A few new rules were introduced to the truncated 60-game season that played out in July, August and September. The NL adopted the designated hitter. We saw the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. We also saw the introduction of what once seemed like a lame-brain idea of starting extra innings with a runner at second to provide a faster closure to games. The extra-inning rule was for regular season games only.
Now we enter a postseason with eight teams per league. The first round will feature eight three-game series at the home venue of the higher seed. And then for the first time in baseball history we will see playoff games and the World Series played in bubbles, much like the NBA’s regular-season finish and playoffs all taking place in Orlando, Fla.
It’s really a pretty simple proposition. All along, MLB’s eye was merely on getting through the fanless, shortened regular season and getting their hands on TV revenue that would be split up between the 30 money-starved franchises.
With all that money at stake, MLB could ill-afford to forfeit that pay day due to a COVID outbreak. Hence, the bubble comes to MLB.
Here’s a brief look at the four initial best-of-three series in the American League. For my National League preview, click here.
Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
These two teams squared off 10 times during the season, with Tampa Bay winning six times to Toronto’s four. The Rays outscored the Jays, 48-44.
Here’s the deal on this series: If the Rays’ troika of starters — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton — were all in the midst of great seasons, there is no way this Jays team could compete. But Snell (3.24 ERA), Glasnow (4.08) and Morton (4.74) clearly are not at the top of their game. Despite that, only Jays free-agent pick-up Hyun Jin Ryu (5-2 with a 2.69 ERA) seems up to the task of beating Rays, but in a three-game series his number won’t get called more than once. The Jays’ positional youth also stamps them as not quite ready for this task.
Chicago White Sox at Oakland Athletics
The past several seasons, the A’s have become a very solid team under skipper Bob Melvin, a former backup catcher for the Giants and Orioles.
The best starting pitcher in this series may well be Chicago’s Lucas Giolito. However, the totality of the A’s starters isn’t chopped liver, and the A’s have a bullpen edge of enormous proportions. The A’s group of Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Diekman, Joakim Soria and closer extraordinaire Liam Hendriks is probably the very best in the game.
If Giolito can win Game 1, the White Sox are quite capable of putting a scare into the A’s. But the A’s regulars have played a lot of meaningful games together against the Astros the past three seasons, so the White Sox won’t scare them. I’ll take the Sox over the A’s for the next 5-7 years, but in 2020, I have to pick the A’s over a mostly young White Sox squad. Melvin is as good as there is in the game, and that is a big edge in a three-game series.
Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins
These are not the Astros from the trash-can banging days at Minute Maid Park. Translated, that means in the shortened season Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman batted .216 and .248, respectively. That’s a far cry from their World Series-winning season when Altuve hit .318 and Bregman batted .286. Funny how much more difficult it is to hit when you are not privy to the pitch that is coming.
But almost as big of a difference is that Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are not coming in with their capes to play the superman roles. And former Twins reliever Ryan Pressly has fallen on hard times after initially stepping up when closer Roberto Osuna went down for the season in early August with elbow soreness.
The Astros are just 8-12 in their last 20 games and are not playing inspired baseball. In fact, at 29-31, they are the AL’s only below-.500 team to make the postseason.
The Twins entered spring training planning to get a big season out of Josh Donaldson and a great half-season out of former Dodger Rich Hill. Though Donaldson is still battling an aged calf muscle, Hill is once again rounding back into position to help the Twins. When he was able to go to the mound, he tossed 33 innings with a 3.27 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.
While the Twins don’t have exceptional names, Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios and perhaps Hill will form a rotation that’s plenty formidable. This should be fairly easy for the Twins.
New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians
This is the AL’s most interesting matchup. A Game 1 pitcher’s duel between Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber has to have baseball fans drooling. Prior to the season, everyone assumed if healthy the Yankees would be the American League’s No. 1 seed. Instead, they are coming off another season of injuries, injuries and more injuries.
Gerrit Cole was good, but not quite historic contract good — 7-3, 2.84 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while striking out 94 batters in 73 innings. Compare that to Bieber, the No. 1 starter for the Indians — 8-1, 1.63 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP.
The Indians will continue to be managed by former big-league catcher Sandy Alomar. Terry Francona has been battling some gastrointestinal issues that have forced him to have at least one medical procedure at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He will not be back this season.
The past couple of weeks, the Yankees have been getting people back like Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton and Aroldis Chapman. The results have been somewhat mixed, although the Yankees did pull it together to win 10 games in a row in mid-September. But they stumbled to a 2-6 finish.
This one is too close to call for me, but if Bieber outshines Cole in Game 1, it’ll be awfully late awfully early for the Yanks.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox