Division Series playoff preview: Where the hell are we?

Division Series playoff preview: Where the hell are we?

Baseball has gotten back to the playoff rounds we remember, sort of. The wild card round, which everyone thought was going to produce some real chaos and be totally unfair, only threw up one true upset: the Marlins beating the Cubs, because the Cubs can’t hit fastballs, which seems like it’s on the same level as a basketball team that can’t jump. Rather rudimentary skill to get where they are, but hey, you do you, Northside 9.

The only other result that could be considered slightly unexpected was the Astros over the Twins, except the Twins haven’t won a playoff game since the Simpsons was funny and in this hell year of Beezlebub, why wouldn’t a team advance after making its name on bending/breaking the rules and flaunting it? We can’t waver from the theme now when we’re this close to the end. The rich die old and victorious.

So now it’s back to the customary, except the teams are in neutral sites and still with no fans so they can maintain a bubble. Except that bubble will be pierced by fans in Dallas for the NLCS and World Series, as there must be a huge cabal of Texans just dying to watch National League baseball? Makes sense I guess. You can’t throw a rock in LA without hitting a Cowboys fan. Maybe there’s a reciprocal thing going on. As long as the Cardinals aren’t around to lick the doorknobs of any podunk casino they can find, MLB has a chance of pulling this off.

So how will this shake out? Who fucking knows. But we’ll try.

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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2 / 6

Oakland A’s vs. Houston Astros

Oakland A’s vs. Houston Astros

Ramon Laureano
Ramon Laureano
Photo: (Getty Images)


Why the A’s will win: With the no off-days in the series, that swings a pretty big advantage toward the A’s. They have the deeper bullpen, as the Houston pen is filled with neophytes and drifters looking for hash browns in a roadside cafe. In a normal playoff series with multiple off-days, the Astros would probably try and bounce around Lance McCullers Jr. from the rotation to the pen and back. They can’t do that now.

This one has intrigue from Ramon Laureano trying to fight the whole Astros dugout earlier this year, living out the fantasy of most baseball fans and players. The Astros get to return to the scene of their greatest crime, Dodger Stadium, where they took Game 7 of the 2017 World Series after having a fire breather in center field of Minute Maid Park signal what pitch was coming.

The A’s lineup was utterly helpless against Lucas Giolito, but came to life when the White Sox had to go into the bargain bin after that. Zack Greinke can be that good on his day, but after that the Astros struggle and they might only get to throw him out there once. It’s not the same lineup without Matt Chapman, but it just outlasted one of the scarier lineups around in the wildcard round.

While they might not be the Legion of Doom or anything, manager Bob Melvin has at least six relievers he can go to without having to breathe into a paper bag on his way to the mound. He can’t unload them in the fourth inning every game like he might be tempted to under normal playoff circumstances, so they’ll have to get at least innings from Jesus Luzardo, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, and Mike Fiers, which they definitely didn’t from Luzardo and Fiers last round. But that doesn’t really make them any different than the Astros.

Why the Astros will win: Because this is this year that the shitbirds win and gleefully so. The Astros weren’t spectacular against the Twins or anything, as they only scored seven runs. Still, these are all names you know, and even though you’re suspicious of anything that came before you can’t be totally confident that one or two of these falsely-aggrieved assholes will pop off for four games. Baseball in 2020 could be neatly summed up by Alex Bregman’s frat-boy fuckstick face arrogantly and flippantly dismissing anything the Astros have done before as he goes 10-for-15 in this series and celebrates another win. The whole year anywhere can be summed up by that.

Someone will have to, because the pitching edge here is still on the A’s side, but the chance for offensive explosion lies with the ‘Stros. They’ll have to bash their way through it, and they haven’t really done it all season. But it still feels like it’s bubbling beneath the surface, because fuck you, that’s why.

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3 / 6

New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays

New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge
Photo: (Getty Images)


Why the Yankees will win: Unlike the Astros, where we only suspect they could go nuclear with the bats without smoke signals beyond the outfield wall, we know the Yankees can. They bashed the superb pitching staff of Cleveland straight to hell, and both Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are now around and healthy (for them) and the Yanks don’t tend to lose when they are. They also got big hits from just about everyone in the lineup, so you can be sure they’ll score.

While they might not have the best staff, they probably have the best pitcher in the series in Gerrit Cole, and the game he could steal might be the difference. Aaron Boone isn’t going to be able to Penn & Teller his bullpen, as he has in previous playoff runs with the no off-days thing, and he might only have two or three he really trusts. He might have to sacrifice one game just to keep everyone important fresh.

