The good, bad & great for these playoff clubs

September 23rd, 2020

Funny thing about those clubhouse celebrations. They don’t last long. At least not for the people planning the next step. Amid the joy of wrapping up a postseason clincher, every executive, manager and coach is already beginning to fret about playoff rotations, rosters, injuries, etc.

Let’s look at 12 teams that can afford to begin planning for October hardball. Not all of them have clinched a berth, but FanGraphs has their playoff odds at or nearly 100 percent. (Teams are listed in alphabetical order.)


Optimism: Playoff experience. George Springer and Alex Bregman are part of a core group that has played 44 postseason games since 2017. That’s eight more than any other NL team (Dodgers) and 17 more than any other AL team (Yankees).

Concerns: Little has gone right down the stretch. Injuries decimated the pitching staff, and there have been offensive slumps up and down the lineup. Ten different pitchers have made their MLB debuts this season. Jose Altuve’s batting average hasn’t been above .225 since the opening week of the season.


Optimism: They have MLB’s best bullpen and a rotation capable of dominating a postseason series. Chris Bassitt has had his best season, and 22-year-old Jesús Luzardo has been dominant at times. With six experienced starters, the A’s have the luxury of playing a matchup game against postseason opponents.

Concerns: The A’s have scored three runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games this month. Overall, Oakland is averaging 4.75 runs per game, tied for the 12th most in MLB. First baseman Matt Olson has batted under .200 most of the season, and outfielder Khris Davis, who had three straight 40-homer seasons (2016-18), has just two this year.

Blue Jays

Optimism: Youth! Some games, the Blue Jays could have five 25-and-under position players and, possibly, 24-year-old Nate Pearson on the mound. Taijuan Walker has been a great addition to the rotation and likely will line up behind Hyun Jin Ryu in the postseason. Manager Charlie Montoyo has done a tremendous job convincing his kids they’re capable of playing with anyone, and a 14-5 run from Aug. 17-Sept. 4 validated his words.

Concerns: The Blue Jays have allowed the most earned runs (136) and home runs (43) in baseball this month. Getting Matt Shoemaker and perhaps Pearson back from the injured list will help, and new closer Rafael Dolis has been very good.


Optimism: Who doesn’t love offense? The Braves are No. 1 in runs, hits, slugging and OPS. Freddie Freeman is having an MVP-caliber season, and Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuña Jr. are right behind. Atlanta’s bullpen is one of the NL’s best.

Concerns: Starting pitching has given the Braves a headache all season. Atlanta’s rotation had the NL’s highest ERA this month (6.33 entering Tuesday, although that dropped to 5.99 after their 12-1 win against the Marlins). The Braves have used 10 different starters in September and probably will be counting on three of their former highly touted prospects -- Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson -- to carry them in October.


Optimism: Pitching. This month, the Cubs have MLB’s second-lowest ERA (2.88), and the bullpen has been MLB’s best (1.93 ERA). Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jon Lester are at the front of a rotation that could carry the Cubs deep into October, and Jeremy Jeffress has emerged to anchor a bullpen that’s oozing confidence.

Concerns: The Cubs are averaging 3.7 runs per game this month. Only the Pirates (who beat them on Tuesday) were lower among NL teams. Javy Báez, Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo have had a difficult final month, although Rizzo was 2-for-3 with a homer on Tuesday, and Kris Bryant’s oblique injury on Monday added to an already tough season.


Optimism: MLB’s best team since Opening Day will be MLB’s best team as the postseason begins. The rotation had baseball’s second-lowest ERA entering Tuesday, and the offense is No. 2 in scoring with 5.8 runs per game. Cody Bellinger is having his best stretch of the season, and Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock make LA’s lineup the deepest in the game.

Concerns: The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988, which brings a peculiar kind of pressure, even to players who weren’t alive then. Both late-inning relievers, Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen, have had some bad games this month amid a string of good ones.


Optimism: Plenty. In Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac, the Indians may have MLB’s best postseason front three. Bieber could sweep the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards, and Plesac has allowed one run or fewer in three of four starts since returning to the team.

Concerns: The Indians have scored two runs or fewer in 12 of their past 31 games. To make matters worse, their bullpen has struggled at times, too. José Ramírez is hitting .373 with 10 home runs (including a walk-off one in the 10th on Tuesday to clinch a postseason berth) in 18 games this month, and the Indians hope he can spark an entire offense.


Optimism: Nothing succeeds like success. The Padres are 23-9 since August 17 and lead MLB with 21 come-from-behind wins in 2020. They have MLB’s best record (12-6) and lowest ERA (2.68) since general manager AJ Preller’s Trade Deadline roster overhaul. Newly acquired closer Trevor Rosenthal hasn’t allowed an earned run in seven appearances.

Concerns: Hard to find. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eric Hosmer have cooled off this month, even as the Padres have continued to win. Rookie manager Jayce Tingler will get his first taste of the postseason managing for a franchise that will be making its first appearance in 14 years.


Optimism: The Rays have been in first place since August 20 despite having 10 pitchers on the injured list at one point. Their front three of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow is among MLB’s best, and only the A’s have a lower bullpen ERA among AL teams.

Concerns: The Rays have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of 20 games this month, emphasizing the need to get Yandy Díaz and Ji-Man Choi back from the injured list for the postseason. But they’re still winning, with an MLB-best 13-5 record in one-run games and 21-10 in games decided by one or two runs.


Optimism: Starting pitching has come around. The Twins’ rotation has a 3.06 ERA this month, second lowest in AL, and the team will have five starters from which to choose if Jake Odorizzi, as expected, returns from the IL this weekend. CF Byron Buxton is hitting .327 this month with a team-leading eight home runs and could add an extra dimension to an offense that was already plenty deep.

Concerns: Very few. Odorizzi’s injury is a worry, but there’s enough rotation depth to overcome a potential absence. The Twins (22-5) and Yankees (21-7) have the two best home records in MLB, making home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series important. The Twins have a 1.5-game edge over the Yankees for the No. 4 seed in a potential 4-5 Wild Card matchup.

White Sox

Optimism: No significant weakness. The White Sox are fourth in MLB in ERA and sixth in runs scored. Tim Anderson has an outside shot at a second straight AL batting title, and José Abreu leads the AL in total bases, hits and slugging percentage. Dallas Keuchel, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in three starts this month, is a proven postseason pitcher. The bullpen is excellent.

Concerns: Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada are having tough final months. How the rotation will line up behind Keuchel is unclear. The White Sox have lost five of their last seven while hitting under .200.


Optimism: They lead the AL in runs, on-base percentage and OPS and are tied for the lead in homers. DJ LeMahieu is on the verge of adding an AL batting title to the NL title he won for the Rockies in 2016. Luke Voit leads the Majors with 21 home runs. Gerrit Cole has a 2.60 ERA in 10 postseason starts. Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ have had solid Septembers, and Aroldis Chapman has a 1.04 ERA in his past nine appearances.

Concerns: Mostly small ones. The bullpen has not been consistent even though Chapman, Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Adam Ottavino and Nick Nelson give manager Aaron Boone enough quality late-game options. There’s just no way to know what the Yankees will get from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton after their extended stints on the injured list.