This week served yet another reminder of how fragile the 2020 season is. We are not guaranteed another day of games, let alone an entire regular season that leads to the postseason. If we are lucky enough to still have baseball come October, the playoff field will be expanded substantially.
This year’s postseason (and only this year’s) will feature 16 teams. The first- and second-place teams in each division will make the postseason, with the 7th and 8th seeds in each league determined by record. Like everything else in 2020, this is going to be different. It’s going to be weird. It’s going to open the playoff door open to teams that would not otherwise make it. Perhaps even a losing team.
SI’s MLB staff is here with updated predictions about who the new postseason teams will be, building off the staff’s initial 10-team predictions.
Get ready for a .500 team–or worse–making the postseason. If you stopped last season after 60 games with the 16-team playoff format, the Indians and A’s would have grabbed the seventh and eighth seeds with a 30-30 record.
The argument that such mediocre teams being playoff-capable waters down the postseason doesn’t play this year–not in a pandemic-shortened 60-game season with few common opponents on the schedule.
The upside: September should be crazy. Meaningful games galore. Jockeying for seeds. And the inevitable tie-breaker formulas–the third of which is teams’ record in its final 20 games.
Based on last year’s 60-game records, a .500 record will put 20 teams within two games of .500. That means 20 of the 30 teams could still have a shot at the postseason going into the last weekend.
Who benefits from the last-minute expansion of the postseason? Here are my six teams that get a ticket to the expanded dance:
American League: A’s, White Sox, Indians
National League: Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks
My six new playoff teams are:
American League: Rays, White Sox, Angels
National League: Mets, Cubs, Padres
The Padres should be the happiest about expanded playoffs, but the Angels are probably close behind. Neither team has a shot to win its division, and in a normal year neither would have the depth to hold up over a full season. But they both have the top-end talent to get hot for 60 games. The White Sox and the Cubs get to feast on the Royals, and the Pirates, and although the Rays and the Mets have to face a high-quality AL/NL East division, now each is guaranteed to send a second team to the playoffs.
I’m not a fan of an expanded playoff for a typical season. But for 2020? Bring it on. This year was always going to be weird; there were always going to be debates on how to contextualize its records and statistics; there was never going to be much hope of “normal” here. So why not have some fun with that? I think this is a perfect way to lean into the inherent craziness of the season.
Rays: After last year’s 96-win season, it was easy to make a case for the Rays as a playoff team before the new rules. (I went back and forth on my decision to leave them off in our previous picks.) But there’s no doubt they’ll qualify now.
White Sox: We’ll hopefully have several chances to watch Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez, and Lucas Giolito in October. But thanks to the new playoff structure, 2020 just may be the first.
Angels: The expanded playoffs aren’t just a way for MLB to try to ensure that Mike Trout plays in October. But they’re certainly a way for MLB to try to ensure that Mike Trout plays in October.
Cubs: If the Cubs’ quiet winter originally seemed like it may sideline them in October, here’s their chance to sneak back in.
Diamondbacks: Arizona tried to pivot toward success with its additions this winter—Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte—and this presents a new window to do so.
Brewers: Under the new rules, there’s a legit chance to play in October for every NL Central team other than the Pirates. (The playoffs will be expanded but not that expanded.) So while the Brewers’ rotation may still have some question marks, that doesn’t necessarily have to derail them anymore.
I’m a huge proponent of playoffs experimentation–even in a normal season. I’d love to see a year in which every team make the playoffs in a March Madness-like tournament and another year when only a World Series is played between the top NL and AL club. Neither of those will ever come to fruition, but I’ll take a 16-team field. Here’s who will crash the dance:
American League: Indians, Angels, Red Sox
National League: Reds, Cubs, Diamondbacks
American League: White Sox, Blue Jays, Indians
National League: Cubs, Braves, Brewers
I love the White Sox’s offense, and if Dallas Keuchel can continue to pitch like he did Saturday against the loaded Twins lineup, they will finish second in the Central. As for the Blue Jays, their young trio of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio are complemented by a solid group of veterans—Hyun-Jin Ryu, Joe Panik and Travis Shaw are among their offseason acquisitions. Cleveland, a good team with a great starting rotation, will snag the second wild-card berth.
The Diamondbacks don’t have the depth or star power Milwaukee does, with Christian Yelich and manager Craig Counsell enough to make the difference between the two clubs for that final wild-card spot. The Mets and Reds could also push their way into one of the final NL two spots, but their divisions have three other teams that are better right now, especially with Noah Syndergaard out of the year and Marcus Stroman on the injured list for New York.
Twins: A light schedule and a lineup with plenty of pop should lead them to October.
Red Sox: The American League may have trouble fielding eight legitimate playoff teams in 2020. In a normal year, Boston would likely end on the wrong side of the playoff ledger. But this lineup will score enough to secure a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
Angels: The Angels are in a similar spot as Boston. Their rotation is, well, concerning, especially if Shohei Ohtani isn’t effective. But pairing Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon is good enough for the last seed in the American League
Cardinals: There should be enough offensive punch to squeak out runs behind what could be a dominant pitching staff.
Padres: After years of hype, there’s now enough depth behind an impressive crop of top-tier talent. San Diego should finish second in a flawed NL West
Brewers: There are serious questions about this pitching staff, but Christian Yelich leads what should be a strong lineup. Craig Counsell is also a magician.