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MLB 2020 PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

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  • By Carl Lemelin
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MLB 2020 PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

Image by All-Pro Reels

Brandon Lowe is the offensive leader of a team that has all it takes to win the masked World Series.

 

Wow! This abbreviated season was as wild as we thought it would be. The NL playoff race was frenetic right to the end. Defending World Series Champs, the Nationals were a huge disappointment. Other teams like the Mets, Brewers, Red Sox and Angels failed to meet expectations.

Conversely, the Marlins, Giants and Blue Jays showed that in a 60-game season youth could be served, as long as you get solid production on the mound.

Now the real fun begins, with an all-new playoff format that includes 8 teams in each league and, get this… a best-of-3 first round!

A QUICK REWIND

Before we look forward to what might happen, let’s see how my view of things two months ago, in a season like no other, matches up with reality. If you remember, I previewed the season on this blog back in July.

In the NL, I had the Mets and Nationals making the playoffs instead of the Cubs and Marlins. The Marlins’ young pitching unexpectedly carried them through the 60-game sprint and the Cubs were Pennant winners of an ultra-competitive division that saw 4 out of 5 teams invited to the postseason dance.

As for the Mets and Nats, underperforming bullpens and injury issues were their downfall.

In the AL, it went pretty much as I saw it going, save for an imploding Angels’ team that left its spot wide open for the fast up-and-coming “Buffalo” Jays. Overall, my preview was correct for 13 of the 16 playoff teams. Not so bad.

The keys I had identified for success in this unprecedented and abbreviated season held up very well: strength of schedule, roster depth and bullpen quality. I may have neglected to mention young developing talent, which is what put the Jays and Marlins over the top, but that ties in very well to roster depth.

Nevertheless, the lesson here is that when trying to predict what will happen, identifying the few main factors that will influence results more than usual is very important. So let’s start there in our playoff overview.

A FLAWED PLAYOFF SYSTEM

Let me start by expressing my strong objection to the system the MLB elected to go with for these expanded 2020 playoffs. I understand the need to expand from 10 to 16 teams in the current situation: some teams out of the standard playoff picture after 60 games would have had a chance to get back in the race in a full 162-game season, spark interest in more teams for the stretch run and more playoff drama to sell to broadcasters, since the teams can’t sell tickets.

Where I disagree is devaluing the importance of the regular season with a best-of-three first round. Baseball has always been the sport where the long regular season has meant the most (only 1/3 of teams make the post-season). Now, you’re saying the 43-17 Dodgers could be ousted in the first round by a Brewers squad that had a sub-.500 (29-31) season? All it takes is losing 2 of 3 games.

Not fair and very difficult to predict. Baseball is a sport in which the more games you play, the better chance the best wins. First round buys should have been granted to all Division winners and one Wild Card in each league. So I will qualify all my playoff picks by warning that anything can happen in this crap shoot of an opening round.

MY CRYSTAL BALL SAYS…

But since I must give you something to read, let’s start with my proven keys to playoff success:

  • Good pitching trumps good hitting: Since all the mediocre and plain bad teams are gone and teams use their best options on the mound more often, arms over bats is generally what most recent postseasons have taught us. What’s changed more recently is the bullpen catching up to starters as far as total innings pitched, so total staff ERA is a point of focus;
  • Good defense supports good pitching: Although in general the game is trending toward less balls in play, the line-ups still alive are generally more likely to make consistent contact, putting a premium on glove men to help out their stud hurlers. Defensive efficiency is the go-to stat here;
  • No home field: Past the first round, the MLB goes to four distinct bubbles in which no team will play in their home parks.

Since the first round will go by quickly, I’ll make my picks just as brief:

NL: LAD over MIL (Dodgers a juggernaut roster), SDP over STL (arms and gloves a wash, but SD bats clearly better), MIA over CHC (tough call here, but huge edge on mound for the Fish, despite youth), ATL over CIN (another tough one, but consistently explosive Braves’ lineup should overcome very good Reds’ starters).

AL: TBR over TOR (#3 vs #17 ERA in MLB), CLE over NYY (#2 vs #14 ERA), MIN over HOU (loss of Verlander too much to overcome for the squad everyone loves to hate), OAK over CHW (experience and focus on analytics give the A’s the slightest of edges).

I see the Dodgers’ Dream Team squad bulldozing through the Padres to set-up an intriguing NLCS against the Braves, who should handle the highly inexperienced, overachieving Marlins. That would set up a high-scoring NLCS in which the #1 ranked pitching staff of the Blue Crew gets L.A. through for yet another trip to the World Series.

In the AL, the Rays’ clever use of a quality pitching mix helps them edge out a solid Cleveland team that hasn’t replaced Mike Clevenger. They will meet their Sabermetrics cousins Oakland A’s in the ALCS, analytics expertise edging out a potent Twins’ lineup. The Rays end up winning the brains battle and go on to face the Dodgers for the Big Prize in Arlington.

That was my call two month ago and I am sticking to it! Kevin Cash is a genius at manoeuvring his eclectic, but quality pitching staff. The Rays’ lineup may be devoid of superstars, but from 1 to 9 they give you quality at-bats and make strategic adjustments on the fly during games. That will end up being just enough to hand the Dodgers another crushing World Series loss.

*This blog was written September 29th, before the start of the MLB playoffs.

 

What do you think of the new playoff format? Who do you see winning the World Series? Share your thoughts on this exciting and unique 2020 postseason by commenting below.

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