MLB’s playoffs start this afternoon. They feature 16 teams out of MLB’s 30.
The playoffs should be limited to eight teams, in my opinion, and certainly to no more than the 10 that compete in a normal season. But 2020 is not an ordinary season, and we might as well enjoy the mad scramble that is about to ensue.
This year’s champion would not be widely considered fully legitimate under any playoff format, so I don’t regard the 16 team playoffs as a major affront to the integrity of the season. Let’s just hope it’s a one-off.
The biggest distinguishing feature of these playoffs, other than their scope, is the absence of scheduled days off. With each series held at a single, neutral location, there will be no travel within a series, and hence no need to skip days.
This means that teams will have to rely on a large number of pitchers. Last year’s Washington Nationals, whose pitching staff had only six reliable members, wouldn’t likely make it to the end this year.
Unless teams manufacture days off by winning series in short order, they will need to use a minimum of four starters and, I imagine, a minimum of four quality relievers. Starters won’t be able routinely to double as relievers the way Washington’s starters did last year.
To compound the problem, many pitching staffs were decimated by injuries this season thanks, presumably, to the stop-start nature of preseason preparation. A few staffs were shorthanded from the beginning because pitchers opted out of the season.
The Nationals lost 40 percent of their rotation because Joe Ross opted out and Stephen Strasburg was injured as the season began. The Atlanta Braves began their season thinking their rotation would likely consist of Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Soroka, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Foltynewicz. The first four of these pitchers all suffered injuries to one extent or another. They combined for only 19 starts. Foltynewicz was shelled in his one start and then dropped.
The Braves made the playoffs anyway, and with ease, a tribute to that fine organization. Fried is available for the playoffs, but after that it looks like the Braves will turn to youngsters Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright.
I saw Anderson pitch in the low minors in 2017. He had great stuff and seemed destined for the big leagues. However, I figured he wouldn’t arrive as a regular starter until 2021 or 2022. That probably would have been the case absent all the injuries.
Anderson has been outstanding in his six starts. Wright, though, has been hit to the tune of a 5.21 ERA. Nor does a credible fourth starter seem to be on the horizon for Atlanta.
In sum, this year’s playoffs may be determined to a significant extent by which pitching staffs have come through the unusual strains of this unusual season relatively unscathed.
Which round of 16 clashes are the most interesting? On paper, the New York Yankees-Cleveland Indians series seems like the closest thing to a marquee matchup at this stage.
I’m intrigued by the Oakland-Chicago White Sox series. Oakland played .600 ball, which was close to what one would have expected from this club. The White Sox missed .600 ball by one game, which probably surprised most observers. They are blessed with outstanding veterans like Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson and fine young players like outfielders Eloy Jiminez and Luis Robert. The top of the rotation also excels with Dallas Keuchel and ex-Nationals prospect Lucas Gioloto.
Finally, here’s a shoutout to Juan Soto of the Nats. At age 21, he led the major leagues in on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS). Indeed, he led the the majors in both on-base percentage and slugging average. His OPS was more than 70 points higher than runner up Freddie Freeman, a truly great hitter.
Soto missed more than a dozen games due to what apparently was a false positive test for the coronavirus. Thus, his phenomenal averages were achieved in only 47 games — a very small sample size.
However, if one also considers his age, what he achieved in 2019, and his great post-season that year, it’s easy to conclude that Soto might well be baseball’s next transcendent star.
UPDATE: Actually, Game 1 between Oakland and the White Sox features two ex-Nationals prospects — Giolito and Jesus Luzardo. However, I’m not watching the game because Oakland has “Black Lives Matter” inscribed on the pitchers’ mound. Most of baseball stopped this practice after opening weekend.
I’m hoping the name of this leftist outfit will not be displayed at the neutral sites where subsequent playoff rounds take place. If it won’t be, I’m also hoping the White Sox make short work of Oakland.