Will there be a shock? Can somebody hit LA? Jeff Passan weighs in


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Jeff PassanESPN

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Author of "The Arm: In the Billion Dollar Secret of the Most Valuable Goods in Sports"

Someone asked about the best thing I saw in Major League Baseball in the 2020 regular season, and my answer was baseball. Not a titanic home run from Ronald Acuna Jr., or a dazzling throw from Mookie Betts, or an obscene Yu Darvish sliver, or Trevor Bauer taking his Conor McGregor stroll, or Fernando Tatis Jr.'s drip, or a Jose Ramirez walk-off, or Adalberto Mondesi stealing second or second place swinging Juan Soto or Tim Anderson freaking or Mike Trout Mike Trouting, although I admittedly enjoyed all of those things.

In all honesty it was great to see just one groundout.

Watch the most exciting opening round in MLB history on ESPN and ABC.

Wednesday, September 30th:
12 p.m. ET: Reds-Braves on ESPN
1 p.m. ET: Astros twins on ESPN2
2:00 p.m. ET: Marlins cubs on ABC
3 pm. ET: White Sox-A & # 39; s on ESPN
5 p.m. ET: Cardinals-Padres on ESPN2
7 p.m. ET: Yankees Indians on ESPN
10 p.m. ET: Brewers-Dodgers on ESPN

ESPN + Squeeze Play: Whiparound coverage of Wednesday with eight games

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Months without baseball – with work problems just as responsible as the coronavirus pandemic – have been brutal. Then when the game returned and COVID-19 outbreaks got two teams out of the way and people in the front offices and even the commissioner worried about abandoning a full season, it felt terrible.

I comforted myself with the simple things. A center cut, 90 mph fastball, on the worst pitch there is? Nice. A dropped popup? It happens. That rollover 6-3? Poetry. Because compared to the alternative – a summer without the summer game, an autumn without the autumn classic – the everyday became great.

Now there's baseball here, and the postseason first place is thrown by Kenta Maeda at 2pm. ET today on ABC. Three more games follow, and on Wednesday the cornucopia blossoms to eight. The playoff games will take place at 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Again, that's one day, eight postseason games. This oversized postseason doesn't make much sense for a regular-sized regular season, but it feels pretty strong right now.

With something that came together so quickly – 10 of the teams' 16 seeds were identified on Sunday, the last day of the season – there are bound to be questions. You're lucky.

Who will win the World Series?

First question what?

Don't people want to know?

Fine. The Los Angeles Dodgers. I picked them when there were 162 games in the season. I picked her when the season was announced at 60. I choose them now. Nothing I've seen stopped me.

2 relatives

They're not just deep. You radiate top talent. Betts reminded everyone this year that he is a top 5 player. Shortstop Corey Seager kept the promise of his rookie season. Will Smith could be the best offensive catcher in the game. Outfielder A.J. Pollock, who is considered a free agent broke, hit 16 home runs. Third baseman Justin Turner was his absolutely solid self. Utility man Chris Taylor defies the mediocrity his position implies. Oh, and the Dodgers have Cody Bellinger, last year's MVP of the National League, ready to make October their playground.

Their best pitcher has the worst ERA in the rotation: Walker Buehler at 3.44. Two rookies, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, have ERAs under 3.00. Clayton Kershaw looks like Clayton Kershaw used to. The Dodger's helpers aren't big names. They just had the lowest walk and home run rates of any bullpen in baseball.

This is a great team. The Dodgers outperformed their opponents with 2.27 runs per game, the fourth-highest lead ever, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous two teams, the New York Yankees of 1927 and 1939, won the World Series. The others, the 1902 Pirates, played a year before the first World Series. They finished 103-36.

The 43-17 Dodgers weren't quite at that level, though their 0.717 percent win is the best in baseball since Cleveland won between 111 and 43 in 1954. After losing in the 2017 and 2018 World Series to two teams that were later investigated for cheating by Major League Baseball, this is the Dodgers year of adding their first ring since 1988.

Are you sure?

Of course not. Baseball is not a basketball. It's not football. It's not another great sport. It's a game where the worst team can beat the best team, and it's no monumental surprise. With this year's wildcard round, which consists of three game series and the divisional series, which runs five before the seven-game championship and the World Series, the 2020 playoffs are ripe for surprises – even with the best teams.

Sweet hedge, brother. Who will the Dodgers face in the World Series?

The Tampa Bay Rays.

Please wait. You talk about baseball being a sport of massive variance, about possible upsets, about a crazy October just waiting to happen … and you picked a World Series among the No. 1 seeds?

Uhhhhhh …

You are the worst Why the rays?

