Column: 2020 NLCS and ALCS preview and staff predictions


Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Michael Brosseau (43) celebrates teammates after hitting a home run against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning of game five of the 2020 ALDS at Petco Park. Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

By Mitchell Ross and Kennedy Collier

Two rounds down, two to go as Major League Baseball enters the league championship series round Sunday.

As part of this highly unprecedented season, which saw 101 less regular-season games than usual and the designated hitter in the National League, this season also allowed eight teams in each league to play in the postseason part of the expanded playoffs.

This tournament included two teams with losing records—with one advancing to the ALCS. It also came action-packed with highly contested games between division rivals to reach the World Series.


(1) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (6) Houston Astros

Game 1: Sunday, Oct. 11

Game 2: Monday, Oct. 12

Game 3: Tuesday, Oct. 13

Game 4: Wednesday, Oct. 14


*Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 15

*Game 6: Friday, Oct. 16

*Game 7: Saturday, Oct. 17

* if necessary

The Rays and Astros match up for the ALCS in a rematch from last season’s five game thriller ALDS. For the first time in MLB history, a six seed has made it into the ALCS, as the Astros finished off 2020 with a losing record but still qualified for the playoffs.

The Rays are coming off a five-game heavyweight fight with the Yankees on the back of lights out bullpen performance against the bombers in Game five Friday night. The Astros handled Oakland in four games to advance.

Tampa Bay, the AL’s top seed, has advanced through this postseason riding their bullpen. Manager, Kevin Cash, has meticulously tinkered with the pitching staff, throwing out arms in a unique way, so the opposing hitters never see the same pitcher twice in relief.

Led by the surprising rookie, LF Randy Arozarena, who is hitting a scorching .444 this October, the Rays lineup has chipped away at the best starting rotations the AL East had to throw at them. Tampa Bay played Toronto in the first round and New York in the ALDS; both teams in the same division as the Rays.

Dominant starting pitching will have to focus on the Rays if their lineup can continue to put runs on the board. Charlie Morton, the former Astro, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young winner in the American League, will need to pitch better than they have ever in their careers to get by this Astros lineup.

The Astros limped their way into the 2020 postseason and now find themselves in their fourth consecutive ALCS. This Houston team will have a different look and feel as they are sans Verlander and Cole for their bout with the Rays.

Nevertheless, Houston has shown their postseason prowess by returning to familiar playoff territory without their ace and their young designated hitter, Yordan Alvarez.

Led by Dusty Baker, the Astros have cruised through the playoffs by going 5-1 and just smacking the ball around the ballpark.

George Springer continues to prove why he is one of the most outstanding Oct. performers in the game’s history. He passed Babe Ruth on the all-time playoff home run leaders list earlier this week.

Strong performances from Bregman, Springer and Correa will be the key to beating the Rays. Behind the crafty veteran arm of Zack Grienke, the Astros will need to carve up the Tampa Bay’s lineup and hold their big hitters at bay to advance to the Fall Classic.

Tampa Bay holds the pitching advantage, while Houston is the more potent and star-filled lineup. This series has the makings of a classic like Ali and Frazer. Expect this series to go all seven games.


Ross (Rays in seven): Houston and Tampa Bay go the distance but in the end, Kevin Cash’s bullpen management, in combination with strong starting performances from Snell, Morton and Glasnow propel the Rays to their second World Series appearance in franchise history, the first since 2008.

Collier (Astros in six): Luckily none of our sports writers went zero for four when making their picks during the Divisional Round. None of them are in deep with their bookie. Most importantly, none of our sports writers has any “action” on the Astros making the baseball world furious and “legitimately” making it to the World Series. All three of these things are definitely not true.

Both teams will need to be on top of their game, pitching-wise. Expect a high scoring series.

(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (2) Atlanta Braves

Game 1: Monday, Oct. 12

Game 2: Tuesday, Oct. 13

Game 3: Wednesday, Oct. 14


Game 4: Thursday, Oct. 15

*Game 5: Friday, Oct. 16


*Game 6: Saturday, Oct. 17

*Game 7: Sunday, Oct. 18

*- if necessary

It wouldn’t surprise many that the NL’s top two seeds made it to the NLCS in a regular season. The Dodgers and Braves treat the baseball community to a rematch of the 2018 NLDS, a series the Dodgers won in four games. These juggernauts are the two best performing and most well put together teams in the NL. Both teams are 5-0 this Oct.

The Braves have a deep and balanced lineup that has matured together over the last three seasons into a perennial pennant contender. Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcel Osuna are as tough a three-headed monster to slay as any around baseball in 2020.

Paired with standout pitching performances in the NLDS from Ian Anderson, Kyle Right and the rest of Atlanta’s bullpen, the Braves are built to put up a fight in the NLCS.

In total, Atlanta held Miami scoreless for the last 19 innings of the series.

More than their stars, the Braves supporting cast adds to the bottomless fountain of talent. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is 8-19 this postseason, knocking in seven runs in five games.

Combined with the switch-hitting second basemen, Ozzy Albies and fleet-footed Dansby Swanson at short, the Braves will need a complete team performance to advance to the Fall Classic.

The Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the fourth time in the last five years and back with possibly the deepest and most talented Dodger team in the franchise’s history. They come with their three-headed monster: Betts, Bellinger and Seager.

Three MVP caliber players in one lineup is a difficult task for even the best of pitching staffs.

Speaking of pitching: Kershaw, Buehler, May, Urias, Graterol—the list goes on. As expected, the Dodgers are loaded at every position on the field and in the pen.

The Boys in Blue won games by outscoring their opponents profusely this season by hitting the most homers and giving up fewer runs than any team in baseball in 2020.

But the surprise of the NLDS was how Los Angeles scored without hitting so many home runs. They scored 23 total runs in the three games against San Diego yet only hit one home run, a shot from Cody Bellinger in the fourth inning of Game 2.

Both teams come equipped with more than capable pitching staffs and star-filled lineups. Star talent is excellent, but the supporting casts will lead their team to the National League pennant.


Ross (Dodgers in six): The Dodgers will edge out the Braves in the NLCS. Their versatility, stats and depth of bench push the Dodgers into the World Series for the third time in four years.

Collier (Braves in seven): The Dodgers have had too many chances to win the past couple of years. Their luck has run out. Braves have an amazing young roster and expect them to score early. Los Angles will just have to be happy with an NBA championship this year.