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.
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.