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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, which means it’s time to talk playoffs. Welcome to the condensed 2020 season.
Before we commence with our updated, post-deadline postseason predictions, a refresher on the expanded 16-team format:
Here’s who makes the playoffs:
- The three division winners in each league
- The three second-place teams in each league
- The two best third-place teams in each league
Here’s how the first round works:
- The No. 1 seed (the division winner with the best record) plays the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed, etc.
- All series are best-of-three
- The higher-seeded clubs host all games
Here’s how the second round works:
- The winner of the No. 1-No. 8 series plays the winner of the No. 4-No. 5 series, and the winner of the No. 7-No. 2 series plays the winner of the No. 3-No. 6 series
- Home-field advantage goes to the higher seeds
- They’re best-of-five series with a 2-2-1 home/road format
Here’s how the league championship round works:
- The four remaining teams play best-of-seven series with a 2-3-2 home/road format
- The higher seeds get home field
Here’s how the World Series works:
- Best-of-seven, 2-3-2 home/road format
- Team with the better record gets home field
Also worth noting:
- The division winners get the Nos. 1-3 seeds according to records
- The second-place teams get the Nos. 4-6 seeds in order of records
- The two wild cards get the seventh and eighth seeds according to records
- Ties will be broken by head-to-head records, intradivision records and records in the final 20 division games, in that order
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- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Chicago Cubs
- San Diego Padres
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Cincinnati Reds
- Miami Marlins
- Colorado Rockies
Matt Slocum/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t make any major deadline upgrades, and they didn’t have to. They were already the most complete team in baseball with a potent lineup, deep starting rotation and shutdown bullpen and are on track to win an eighth straight division title.
That said, the San Diego Padres are ready to mount a challenge in the National League West and the Senior Circuit as a whole. The Friars pushed their chips in at the trade deadline and acquired a gaggle of players, including right-hander Mike Clevinger in an eight-player deal with Cleveland, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Clevinger will slot near the top of a deep rotation and provide the club with an ace-level arm for the stretch run and the next two seasons, as he’s controllable through 2022.
San Diego also acquired late-inning reliever Trevor Rosenthal from the Kansas City Royals to shore up a suspect bullpen and added a left-handed power bat in Mitch Moreland from the Boston Red Sox, among multiple other moves. Even if the Padres don’t catch the Dodgers, they’re positioned to be a serious postseason factor behind their new arrivals and an existing core led by star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
The Colorado Rockies added reliever Mychal Givens from the Baltimore Orioles and outfielder Kevin Pillar from the Red Sox, and while it won’t be enough to keep pace with San Diego and L.A., it should keep them in third place ahead of the San Francisco Giants (who were mostly quiet at the deadline) and Arizona Diamondbacks (who went into sell mode) and let them slip in as a wild card.
In the crowded NL Central, the Chicago Cubs acquired veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin from the Detroit Tigers, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, and added relievers Andrew Chafin from the Diamondbacks and Josh Osich from the Red Sox, per MLB Network‘s Jon Heyman. They also acquired right-handed power hitter Jose Martinez from the Tampa Bay Rays. Those moves, coupled with the eventual return from injury of third baseman Kris Bryant, could keep them atop the division.
The Cincinnati Reds picked up late-inning reliever Archie Bradley from the Diamondbacks and outfielder Brian Goodwin from the Los Angeles Angels, per Rosenthal. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers‘ biggest move was shipping out reliever David Phelps, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. The St. Louis Cardinals made no trades of note. Of that group, the Reds did the most to get better and already have a strong starting staff that should be enough for them to slide into second place, with the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates picking up the rear.
In the NL East, Atlanta has enough talent to make the playoffs as is, but it may regret not shoring up its starting rotation beyond acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles or making any other notable moves.
The Philadelphia Phillies shored up their bullpen well ahead of the deadline by adding Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from Boston and got another solid bullpen arm in Phelps. And watch out for the Miami Marlins, who added outfielder Starling Marte in a swap with the D-backs, per Rosenthal.
Miami also traded veteran Jonathan Villar, but Marte’s bat should more than replace Villar’s production. We’ll tap Miami as an upstart wild-card team, ahead of the New York Mets (who added infielder Todd Frazier, right-hander Miguel Castro and catcher Robinson Chirinos) and the Washington Nationals (who made no notable moves).
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- Tampa Bay Rays
- Oakland Athletics
- Minnesota Twins
- New York Yankees
- Houston Astros
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Chicago White Sox
Paul Beaty/Associated Press
The Oakland Athletics traded within their division, acquiring left-hander Mike Minor from the Texas Rangers, per Passan. An All-Star in 2019, Minor owns a 5.60 ERA in 2020 but has struck out 35 in 35.1 innings and adds a proven arm to the middle of the rotation. Along with the acquisition of infielder Tommy La Stella from the Angels, it was a solid supplementary move for a team that already owned the second-best record in the American League entering Monday.
