The Biggest Winners and Losers from Historic 8-Game MLB Playoff Day
Baseball fans have never seen anything quite like September 30, 2020.
With an expanded field of 16 playoff teams, Wednesday contained wall-to-wall playoff baseball. The first pitch of the Cincinnati Reds vs. Atlanta Braves game was thrown at 12:08 p.m. ET, and the first pitch of the Milwaukee Brewers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers game was not until 9:08 p.m. ET.
All told, eight games of playoff baseball were played, and there's plenty more on tap as the postseason sprint continues with both leagues in action once again Thursday.
Before we flip the page, let's put a bow on Wednesday's historic slate of baseball action with a full rundown of the biggest winners and losers of the day.
Reds vs. Braves
Winner: Atlanta's bullpen
If the Atlanta Braves are going to make a deep postseason run, their relief corps will need to do a lot of heavy lifting.
Max Fried pitched like an ace in his Game 1 start, allowing six hits over seven scoreless innings, but that still left significant outs to chew through in a 13-inning marathon.
Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Darren O'Day, Tyler Matzek, Shane Greene and A.J. Minter combined to allow just five hits and three walks while striking out 11 in six scoreless innings.
With rookies Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright slotted in the Games 2 and 3 starter roles, the bullpen is going to be tasked with working significant innings.
The Braves bullpen ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.50 ERA during the regular season.
Loser: Cincinnati's baserunning
In a game that was scoreless for 12 innings, there were bound to be missed opportunities.
However, two of the biggest squandered chances for the Reds were self-inflicted, stemming from poor baserunning with runners in scoring position.
Nick Castellanos was thrown out trying to go from first to third on a one-out single to left field in the sixth inning. He was attempting to run on Adam Duvall, who has one of the better arms in baseball.
The next inning, the Reds had runners on first and third with two outs when Kyle Farmer took off for second on what looked like a delayed steal. However, Aristides Aquino didn't initially break for home on the throw to second, and he was eventually tagged out after getting caught in a rundown.
The Reds were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Trying to manufacture a run made sense, but everyone needed to be on the same page.
Astros vs. Twins
Winner: Houston's success on the road
The Houston Astros posted a 9-23 record away from Minute Maid Park during the regular season, the worst road winning percentage ever by a postseason team.
Traveling to Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins led the majors with a 24-7 home record, looked like a recipe for disaster in the Wild Card Round.
Instead, the Astros became the first team to punch its ticket to the division series with a 3-1 victory, using a combination of Jose Urquidy (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) and Cristian Javier (3.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER) to eat up the bulk of the innings.
They'll have to get creative mixing and matching pitchers when Zack Greinke is not on the mound, and wrapping up this series early undoubtedly helps with those plans.
Loser: Minnesota's offense
The Minnesota Twins have now lost an unfathomable 18 straight playoff games, a skid that dates back to Game 1 of the 2004 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees.
Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios both tossed five strong innings in their starts before the bullpen was eventually credited with losses in Games 1 and 2, but the bulk of the blame for another early playoff exit should be heaped on an offense that simply didn't show up.
A year removed from hitting an MLB-record 307 home runs and finishing second in the majors with an .832 OPS, the Twins lineup was not nearly as potent in 2020. It still ranked among the leaders in home runs (91, sixth) but finished 15th in OPS (.743) and 19th in runs per game (4.48).
With essentially the same lineup that wreaked havoc on the American League a year ago, all it could muster was a combined seven hits and two runs in consecutive losses. Now, another long offseason awaits.
Marlins vs. Cubs
Winner: Miami finds offense against right-handed pitching
The Miami Marlins posted a .673 OPS against right-handed pitching during the regular season, a mark that topped only the Detroit Tigers (.655), Texas Rangers (.652) and Pittsburgh Pirates (.612).
With Kyle Hendricks taking the ball in Game 1 for the Chicago Cubs, the Marlins were tasked with facing one of the craftiest right-handed pitchers in baseball, and National League Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish is waiting in the wings for Game 2.
Hendricks kept the Marlins off the scoreboard through the first six innings, pitching around leadoff doubles in the fourth (Jesus Aguilar) and sixth (Starling Marte) before the Miami offense came to life in the seventh.
Back-to-back one-out singles and a three-run home run from Corey Dickerson chased Hendricks from the game, and the Marlins plated two more against right-handed reliever Jeremy Jeffress when Aguilar took him deep.
Darvish has been terrific all season, but facing him no longer seems as daunting after the Marlins were able to put a crooked number on the board in Game 1.
Loser: Chicago's offense still in hiding
The Cubs hit .213/.302/.343 in September, leaving them with a .645 team OPS that ranked 29th in the majors.
A pair of 10-run outbursts in their three-game series against the Chicago White Sox to close out the regular season provided some hope they might be ready to flip the switch in the postseason, but the bats went silent once again in Game 1 against Sandy Alcantara and the Marlins.