There is no super team in the American League. There are a number of teams from good to great that beat each other all season long. The rays, like the Dodgers, are devoid of glitz and glamor. They are basically exquisite. You run as much as anyone else. You run with intelligence and intent. You catch the ball with serenity. Their starting mugs – specifically Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton, their dynamic trio – rate almost every other three-man offering in baseball. Her bullpen had the second lowest walk and home run rates.

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There are two criticisms of the rays. The first is that they paint too much. This is a real security issue this October. The second is that they don't have stars. This is nonsensical and has to be thrown into a black hole so that it can disappear forever. If people don't know who's playing for the Rays, they're the problem because they're missing out.

Oh, one more thing: against teams of 500 or better this season, Tampa Bay was 21-9. That was the best record in the big leagues. The rays know how to beat good teams. And that's what October is all about.

Who are the biggest threats to the Dodgers and Rays?

Atlanta and Minnesota.

The Braves can really, really, really hit. In the September 26th games, they scored 173 runs – nearly 6.7 per game. Take out the 29 runs they dropped on the Miami Marlins and it's still 5.8 runs per game, a huge number. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna led the NL on home runs and RBIs, finishing 14 batting average points behind a straight triple crown … and he wasn't the best batsman on his team. Freddie Freeman is the NL MVP favorite – for good reason. Here is the list of the first basemen in history with a triple slash of at least .341 / .462 / .640 that Freeman put up this season: Lou Gehrig (seven times), Jimmie Foxx (twice) and Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado and Norm Cash (once each). This is a company.

We haven't even talked about Acuña or the phenomenal Travis d & # 39; Arnaud or Dansby Swanson or Ozzie Albies or Adam Duvall. Not to mention a seriously underrated bullpen. All anyone wants to talk to the Braves about is the lack of pitching. Yes, it's real and with October league series with no rest days that could prove to be a problem. However, compared to other topics, it's not exactly a killer.

The twins are different. They're not quite the bomba troop from last year. Not sure if they will have third baseman Josh Donaldson or midfielder Byron Buxton for the wildcard series. But no one did better in September than the twins, who take the lead with Kenta Maeda (alleged runner-up from AL Cy Young), follow Jose Berrios (who looks dialed in), and pursue him with Michael Pineda (who didn't allow Homer) in 26⅔ innings that year). The twins have big arms with swing-and-miss stuff all over the bullpen, and manager Rocco Baldelli is from the Tampa Bay tree and is very familiar with mixing and matching.

Nor is it that the twins are a crime. The timeless Nelson Cruz is a miracle. Donaldson is a joy when he plays. Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Buxton are pure excitement, though anyone could stand getting down to earth more.

Let's put it this way: If the twins don't lose their 16-game losing streak after the season against the 29-31 Astros – that's not a misprint – something has gone very wrong.

Did you say 29-31?

Sure indeed. The Brewers finished with that record too. Welcome to the consequence of the expanded playoffs: The 0.483 percent win in Houston and Milwaukee is the worst any post-season baseball team has ever made, just behind that of the 1981 Kansas City Royals who went 50-53 (.485) and the Playoffs contested in this game have annual split, short-strike season.

Those aren't the only ugly numbers this postseason. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the five worst averages for playoff teams were recorded in 2020:

With new clubs like the White Sox and Padres in the expanded playoff mix, the possibilities of Fall Classic are almost unlimited. Here are the showdowns we'd love (or hate).

2020 Reds: .212
2020 Cubs: .220
2020 Brewer: .223
2020 A & # 39; s: .225
2020 Cleveland: .228
1906 White Sox: .230

What is the best wildcard series?

Give me braves reds. In Baseball's year-long experiment with 16 teams, the 2-7 streak resembles a 5-12 in the NCAA tournament – ripe for excitement.

Yes, a few hundred words ago I sang the praises of the braves. Yes, I pointed out a few dozen words ago that the Reds have fought .212 in over 60 games. Here's the thing: Cincinnati will start the deserved NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer in Game 1, followed by Luis Castillo (32: IP, 22 H, 9 BB, 37 K, 2.20 ERA) and, if necessary, with close Sonny Gray.

While failing to score, the Reds went more than any other team in the National League, finishing only the Dodgers, Braves and Padres, three sweeping teams with 90 home runs. In fact, 59.7% of the Reds' runs came over the long ball – by far the highest in baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Info. (Best so far: Toronto in 2019 with 53.2%.)

How about in the American League?

It would be so to ESPN to tell me the Yankees and whoever the Yankees play, right?

It would.

Good hard. Yankees-Cleveland really is that interesting. It's not just the matchup between Shane Bieber (who made $ 230,815 this year and will unanimously win the Cy Young) and Gerrit Cole (who made $ 810,000 per start this year and was very good especially in September) . Size abounds. Ramirez should win the AL MVP – and he could be the second most talented player on the left side of the infield, with Francisco Lindor occupying shortstop. The right side of the Yankees' infield offsets the ledger pretty well, with second baseman DJ LeMahieu, the AL batting champion, and Luke Voit, the domestic king of the league.