The Houston Astros have been hit hard by injuries and may have fallen from the AL’s top tier. Despite serious questions in the starting rotation and bullpen, they made no significant moves at the deadline. Still, a second-place finish in the mediocre AL West seems inevitable, since the Rangers, Angels and Seattle Mariners sold off pieces.
In the AL Central, Cleveland shipped out Mike Clevinger but still boasts one of the best starting rotations in baseball. It also didn’t do much to shore up an offense that ranks 26th with a .681 OPS. The Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox also made few moves of note, while the Tigers and Royals sold.
This three-team race should go down to the wire. But we’ll predict the Twins had enough pre-deadline to win the division with pitching-rich Cleveland and the up-and-coming ChiSox finishing second and third and both qualifying for the postseason.
In the AL East, the Rays have the best record in the Junior Circuit and have the talent to hang on to that position despite the fact that their only noteworthy deadline move was to send Jose Martinez to the Cubs for cash and a player to be named.
The New York Yankees were also quiet at the deadline, failing to add impact pitching or a bat despite a rash of injuries that have depleted the lineup, rotation and bullpen. Still, especially if they get some key players such as slugger Aaron Judge healthy, they’re good enough for a second-place finish.
Look for the Blue Jays to be nipping at the Yanks’ heels, however. The Jays added a proven bat in Jonathan Villar from Miami. Plus, they landed a trio of arms: Taijuan Walker from the Mariners, left-hander Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks, per Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun, and right-hander Ross Stripling from the Dodgers. That, paired with Toronto’s young offensive core, should be enough to get it to the postseason.
At the bottom of the division, the Orioles and Red Sox wisely sold what assets they could.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Rockies vs. Dodgers
The potent Dodgers should dispatch the Rockies, just as they did in their three meetings this year. Remember, all the games will be played at Dodger Stadium instead of Coors Field, per the new rules.
Dodgers win 2-0
Marlins vs. Atlanta
Despite not adding any impact talent at the deadline, Atlanta should be able to ride an offense fronted by Ronald Acuna Jr. and a pitching staff headlined by ace Max Fried past the youthful Marlins, who will consider themselves lucky to get an ahead-of-schedule taste of the postseason.
Atlanta wins 2-0
Reds vs. Cubs
This will be a tough matchup of division foes with the Cubs hosting, assuming they hang on and win the Central. But this is where the Reds’ strong starting rotation, led by Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer, will have a chance to shine.
Reds win 2-1
Phillies vs. Padres
All that deadline activity positioned the Friars as one of the better teams in the majors, and they can prove it at home against Bryce Harper and the Phils while setting themselves up for an epic second-round clash.
Padres win 2-0
Padres vs. Dodgers
This could end up being the best series of the postseason, as the best team (on paper at least) meets the team that beefed up the most. Fernando Tatis Jr. and the revamped Pads could give the Dodgers a scare, and Mike Clevinger will get a chance to shine after three postseason forays with Cleveland. Expect San Diego to win a couple of games and make it tight.
In the end, though, postseason-tested L.A. should prevail, especially with home-field advantage (not worth as much with likely no crowds but still a factor).
Dodgers win 3-2
Reds vs. Atlanta
This is where Atlanta’s inability (or unwillingness) to make a splash at the deadline could hurt it. After Fried, there isn’t a pitcher in the rotation who you’d feel supremely confident handing the ball to in a big game.
Again, Cincinnati has superlative starting pitching, which can go a long way in a short series. Gray and Bauer could make three starts between them. If the Reds win those games, it’s over, and Cincinnati will be rewarded for adding rather than subtracting at the deadline.
Reds win 3-2
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
White Sox vs. Rays
The White Sox will be a dangerous foe with their loaded young lineup and a starting staff that features emerging ace Lucas Giolito and playoff-tested lefty Dallas Keuchel. But the Rays’ balanced attack of pitching and offense will give the youthful ChiSox an education.
Rays win 2-0
Blue Jays vs. Athletics
The Blue Jays are young and hungry and made some solid deadline additions. But the A’s added to their roster as well, and they were already a nearly complete team. A club with a recent history of early postseason exits has the talent to advance this time.
Athletics win 2-0
Astros vs. Twins
The Astros’ turn as postseason villains will be short-lived this year, as the Twins’ potent lineup will exploit their lack of pitching depth in both the rotation and the bullpen, especially if ace Justin Verlander doesn’t make a final-month injury comeback.
Twins win 2-0
Cleveland vs. Yankees
If New York can get relatively heathy (a big “if”), it has the bats to hit even Cleveland’s top-shelf pitching. And in a best-of-three series, the Yanks can count on ace Gerrit Cole to pitch them to at least one win.
Yankees win 2-1
Yankees vs. Athletics
In a best-of-five series, New York could try to throw Cole twice. But it may regret not pushing harder to get another starter such as the Rangers’ Lance Lynn at the deadline and to bolster a bullpen that has wobbled of late and now ranks 17th with a 4.47 ERA.
This will be an intriguing series between two clubs that have met on this stage before. But while the Yankees have won all three playoff matchups with the A’s since 2000, including the 2018 AL Wild Card Game, we’re giving the edge to Oakland this time. It’s a deeper team, and thus far a healthier one, and unlike New York, it made notable deadline upgrades.
Athletics win 3-1
Twins vs. Rays
This one could come down to which team has more pitching. And since neither side did much at the deadline, we’ll give the nod to Tampa Bay. Ace Blake Snell may be able to go twice if needed. And assuming key members such as right-hander Nick Anderson return healthy, the Rays’ deep, shutdown bullpen will be a difference-maker.
Kenta Maeda is the closest Minnesota has to a postseason-tested ace, but like Tampa Bay, it has a deep, strong bullpen. And ageless designated hitter Nelson Cruz likes the postseason, in which he has hit 17 home runs with a 1.012 OPS in 44 games. This should be a well-balanced matchup between worthy opponents with few if any glaring flaws, but we’ll predict Snell and the pen win it for Tampa Bay.
Rays win 3-2
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Again, if the Reds get this far, they’ll be fully vindicated for refusing to sell at the trade deadline despite being under .500 and instead adding to a roster built for postseason success behind its strong starting rotation.
But let’s be real: Assuming they survive the Padres, the Dodgers will be the clear favorites.
They simply have too much of everything, from the lineup to the starting corps to the bullpen. Clayton Kershaw has been uneven in his postseason career, but he’s backed by electric rookie Dustin May, who will be a postseason breakout candidate with his crackling fastball.
Cincinnati should win at least one game with the quality of its starting pitching, but even with the addition of Archie Bradley, its bullpen, which ranks 27th with a 5.48 ERA, could be exposed by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger.
The Dodgers didn’t need any deadline cavalry, and it’ll show in their fourth National League Championship Series appearance and third NLCS win in five years.
Dodgers win 4-1
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Call it the small-market series. In a rematch of the 2019 AL Wild Card Game, the Rays and A’s will clash, and fans of clubs that make the most of small budgets will rejoice.
This would be an excellent matchup of two well-rounded teams. Entering play Monday, the A’s ranked third in ERA (3.51) and 10th in runs (164), while the Rays were fifth (3.72) and third (183).
Neither team acquired a superstar at the deadline, though the A’s certainly hope Mike Minor rediscovers his 2019 form.
Again, Blake Snell is an ace, and the Rays pen is excellent. Tampa Bay also has plenty of offensive weapons, including breakout second baseman Brandon Lowe.
The A’s, meanwhile, will need arms such as rookie left-hander Jesus Luzardo to rise to the occasion. Luzardo certainly has the talent to do so and has shown flashes this season.
We’ll say this one goes the distance, but the A’s will get enough pitching and offensive heroics from the Matts, Chapman and Olson, to win their first pennant since 1990 and their first in the Billy Beane era.
Athletics win 4-3
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Dodgers last won the Fall Classic in 1988, when they defeated the A’s in five games. The series is best remembered for Kirk Gibson’s iconic Game 1 walk-off home run.
Will another hobbled Dodgers slugger launch a historic blast? We won’t predict that.
What we will predict is Los Angeles once again defeating Oakland, this time in six games, and hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Clayton Kershaw will cement his postseason legacy and leave the doubters sputtering with at least one brilliant start. Dustin May, too, will turn in a star-making performance, and the bullpen will back it up. That, coupled with the Dodgers’ dangerous top-to-bottom hitters, will simply be too much for Oakland, though the A’s will steal a couple of games with at least one Jesus Luzardo gem tossed in.
Now, the burning question: Will this long-awaited championship be as sweet for L.A. given the abbreviated 2020 season?
“There will be no asterisk,” Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said of the ’20 title, per USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale. “When you look at all of the hurdles, keeping your team together emotionally, and what your players have to do differently to prepare for this season, you can argue it would mean more than going through the duration and grind of an eight-month season.”