The Cubs managed just four hits, two of which came from Ian Happ, who provided the club's only run with a solo home run in the fifth inning.
Rookie Sixto Sanchez gets the ball for the Marlins in Game 2. The Cubs have not seen the electric young right-hander yet, and he has the stuff to silence their offense once again if he can handle the postseason stage.
White Sox vs. Athletics
Winner: Former White Sox flex their muscles
On Dec. 9, 2014, the Chicago White Sox traded a package of four young players to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for right-hander Jeff Samardzija.
Two of the players Oakland acquired in that deal took center stage Wednesday.
Chris Bassitt earned the Game 2 start for the Athletics after finishing third among qualified AL starters with a 2.29 ERA, and he threw a gem, allowing six hits and one earned run in seven strong innings.
"I know a lot of them. I would say probably 10 or 12 guys," Bassitt told reporters. "It's special for me because it's kind of like playing with your friends. I know after the game I'll have 30 or 40 ex-teammates and coaches texting me. It's fun. It's a different dynamic."
Shortstop Marcus Semien was also acquired in that blockbuster deal, and he launched a two-run home run in the second inning to give Oakland a 4-0 lead in what ended up being a 5-3 victory.
The 30-year-old failed to duplicate his MVP-caliber numbers from 2019, and a strong postseason would go a long way toward rebuilding his stock heading into free agency.
Loser: Dallas Keuchel fails to hold up his end of the bargain
With Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel anchoring their postseason rotation, the White Sox entered the playoffs with a one-two punch that rivaled any team in baseball.
Giolito did his part in Game 1, carrying a perfect game into the seventh inning and cruising to victory in his postseason debut.
Signed to a three-year, $55.5 million contract during the offseason to provide a young rotation with a veteran presence, Keuchel posted a terrific 1.99 ERA in 63.1 innings over 11 starts, and it looked like Oakland was in a tough spot facing elimination with him on the mound.
Instead, he served up six hits and five runs (three earned) in 3.1 innings, and the pitching advantage now shifts to the other side of the matchup.
The Athletics can turn to Mike Fiers or Sean Manaea for their Game 3 start, while the White Sox pick remains up in the air. Dylan Cease pitched an inning of relief Wednesday, so it will likely be Dane Dunning or a bullpen game.
Blue Jays vs. Rays
Winner: Randy Arozarena's continued breakout
I did a live MLB mailbag in the Bleacher Report app Monday, and one of the questions presented to me was to name one unknown player who could get hot in the postseason, similar to Steve Pearce with the Boston Red Sox in 2018 (h/t @JqBook).
My answer: Randy Arozarena.
The 25-year-old outfielder didn't see his first MLB action this season until Aug. 30, and he quickly played his way into a prominent role, shuffling around the top three spots in the batting order.
He ended up posting a 1.055 OPS with seven home runs in 69 plate appearances during September, and his breakout performance carried over to the Wild Card Series.
He tripled to lead off the fourth inning and came home on a wild pitch to start the scoring in Game 1, then he went 3-for-4 with two doubles, one RBI and two runs scored in Game 2.
He's one to watch as the Rays move on to the ALDS.
Loser: Hyun-Jin Ryu falls flat
Hyun-Jin Ryu was supposed to be the horse to lead the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs.
"When the Blue Jays were drawing up their plans for this postseason—plans that verged on complete game scripts—the one constant was an assumption that they could count on a solid start from Ryu," Nick Ashbourne of Yahoo Sports wrote. "Everything else was built around that."
Starting him in Game 2 made sense, splitting up what were expected to be bullpen-heavy games with the staff ace who has pitched deep into games all season.
Ryu, signed to a four-year, $80 million contract during the offseason for exactly this moment, went 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 67 innings during the regular season.
However, he didn't make it out of the second inning in his postseason debut in a Blue Jays uniform, showing diminished stuff and allowing eight hits and seven runs (three earned) while recording just five outs. By the time a pitching change was finally made, the game was already over.
Cardinals vs. Padres
Winner: St. Louis' Game 1 pitching plan
The St. Louis Cardinals could have turned to Opening Day starter Jack Flaherty on normal rest for the Game 1 start after he threw five innings on Sept. 25 in his final regular-season tune-up.
However, they instead opted to throw left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim, who quietly pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 39 innings during the regular season.
The 32-year-old rookie didn't have the best postseason debut, allowing five hits and three earned runs in 3.2 innings, but the Cardinals bullpen picked up the slack. Now, they're set up nicely for Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3.
Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Alex Reyes worked a combined 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run to nail down the victory.
Veteran Adam Wainwright will take the ball in Game 2 with 105.2 career postseason innings under his belt, and Flaherty is waiting in the wings if the series goes to Game 3.
Loser: The Padres' starting pitching situation
While the Cardinals are set up well from a pitching standpoint, the San Diego Padres are in trouble.
With Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet both nursing injuries and left off the Wild Card Series roster, Chris Paddack took the ball in Game 1 after posting a 4.73 ERA over 59 innings in a disappointing follow-up to his stellar rookie season.
The 24-year-old was shelled for eight hits and six earned runs in 2.1 innings, and the Padres were unable to dig out of that early hole.
That means the Padres will need to win two in a row, and while Zach Davies is more than capable of carrying the team in Game 2 after logging a 2.73 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 12 starts in the best season of his career, Game 3 is a total crapshoot.
General manager A.J. Preller told reporters it would be "all hands on deck" in a Game 3 situation when the rosters were announced, and that's a less-than-ideal approach to a must-win game. Garrett Richards is the most likely candidate to start, but he spent the last few weeks of the regular season transitioning to the bullpen.
Yankees vs. Indians
Winner: Signs of life from Gary Sanchez
The Yankees went with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate in Game 1, the culmination of a tremendous fall from grace for a player who was once viewed as a budding superstar.
"Not playing at all in Game 1 of a playoff series. Hitting ninth in Game 2. There is not much further to fall," Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote before Wednesday's game.
Penciled into the No. 9 spot in the batting order, Sanchez hit a two-run home run to break a 6-6 tie in the top of the sixth inning, and then he delivered the game-tying sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out.
Others in the Yankees lineup had better games, but if Sanchez can awaken from his season-long slumber, it would make their offense that much more dangerous going forward.
Loser: Cleveland's bullpen
The Cleveland bullpen was one of the best in baseball during the regular season, finishing among the MLB leaders in ERA (3.53, fifth), WHIP (1.16, third), opponents' batting average (.226, eighth) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.6, fourth).
When Carlos Carrasco lasted just three innings, it turned into a bullpen game, and the Indians' relievers couldn't answer the bell.
It wasn't just closer Brad Hand blowing a save in the top of the ninth inning.
Strikeout artist James Karinchak gave up a grand slam to the first batter he faced in relief of Carrasco, Triston McKenzie allowed two earned runs in his 1.2 innings of work, and six relievers combined to walk nine batters in six innings.
An ace destined to win AL Cy Young honors and an excellent bullpen were two of Cleveland's biggest strengths entering the postseason, and they wound up being its downfall.
Brewers vs. Dodgers
Winner: Dodgers' lockdown bullpen in action
In years past, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have had a tough time getting the ball to closer Kenley Jansen with a lead if the starting pitcher made an early exit.
On Wednesday, the relief corps was virtually untouchable after Walker Buehler lasted just four innings.
Starter-turned-reliever Julio Urias followed him with five strikeouts over three scoreless frames, Blake Treinen worked around a two-out single to pitch a scoreless eighth, and Jansen slammed the door with a 16-pitch ninth inning.
The bullpen has been the one glaring weakness for the Dodgers in recent years, and the improvements they have made in that area are what makes this year's team different.
This year's bullpen led the NL in ERA (2.74) and led the majors in WHIP (1.04) and BAA (.207). On some level, seeing that regular-season success carry over to Game 1 of the postseason is a comforting way to start what could be a long playoff run.
Loser: Brent Suter's missing command
With Corbin Burnes sidelined, the Milwaukee Brewers opted to slot Brandon Woodruff into the starter spot for Game 2, hoping Brent Suter could get them three or four strong innings in Game 1 before Woodruff gives the bullpen a rest in the subsequent contest.
Suter threw a combined 10 scoreless innings in three September starts, allowing just five hits while striking out 13. For a team forced to get creative with its playoff rotation, it looked like a solid approach on paper.
However, Suter simply didn't have it.
He handed out four walks in the bottom of the first inning after Mookie Betts reached on a leadoff double, resulting in a pair of runs by way of the free pass. He then allowed back-to-back doubles to kick off his second inning of work before his fifth walk of the night, coming with two outs in the second inning, earned him the early hook.
After walking just five batters in 31.2 innings during the regular season, he matched that total while recording just five outs Wednesday.
Biggest Winner: That March Madness Feeling
Wednesday was truly something special.
Whether your favorite team won, lost or saw its season end last weekend, it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of a full day of playoff baseball.
Not unlike those epic Thursday and Friday slates that kick off March Madness, there was postseason baseball to be watched from the time breakfast was still fresh in your mind until dinner was but a distant memory.
There were extra innings, a rain delay, a walk-off hit, towering home runs and 100 mph fastballs. At the end of the day, multiple teams had been eliminated from the World Series hunt.
What more can you ask for as a baseball fan?
There's a good chance the expanded playoff format is here to stay, albeit with some necessary tweaking to ensure the results of a full 162-game regular season are not watered down.
Depending on what the future of the MLB playoffs looks like, we might never see another day of baseball quite like what played out from dawn to dusk Wednesday.