The 2020 MLB playoffs are growing more dramatic by the day.
For the second straight day, the Tampa Bay Rays failed to close out the Houston Astros. The Rays rallied to tie the game in the top of the ninth inning, only for Carlos Correa to hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the frame.
The Los Angeles Dodgers used an 11-run first inning to win Game 3 and climb back into the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. But it was the Braves who used a big inning to spur a big win of their own Thursday, scoring six runs in the sixth inning to take a 3-1 series lead.
Friday should provide more intrigue, with the Astros continuing to try and become just the second team in MLB history to win a series after a 3-0 deficit and the Dodgers hoping to avoid another disastrous playoff failure.
It is possible the World Series matchup could be determined Friday. Until then, however, here is an early look at the World Series schedule and a few bold predictions for the Fall Classic.
2020 World Series Schedule
(All games will be broadcast on Fox)
Game 1: Tuesday, Oct. 20
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 21
Game 3: Friday, Oct. 23
Game 4: Saturday, Oct. 24
Game 5: Sunday, Oct. 25
Game 6: Tuesday, Oct. 27
Game 7: Wednesday, Oct. 28
Italics indicate "if necessary"
World Series Predictions
The Matchup: Braves vs. Astros
The outcomes of both the NLCS and ALCS have yet to be determined, so we need to choose a winner.
The Braves would seem to have a stranglehold on their series with the Dodgers. But, as the Astros have shown, nothing is certain in October.
In fact, the Dodgers seemed to have the advantage in Game 4 with Clayton Kershaw pitted against rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. But Wilson, who had thrown just 15.2 innings this year, managed to outduel the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, throwing six innings of one-run ball and allowing the Braves offense to get its timing against Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers staff.
Now, the Dodgers will turn to Dustin May with their season on the brink. The second-year right-hander has already worked three times in the postseason, including Game 1 of the NLCS. He has the kind of strikeout stuff to keep Atlanta's hitters at bay, but the question will be whether he can eat innings and lessen the burden on L.A.'s bullpen.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has yet to officially announce its starter. This could be a bullpen game for the Braves, which would seem to be good news for the Dodgers.
However, the Braves are rolling, with Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna all hitting their strides. Atlanta also seems to have more energy. The 11-run inning in Game 3 is long forgotten, and the Braves appear to be steamrolling to the World Series.
Things appear more tense in the ALCS.
The pitching matchup for Game 6 looks to be set, with left-handers Framber Valdez of Atlanta and Blake Snell of Tampa Bay getting their second cracks in the series.
Valdez was excellent in Game 1, despite taking the loss. The 26-year-old scattered four hits and two runs across six innings, but he kept Tampa's lineup off-balance. Snell gave up just one run in five innings, but he also conceded six hits and had just two strikeouts while needing 105 pitches.
The top of Houston's lineup is rolling, with George Springer homering in consecutive games and Correa continuing to deliver big hits. A series that once looked like a sweep for Tampa Bay might now go the distance, and anything can happen in Game 7.
It is possible baseball fans could witness history. The Astros struggled to score in the first two games in part because the Rays played tremendous defense. But the script seems to have flipped, and Tampa Bay is not getting a whole lot of production from its left-handed hitters.
In one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history, Houston will find a way to book a trip to the World Series to take on the Braves.
The Outcome: Braves Defeat Astros in 6 Games
The Braves and Astros would make for a compelling World Series.
Atlanta have not played in the Fall Classic since 1999, while the Astros have been through a season that has included backlash from the team's sign-stealing scandal as well as notable regular-season struggles from the likes of Correa and Jose Altuve.
Starting pitching will loom large given Atlanta's offensive output this offseason and the Astros' own lineup coming alive in October. The Braves might have the advantage here.
Max Fried has been dominant in both his postseason starts, including an excellent performance in Game 1 of the NLCS. Rookie right-hander Ian Anderson has been brilliant, and Kyle Wright had two outs in that fateful inning in Game 3 and was on the wrong end of some questionable umpiring prior to getting blitzed. Plus, Wilson could play a vital role even in a more limited role going forward.
That said, Houston's rotation has been solid in this series, with Valdez throwing the ball well and the likes of Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy bouncing back from early struggles.
But the Braves lineup is far more dangerous than the Rays', and the Astros will be hard-pressed to get quality innings after needing a lot of usage from their staff in the last two rounds. Atlanta could also be the fresher club depending on what happens in the next few days, which would give the Braves much-needed rest after playing games in consecutive order.
If the series turns into a slugfest, the Braves might also have slightly more depth in the bullpen to weather the storm, though the lack of bona fide starters might loom large.
Regardless, Atlanta has lost just one game this postseason, and it has almost managed to look more dangerous in each round. The Braves will hoist their first World Series title since 1995.
World Series MVP: Marcell Ozuna
Ozuna could cement his place as arguably the best one-year signing in MLB history if he can help lead the Braves to a World Series title.
The 29-year-old was just 2-for-13 in the first three games of the NLCS, but he erupted for four hits (including a long home run) and four RBI in Game 4.
There is also this: Dusty Baker might turn to left-handed relievers to face in an attempt to nullify Freeman in the later innings. But that poses a problem with Ozuna, who had a 1.330 OPS against lefties during the regular season.
Freeman, Albies or Ronald Acuna Jr. are also strong candidates for the Braves. So is Fried, if he gets a pair of starts and pitches well in both. However, it will be Ozuna who captures MVP honors and puts his final stamp on an outstanding 2020 campaign.
All stats obtained via Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.