Both bullpens are deep. The Cleveland rotation with Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac is a nice counterweight to a much stronger Yankees line-up, especially in the outfield. Four Yankees numbers are cause for concern: 11-18 and 10-17. The first is her record on the street. The Yankees were awfully far from the Bronx this year. The second is their record against teams .500 or better. Against Boston and Baltimore, the dregs of the AL East, New York went 16-4. Against all other teams: 17-23.

Why don't you start Gary Sanchez?

Marly Rivera explains it really well in a piece that everyone should read, but the tl; dr version reads: Sanchez has been awful this year, and Cole is more comfortable to throw at Kyle Higashioka.


OK, smart guy. Who will be the breakout player this October?

Some names to consider:

Garrett Crochet, Relief Pitcher, Chicago White Sox: The left-handed Tennessee, who was drafted 11th overall in June, has thrown six goalless innings, hit eight, and averaged 100.2 mph on his fastball.

Sean Murphy, C, Oakland Athletics: Nobody was better for Oakland in September than the rookie catcher.

Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: He destroys left-handed pitching and with the Blue Jays having a range of left-handed options (including Hyun-Jin Ryu) he's got ample opportunity.

Trent Grisham, CF, San Diego Padres: The last time you saw him in the playoffs, Grisham was wearing a Milwaukee uniform that overtook a bad jump that allowed Washington to win the wildcard game – and eventually the World Series . This time he'll be better off.

Tony Gonsolin, Starting Mug, Los Angeles Dodgers: The newest addition to the Dodgers' player development machine, it doesn't have the same raw materials as May, but it has incredible pitching ability.

Tyler Duffey, Reliever, Minnesota Twins: Assuming, of course, that the Twins are up in a postseason game and must use their best high-leverage Reliever.

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Nick Anderson, Reliever, Rays: He's the best reliever in the game. Now it's time for the whole baseball world to see it.

Will Smith, C, Dodgers: He was the best batsman on the best team in baseball, and he calls it an adorable game too. The rich get richer.

Austin Adams, Reliever, Padres: Back from knee surgery and throwing vicious sliders, the right-handed man was a secondary player in the Austin Nola deal prior to close of trading, making his way to primary status.

James Karinchak, Reliever, Cleveland: He hit 53 in 27 innings and was scheduled to serve as the old school firefighter.

Nate Pearson, Reliever, Toronto Blue Jays: Typically a starter, he has taken on a bullpen role and will regularly throw fastballs at 102 mph.

What is the seemingly most one-sided matchup in Game 1?

The White Sox are 14-0 against left-handers this year. Against all the left they hit .285 / .364 / .523. The A & # 39; s will start rookie Jesus Luzardo. He is left handed.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson's answer: "I think they haven't done their homework."

Or maybe not, although the White Sox have a fair bit of Yankee vibes. Her record against the two worst teams in AL Central, Kansas City and Detroit: 18-2. Your record against everyone else: 17-23. Your record against 500 or better teams: 12-20.

Chris Bassitt of the Athletics just won the AL Pitcher of the Month for September. Why don't the best starters of the teams go into game 1?

It's not just Oakland. Ryu will get a lot of support from Cy Young and will start Game 2 for Toronto behind Matt Shoemaker, although that brings Taijuan Walker, Toronto's second best starter, to Game 3, which may not be needed. The Cubs could go with Kyle Hendricks ahead of Yu Darvish, a strong Cy Young candidate in the NL. Although Marlin's rookie Sixto Sanchez is the most talented arm on the team with the highest upward trend, Sandy Alcantara is likely to get the nod.

One decision maker suggested that the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 just isn't that big. Another said some teams think Game 2 is more important and would save their best pitcher for it – giving them an extra day of rest. The Elias Sports Bureau, however, gave terribly interesting statistics on three-game series. Over the past 10 regular seasons, teams that won the first game of a three-game set won the series 75.5% of the time.

What is the Cardinals' excuse for not throwing Jack Flaherty in Game 1 or Game 2?

No idea.

For a second straight summer, we're crowning Padre's shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. as the funniest baseball player. Who else made the list? Sam Miller

Flaherty is the Cardinals' best pitcher. He doesn't have the best ERA; this belongs to Kwang-Hyun Kim, the 32-year-old left-hander in his first season who posted an ERA of 1.62. Flaherty doesn't have the most experience; This is Adam Wainwright, the 39-year-old who did very well again this year.

However, between Kim and Wainwright, the Cardinals try to perform a trick. That season, 126 starters threw at least 30 innings. Only 17 of them were on average below 90 mph on their fastballs. Kim and Wainwright are two of them.

