA in 11 postseason starts. Hendricks also finished the season strong going 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA in September. Going in game two for the Cubs is Yu Darvish who has truly had a bounce back season this year going 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 93 strikeouts. However, Darvish has statistically been a horrible postseason pitcher with a 5.81 ERA in six postseason games. I’m predicting Cubs win the series in two games.
The most interesting N.L. Wild Card Series matchup is the San Diego Padres vs. St. Louis Cardinals. The Padres were the N.L.’s second best team this season but fall to the number four seed due to not winning their division. The Cardinals, much like the Marlins, were another great story this season after being wrecked by COVID-19 (the team didn’t even complete the 60 game schedule). The Padres winning percentage is 100 points higher than the Cardinals, but I think this series is going the three game distance and the Cardinals have their best pitcher Jack Flaherty lined up for that game. If the Padres are going to win the series, they better jump on Cards pitchers Kwang Hyun Kim and veteran Adam Wainwright in games one and two.
The Milwaukee Brewers finished the season two games under .500 and are the first losing team to ever make the playoffs in the National League. They don’t deserve to be in the playoffs and are only there because baseball is trying to look more like the NBA and NFL. Don’t expect the Brewers to be around long against baseball’s best team the Los Angeles Dodgers and their one-two pitching punch of Walker Buehler in game one and Clayton Kershaw in game two.