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Rankings: Wild Card Series elimination stress

@williamfleitch
October 1, 2020

After a thrilling, exhausting, entirely unprecedented day of postseason baseball, the period of rest you will receive afterward closely resembles “zero.” There are five more games today, and six teams facing elimination. That’s stress, in its purest baseball form. Win, and you get to play another day. Lose, and hey

After a thrilling, exhausting, entirely unprecedented day of postseason baseball, the period of rest you will receive afterward closely resembles “zero.” There are five more games today, and six teams facing elimination. That’s stress, in its purest baseball form. Win, and you get to play another day. Lose, and hey … we’ll see you at Spring Training.

Thus, with this many elimination games on the table, and this much pressure everywhere you look, we present you with our Elimination Stress Level rankings. Which teams have the most to lose if their season ends today?

Complete postseason schedule

Which teams can weather a loss, either because of youth or underdog status? Which teams may never be the same if they lose? You get the drift.

1) A's
The A’s, with the way their roster and franchise is constructed, may only have so many chances to make a deep postseason run. The whole concept of A’s baseball, as president of baseball operations Billy Beane has constructed them, is to reach the postseason as often as possible and then hope for the best. While that makes sense in theory, in practice … the A’s have lost 12 of their past 13 playoff series. This year would be particularly difficult to miss out on, considering their American League Division Series opponent would be the Astros, a team they finally overtook for the AL West crown this season and a team that didn’t even have a winning record. The White Sox will have plenty of chances in the years to come if they lose this series. Will the A’s?

2) Cubs
The Cubs’ offense this season, particularly down the stretch, has struggled in a way that belies the big names in the lineup. (It seems downright absurd to see Javier Báez’s and Kris Bryant’s numbers looking the way they do.) But it’s still been a season of mostly good vibes in Chicago. After winning the World Series in 2016, the Cubs trended downward each subsequent season, losing the National League Championship Series in '17, losing the NL Wild Card Game in '18 and missing the postseason entirely in '19. But the old gang resurged this season, winning the NL Central and facing a seemingly wobbly Marlins team in the first round. But then the Marlins had one big inning, the Cubs’ bats never woke up, and just like that, the Cubs’ pseudo-dynasty is back on the brink again. The Marlins have figured largely in Cubs history in the past. Are they going to do it again?

3) Reds
A crusher of a loss against the Braves would put any fanbase on its heels, but it’s particularly frustrating when the team wasted such a brilliant performance from Trevor Bauer and it might end up being Bauer’s final game in a Reds uniform, as he's set to become a free agent this offseason. The Reds also put a lot of emotional capital (not to mention financial capital) in the 2020 season, and while they got off to a slow start, they took off down the stretch and were justifiably considered a legitimate World Series sleeper. And then they didn’t score for 13 innings on Wednesday. The Braves are a good team, maybe a better team, but they can be had, and the Reds are a team that could take them. If they lose this series in two games, the Reds will be kicking themselves about missing this opportunity for a long time.

4) Padres
On one hand, this is the emergent year, one in which the Padres announced their presence and talent, but not necessarily the year everyone expects them to win the World Series. If the Padres bow out in the first round, there’s no way anyone looks at the 2020 Friars and says, “Wow, what a disappointing season.” It’s all upside from here. But. For a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason series since 1998, with a team that has the best winning percentage in franchise history, to go out in two games against a resilient but mostly middling Cardinals team would be an undeniable bummer. The Padres don’t have to win this series for their season to be a success. But dropping two games and then boom-it’s-over is not the way this is supposed to end.

5) White Sox
The South Siders looked like they were going to run away with their series in a Game 1 sprint past the A’s, but in Game 2, they ran into Chris Bassitt, made some costly defensive errors and suddenly we’re tied. Whatever team wins this series has to feel confident heading into the ALDS against the Astros, and the White Sox would love a deep postseason run to build off for all their young players moving forward. But if the White Sox lose, everyone knows we’re still going to be seeing a ton of them over the next few years. This is just the start, no matter what happens Thursday.

6) Brewers
In many ways, the Brewers are more desperate than the White Sox or the Padres, two teams above them on this list. This is their third straight postseason, and if they lose Game 2 to the Dodgers, they will have taken a step back each year. It’s beginning to look like the NLCS Game 7 that Milwaukee lost to the Dodgers in 2018 could be the peak that the Brewers then slowly fell from. The team has some tough questions to answer in the coming years, questions that may lead to fundamental changes to the organization. So why is a team with such profound urgency at the bottom of this list? Because they’re a losing team -- they still haven’t been over .500 once all season -- playing one of the best teams in recent memory, and thus it’s tough to imagine any of this is too stressful. That they are even here at all is a stroke of good fortune: They're playing with house money at this point. Maybe they’ll win Thursday and start making the Dodgers sweat. But if they don’t, you can’t really blame them. It’s the Dodgers.