Why the Rays will win: They have the confidence of kicking the shit out of the Yankees already this year, to the tune of an 8-2 mark. And while Cole might steal the headlines and most of the GDP of France, Blake Snell has a Cy Young too. And after that, the starting depth of the Rays is far superior to that of the Yanks. While the Rays started and amplified the trend of using an “opener,” they have backed away from that this year thanks to Snell, Charlie Morton, and impressionist interpretation of Big Bird Tyler Glasnow remaining healthy. They might have to make up Game 4 and bring Snell back on short rest for Game 5 if the series gets there, but then again, so might the Yankees. And the Rays pen might be better.

Furthermore, the Rays lineup doesn’t have much to apologize for. And they do it in a pitcher’s park in Tampa, not the moon-gravity and sandbox dimensions of the Bronx. The Rays had six players manage a 120 or better wRC+ this year. If it gets to being more cricket than baseball, the Rays can hang.

And as this is in San Diego, which is definitely a pitcher’s park, it only favors the Rays pitching depth more. That assuming the two teams staying in the same hotel doesn’t result in an MLB version of the Royal Rumble.

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4 / 6

Miami Marlins vs. Atlanta Braves

Miami Marlins vs. Atlanta Braves

Pablo Lopez
Pablo Lopez
Photo: (Getty Images)


Why Miami will win: Because the Marlins don’t lose playoff sets? They never have.

They’ll have to do it the way they did it to the Cubs, which is to have Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sanchez, and now Pablo Lopez blowing everyone away. They simply cannot hit with the Braves, at least not over a big sample though maybe over four or five games, and their pen is still filled with just guys who happen to be on heaters. The Braves won’t do what the Cubs did and scream “NO FAIR!” at any pitch over 95 MPH, but the starters are capable of putting the Braves down long enough to keep the pen on limited innings. The Braves didn’t have any answers for Trevor Bauer, and the three Marlins starters at least have Bauer’s fastball if not his overall consistency. They only have to produce one plus-start each to make things awfully dicey for Atlanta.

Why Atlanta will win: Because they’ll turn the baseball into plasma. While they had to wait out Bauer (and to a lesser extent Luis Castillo) in the wildcard round, and they might have to do so here, the Braves can go off at any time. At least 1-7 the Braves will sport a hitter having a plus year, and they can handle fastballs a lot better. If the Marlins have to vary their approach from the mound or dip into the pen often, the Braves will feast.

And the Braves pen has been underrated, so even if they can’t get innings from guys beyond Max Fried, they can go to six or seven guys over two to three games to get by. It’s at least the equal to the Marlins pen, and probably better by a measurable margin.

But this is also the Braves, who have an organizational tradition of fucking up in the playoffs.

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5 / 6

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
Photo: (Getty Images)


Why the Padres will win: Because we have to have something in 2020? Maybe the swag of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado is just too much for any team to overcome? The aura is simply too powerful?

That’s what you’ll have to cling to if you’re on the Padres bandwagon, because they look up against it here. They only have two starters healthy in Zach Davies and Chris Paddack, and those two starters were whacked around by the decidedly background scenery that is the Cardinals lineup. That is a far cry from the phalanx of frost giants the Dodgers send to the plate. MIke Clevinger might pitch but is unlikely to start, and Dinelson Lamet is unlikely to make the post at all. With no off-days, even the pen the Padres can harness in normal circumstances is going to be strained if they have to get through six innings per game. They might all be on oxygen tanks by Game 3.

Maybe Clayton Kershaw gets the yips again. Maybe Walker Beuhler’s arm flies off in the second inning. Maybe Dustin May’s hair catches fire. Maybe Mookie Betts joins a cult. Maybe Max Muncy falls down the hole of mystery But that’s a lot of ifs. As much fun as the Padres are and as bright as their future is, they’ll have to count on some serious fiendish baseball treachery to get this series.

Why the Dodgers will win: Because who’s going to stop them? With Lamet and Clevinger not starting or pitching at all this series, the Dodgers have the four best starters. While Cody Bellinger might not have hit this season like he normally does, there’s still like seven other guys who can go Bam-Bam. There’s no let-up.

The bullpen is only ok to good, and maybe that’s their one weakness. But you have to get through their starters every night to make it count, as there’s numbers out here enough to be fine for five straight days, if it even comes to that. Kenley Jansen has looked vulnerable for a couple of years, but as long as he’s not required three or four days in a row, it’s probably not a big deal. And if he is required, that only means the Dodgers are winning. And that’s if you can outscore them, which you can’t.

But much like the Braves, these are the Dodgers, and they’ve found a way to lose every year before this. It’ll just take a real trick this time.

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Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?