Baseball has a sixty game season this year, but on top of that they have expanded playoffs, allowing a vast majority of teams to be contenders come the August 31st waiver deadline in a week’s time. Not only are teams such as the first place Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves virtual postseason locks, but teams such as The Marlins, Orioles, White Sox and Padres currently have a playoff spot locked down. Seemingly every team but the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates are contenders down the stretch. With 16 playoff spots, there will be a number of pretenders in the postseason. Which three may actually make noise when the time comes?
The Chicago White Sox
Just a season after finishing 72-89, the White Sox are here and they’re extremely talented. Playing teams such as the Royals, Tigers and Pirates has certainly expedited the process in 2020, yet they’ve banked on players from last year to take the next step. Starter Dylan Cease is in a breakout campaign, sporting a 3.13 ERA, albeit in a smaller sample size than usual come late August. Following his 2019 All-Star campaign, Lucas Giolito’s ERA has gone up from 3.41 to 3.89 (again, a smaller sample size) yet his FIP has lowered from 3.43 to 3.23, showing he’s more unlucky with the placement of shifts and balls in play more than anything else. With a solid two starters to carry some of the load, they signed the 2015 American League Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel this past offseason, who has postseason experience with both the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. A year after his late season start with Atlanta which saw him go 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA and 91 K in 19 games, he has played six games so far on the Southside after inking a three year commitment in December. So far, all six games have seen stellar results: 19 Ks and a 2.65 ERA over 37.1 IP. The pitching rotation is strong and the bullpen has been shored up, with All-Star Alex Colome at the helm as closer. The team also brought in Steve Cishek and Gio Gonzalez for the relief corps.
Their lineup is probably MLBs strongest from a statistical standpoint in 2020. The average OPS for an MLB player is around .750, whereas the White Sox as a team are hitting to an .807 OPS. Their team .266 batting average is the second highest in the sport (.268 Mets). The lineup, seeing a resurgence from stalwart Jose Abreu (.322/.365/.669, 11 homeruns and a 177 OPS+) and another strong year from reigning AL Batting Champion (.350 BA, 1.063 OPS, six homeruns) had seen a massive offseason makeover. The team added Edwin Encarnacion, who has the most homeruns in baseball since the start of the 2010 season, to be their designated hitter. Over time with the Reds, Blue Jays, Indians, Mariners, Yankees and now Chicago, the 37 year old has 418 lifetime homeruns. They also signed Yasmani Grandal, MLBs premiere offensive catcher (28 homeruns, .828 OPS in 2019). They traded for former top prospect Nomar Mazara, as well as called up top prospect Luis Robert. Over his first 27 games, Robert’s hit 7 homeruns and has an .862 OPS.
A strong starting three, as well as a formidable lineup, complimented with a lights out closer is a lethal playoff combination. While the White Sox certainly have weaknesses, they’re built similarly to the 2019 Nationals (even if their starting rotation isn’t anywhere near as strong). Their +30 run differential is better than a number of first place teams, including the Cubs (+4), Braves (+22) and Rays (+27).
The San Diego Padres
While the White Sox +30 run differential is surprising and strong, so is the Padres +28. While the starting staff hasn’t quite been as good as some would’ve liked, including a disappointing six starts from young phenom Chris Paddack, the Padres have one of the league’s premiere bullpen’s. We’ve seen teams such as the Royals win through their bullpen recently. They traded for Emilio Pagan after he dominated in Tampa Bay last year. Though closer Kirby Yates has disappointed so far this year, he’s only a year removed from a 1.19 ERA and was the best bullpen arm in baseball. Matt Strahm, Luis Perdomo and Craig Stammenn also highlight the bullpen.
As for the lineup, it’s electric in SLAM Diego. They have the most homeruns over a week span in MLB history. Winning their last seven consecutive ballgames, the Padres are tearing it up right now. After Fernando Tatis swung 3-0 up by seven late and hit a grand slam, Rangers manager Chris Woodward got on his case about “unwritten rules.” The Padres do not care. The next day Wil Myers hit a grandslam. The following day, Manny Machado hit a grandslam to walk it off. The next day, Eric Hosmer hit a grandslam. They are the first team in MLB history to grandslam in four straight, and on the 22nd, Jake Cronenworth hit one against the Astros to make it five out of six games. Their lineup is stacked, featuring generational talent and $300M man Manny Machado, as well as All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer (who was on that aforementioned Royals team) All-Star Wil Myers as well as Tommy Pham. Their lineup also features two prominent young superstars in Fernando Tatis (MLB leading 12 homeruns, 1.073 OPS, .314/.396/.678); as well as Jake Cronenworth who came over in a trade with Tampa Bay, (1.036 OPS in 75 AB).
The Padres, right now, certainly seem as if they’re a safe bet to make the postseason, but can they go all of the way? I certainly think so. Check out the best sports betting sites for all your needs!
The Cincinnati Reds
This one was a little bit more difficult due to the nature of the league. The teams that seem to be in it every year are all again in it, and then you’ll get one or two who shouldn’t be there. All it takes it to sneak in. It was between the Reds, Marlins, Orioles, and teams of that stature, and the team with the best opportunity to keep this pace up is the Reds. They play teams like the Pirates and Tigers regularly, and have a loaded lineup. 2010 MVP Joey Votto is once again the first baseman, and will be entering the Hall of Fame when he retires. They signed Nick Castellanos, and so far he’s hit to a .944 OPS (his career OPS mark is over .800). They brought in 3x All-Star Mike Moustakas to play 2nd, and retained Eugenio Suarez at third. Suarez in 2019 hit 49 homeruns. Top prospect Nick Senzel has reached the Majors, while catching duo Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali has been extremely strong.
Their rotation is top five in baseball, fronted by ace Luis Castillo, who has scintillating stuff. It’s Sonny Gray has also been really good, with a 2.21 ERA and 51 Ks in 36.2 innings so far on the year, despite the hitter friendly confines. He’s found a reform to his Oakland A’s days, after a forgettable stint in the Bronx. The Reds most dominant starter, however, is Trevor Bauer. The pending free agent has to be the odds on favorite for the NL Cy Young with a month to go, sporting a 0.68 ERA (outperforming his peripherals, with a 1.92 FIP), 3-0 record and 41 Ks in four starts. If this team can make some bullpen moves, there’s no doubt they can sneak in and get hot.
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