16-team field set; postseason opens Tuesday

September 28th, 2020

Entering Sunday, none of the eight Wild Card Series matchups was settled, with the final two National League postseason spots up for grabs and many other teams still jockeying for seeding.

Finally, after a wild afternoon of baseball, the 2020 postseason field is set. Sixteen teams are in, and the action begins with four American League series on Tuesday. The four NL series will get underway Wednesday, when there will be eight total playoff games on the same day for the first time in history.

Here is a look at each of the best-of-three Wild Card Series matchups, broken down by league:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL games are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (if necessary). The games will be played at the home field of the higher seed, and all subsequent rounds will be played at neutral sites.

Blue Jays (8) at Rays (1) -- Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET on TBS

Game 1 starters
TOR: Matt Shoemaker (0-1, 4.71 ERA)
TB: Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24 ERA)

The Rays finished with the best record in the AL and claimed their first AL East title since 2010. Their reward? Facing a division rival that played them tough this season. The Rays did win six of 10 from the Blue Jays, but two of those victories were extra-inning walk-offs, and Toronto actually outscored Tampa Bay, 48-44.

The Blue Jays arrived perhaps a bit ahead of schedule this season, with a young, potent offense that is capable of scoring runs in bunches. Pitching will be a question mark, as Toronto made a surprise move to send Matt Shoemaker, not ace Hyun Jin Ryu, for the start in Game 1. The Rays, with their depth of quality pitching, are looking to get over the hump in the postseason, having fallen in the Division Series in each of their four appearances since advancing to the 2008 World Series.

White Sox (7) at A’s (2) -- Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 1 starters
CHW: Lucas Giolito (4-3, 3.48 ERA)
OAK: Jesús Luzardo (3-2, 4.12 ERA)

The White Sox turned potential into production this season, combining exciting young players such as Giolito and rookie Luis Robert with solid veteran additions such as Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel. Chicago is in the postseason for the first time since 2008, although a 3-9 finish dropped the club from first in the division to a Wild Card berth.

Now the Sox face an A’s team that will try to put the franchise’s recent postseason struggles to rest. Oakland won the AL West despite losing star third baseman Matt Chapman to a
season-ending injury, qualifying for its 11th postseason since 2000. The club lost the AL Wild Card Game in each of its past three trips and last made the AL Championship Series in 2006.

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Astros (6) at Twins (3) -- Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET on ABC

Game 1 starters
HOU: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA)
MIN: Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70 ERA)

These two teams are coming into the postseason under entirely different circumstances, with the Twins ending on a 16-8 kick to win the AL Central and the Astros staggering to the finish line at 8-16. Houston (29-31 overall) lost Gerrit Cole in the offseason and then Justin Verlander to injury, leaving Greinke to lead a young rotation.

The Astros’ offense also took a step back in 2020, with reigning AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez injured and Jose Altuve putting up career-low numbers. Houston remains dangerous, but at least Minnesota avoids another first-round matchup against the Yankees. The Twins, who haven’t advanced past the ALDS since 2002, can slug with anybody, while No. 1 starter Maeda proved to be one of the best offseason additions for any team.

Yankees (5) at Indians (4) -- Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 1 starters
NYY: Gerrit Cole (7-3, 2.84 ERA)
CLE: Shane Bieber (8-1, 1.63 ERA)

There may not be a better pitching matchup this postseason than Cole-Bieber, which should provide a riveting start to this series. Bieber, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, is leading a Cleveland rotation that will be counted on to help snap the longest active championship drought in the sport. The Indians led the Majors in starters’ ERA but had one of the game’s most anemic offenses, despite the best efforts of AL MVP candidate José Ramírez.

It was an odd, up-and-down season for the Yankees, who entered as AL favorites, battled a cascade of injuries to key players for the second straight year, went through a midseason swoon that nearly took them out of the playoff picture, then recovered as their roster got healthier. Despite losing six of its last eight, New York remains a scary matchup, led by MLB batting champion DJ LeMahieu and home run champ Luke Voit.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL games are scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (if necessary). The games will be played at the home field of the higher seed, and all subsequent rounds will be played at neutral sites.

Brewers (8) at Dodgers (1) -- Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 1 starters
MIL: TBA
LAD: Walker Buehler (1-0, 3.44 ERA)

It was just two years ago that these teams played a thrilling NL Championship Series, which went to a Game 7 at Miller Park before L.A. escaped with a victory. The Dodgers would seem to have a bigger advantage this time around, having produced the best record in the Majors (43-17) and by far the biggest run differential (plus-136), while the Brewers backed into the No. 8 NL seed at 29-31 thanks to a Giants loss on Sunday.

With that said, there’s no such thing as an upset in a best-of-three series, and Milwaukee is dangerous, especially given its shutdown duo at the back of the bullpen (Devin Williams and Josh Hader). The Dodgers, winners of an eighth straight NL West title, will try to avoid a second straight early playoff exit and move toward that long-awaited first championship since 1988.

Reds (7) at Braves (2) -- Wednesday, noon ET on ESPN

Game 1 starters
CIN: Trevor Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA)
ATL: Max Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA)

This should be a scintillating battle between the Reds’ star-studded rotation and the Braves’ power-packed lineup. Cincinnati has the NL Cy Young Award front-runner in Bauer, not to mention Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray lined up behind him. Atlanta finished second in the Majors to the Dodgers in both scoring and homers, with huge seasons from Marcell Ozuna, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Both of these teams will be looking to capture some elusive postseason success. This is the Reds’ first trip to the playoffs since losing the 2013 NL Wild Card Game, and Cincinnati hasn’t won a series since 1995. The Braves have been a frequent October participant but are tied for the longest postseason series losing streak in MLB history, dropping 10 straight since the 2001 NLCS.

Marlins (6) at Cubs (3) -- Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET on ABC

Game 1 starters
MIA: TBA
CHC: TBA

The second-longest active postseason drought in MLB is now over, with the Marlins making it for the first time since 2003, despite a bout with COVID-19 and constant roster shuffling. Historically, the franchise has not gotten to October often -- this is its third trip -- but when it has, it hasn’t lost. Miami owns the highest postseason series win percentage of any team.

That perfect record will be put to the test against a Cubs club hungry for another championship to go with its 2016 triumph. Several key players from that group remain, but the clock could be ticking. First-year manager David Ross (also part of that group) guided the Cubs to their third division title in the past five seasons, with plenty of help from Yu Darvish (an NL Cy Young Award candidate) and fellow starter Kyle Hendricks.

Cardinals (5) at Padres (4) -- Wednesday, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Game 1 starters
STL: TBA
SD: TBA

The Padres emerged as one of the most exciting and talented teams in the Majors this year, led by NL MVP candidates Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The Cardinals, in contrast, had to overcome sitting out more than two weeks early in the season due to positive COVID-19 tests and didn’t clinch a playoff spot until Sunday.

St. Louis, which made it to the NL Championship Series a year ago, will be looking for its fourth postseason victory over San Diego in as many tries, having won nine of 10 NL Division Series games between 1996, 2005 and ‘06. If the Padres can put a stop to that trend, they’ll take a first step toward their first World Series championship. The big question right now is the status of the team’s two best starters, with San Diego still hopeful that Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger can overcome injuries to take the mound in Game 1 and Game 3 (if necessary), respectively.