The MLB postseason begins on Tuesday, and this year’s format is unlike anything in league history: 16 teams will compete to win the World Series, via a bracket that opens with a best-of-three wild-card round that has the potential for chaos. So who will reign supreme? Will the Dodgers finally shake their recent playoff woes en route to a title? Will the Rays complete their transformation from perpetual underdog to AL powerhouse? Will the Yankees be able to advance past Shane Bieber and Cleveland? And which low-seeded teams are poised to make a run? The Ringer’s MLB staffers make their playoff picks below.
Michael Baumann: There are two reasons to pick the Dodgers to win the World Series this year. The first is that they’re obviously the best team in baseball, and even the inherent randomness of a best-of-three first-round series is leavened by the fact that the Brewers aren’t playing well and weren’t that good to begin with. Making the division series—i.e., the actual playoffs—is half the battle.
The second reason is that it would be absolutely hysterical if the Dodgers—who it’s frankly shocking haven’t won a title in the past decade—finally got over the hump this year. If they finally exorcised their demons and got a ring for Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, and all the guys who people say can’t get it done when it counts, only for nobody to think it was legitimate because it happened in this singular freak of a season. I would laugh clear through to next April.
Along the way I expect the Dodgers to knock off most of the other teams I expect to do well in this field: the Padres, in what could be the best series of the postseason; the Braves, who only have about one and a half good starting pitchers but could score 10 runs a game; and the Rays, who could finally make the leap from scrappy underdog to AL East bully. Or the Marlins could just win the whole thing. It’s been that kind of season.
Ben Lindbergh: In the most overcrowded, chaotic, upset-oriented postseason the sport has ever seen, I’m making the safest, least sensational, and most predictable picks possible. Hey, I’m here to tell you what I think are the most likely outcomes; you can decide for yourself which would be the wackiest, wildest, or most entertaining.
When we made our preseason predictions [checks calendar, does double take] a little more than two months ago, I had the Yankees meeting the Dodgers in the World Series, and I haven’t seen enough to change my mind. The Dodgers went 43-17, putting them on a 116-win full-season pace, and nothing about that performance felt fluky. (Their expected records according to BaseRuns and PythagenPat were identical to their actual record.) One of the most disappointing aspects of the 60-game season is that we won’t find out what the Dodgers could have done in a normal-length campaign. But we could still see them end their decadeslong championship drought. Standard 60-game-season caveats would apply to that title, but while the 16-team playoff format made the Dodgers’ road to October easier than it appeared to be before the pandemic, their road through October would be much more arduous, thanks to the extra round and the lack of home-field advantage from the division series on.
Good as the Dodgers are, it wouldn’t be especially surprising to see them swept out of the playoffs by the sub-.500 Brewers; the Dodgers lost two in a row on four occasions this season, and only once was their opponent in those games better than the Brewers. FanGraphs gives the Brewers a better than one-in-three chance to knock off the title favorites. It also wouldn’t be shocking if the Dodgers fell to one of the other two teams I have them going up against, the Padres and Reds (the latter of whom look especially scary in the playoffs). Everyone is vulnerable this month. And if I’m saying that the Dodgers can be beaten, then you know I think the Yankees can.
I came close to picking Cleveland in the wild-card matchup of offensive firepower versus pitching and defense—it’s basically a coin flip—but the current incarnation of the Yankees is better than their fifth seed suggests. Their lineup, at least, is healthy now, and even though the pitching staff is without Luis Severino and James Paxton, it has enough talent to play its way to a pennant and the 12th World Series matchup between baseball’s coastal titans. My deepest apologies to Twins fans for forecasting another nightmare loss to New York, but at least I have Minnesota snapping its postseason sweep streak.
Zach Kram: When I picked the Padres to reach the World Series before the season, I didn’t expect to be right. Theirs was a long shot selection, predicated on a belief in a healthy Fernando Tatís Jr., a young pitching staff, and a dominant bullpen. Then the Padres exceeded even my loftiest expectations, with the second-best run differential in the majors and a roster populated by award candidates: Tatís and Manny Machado for MVP, Dinelson Lamet for Cy Young, and Jake Cronenworth for Rookie of the Year.
