2020 MLB Playoffs: Seeding Predictions and Round-by-Round Picks

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2020

2020 MLB Playoffs: Seeding Predictions and Round-by-Round Picks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The 2020 MLB playoffs will begin Sept. 29. If that feels soon, well, it's because it is. 

    The final couple of weeks of this abbreviated 60-game slate should bring ample drama as clubs jockey for position in the expanded 16-team postseason field.

    While we wait for the stretch run to unfold, let's make some predictions on seeding and for each round of playoffs. 

    First, a refresher on how all of this will work.

How All of This Will Work

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    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 wild-card 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 division series will work:

    • 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 championships will works:

    • The four remaining teams play best-of-seven series with a 2-3-2 home/road format
    • The higher seeds get home-field advantage

    Here's how the World Series works:

    • Best-of-seven, 2-3-2 home/road format
    • Team with the better record gets home field

    The first three seeds in each league will go to the division winners in order of record. The next three will go to the second-place teams in order of record. And the final two will go to the third-place wild cards in order of record. 

    Any ties will be broken by head-to-head records, intradivision records and records in the final 20 division games, in that order.

    Finally, according MLB's "bubble plan," which ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Friday, all games after the wild-card round will be played at Houston's Minute Maid Park (NLDS), Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium (ALDS), San Diego's Petco Park (ALDS, ALCS) and Arlington's Globe Life Field (NLDS, NLCS, World Series), pending approval from the players union.

    Got all that? Good. Let's proceed.

National League Seeding

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    1. Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are baseball's most complete team, though their starting rotation's depth is in doubt with Walker Buehler (finger blister) and Dustin May (foot) both battling injuries. Assuming they get healthy before the postseason, they'll join Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias in a stout rotation.

    On offense, Mookie Betts and Corey Seager lead a deep, balanced attack, and the bullpen is among the game's best. L.A. needs to get its arms healthy, but it should win the National League West and secure the top seed.


    2. Atlanta

    Atlanta is also dealing with injuries in its rotation. Mike Soroka is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and ace Max Fried recently landed on the disabled list with a back injury. The team will hope to get Fried back before the playoffs, but in the meantime, it will lean on youngsters Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright.

    Atlanta's bats pace MLB in OPS behind the likes of outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., first baseman Freddie Freeman and designated hitter Marcell Ozuna, while the 'pen is stocked with experienced late-inning arms. Fried's injury is a major concern, but the club has enough to win a third straight NL East title.


    3. Chicago Cubs

    The Chicago Cubs haven't excelled in any one area but lead the NL Central thanks to key contributors such as ace Yu Darvish and outfielder Ian Happ. Others, such as third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Javier Baez have underperformed with batting averages around the Mendoza Line. Some or all of those guys need to get it going. Still, there's enough talent for the Cubbies to win the division.


    4. San Diego Padres

    The San Diego Padres might be the second-best team in the National League after making a number of key additions at the trade deadline, including right-hander Mike Clevinger, closer Trevor Rosenthal and slugger Mitch Moreland. But unless they catch the Dodgers (which is possible but unlikely), Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and company will have to settle for the fourth seed.


    5. Philadelphia Phillies

    The Philadelphia Phillies bolstered their bullpen at the deadline with additions such as closer Brandon Workman and have moved into second place in the NL East. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler form a potent one-two combo atop the starting rotation, and right fielder Bryce Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher J.T. Realmuto lead the offensive attack. The Phils have a chance to catch Atlanta, which would help them avoid a potential wild-card matchup with San Diego. 


    6. St. Louis Cardinals

    The St. Louis Cardinals are one of a few flawed-yet-competitive teams that could secure second place in the NL Central. The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are on their heels. But the Cards' strong starting rotation led by Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and seasoned veteran Adam Wainwright plus a solid bullpen should be enough to push St. Louis into the postseason.


    7. San Francisco Giants

    The San Francisco Giants had won five of their last six games before a positive COVID-19 test within the organization led to a postponement of their contest against the Padres on Friday and put both clubs' seasons on pause. Assuming the issue resolves without an extended delay, the Giants should secure third place in the NL West and one of the two wild cards behind an offense that entered play Saturday fourth in baseball with 235 runs scored.


    8. New York Mets

    The Miami Marlins, as well as the Brewers, Reds and Colorado Rockies all could claim a playoff spot. Really, only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals have been virtually eliminated. But we'll toss a dart and pick the New York Mets, who are the only club in that group with a positive run differential (plus-nine entering play Saturday) and have a solid offense led by outfielders Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto and an ace up their sleeves in Jacob deGrom.

American League Seeding

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    1. Tampa Bay Rays

    The Tampa Bay Rays aren't loaded with stars, but they do almost everything well. Second baseman Brandon Lowe and shortstop Willy Adames front a balanced offensive attack. Left-hander Blake Snell is a legitimate ace.

    And the bullpen is among the game's best, especially with right-hander Nick Anderson back from the injured list. Tampa Bay is in position to win the AL East and will try to fend off an array of challengers for the league's best record and the No. 1 seed.


