Sixteen teams are still standing for the expanded 2020 MLB playoffs after a thrilling finish to the 60-game regular season. As the postseason starts up with a four-pack of American League matchups on Tuesday, we break down the matchups to watch (hint: The New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians pitching matchup is going to be epic), the stats to know, bets to make and what’s buzzing on social media while giving one of our experts a chance to sound off with a hot take to get you ready for the start of the fun.
Key links: Preview | Predictions | Schedule, bracket | Playoff Baseball Classic
What’s on tap
All times Eastern
Game 1: No. 6 Houston Astros (Zack Greinke) at No. 3 Minnesota Twins (Kenta Maeda), 2 p.m. on ABC
After an offseason of controversy, the Astros secured the AL West’s second automatic spot in the postseason despite finishing the regular season with a 29-31 record. Everything Houston’s offense does this postseason is certain to be scrutinized, starting with Tuesday’s playoff-opening matchup with Maeda, who just wrapped up the best regular season of his career after being dealt to Minnesota this offseason. The Twins will be attempting to end a 16-game (yes, you read that right) postseason losing streak.
Game 1: No. 7 Chicago White Sox (Lucas Giolito) at No. 2 Oakland Athletics (Jesus Luzardo), 3 p.m. on ESPN
A late-season slide caused the White Sox to drop to third in the AL Central and that means opening the playoffs in Oakland, California, where young Luzardo gets the Game 1 call for an A’s team hoping to win its first postseason series since the 2006 American League Division Series.
Watch the most exciting opening round in MLB history on ESPN and ABC.
Tuesday, Sept. 29:
2 p.m. ET: Astros-Twins on ABC
3 p.m. ET: White Sox-A’s on ESPN
7 p.m. ET: Yankees-Indians on ESPN
Wednesday, Sept. 30:
12 p.m. ET: Reds-Braves on ESPN
1 p.m. ET: Astros-Twins on ESPN2
2 p.m. ET: Marlins-Cubs on ABC
3 p.m. ET: White Sox-A’s on ESPN
5 p.m. ET: Cardinals-Padres on ESPN2
7 p.m. ET: Yankees-Indians on ESPN
10 p.m. ET: Brewers-Dodgers on ESPN
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Game 1: No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays (Matt Shoemaker) at No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (Blake Snell), 5 p.m. on TBS
The Blue Jays made a surprising choice going with Shoemaker over Hyun-Jin Ryu in Tuesday’s series opener, with manager Charlie Montoyo explaining: “They are one of the best teams in baseball, so we have to be creative. Our ace will be pitching the second game, but they have like four aces over there.”
Of those four aces, the Rays will go with 2018 AL Cy Young Snell as they open their quest to turn the American League’s best regular-season record into a deep run this postseason.
Game 1: No. 5 New York Yankees (Gerrit Cole) at No. 4 Cleveland Indians (Shane Bieber), 7 p.m. on ESPN
Speaking of Cy Youngs, Tuesday’s nightcap features the man many thought would win the AL award going into the season against the ace who undoubtedly will after an incredible 2020 season as New York’s Cole makes his first postseason start with the Yankees against Bieber and an Indians team that won nine of its final 11 regular-season games.
If you watch only one game today it should be …
Yankees at Indians. This will be one of the must-see games of this entire postseason, with Shane Bieber — the first pitcher to win the MLB pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) since Johan Santana in 2006 — facing off against Gerrit Cole. With a 2.22 combined ERA, it’s one of the best Game 1 matchups in recent years. A few others:
2019 World Series: Max Scherzer vs. Cole (2.69 combined ERA)
2018 World Series: Chris Sale vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.42)
2016 National League Division Series: Kershaw vs. Scherzer (2.46)
2015 NLDS: Kershaw vs. Jacob deGrom (2.32)
2014 NLDS: Kershaw vs. Adam Wainwright (2.09)
Bieber didn’t allow more than three runs in any of his starts and allowed no runs in five of them. Cole had just one no-run start, but had five with just one run. It should be a low-scoring game and it will be interesting to see how willing either manager will be to turn the game over to the bullpens. Cole’s season high in pitches was 114 and Bieber’s was 118.
Hot take of the day
The Reds were a popular pick from our ESPN panel of baseball experts — in fact, 16 of 30 picked them to beat the Braves. I get it: It’s a best-of-three and the Reds will roll out Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. That’s good! But jumping on the Cincinnati bandwagon is also ignoring a couple other key factors: The Braves have a monster offense and the Reds do not.
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The Reds hit .212 and relied on home runs for the offense they did generate. They hit 55 home runs at home and just 35 on the road. And none of these games will be played in Cincinnati. As good as Bauer and Castillo were, Bauer went 5-4 and Castillo went 4-6 for a reason: Pitching is only half the game. So maybe pump the brakes just a bit on the Reds. — David Schoenfield
Stat of the day
The expanded playoff format has led to several newcomers crashing the playoff party. Entering this season, six teams had a playoff drought of at least six years; four of those teams made the playoffs (Marlins, Padres, White Sox, Reds). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that ties the most teams ever to snap a six-year playoff drought (1996). In addition to those playoff newcomers, two sub-.500 teams also reached the postseason (Astros and Brewers, .483 win percentage each). That’s the worst win percentage ever by a playoff team. Prior to this season, only one team with a losing record had ever reached the playoffs (the Royals went 50-53 — a .485 win percentage — in the split 1981 season).
Bet of the day
I understand Houston’s recent track record, but it does have an asterisk, and that scrutiny has led to an exhausting year. The Astros limped into the postseason with a 10-17 record and really are overmatched. I understand the lineup has some high-profile names, but this is a team that has not delivered all season. Plus, Zack Greinke has a 5.73 ERA in his past seven starts, while Kenta Maeda has been an awesome addition and might even finish second in the Cy Young voting. The Twins have a loaded lineup, the pitching edge and also home-field advantage that helps in late-game situations. — Doug Kezirian
For more ESPN+ MLB postseason betting info, check out our picks and best bets
Social media post of the day
The oft-outspoken Trevor Bauer has questions for anyone throwing shade at the National League Central after the division put four teams in this year’s expanded playoff field.
So you’re telling me the NL Central is the worst division in baseball??? �������� I could be doing the maths wrong but I count 4 playoff teams from the NL Central. Hmmmm
– Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) September 27, 2020