Our brackets are still blank, awaiting the final field and cemented seedings for what promises to be an October unlike any other. It will begin with the urgent affair known as the Wild Card Series -- a first-of-its-kind, three-day, best-of-three in the home ballpark of the higher seed, with every postseason entrant participating.
With the Sept. 27 conclusion of the regular season rapidly approaching, it won’t be long before we’re filling out our October brackets. But for now, let’s take a look at seven potential Wild Card Series pairings that would be especially entertaining.
Note that not all of these would be the matchup as of today. But all of them are within the range of mathematical feasibility with about a week to go.
Padres vs. Marlins
In the immortal words of Staind, “It’s Been Awhile” -- 17 years since the Marlins advanced to the postseason and 14 for the Padres (sorry for getting Staind stuck in some of your heads). Those are the second- and third-longest active droughts in MLB, respectively (only the Mariners, at 19 years, have waited longer).
Miami’s potential advancement qualifies as a genuine surprise, particularly given the COVID-19 complications the Marlins (who, remember, have never lost a postseason series) endured early. We had an inkling the Padres might turn the corner and be good, but it would have been hard to predict they’d be this good, and this series would pit two of the more enticing young players in the sport -- Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and Marlins ace-in-the-making Sixto Sánchez -- against each other.
Yankees vs. Twins
For a while, it was looking like the Yankees and Rays -- two teams with a long and growing history of on-field animosity -- might match up in the opening round, and that would definitely be fun. But with the Yankees having flipped the switch this week, it’s looking more likely that we’ll get the matchup we’ve seen every single October in the 2000s (OK, this isn’t accurate, it just feels that way).
Some people (Twins fans, mostly) may have tired of this pairing, given that the Yanks have won five AL Division Series rounds, a Wild Card Game and 13 straight postseason games overall against the Twins (in addition to 87 out of 122 regular-season games going back to 2002, which is just insane). But this has become a Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner situation, and how amazing would it be to finally see him catch that darn bird?
Braves vs. Cardinals
Because social media ruins, well, everything, we were all let in to see what was supposed to be a private celebratory address from Cards manager Mike Shildt to his squad after St. Louis took Game 5 of an entertaining NLDS between these two teams last year. Tensions had risen when Carlos Martínez took exception to Ronald Acuña Jr.’s stare and trot after a big home run, and the situation only escalated from there.
To paraphrase Shildt’s speech: The Braves started some stuff, and the Cardinals finished it. Let’s get these lovebirds back on the field together and see what happens next.
White Sox vs. Blue Jays
Two teams vying for a title arguably ahead of schedule, with two of the more exciting lineups in the sport.
The White Sox have two MVP candidates in Tim Anderson and José Abreu. Twenty-three-year-old Luis Robert arrived as advertised, 23-year-old Eloy Jiménez broke through and 25-year-old Yoán Moncada and 23-year-old Nick Madrigal have the talent to take over a series. You’d also have Sox DH Edwin Encarnación facing his former club, for whom he hit the walk-off homer in the 2016 AL Wild Card Game. The Blue Jays’ biggest breakout has surprisingly come from Teoscar Hernández, but the sons of stars past -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (whose father is Cuban baseball royalty) -- will be getting their first October opportunity.
Dodgers vs. Giants
While people generally seem to understand why this format -- in which even the division winners are subjected to a best-of-three with limited value to the higher seed -- is in place for pandemic baseball, we can already hear the cries of unfairness should the Dodgers, who as of this writing would be on a 113-win pace in a 162-game season, get bounced by the eight seed.
The Giants just might be that eighth seed, and, believe it or not, that would mark the first time these longstanding rivals have faced each other in the postseason.
Cubs vs. Reds
Trevor Bauer basically cornered us into this one (which can only happen if the Reds are a Wild Card club and not the second-place team in the NL Central). Bauer’s had a bit of a rivalry -- sometimes friendly, sometimes not-so-friendly -- with Cubs fans, going back to the 2016 World Series.
But Bauer’s recent comments about the Cubs themselves (“It was impressive that you can chirp at someone after he shoved it … for 7 2/3 innings,” he said on Sept. 9) leave us wanting more. And even if trash talk isn’t your thing, there’s nothing trashy about the prospect of a Bauer vs. Yu Darvish matchup, given that both are prominent in the NL Cy Young discussion.
A’s vs. Astros
The script has flipped here now that the A’s have established themselves as the class of the AL West and the Astros are the second-place club. With so many injuries leading to so many youngsters on the pitching staff, Houston has overachieved in some ways, underachieved in others. It’s landed the Astros here, looking up at Oakland and entering the Wild Card Series (no matter their actual opponent) as underdogs. The A’s haven’t advanced out of a postseason round since the 2006 ALDS.
This series would get really juicy if Mike Fiers is involved in any capacity after exposing the Astros’ underbelly to the world over the winter. To date, A’s manager Bob Melvin has juggled his rotation in such a way that Fiers hasn’t faced Houston, and he certainly has other options he can turn to. But if he cares about The Narrative™, he knows what to do.