On fastballs between 88 and 92 mph this year, according to the Statcast, the Padres beat .329 and beat a major league best .658.

Again, despite his 4.91 ERA, Flaherty is the Cardinals' best pitcher. He has the best things. He has the right attitude. In fact, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said on the MLB Network that Flaherty would play in Game 2. Then suddenly the Cardinals decided he wasn't going to do it. If they win either of the first two games it will look very smart. If they don't, then they've lost a postseason streak without using their ace.

What other pitchers don't we see?

Right-handers Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger, who an intense playoff run at Padres almost certainly depends on, are both questions after finishing their recent starts. Justin Verlander's Tommy John operation leaves a gaping hole in an Astros rotation that is in the middle of the pack without him. The Braves with a healthy Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels would be an even bigger threat to the Dodgers than they already are. If Corbin Burnes hadn't gotten a slant at his last start of the season, the ghost of Milwaukee that is ousting Los Angeles would appear far more realistically than it is.

Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sport

How can the brewers beat the Dodgers?

Let Craig Counsell do his management wizardry and use his bullpen to the limit for three days.

An important point for the next four days of the wildcard campaign: The AL Division series does not start until October 5th, four days after the planned third game of the wildcard. The NL discharge is the same. When teams get into playoff bubbles, they will get plenty of rest.

Counsell will almost certainly be playing a bullpen game in the opener. For game 2 he has Brandon Woodruff who is awesome and has the stuff the Dodgers can handcuff. Game 3, when it gets there, will likely have all hands on deck again.

However, these hands are pretty good. The best helper in the NL this year wasn't Josh Hader, the closer brewer who has held that title for the past few seasons. It was Brewer's right-handed Devin Williams, a 26-year-old rookie who, like Karinchak, scored 53 in 27 innings, allowed only eight hits, got an ERA of 0.33, and consistently used the season's best baseball field: his conversion.

There are Hader and Williams. Right-handed Freddy Peralta is also a strike monster. Lefty Brent Suter, who started and could serve as the opener, is a floor ball machine. The same goes for Adrian Houser. They're still not the Brewers' best when it comes to inducing grounders: this is right-handed right-handed Eric Yardley who is the perfect countermeasure with a 61.2% base ball rate. There's also Drew Rasmussen and Justin Topa, two fastball-paced rookies who sit at 98 mph.

This requires a lot of squinting and dreaming. But again: this is baseball. Everything can happen.

Like a positive COVID-19 test?

Saint Debbie Downer.

Well worth asking.

This is fair. Given how the coronavirus has nearly eclipsed the marlins and cardinals seasons, it is reasonable to ask how a positive test would affect the postseason, especially if MLB is trying to create a bubble around the teams.

Using their unusual approach in the racket box, can you tell these players that they are crouching and hitting thugs with bats pointing straight at the sky?
Take the quiz "

The protocol after individual positive tests over the course of the season was usually to miss a few games. Baseball playoffs are so short that postponements are not an option. The league's postseason operations manual calls for all of the usual steps: contact tracing, follow-up testing (although players and staff are tested every day), and trying to make sure the virus doesn't spread.

When an outbreak does occur, the teams travel with a dozen substitutes to speak. The idea of ​​participating in a postseason with lower tier players doesn't go well with some officials, but it is a reality they are learning to live with.

Too much is at stake for MLB to lose the playoffs. Owners expect about $ 1 billion in TV revenue after the season. It's the league's biggest source of income this year, and MLB will do whatever it takes to secure that bag – including committing the teams to play with less talent.

Will there be fans?

"That is the hope," said an official familiar with the situation on Monday. It is unclear whether they will perform at the NLCS in Arlington, Texas or the World Series at Globe Life Field.

Owner, a person who has been in contact with them, recently said, "They really want to bring fans back this year. They want to show that it's possible that they can have fans on opening day next year."

Don't expect a full house. The stadium could be at most a quarter full. That would still be 10,000 more fans per game than any of the 898 played during the regular season.

What are you most looking forward to in October?


But not just the simple things. The best teams in the world fight for a championship. This is the moment for greatness. For the best players who play the best. For Acuña and Betts and Darvish and Bauer and Tatis and Ramirez and Anderson and everyone else who shows up.

MLB's October sizzle roll is full of bright colors and big swings and premium flow and dancing and blowing. It's DJ Khaled talking about BTS and trying to sell this as the same game to a new generation. "If you don't know," says Khaled, "you know now."

This is what connoisseurs know: October is when the best baseball is played, the best moments are forged, and history that is so dear to the game is made. It starts with four games today, doubles on Wednesday, and goes from there – the biggest playoff field ever, most games ever, most opportunities for those moments.

It's time to crown a champion. Baseball deserves it.