After a 60-game sprint with few days off, baseball gave us all a chance to catch our breath yesterday and it felt…slightly odd. With 16 teams in the playoffs, it almost feels like we are about to embark on a second season. Making it all the more surreal is the fact that the Stanley Cup just finished up last night — a normal NHL season usually starts in October — and the NBA Finals are getting underway tomorrow night.
Believe it or not, baseball is still on a normal schedule, even with the new postseason tournament. A World Series winner will be crowned in about a month and then it will be offseason business as usual. The most significant change for Cubs fans this winter will be a virtual Cubs Convention, which will be somewhat of a shame if the North Siders somehow manage to win it all.
I finished my tournament bracket last night and after careful consideration, I have the Cubs beating the Dodgers in the NLCS before losing to the A’s in the World Series. If anything, Billy Beane finally getting that elusive ring will be the feel-good story of the winter, am I right?
I believe navigating this season was harder for players, managers, and front offices this summer, so if anything, declaring a champion after the shortened season may be more of an accomplishment than during the regular season. There was simply no margin for error this year.
And for those of you who think the season is cheapened because two teams made the playoffs with sub-.500 marks, it’s entirely possible that the Brewers and Astros (both 29-31), may have finished a normal schedule well above .500. Both played tougher schedules than some of the teams that finished with better records. In addition to playing the teams in their own division, Houston had to play an interdivision schedule against the NL West. The Brewers are one of four teams that made the playoffs from the NL Central and still had to win games against the Twins, White Sox, Indians, and a surprising Tigers team. The Royals were no pushovers, either.
“This is the hardest baseball season anybody has had to go through,” David Ross said after Sunday’s game. “Whoever wins this year’s World Series should be extremely proud for overcoming all this adversity.”
If you’re interested in my playoff picks, let me lay them on you:
- NL Wild Card winners: Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, Cubs
- AL Wild Card winners: Rays, Indians, Twins, A’s
- NLDS winners: Dodgers and Cubs
- ALDS Winners: Indians and A’s
- NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers in seven
- ALCS: A’s over Indians in six
- World Series: A’s over Cubs in seven
You’ll notice I went with the teams who have the best combination of pitching and defense in their specific matchups. That the first two rounds consist of three- and five-game series favors those types of teams. As far as Cubs players, I expect that Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks will have outstanding Octobers. Look for Craig Kimbrel to play a big part in any success Chicago may have, too. I am worried that Javier Báez may continue to struggle offensively.
Congratulations to Chicago @Cubs ace Yu Darvish (@faridyu) for becoming the first Japanese pitcher to lead the @MLB's National League in wins! We are wishing you the best of luck as the postseason begins! https://t.co/itKD3mYWlB
— Japan Embassy DC (@JapanEmbDC) September 28, 2020
I love that there are no bye teams in this type of format. Whatever MLB comes up with for next season and beyond, I have no problem if the league and players decide that eliminating the extra two days of rest for the top two division champions is best for the game.
Cubs News & Notes
- There are six important factors that could make all the difference between a World Series run and a first round exit against Miami.
- Chicago’s core players feel that they have turned the corner offensively at just the right time.
- Despite a shaky outing against the White Sox, Brailyn Márquez could be a bullpen option for the Cubs if the team advances due to a lack of days off leading up to the World Series.
- The youthful Marlins believe they have a great opportunity to take down a more experienced Cubs team.
- Miami starters Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López are set to make their playoff debuts this week. Alcantara has a 4.50 ERA in two Wrigley appearances, and he has a 5.68 overall ERA against the Cubs in four games (two starts).
- Derek Jeter has created a whole new culture in Miami.
- Kimbrel believes he will be Chicago’s “playoff weapon.”
- There has been quite a bit of social media chatter that this may be the last dance for the team’s core players, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to start breaking the Cubs up this winter.
- To a man, Cubs players believe they’re nowhere near being close to done yet.
- The Cubs will carry several positional advantages into their series against the upstart Marlins.
- Neither team has revealed its starters for the first two games.
- Enough with the Steve Bartman references already. Why not mention that Alex Gonzalez won’t be playing shortstop for the Cubs this week, either?
- Bryant wrote a great piece for Red Bull about balancing his home and professional lives while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Chance the Rapper gave a shoutout to Heyward for his Roberto Clemente Award nomination.
- In 60 games this season, the Cubs played 43 against teams that made the playoffs (Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Twins, and White Sox), if my math is correct.
Odds & Sods
In 2020, Juan Soto put up his third season with 100+ PA and a .400 on-base percentage.
He is the only player in MLB history to do that three times through his age 21 season.
The last player to even do it twice thru age 21?
Ted Williams, MLB’s all time leader in OBP.
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) September 29, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
Postseason News & Notes
As losers of eight of their last 10 games, the White Sox are really limping into the playoffs. As a result, they drew a tough first round opponent in the A’s.
The Indians will start probable Cy Young winner Shane Bieber against Gerrit Cole of the Yankees tonight in the premier pitching matchup of this postseason. Cole won the coveted award last year while pitching for the Astros.
What do teams most need to succeed the 2020 postseason tournament? Start with a deep bullpen, especially because of the lack of off-days.
Umpire Rob Drake missed 27 calls on Sunday according to evaluators and it may have cost the Giants a shot at making the playoffs.
Ron Santo and Ernie Banks posing during Spring Training in 1964. pic.twitter.com/FRf5fofQVU
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) September 29, 2020
They Said It
- “You’ve seen this lineup struggle. But no other team wants to see this lineup get going and see us in the playoffs, I’ll tell you that.” – Jason Kipnis
- “Every single day, you see guys with low averages come in and say, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this. We’re great.’ It’s easy to be good when you’re hitting .300, but when you’re hitting in the .200s and .100s when you normally don’t hit like that, but have that confidence to keep going, that’s great. This team does it very well.” – Billy Hamilton
- “We clearly have a group that’s talented and more than capable of having a productive offensive month in October. And I think we have a group with a real healthy mindset as we start this journey too.” – Theo Epstein
Tuesday Walk Up Song
Old Man by Neil Young – The postseason may be all about letting the kids play, but I think that veteran leadership and experience will help the Cubs maneuver their way to the World Series.