    2. Chicago White Sox

    The Chicago White Sox had won six of their last seven heading into Saturday's action and suddenly look like the favorites in a tight three-team race atop the AL Central. The offense is stacked with young talent, including shortstop Tim Anderson, center fielder Luis Robert and left fielder Eloy Jimenez.

    The ChiSox have a good bullpen led by closer Alex Colome, while youngsters Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease join veteran Dallas Keuchel (who is on the IL with back trouble but should return Thursday) atop the rotation. The division race will be a dogfight to the end, but we'll pick the South Siders to come out on top.


    3. Oakland Athletics

    The Oakland Athletics should hold on to win a weak AL West. But their chances of making a deep playoff run took a serious hit Saturday with the news that star third baseman Matt Chapman is lost for the season to hip surgery.

    Others such as first baseman Matt Olson and shortstop Marcus Semien will have to fill the void. The A's have a deep bullpen behind closer Liam Hendriks and an emerging ace in left-hander Jesus Luzardo. But the loss of Chapman, who has finished in the top seven in AL MVP voting each of the past two seasons, can't be overstated.


    4. Minnesota Twins

    The Minnesota Twins are in the mix to win the AL Central with a strong pitching staff that entered Saturday ranked fifth in the game with a 3.65 ERA and an offense that's anchored by powerful, ageless (technically 40-year-old) designated hitter Nelson Cruz. The Twinkies could repeat as division champions and finish with the No. 2 seed. If they don't, they'll likely slot in at No. 4.


    5. Toronto Blue Jays

    The Toronto Blue Jays have taken over second place in the AL East and are set to get rising-star shortstop Bo Bichette back from the IL after his knee troubles. If right-hander Nate Pearson (elbow), right fielder Teoscar Hernandez (oblique) and first baseman Rowdy Tellez (knee) can also work their way back before the postseason, the young and hungry Jays will be a force.


    6. Houston Astros

    The Houston Astros are hovering around .500. They're still without ace Justin Verlander (forearm), and their bullpen and lineup have also been hit hard by injuries. Most fans and many opposing players are actively rooting against them after the sign-stealing scandal that stained the franchise. Yet, thanks to the lack of depth in the AL West, they'll likely finish in second place and thus receive the sixth seed.


    7. Cleveland

    Cleveland's pitching staff led the Junior Circuit with a 3.04 ERA entering play Saturday. Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco front a stellar starting rotation, and the bullpen is equally strong behind Brad Hand and James Karinchak. The offense is less robust, though stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez populate the left side of the infield. Cleveland will go as far as its arms can carry it.


    8. New York Yankees

    It's an all-too-familiar refrain for the New York Yankees: Injuries have threatened to derail their season after a 16-6 start, as the Bronx Bombers are in third place in the AL East. Manager Aaron Boone told reporters that sluggers Aaron Judge (calf) and Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) could return within a week, which would be a huge boost. They should be able to at least hold on to the No. 8 seed, but that's a far cry from what they were hoping for coming into the 2020 campaign.

National League Rounds 1-2

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    Wild Card Round

    Mets vs. Dodgers

    This will be a dangerous matchup for the Dodgers, with the Mets potentially able to throw deGrom in Game 1. But assuming L.A. gets its rotation healthy, it can counter with multiple strong arms. We'll say deGrom and New York give them a scare with a win, but Los Angeles wins the series.

    Dodgers win 2-1


    Giants vs. Atlanta

    Atlanta will hope Fried is healthy. But even if he's not, its potent offense should take advantage of the Giants' suspect bullpen and a starting rotation that can toss out Johnny Cueto and Kevin Gausman but isn't among the league's elite.

    Atlanta wins 2-0


    Cardinals vs. Cubs

    In a clash of old rivals, the Cubs will need their bats to get it going against some solid Cardinals pitching. Flaherty should net St. Louis a win, though Chicago can counter with Darvish. This could go either way, but we'll give a slight edge to the Cubbies. 

    Cubs win 2-1


    Phillies vs. Padres

    With their deadline additions, particularly Clevinger, the Friars will be a dangerous foe. Tatis will get his chance to shine on the postseason stage, and San Diego should roll past Harper and the Phillies.

    Padres win 2-0


    Division Series

    Padres vs. Dodgers

    This could be the best series of the postseason. The Padres' potent offensive attack will test the Dodgers pitching staff, even if L.A. gets May and Buehler back to health. Tatis should have more big moments.

    Also, recall, home-field advantage could be neutralized by the bubble plan.

    This will be a tough battle for Los Angeles and could easily go the distance. But Betts, Kershaw and Co. should ride their postseason experience to victory.

    Dodgers win 3-2


    Cubs vs. Atlanta

    Fried's health will be a big X-factor here. If he's right, Atlanta might use him twice in a five-game set. If he's not, the team will rely on young, inexperienced arms such as Wright and Anderson. 

    The Cubs could also pitch their ace, Darvish, twice. The difference, though, could be on offense—if Bryant, Baez, Rizzo and other members of the Cubs' 2016 championship team could rediscover their October magic.

    But Atlanta's bats—Acuna, Freeman and Ozunalook superior and should tilt the series.

    Atlanta wins 3-2

American League Rounds 1-2

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Wild Card Round

    Yankees vs. Rays

    The Yankees will toss out ace Gerrit Cole in one game of this series, so we'll give them that one. And if the Bombers' bats are healthy, they could easily steal another and spoil the Rays' season. But that's a big "if" given how New York's campaign has gone. Tampa Bay has the depth to defeat its division foe.

    Rays win 2-1


    Cleveland vs. White Sox

    This will be a great battle between Cleveland's hurlers and the ChiSox's young hitters. White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who has had some big postseason moments, could play a key role if his back spasms clear up. With Bieber and Carrasco throwing two out of the three games, though, we'll hand Cleveland the first (mild) upset of these playoffs.

    Cleveland wins 2-1


    Astros vs. Athletics

    Without Chapman, the Athletics' offensive attack will be hamstrung. But after Zack Greinke, the Astros lack a proven postseason starter, and their bullpen is suspect. Look for Luzardo to have a big start in his playoff debut and for Oakland to make the Astros' many detractors happy.

    Athletics win 2-1


    Blue Jays vs. Twins

    As with the White Sox, the Blue Jays' cadre of young star hitters will get to make their playoff debut. And Hyun Jin Ryu gives the Jays a No. 1 starter with postseason experience. Both teams have excellent bullpens. This one seems like a coin toss. The difference-maker could be Toronto rookie Nate Pearson, who looked electric before his injury and, assuming he's healthy, could get the Blue Jays to the next round.

    Blue Jays win 2-1


    Division Series

    Rays vs. Blue Jays

    In another battle of AL East opponents, the Rays will face a tough challenge. Assuming they survive the wild-card round, the Jays' young hitters should be brimming with confidence.

    This will hinge on the Rays' less glitzy but deep lineup. If guys like Lowe and Adames provide enough offense, Snell and Tampa Bay's bullpen could do the rest.

    With no home-field advantage, we predict this one will go the distance but that Toronto's inexperience will catch up to it.

    Rays win 3-2


    Cleveland vs. Athletics

    Here's where Chapman's loss will really sting. The quality of Cleveland's pitching would have been a tough task for Oakland even with its best hitter. Without him, the A's may be hard-pressed to score.

    That said, the A's have enough pitching to give Cleveland's suspect offense trouble. This series could come down to the performance of Cleveland's star bats: Lindor and Ramirez. If those guys shine, the club's arms can do the rest.

    Oakland has won just one postseason series since 1992. Sadly for East Bay fans, they may not make it two in a row after the wild-card round sans Chapman.

    Cleveland wins 3-1

National League Championship Series

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    After surviving the Mets and Padres, the Dodgers will have to deal with Atlanta's potent offense. A lot will depend upon the health of L.A.'s pitchers.

    Let's stipulate that Los Angeles has all or most of its arms. And let's also allow that Fried is healthy and available for Atlanta.

    In that case, while the NL East champs will put up a fight, the Dodgers should prevail, especially if May translates his filthy triple-digit stuff into a star-making October turn.

    This will be a fun series with some exceedingly bright stars, including Betts and Acuna. But the Dodgers will smell the finish line and should win their third National League pennant in four years.

    Dodgers win 4-2

American League Championship Series

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Here's where Cleveland's lack of offense will catch up to it. After besting the White Sox and Athletics, Terry Francona's club will face a more complete team in Tampa Bay.

    The pitching will be there, and we'll predict at least one masterful start from either Bieber or Carrasco. But the Rays have pitching, too, and a much stronger lineup from top to bottom.

    Both teams have winning records at home and on the road, so the neutral-site Petco Park shouldn't be an advantage either way.

    Unless Lindor or Ramirez (or some other unexpected contributor) goes on an absolute tear, the Rays' depth will be too much for Cleveland, and Tampa Bay will punch its second-ever ticket to the Fall Classic.

    Rays win 4-2

World Series

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's ties to Tampa Bay will be a major subplot in this series. Friedman won Executive of the Year with the Rays in 2008 (when they won the AL pennant) and helped build the small-market franchise's winning culture.

    Speaking of small-market, this will be a battle of MLB's No. 2 payroll and its No. 28 payroll. Despite the monetary disparity, there will be plenty of talent on the field for both sides.

    The Rays will be a worthy final opponent in the Dodgers' quest for their first title since 1988. But this is the year Los Angeles gets over the hump.

    Betts, Seager, Cody Bellinger and the rest of the team's lineup will do its part. But we predict this series will belong to Clayton Kershaw, who will finally and forever shed the stigma of his checkered postseason record and pitch brilliantly enough to earn World Series MVP honors and send the Dodgers to a (socially distant?) champagne celebration. 

    Dodgers win 4-1


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