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How '20 postseason format impacts Padres

@AJCassavell
September 15, 2020

At some point in the next week, the Padres will lock up their first trip to the postseason in 14 years. It’ll be a postseason unlike any before it. Major League Baseball announced its playoff schedule on Tuesday morning, with limited off-days and neutral-site locations for the final three rounds.

At some point in the next week, the Padres will lock up their first trip to the postseason in 14 years. It’ll be a postseason unlike any before it.

Major League Baseball announced its playoff schedule on Tuesday morning, with limited off-days and neutral-site locations for the final three rounds. You can find all those details here.

Postseason standings

But how does the newly unveiled postseason picture affect the Padres specifically? It does in three critical ways:

1) Pitching depth will be pivotal

One of the most noteworthy features of the 2020 postseason schedule is the absence of off-days during each of the first three rounds.

The three-game National League Wild Card Series will be played over three consecutive days, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. The five-game NL Division Series will take place over five consecutive days, Oct. 6-10. The seven-game NL Championship Series will take place over seven consecutive days, Oct. 12-18.

Ranking potential postseason matchups

With no travel days baked into the schedule, there will be less time for pitchers to recover. That's bad news for teams who were planning to ride a small handful of arms to October success. It's probably good news for the Padres, who believe their pitching depth is on par with anyone in the sport.

But manager Jayce Tingler has used his bullpen arms sparingly this season. Based on the new playoff format, he will need to ask for more from back-end arms like Drew Pomeranz and Trevor Rosenthal -- perhaps pitching multiple innings, perhaps pitching back-to-back days. (The Padres seem fine with that; October is what they've been saving those arms for, after all.)

As for the effects on the starting rotation, the Padres won't be capable of making a deep run without using a fourth -- and potentially a fifth -- starter. Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies have all been excellent this season.

Garrett Richards and Chris Paddack have been sharp at times, but they've been less consistent. (Paddack is still working his way back from a bum ankle and could start either Wednesday or Friday, Tingler said.)

Sure, Richards and Paddack can be a bit enigmatic. But they stack up favorably against the rest of the league's fourth and fifth starters.

On paper, the Padres have the rotation and bullpen depth required for a deep October run this year.

2) A first-round series at Petco Park seems likely

The Padres have set their sights on a National League West title. They'd love to chase down the rival Dodgers and end their seven-year reign atop the division.

Still, the most important thing the Padres can clinch over the next 12 days is a home Wild Card Series.

Despite neutral-site series in each of the final three rounds, all eight Wild Card Series will take place at the home of the higher-seeded team. The Padres entered Tuesday 19-6 at Petco Park this year and six games ahead of Miami in that race for the final home-field slot.

"We definitely need to get that spot," Tingler said. "We enjoy playing at our ballpark. We've certainly practiced here a lot, and we've done a lot of intrasquads. We feel like we know this field very well, and the dimensions and how it plays.

"We play very good baseball here. We need to solidify that spot and make sure we get our first-round games here."

They'd love to catch the Dodgers. A division title would make a statement that would reverberate around baseball, and it would almost certainly earn them the No. 1 seed -- meaning an easier first-round opponent, in theory.

But ultimately, first and fourth place produce the same result if the Padres can advance past the Wild Card round: a trip to Texas for the NL Division Series, where they could meet the Dodgers for their biggest series yet.

3) Back where it began?

The Padres arrived at Globe Life Field in Texas last month sitting a game below .500. After being swept in Arizona, their season was teetering.

Then on Aug. 17, Fernando Tatis Jr. had the audacity to swing at a 3-0 pitch with a seven-run lead, and he hit the grand slam heard 'round the world. A month later, the Padres are 21-5 since Tatis' fateful hack gave birth to “Slam Diego.” That's the best record in baseball in that span.

If they advance past the Wild Card round, guess where they're headed?

Assuming the Padres finish with either the first or fourth seed in the National League -- a reasonable assumption given the standings -- they would be slated to play the NLDS at Globe Life Field.

Win that series? They'd stay at Globe Life Field for the NLCS. Win that series? And they'd be headed to their first World Series in 22 years -- also at Globe Life Field.

It could make for a stationary October for the Padres. In order to take home "the big cake," they could be playing 3 1/2 straight weeks of games in Arlington, Texas -- where their transformation from also-rans to World Series contenders began a month ago.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.