2020 Major League Baseball Divisional Series preview


Image via CBS Sports Boston

By Mitchell Ross and Kennedy Collier

With the MLB Wild Card series finished, the baseball world turns its focus on the next round, the divisional round. This is the quarterfinal round of the 2020 playoffs, which can almost guarantee excitement.

The MLB playoffs started on September 30th and there are certainly some entertaining matchups. With an unusually short 60 game session, due to COVID 19, 16 of the 30 teams advanced to the first round. Now the nation looks to four American League teams and four National League teams.

(AL 1) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (AL 5) New York Yankees

Image credit David Dermer via Yahoo Sports
Image credit David Dermer via Yahoo Sports

Both the Yankees and Rays handled their first-round opponents, winning two straight games in the best of three Wild Card Rounds. The Rays handed the Toronto Blue Jays two losses on the strength of their starting pitching and bullpen, giving up only three runs over the two games.

The Yankees picked up where they left off against Cleveland in their fifth postseason meeting with the Indians. The Yankees took Game 1 12-3 on the strength of their ace, Garrett Cole, and proceeded to prevail in a Game Two slugfest 10-9. This series features the classic home run or nothing swinging Yankees and the hyper-analytical Rays.

The Yankees this year have thoroughly underachieved, finishing second in the division for the third time in four years. They still boast the MLB homerun king, Luke Voit, and MLB batting champion, DJ LeMahieu. The latter hit 22 HR and batted .364, respectively. The offensive onslaught does not end there. The Yankee lineup comes complete with big boppers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. When healthy and hitting their stride, their lineup is one of the most formidable lineups to face in all of baseball.

The Rays have been knocking at the doorstep of AL East giants like the Yankees and Red Sox. This year though, the Rays have not only met the high expectations set by their 90+ win team from a year ago, but they have exceeded them. Rays manager, Kevin Cash, has not shied away from putting several interesting lineups out this season, including a game where he started exclusively left-handed hitters or when he started an opener, using a bullpen pitcher to start the first inning or two of a game.


(AL 2) Oakland Athletics vs. (AL 6) Houston Astros

Image credit Hannah Foslien via New York Times

Another divisional matchup here with the A’s and Astros. This is an interesting series because of the recent postseason history for both of these squads. Oakland has finished as the wild card in the AL the past two seasons with the Astros finishing as the AL West Division winner in both those seasons as well. This year, the 60-game format provided the A’s with an opportunity to steal the division from the reigning AL champions.

Houston came into the playoffs with a 29-31 record, a sub-.500 record in the playoffs looking very different from the team that won the AL pennant in 2019. The Astros went into Minnesota and snagged back to back games against the Twins. The story of the Astros in 2020 earned redemption and forgiveness from the league, its players and fans. The fallout of their cheating scandal from the tail end of 2019 was masked by COVID-19 and the 2020 season postponement.

Going into the season, the team had a different look without star pitcher, Garrett Cole, who left for the Yankees, and without the services of reigning Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, who made just one start before needing season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Astros bats went noticeably cold this season with stars George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve recording sub-par batting averages. The Astros just did not look like the Astros this year. Their saving grace—Dusty Baker is a brilliant baseball mind and a well-respected pro manager. With sage guidance at the helm and a lineup that went to the World Series last year, Houston will be a tough out this divisional round.

For Oakland, this postseason saw them prevail in Game 3 versus Chicago to give them their first postseason series win since 2006. On paper, nothing about this A’s team screams juggernaut, and yet they are in the postseason for the third straight season and as division champs for the first time since 2013. Oakland lost perennial 3B Matt Olson to season-ending hip surgery in August and does not sport any superstars. Their bullpen, however, is electric. Led by Australian closer, Liam Hendricks, who serves as a pseudo-superstar for Oakland as their pen was tops in baseball bullpen ERA at 2.72. Oakland also boasted a top-five team ERA this season.


(NL 1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (NL 4) San Diego Padres

Image credit Rick Scuteri via USA Today Sports
Image credit Rick Scuteri via USA Today Sports

This is the matchup baseball fans deserve in this 2020 postseason. Dodgers and Padres is a rivalry that dates back to its inception in the 1960s. But over the last 20 years, the rivalry has been very one-sided, with the Dodgers defeating the Padres.

Led by dominant starting pitching and a brilliant bullpen, the Dodgers took two games straight at home against a beaten and bruised Brewers team who limped into the playoffs with a 29-31 record. The Padres dropped game one at home versus St. Louis, rallied from behind on the strength of two Fernando Tatis Jr. HR in Game 2, and prevailed in Game 3 to take the Wild Card series against the Cardinals setting up a must-see playoff matchup against the Dodgers.

San Diego or “Slam Diego,” as they have come to be known, has maybe the most electric young lineup in all of baseball. Making their first playoff appearance since 2006, the Padres have a lot to be optimistic about heading into October. Their lineup is full of talent and energy with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado holding down the infield’s left side. Injuries to their starting rotation and bullpen may prove to be their only shortcoming against the Dodgers in the Divisional Round.

The Dodgers finished with the best record in baseball for the second time in the last four seasons. What was different for this team this year? Mookie Betts. Adding Betts to a lineup that already included the reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger only solidified Los Angeles with the best lineup in baseball. They proved to the world that they were just that, the best lineup, as they led the big leagues in HR this season with 103. They also led baseball in team ERA. Their lineups one through nine can hit, and there is virtually no weaknesses. Even Clayton Kershaw, a mortal lock for Cooperstown, turned in one of his greatest October performances with 13 strikeouts in Game 2 versus the Brewers—putting to rest some of the narratives that Kershaw can’t pitch come October.


(NL 2) Atlanta Braves vs. (NL 6) Miami Marlins

Image via Getty Images
Image via Getty Images

This Divisional Round series sees the overachieving Miami Marlins make their way in after handling the Cubs in two. The Braves got here by a two-game shutout sweep of Cincinnati which saw game one go scoreless through 11 innings, only to be worn by a Freddie Freeman walk-off.

Miami overcame 17 members of their organization testing positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the season by revamping their much-depleted roster with free-agent signings and calling up young rookies, like Pitcher Sixto Sanchez, to make it this far into October baseball. Expectations for Miami were low coming into 2020 having lost 105 games last season. Nevertheless, 2020 has brought lots of chaos to baseball and the Marlins have ridden the wave all season long.

For Atlanta, the Braves retained their NL East crown for the second consecutive season on the back of MVP candidate Freddie Freeman. Freeman had just another wonderful season at first base for the Braves slugging .640 on the way to putting up a 1.102 OPS, second for the National League. Atlanta also boasts one of the games brightest young stars, Ronald Acuna Jr., to complement Freeman’s bat in the Braves lineup. Freeman and Acuna, along with a pitching staff that includes the up and coming Max Fried and an electric relief arm in Will Smith, is a formidable opponent for anyone in the National League.