The 2020 MLB playoffs are just over a week away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.
As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.
This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.
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If the season ended today …
The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings entering play Saturday, Sept. 19.
Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 White Sox* vs. No. 7 Indians
No. 3 Athletics* vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Yankees vs. No. 5 Twins*
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Reds
No. 2 Cubs vs. No. 7 Phillies
No. 3 Braves vs. No. 6 Cardinals
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Marlins
*Clinched playoff spot
Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot
NL: Padres 1, Cubs 4, Braves 5
AL: Yankees 1, Indians 4, Astros 5, Blue Jays 6
Who is in?
Los Angeles Dodgers
The overwhelming preseason favorite was the first team to secure a spot in the postseason tournament, clinching a berth with Wednesday’s win over the Padres. L.A. took two of three from San Diego, which sits in second place in the NL West.
What’s next? The Dodgers, who hold the best record in baseball, are looking for their eighth consecutive NL West championship and the top seed in the National League. Of course, the big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since the Dodgers last won it all.
Dodgers must-read: How A.J. and Kate Pollock faced their daughter’s premature birth during the COVID-19 pandemic
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 on Thursday. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.
What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field. After taking three of four from the Twins, the White Sox hold a three-game lead in the Central.
White Sox must-read: Rookie Luis Robert could be baseball’s next superstar
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.
What’s next? The Rays’ next goal would be to win the AL East title. It would be their first division crown since 2010.
The A’s punched their third straight postseason ticket with a win over the Giants on Friday night in Oakland.
What’s next? The A’s are on the verge of securing their first AL West crown since 2013 and also are still in the mix for one of the AL’s top two playoff seeds.
A’s must-read: Inside the A’s dominance and how they plan to make it last
The Twins clinched their third postseason appearance in the last four seasons with their 8-1 win over the Cubs Saturday. Last year, they were swept by the Yankees in the division series, extending their postseason losing streak to 16 straight losses since their last win back in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS.
What’s next? Catching the White Sox in the AL Central is probably out of reach, so the next goal would be snapping that postseason losing streak.
Who could clinch next?
• The Yankees can clinch a postseason berth Sunday with a win over the Red Sox or a Mariners loss to the Padres.
• The Athletics can clinch the AL West division Sunday with a win over the Giants or an Astros loss to the D-backs.
• The Padres can clinch with a win over the Mariners on Sunday.
About last night …
Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal and Jose Abreu all hit home runs in a row as the White Sox overpower the the Reds 5-0.
The Twins clinched a return to the postseason with their 8-1 romp in Wrigley at the expense of the Cubs.
With home runs from Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano and Josh Donaldson, the Twins were raking like it was 2019 — when they set the MLB record for home runs in a season — while crushing any shot Cubs hurler Alec Mills had of building on his no-hitter last weekend.
Also of note: The A’s clinched at least a tie in the AL West with their 6-0 win over the Giants. … The Yankees extended their winning streak to 10 straight with an 8-0 win in Fenway, simultaneously extending their winning streak against the Red Sox to 12. … The Phillies kept their bid to finish second in the NL East with a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays. … The Marlins kept pace with their 7-3 win over the fading Nationals. … The White Sox protected their AL Central lead with a 5-0 win over the Reds. … Hit by the news that Justin Verlander will miss the season and probably all of 2021 after Tommy John surgery, the Astros rebounded back to .500 with a 3-2 win.
Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?
David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948 and they are hardly the favorites to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner-type 2014 run and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.
Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amid another career season during a pandemic. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox, and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic bat at the top of the lineup on the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.
Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn’t appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch, and once more become — surprisingly, but not too surprisingly — one of the world’s five best starting pitchers. He’s never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn’t need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series — his career is so much more than those two starts — but it’ll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.
Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins’ championship runs were fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I’m not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-three series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.
Alden Gonzalez: Sixto Sanchez — because I don’t think anybody has an answer for him at the moment.
Key games ahead
A’s-Giants, Sunday (4 p.m. ET): Will the Giants’ lead in a tight race for the NL’s final playoff spot last through a tough three-game series with their Bay Area rivals?
Twins-Cubs, Sunday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN): It’s a Sunday night ace showdown as Yu Darvish tries to help his Cy Young case against Jose Berrios and the Twins.