American League Wild Card Round Preview
The 2020 MLB playoffs are set to kick off on Tuesday, and there's no question they'll be unlike any other baseball postseason we have ever seen before.
After allowing five teams from each league into the playoffs since 2012, MLB added three more teams to the postseason from each league this year. Now instead of the three division winners and two wild card teams making the playoffs, the first and second place teams from each division will make the playoffs, along with two wild card teams. It remains to be seen if the playoff expansion will remain in place next season, but it sure did add plenty of excitement to the shortened baseball regular season.
The start of the 2020 MLB playoffs will see the defending American League champions heading to Minneapolis to take on the AL Central champions. The Astros were rocked by a cheating scandal during the offseason, which put a damper on their season even before it began. Then a season-ending injury to ace Justin Verlander left the Astros scrambling to fill out their rotation, which was already depleted by the loss of Gerrit Cole to the New York Yankees in free agency. Zack Greinke has the name recognition at the top of Houston's pitching staff, but Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have filled some of the void after Greinke in the rotation.
The Houston lineup has been just as much of a work-in-progress as the pitching staff. Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker. and George Springer have done most of the heavy lifting throughout the season while Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman combined for just 16 home runs and 65 RBIs this year.
Minnesota has to be elated to not be playing the New York Yankees in the playoffs, for once. Prior to this year's playoffs, the Twins had met the Yankees in their four previous playoff appearances, failing to win a game against New York during that span. Minnesota had one of the most potent offenses in baseball, with four players mashing at least 13 home runs this year. Nelson Cruz was the leader of the Twins offense, clubbing 16 homers, while Eddie Rosario drove in a team-high 42 runs this year.
The pitching staff of the Twins has a tremendous mixture of young talent and veteran experience. Kenta Maeda came to Minnesota from the Los Angeles Dodgers, putting together a 6-1 season where he struck out 80 batters in 66.2 innings pitched. Jose Berrios takes the ball after Maeda, and when Berrios is on, he is one of the best pitchers in the game. Michael Pineda was good in limited action this year, and we will likely see Randy Dobnak as some point in this series, as the rookie was 6-4 in his first season in the majors.
Something has been off with the Astros this year. A lot of it has to do with the cheating scandal and some of the repercussions that has come out of it, but Houston isn't as feared as they were the last few years. Minnesota was 24-7 at home this year so the Astros will have to be perfect to upset the Twins. I'm not seeing it happening. The Twins makes the most of not having to play the Yankees to start the playoffs. Minnesota in 2 games.
This matchup pits power against small ball. The Chicago White Sox clinched their first playoff spot since 2008, using a lineup that ranked third in baseball with 96 home runs. First baseman Jose Abreu inserted himself in the AL MVP race by crushing 19 homers and driving in 60 runs this year. Abreu's 148 total bases led the White Sox this year. Four other Chicago players hit at least 10 home runs during the season.
Along with the potent offense, Chicago also has two of the best pitchers in the game. Lucas Giolito is the ace of the White Sox. Giolito not only threw the first no-hitter in baseball this year, but he struck out 97 batters in 72.1 innings. Complimenting Giolito is Dallas Keuchel, who signed with the White Sox after spending last year with the Atlanta Braves. Keuchel might not have the power of Giolito, but he is just as tough to get a handle on, as he posted a 1.99 ERA this year.
Oakland cruised to the AL West crown this year, finishing the regular season seven games ahead of the Houston Astros. The Athletics come into the playoffs with a little bit of doubt, though. Oakland took a hit earlier this month when it was announced that third baseman Matt Chapman would miss the remainder of the season due to hip surgery, leaving a giant hole at the hot corner for the Athletics. Another Matt has been trying to pick up the slack, as Matt Olson hit a team-high 14 home runs this year, but the first baseman wasn't consistent at the plate, hitting just .195. As a team, Oakland had the fifth-worst batting average in baseball, hitting .225 this season.
The best pitcher for Oakland this year has been Chris Bassitt, who is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA. Things get a little complicated after Bassitt. Mike Fiers has playoff experience, but hasn't been consistent this year. Jesus Luzardo is the wild card of the pitching staff. The rookie pitcher has electric stuff, but is he ready for the spotlight that comes with the playoffs?
The White Sox struggled down the stretch, losing 9 of their last 12 games. Even with those struggles, it's going to be tough for Oakland to beat both Giolito and Keuchel. The teams split the first two games, and the White Sox have a little too much power for Oakland to handle in the elimination game. Chicago in 3 games.
What a wild season it has been for the Toronto Blue Jas. First, the Blue Jays found out they couldn't play in Toronto this year, forcing the Blue Jays to play their home games in Buffalo. Toronto also had to deal with the future of their franchise going through a bit of a sophomore slump. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .262 with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs this year, but the son of former star Vladimir Guerrero had bigger expectations for this season.
At least the Blue Jays did get Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio to pick up some of the slack. Bo Bichette hit .301 in 29 games this year, while Biggio clocked 16 doubles this year. Even with what Bichette and Biggio were able to do, who would've though Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez would be the ones leading the Toronto offense? Gurriel hit .308, while Hernandez led the team with 16 home runs.
On the mound, Toronto has Hyun-Jin Ryu and a lot of questions after. Ryu was 5-2 with 72 strikeouts this year, his first season with the club after leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers during free agency. The Blue Jays haven't found anyone to step up in the rotation after Ryu. Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson have both posted ERAs north of 6.75 during the regular season.
Tampa Bay is almost the polar opposite of Toronto. All pitching and a little bit of hitting. Brandon Lowe provided the ower for the Rays, hitting 14 home runs this year, but he was the only Tampa Bay batter to reach double digits in home runs. Willy Adames, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, and Hunter Renfroe provided some pop during the regular season, but it remains to be seen if they can provide enough when the pressure is turned up in the playoffs.
It's hard to find a better three-man rotation in baseball than what Tampa Bay has to offer. Tyler Glasnow is a strikeout machine, Blake Snell is a former Cy Young Award winner, and Charlie Morton is a veteran who has postseason experience. The Blue Jays might be able to steal a game in this series, but it's hard to see them beating the American League's top-seed twice in a three-game series. Tampa Bay in 3 games.
The New York Yankees had higher expectations for this season, but injuries again threw a wrench into the plans of the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres all missed time due to injuries this year, while on the mound James Paxton won't be available for this series, and might be lost for the rest of the postseason. Even with the injuries, the Yankees are still a dangerous team.
DJ LeMahieu could make a case for the AL MVP award, as without LeMahieu's presence in the lineup, New York might have not made the playoffs this year. LeMahieu hit .364 this year, and amassed 115 total bases, which ranked second on the Yankees behind Luke Voit, who has been just as important as LeMahieu. Voit crushed a league-leading 22 homers this year. With Judge and Stanton back healthy, their lineup is one of the most feared in baseball.
If the Yankees could, they'd probably start Gerrit Cole in every game of this series. Cole has been phenomenal in his first season in pinstripes, going 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 94 strikeouts. Masahiro Tanaka has been his usual steady self during the regular season, and he always seems to perform even better in the playoffs. If the Yankees can get a lead late in the game, they do have the luxury of turning to Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
While DJ LeMahieu has a case for the AL MVP, there award is likely going to Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez, who played out of his mind this year. Ramirez smacked 17 homers, drove in 46 runs, and swiped 10 bases. Had it not been for Ramirez, Cleveland likely would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now. If Cleveland wants to make a deep run in the playoffs, Ramirez is going to need some help, though. A prime candidate to provide some support to Ramirez is Francisco Lindor, who could set the table for a big contract splash in 2022 with a strong postseason this year.
Much like the Yankees, Cleveland has a stud at starting pitcher, followed by a solid starter. Shane Bieber is likely your AL Cy Young winner after going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts this year. After Bieber, Carlos Carrasco is one of the strongest second-starting options in baseball. Zach Plesac rounds out a rotation that took a hit earlier this year when the Indians traded Mike Clevinger to the San Diego Padres. Brad Hand and James Karinchak give Cleveland a strong back-end of the bullpen, much like you see from the Yankees.
This series is going to depend on who can take the first game of the series. Shane Bieber has been amazing for Cleveland this year, but is he ready for the bright lights of the playoffs? We know Gerrit Cole is ready. The Yankees get to Bieber in the first game, and the Indians win the next game to setup an elimination game which the Yankees squeak out to move on to the next round. New York in 3 games.