The Padres don’t have an easy road to the World Series, particularly with Lamet and Mike Clevinger battling arm injuries (though the team reportedly is confident they’ll be able to pitch). The mighty Dodgers likely wait in the NLDS. But although the Dodgers are a superior team and the preferred choice of my colleagues, they are not an overwhelming favorite. No team is in this strange postseason—FanGraphs’ playoff odds don’t give any team a better than 43 percent chance of making the league championship series. In other words: Every single team is more likely to lose in the first two rounds than win both of them, even the Dodgers.
With short, condensed series and no real home-field advantage, the star of this postseason will be chaos, and I made my picks accordingly: I have both no. 7 seeds beating both no. 2s, the Marlins beating the Cubs in a 2003 NLCS rematch, and the Padres winning their first World Series in franchise history.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Fox executives might lament (or Lamet?) a Tampa Bay–San Diego championship clash, but both teams are built to shine this month, with flexible lineups, deep pitching staffs—a crucial point this October because of the lack of intraseries off days in the first three rounds—and no glaring weaknesses anywhere on the roster. The Dodgers are undoubtedly the best team. But that hasn’t stopped other teams from beating them in the playoffs before.
Bobby Wagner: It’s always been a cliché to say that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and recently it’s just been untrue. As the league’s pecking order has become more and more stratified due to front offices trading away stars in lieu of paying them what they’re worth, it seems that the cream has risen to the top.
The 2016 Cubs were a 103-win heat-seeking missile that won the World Series. The 2017 Astros were a baseball team. The 2018 Red Sox had one of the greatest offenses in history and won 108 games. The 2019 Nationals caught lightning in a bottle, but it wasn’t like they had to look far to find the lightning—they’d won 95 or more games in four of their previous six years.
So why should I believe that the 2020 season will buck the trend? The three-game wild-card series brings the potential for randomness, but to pick against the Dodgers or Rays making the World Series because of that would mean I’d have to believe in the Brewers or Blue Jays—two fringe-bad baseball teams who are only in the playoffs because TV revenue is MLB owners’ religion. The chaos from the first round will wreak havoc on teams like the Cubs, though, whose offense has already proved to be bad and can sink them if they go cold for even two games. Plus, 2020 has earned the Marlins advancing to the second round. And while it would be delicious to watch Yankees fans melt down over getting shut out by Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco, it’s really hard to pick Cleveland given that its lineup can’t hit water while falling out of a boat, and is staring at Gerrit Cole in Game 1 and Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2.
As for picking the eventual victor between the Dodgers and Rays, well, that’s harder. With a bullpen full of guys the Rockies will overpay in 2026, Tampa Bay is optimized for the postseason in a way that could give the Dodgers headaches. But in this bizarro world in which we’re living, the idea of Clayton Kershaw delivering two lights-out performances, Los Angeles trouncing its way to a ring, and sports media questioning the validity of it for decades to come feels too spiritually accurate not to happen. Hooray for the content.
Claire McNear: However much it pains me as a Giants fan to say it, the 2020 Dodgers are superb and—even worse—fun, too. With a stacked lineup, a deep rotation, and the best record in baseball, they have no clear weakness; it just feels like the Dodgers’ year. This marks Los Angeles’ eighth consecutive postseason berth, and it could bring the team’s third World Series berth in four years. But none of those other years ended up being the one, so allow me to posit this: The A’s—the A’s!—will win it all.
The A’s haven’t made it to the World Series since 1990. (They won in 1989, when they swept the Giants—a series that’s credited with saving lives during the Loma Prieta earthquake, which occurred just prior to Game 3. Much of the quake’s worst damage was to roadways, but with the game slated for 5:35 that afternoon, many Bay Area residents were already off the road when the earthquake hit half an hour before that.) But this year’s team has a lot going for it, from Matt Olson hitting dingers, to Tommy La Stella excelling since coming over at the trade deadline, to Jake Lamb improbably thriving just weeks after being DFAed by the Diamondbacks. The A’s carried the second-best record in the AL through the regular season, and Liam Hendriks has the second-most saves of any player this year.
Sure, Matt Chapman and A.J. Puk are both sidelined with injuries. But this is a season of chaos bubble baseball, and the Dodgers very well might be cursed. Why not Oakland?