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Let's pretend the postseason started today ...

@williamfleitch
August 23, 2019

We are in the time of the baseball when we are inundated with “If the season ended today” projections of the standings. Without question, if the season ended today, we would all be very confused, and one suspects there would be considerable protests. The fun part of these projections is

We are in the time of the baseball when we are inundated with “If the season ended today” projections of the standings. Without question, if the season ended today, we would all be very confused, and one suspects there would be considerable protests.

The fun part of these projections is imagining the matchups. When baseball teams play each other as many times as they do in a postseason series, you learn all sorts of new information about both teams. They can bring out the best and the worst in each other. So we look at the “If the season ended today” projections and preview the series that would result … even if they may turn out to be imaginary.

American League Wild Card Game
Rays vs. A’s (Wednesday, Oct. 2)

Cleveland’s recent downturn knocks them out of this game, so we get the two lower-payroll upstarts battling it out for the opportunity to face the Yankees. Oakland played the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game in 2018 and unsuccessfuly tried out the opener strategy. Depending on how their rotation shook out down the stretch, one suspects they’d give Mike Fiers the start in this game.

The Rays of course pioneered the opener strategy, but in a one-game playoff, they’d absolutely put themselves on the back of Charlie Morton. You should expect “Small-market upstarts in the Wild Card Game! What about the poor television networks?” stories resulting from a Tampa Bay-Oakland matchup, but you don’t care about that: You’re a baseball fan! These are two young, exciting teams who will vie for the opportunity to be America’s Team in a postseason series against the big bad Yankees. And anything that gives a national stage to Matt Chapman, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham and Marcus Semien is aces in our book.

Full Postseason schedule

American League Division Series
Rays or A’s vs. Yankees (Game 1 on Friday, Oct. 4)

The Rays have never faced the Yankees in the playoffs, but the A’s know them all too well: In four different postseason series against them (counting Wild Card Games), they’re 0-4.

Twins vs. Astros (Game 1 on Friday, Oct. 4)

The Twins, having held off the Indians, have to be pleased to avoid the Yankees; they’ve famously lost five straight postseason series against them, and 10 postseason games. (The Twins have actually lost their last 13 postseason games. Their last postseason victory was Oct. 5, 2004, over the Yankees; Johan Santana threw seven shutout innings, and Jacque Jones homered off Mike Mussina.)

The Astros are one of baseball’s most successful franchises over the last three seasons and are about to win 100 games for the third straight season -- something no team has done since the 2002-04 Yankees. You can expect many, many homers from this series, though the Astros’ rotation would seem to vastly outpace the Twins’. The Astros are a tough out for anyone, but honestly, the Twins are just happy they’re not looking at pinstripes again.

National League Wild Card Game
Cardinals at Nationals (Tuesday, Oct. 1)

The Cardinals reach the postseason for the first time since 2015; their most recent playoff game was the one where Kyle Schwarber parked a ball atop the new right-field scoreboard at Wrigley Field. Their reward is facing Missourian Max Scherzer.

The Nationals have their own postseason horror stories to deal with. Their run of brutal postseason exits began with the Cardinals, actually, in the Pete Kozma game in the 2012 NLDS. Counting that one, they’ve lost four straight postseason series, three of which went to a decisive Game 5. Having the Cardinals in town will be a handy way to dispatch all those cruel memories … or a way to simply magnify their pain.

National League Division Series
Cardinals or Nationals vs. Dodgers (Game 1 on Thursday, Oct. 3)

The Dodgers have been far and away the best team in the NL this season, but as they know all too well, a short series can jump up and bite you; they lost to the Cardinals in both 2013 and ‘14, the two seasons that began this run of seven straight October trips. One suspects the Dodgers would prefer the Cardinals in this series, considering their obvious rotation advantages; you’d rather face Flaherty/Mikolas/Wainwright than Scherzer/Strasburg/Corbin, all told.

The Dodgers would be heavy favorites against whoever they face, but then again, they usually are … and it has still been 31 years since they won a World Series.

Cubs vs. Braves (Game 1 on Thursday, Oct. 3)

Remember when the Cubs were the young exciting team with talent everywhere, talent that would be around for a decade to come? The Braves are clearly that team now, which makes this an intriguing battle between one team trying to secure its place among the elite in the NL and a team trying to hang onto that status as long as it can.

It’s always fascinating to see Jason Heyward back in Atlanta -- it really felt like he was going to play there 20 years -- but the spotlight of this series would be just that: The National League’s recent past against its enticing future.