MLB Playoffs Update: an Expanded Format in a Shortened Season

MLB Playoffs Update: an Expanded Format in a Shortened Season

For the first time in Major League Baseball (MLB) history, the postseason has started with 16 teams: eight from each league. 

Due to Covid-19 and the shortened season, MLB and the MLB Players’ Association (MLBPA)  agreed to expand the postseason from 10 teams to 16 teams for this year. In the new format, the higher seed hosts a best-of-three first round series before transitioning to “bubble” cities for the typical best-of-five Division Series and best-of-seven League Championship Series and World Series. The four “bubble” cities — Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Diego — will hold the rest of the postseason. Now with eight teams remaining, t this weekend marked the end of the first round, a  round successful matchups worth unpacking: .

American League

(1)   Tampa Bay Rays vs. (8) Toronto Blue Jays

Rays win 2-0

In a battle of American League (AL) East foes, the higher-seeded Rays came up with two quick wins to advance to the next round. Riding strong starting pitching performances from Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays never trailed in either of the two games. The Rays are built on strong starting pitching and overall depth, and will look to continue their winning ways in the division series against another AL East foe. 

(4) Cleveland Indians vs. (5) New York Yankees

Yankees win 2-0

In arguably the most anticipated pitching matchup of the first round, AL Cy Young frontrunner Shane Bieber faced off against the New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. The game was not the pitcher’s duel that many expected as the Yankees came out swinging and put up seven runs against Bieber. The Yankees cruised to a Game 1 win on the road in Cleveland. Game 2 turned into one of the most exciting (and longest) games of the first round as Cleveland looked to keep their hopes alive. The Indians jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but former Indian Gio Urshela hit a mammoth grand slam to give the Yankees the lead again. The game continued to be a back and forth affair with Cleveland clinging to a one run lead in the ninth. Closer Brad Hand could not get the job done as DJ Lemahieu singled up the middle to give the Yankees a 10-9 lead which they would not relinquish. The title drought in Cleveland continues, and the Yankees will now look to take down the Rays.

(3)  Minnesota Twins vs. (6) Houston Astros  

Astros win 2-0

The most hated team in baseball continued their winning ways in the postseason with a two-game sweep of the Twins. The Astros, frowned upon by the rest of the league for their cheating scandal, relied on strong pitching to defeat the AL Central champions. The Astros only scored seven runs in the two games, but that was more than enough as they only allowed one run in each game. With the series win, the Astros will travel to California to take on the Oakland Athletics.

(2)   Oakland Athletics vs. (7) Chicago White Sox

Athletics win 2-1

After a Game 1 loss to the White Sox, it looked like another familiar ending was in sight for the A’s. The small-market A’s have consistently found a way to get into the playoffs, but have not had much success in the postseason in recent years. With their season on the line in Game 2, Chris Bassitt delivered an absolute gem to limit the White Sox offense to just one run and allow the A’s to force a game 3. Game 3 was a marathon with the teams combining to use 17 pitchers. The White Sox jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, but the A’s took it back with a four run fourth inning. While the White Sox were able to tie the score in the top of the fifth, the A’s answered with two more runs in the bottom of the fifth on a Chad Pinder single. Nobody else was able to score the rest of the way, and the A’s advanced to the division series.

National League

(1)   Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (8) Milwaukee Brewers

Dodgers win 2-0

The best team in the National League cruised to a 2-0 series win against the Milwaukee Brewers. Nobody expected the Brewers to have enough firepower to pull off the upset, and that was the case. Strong starting pitching from Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw set the tone for the Dodgers, and the offense scored enough to win both games.

(4)   San Diego Padres vs. (5) St. Louis Cardinals

Padres win 2-1

The San Diego Padres dropped Game 1 and were trailing by four runs in Game 2, but Fernando Tatis Jr. helped keep the season alive. Tatis Jr., the electric 21-year-old shortstop taking the league by storm, homered twice late in the game to help propel the Padres to a winner-take-all game three. In game three, the Padres used nine different pitchers to shutout the Cardinals and advance to the next round. Jake Cronenworth hit a solo home run to help lead the offense in a 4-0 victory. The Padres will look to upset the Dodgers in the NLDS, and the uncertainty around the health of Padres’ pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet could have a major impact on their ability to do so.

(3)   Chicago Cubs vs. (6) Miami Marlins

Marlins win 2-0

The Miami Marlins moved to 7-0 all time in postseason series with a two-game sweep of the Cubs. Strong starting pitching from Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez put the Marlins in a good position, and some timely hitting allowed them to grab two victories. The loss was especially disappointing for the Cubs who will now likely look to make some roster changes before the 2021 season. The Marlins will look to continue their winning ways in the postseason against a familiar NL East rival.

(2)   Atlanta Braves vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds

Braves win 2-0

The Atlanta Braves allowed a total of zero runs in the two-game series against the Cincinnati Reds to advance to the NLDS. Game 1 went thirteen innings before Freddie Freeman delivered the walk-off hit to give the Braves a 1-0 victory. Max Fried and Trevor Bauer were both outstanding, but neither offense could help their starting pitcher with any run support. Ian Anderson pitched well in Game 2, and two-run homers by Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall propelled the Braves to a 5-0 win. They will now face the Miami Marlins in the National League Division Series with a chance to advance to the National League Championship Series on the line.

The major takeaway from this year’s first round was the lackluster performance from the teams in the Central divisions. The NL Central had four teams in the playoffs while the AL Central had three; these seven teams combined to win a total of two games, and were all eliminated. Teams from the East and West will now battle it out to see who can advance. The best-of-five division series begin Monday for the American League and Tuesday for the National League. The winners of these series will advance to the League Championship Series for a best-of-seven matchup where the winners will head to the World Series in Arlington, Texas.