After a delayed start to the regular season, the MLB began 2020 season play on July 23. The league’s restart was filled with rule changes, COVID-19 complications and empty seats, but the regular season was played through and finally came to an end on Sept. 27. America’s pastime now continues with postseason play through Oct. 28, when a champion will be crowned.
The 2020 season was supposed to begin March 26, but along with other sports, the MLB was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the regular season hadn’t begun before the league suspended its operations, spring training was ultimately cut short. In preparation for the restart, teams went through “summer camp” in July in their home ballparks, and opening night occurred in the nation’s capital, home of defending champion Washington Nationals.
Instead of a normal 162-game season, teams only played 60 games, with 40 of them against their division rivals and the remaining 20 against teams in the opposite league but in close geographic proximity. This unique format led the players association and the league to agree to let 16 teams in the postseason this year rather than the normal 10. The two teams with the best records in each of the three divisions in each league made the playoffs, and the other two slots in each league were filled by teams with the next best record.
On top of a vastly different regular season, the MLB made distinct changes to the postseason as well. The first round is a best-of-three series hosted at the higher seed’s home ballpark. Once the first round is played, American League teams will fly out to southern California to play games at either Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres, or Dodger Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Dodgers. National League teams will play the second round in Texas either at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park or the Texas Rangers’ brand-new stadium, Globe Life Field.
The NL Championship Series will be in the Rangers’ park and the AL Championship Series will be in the Padres’ park. The World Series will be played in Globe Life Field. Fans will be able to get their first glimpse at the new ballpark in the NLCS and World Series as MLB is allowing 11,500 fans to attend each game. This will be the first opportunity fans will have to catch baseball in person in 2020.
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The MLB chose to play the majority of its playoff games at these few parks to form a “bubble” for the postseason. To ensure safety and limit possible exposure to the virus, teams will stay together in these cities.
While it’s difficult to focus on the actual game of baseball itself among the chaos of the state of the country, there are a few teams in particular that stand out. While other teams may surprise in the postseason, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are teams to keep an eye on throughout playoffs. The Atlanta Braves, too, have a serious chance at the Commissioner’s Trophy. But only time will tell who ultimately will take the crown.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are arguably the hungriest team heading into the postseason. In 2017, the team faced and lost to the Astros in the ALCS. But the Astros were found guilty of stealing signs from the Yankees some months after the Astros went on to win the World Series. Over the 2019 offseason, the Yankees gave former Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole the second-largest contract in MLB history, paying him $324 million dollars over nine seasons. Many believe that Cole has been the missing piece to a Yankees team that has dominated offensively over the past couple of seasons but has lacked in pitching.
While the Yankees’ bats have been continuously hot, their injury report has been consistently lengthy, which has caused them to fall short of titles in the past few seasons. But the Yankees finally have the majority of their key players healthy, such as All-Stars outfielder Aaron Judge and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton. Infielder DJ LeMahieu and first baseman Luke Voit, who led the league with 22 homers, have both put up MVP-worthy seasons. LeMahieu recorded the highest league batting average at .364. These players, along with infielders Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela and outfielder Aaron Hicks, present a terrifying batting lineup for opposing pitchers. If closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman and relief pitcher Zack Britton continue to pitch lights out in the postseason, and if the roster remains healthy, the Yankees are set to bring their 28th title back to the Big Apple.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are currently one of the hottest teams in baseball, having lost only twice since Sept. 15. They had the best record at season’s end and led the league in run differential by 52 during the season with +136. In past years, in which they have reached the NLCS in three of the last four seasons and lost the 2017 World Series to the Astros, the Dodgers have struggled late in the postseason. The key to their run will be All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s performance. Kershaw has been one of the league’s most dominant starting pitchers for 10-plus years, winning three Cy Young Awards in that time. However, Kershaw currently holds the record for the worst playoff ERA in history. Nevertheless, Kershaw secured L.A.’s ticket to the Texas bubble with a shutout win over the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round.
Clayton Kershaw receives his Cy Young Award at Dodger Stadium: pic.twitter.com/hpF3JL71dT
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) April 10, 2014
Los Angeles will also rely heavily on starting pitcher Walker Buehler, who is highly regarded throughout the league. In addition to the team’s pitching, the team’s lineup, which features 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger and 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, is unmatched. Outfielder A.J. Pollock rounds out their star-studded outfield, and first baseman Max Muncy and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager highlight their infield. Closing pitcher Kenley Jansen and relief pitcher Blake Treinen’s performances in relief will also be a crucial factor for the Dodgers. This may be the year the Dodgers get over the hump and bring a title home for the first time in over 30 years.
Prior to sweeping the Cincinnati Reds in the NL wild-card series last week, the Braves had lost 10 consecutive playoff series dating back to 2001. Atlanta has certainly played like a team that can make a serious run at a title and looks to bring their newfound momentum into Texas. The Braves scored the second-most runs in the league this season with 348, trailing the Dodgers by only one run. Atlanta also broke a NL record by scoring 29 runs against the Miami Marlins in early September, the most by a NL team since the MLB formed. Nine days later, the Braves scored 15 runs against the New York Mets. Runs were piled upon other teams throughout the season with the help of All-Star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Acuña Jr. is one of Atlanta’s rising stars, leading the team with a .987 on-base plus slugging percentage, and Ozuna hit the third most home runs in the league with 18 during the regular season.
The biggest question surrounding Atlanta is their starting pitching. Their bullpen, led by Mark Melancon and Will Smith, has been effective all year, but their starting pitchers have been hurt all season. Starting pitchers Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels are out for the season, but Max Fried appeared impressive, posting a 7-0 record and 2.25 ERA. In his first postseason outing in 2020, Fried went seven innings without giving up a run and led the Braves to a win. Rookie pitcher Ian Anderson has also been sharp since being called up in September. Atlanta will have a quality team to root for this postseason and may even get the chance to celebrate a title come October.