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If season ended today: Who has edge in playoffs?

@williamfleitch
September 6, 2019

We are at the point in the baseball season at which we are inundated with "If the season ended today …" projections. 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, however,

We are at the point in the baseball season at which we are inundated with "If the season ended today …" projections. 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, however, 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 today, 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: A’s vs. Rays

The two lower-payroll upstarts battling it out for the opportunity to face the hated Yankees; no matter who wins, most of the country will be cheering for them in the AL Division Series. Oakland played the Yanks in the Wild Card game in 2018 and famously tried out the "opener" strategy, though they’d be unlikely to try that this time. The Rays, of course, pioneered that strategy, but in a one-game playoff, they’d absolutely put themselves on the back of Charlie Morton.

You should expect all sorts of “Small-market upstarts in the Wild Card game? 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 playoff against the Evil Empire. And anything that gives a national stage to Matt Chapman, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham and Marcus Semien is aces in our book.

ALDS 1: Wild Card winner vs. Yankees

The Rays have never faced the Yankees in the playoffs, but the A’s know them all too well: In four playoff series against them (counting Wild Card games), Oakland is 0-4.

ALDS 2: Twins vs. Astros

The Twins, having held off the Indians, have to be pleased to avoid the Yankees; they’ve famously lost five straight postseason series (10 straight postseason games) against them. Minnesota has actually lost its past 13 postseason games; its 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 past three seasons, and they are about to win 100 games for the third straight year -- something no team has done since the 2002-04 Yankees. You can expect many homers from this series, though Houston's rotation would seem to vastly outpace Minnesota’s. 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: Cubs vs. Nationals

The Cubs are one of four teams -- the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants are the others -- who have been responsible for all the Nationals’ postseason pain since 2012; they’re actually the most recent spoilers, taking Washington out in the NLDS in '17 in a terrific 9-8 Game 5 win at Nationals Park. That’s Chicago’s most recent postseason series victory; it lost to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series that year and then to the Rockies in the Wild Card game last season.

The ramifications of losing this game for either team are severe. If the Nationals lose, it’s their sixth straight postseason series loss -- they’d be 0-for-5 in Washington after going 1-for-2 in Montreal -- and if the Cubs lose, they, in the midst of what was supposed to be their big post-2016 dynasty, will have been unable to reach the NLDS for the second consecutive year. You can see major changes coming.

NLDS 1: Wild Card winner vs. Dodgers

The Dodgers have eliminated both of these teams in the last three years -- the Nationals in 2016 and the Cubs in '17. (They lost to Chicago in '16.) Los Angeles will have the advantage over any team it plays, but this Chicago team looks looks a lot lighter, particularly in the rotation and the bullpen, than the one the Dodgers lost to in '16. The Nats' rotation is one of the few that can match up to the Dodgers’. If the Cubs won the Wild Card game, this series would assure that either Chicago, Los Angeles or St. Louis will have been in the NLCS every season since 2011.

NLDS 2: Braves vs. Cardinals

This is pretty much assured, if it happens, to be known as the Infield Fly series. Atlanta fans are still furious with how the infield fly was called in the 2012 Wild Card Game, quieting a potential Braves rally in what was Chipper Jones’ final game. It is worth remembering, as MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds pointed out at the time, that the umpires did make the correct call.

Suffice it to say, that explanation has not assuaged the fury of the Braves faithful. You’ll see that highlight repeatedly this whole series if it happens. The Cardinals and Braves have met four previous times in the postseason: That Wild Card game in 2012, the '00 NLDS (which the Cards swept; Game 1 of that series was the Rick Ankiel wild-pitch game), the 1996 NLCS (which the Braves came back from a 3-1 deficit to win in Tony La Russa’s first season as Cards manager) and the '82 NLCS (which the Cardinals also swept, beating Braves manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Bob Gibson).