Go With The Young Guns — MLB Wild Card Round Preview

Okay baseball fans, here it is! What we’ve all been waiting for since July. Real baseball is about to begin.

No more seven-inning double-headers. Forget that ghost runner that shows up on second base once extra innings commence. Yeah, they’re still putting DH’s in the National League lineups, but you can’t have everything, can you?

We’re back to hardball, and with eight playoff series beginning tomorrow with a full Junior Circuit slate, we can really start paying attention again to our National Pastime.

SportsAttic has learned a lesson from our NBA prognostications (Utah Jazz as champs??? Ohmigosh…) and will only be selecting the winners one round at a time during the 2020 MLB Playoffs. And what better place to begin than with the round that defies all logic kicking things off during a year that continues to defy all logic — the first ever MLB Wild Card Round. Eight teams per league, best of three, ALL games contested in the home park of the higher seed.

While there will be no fans in attendance (only exception being family members of the home team), let’s not mistake that for the absence of a home field advantage. And we’re not just talking about cardboard cutouts or piped in crowd noise, either. Anyone who’s ever traveled for business knows the difference in how it feels to wake up in an unfamiliar hotel, sometimes in a different time zone, compared to the comforts of waking up in one’s own bed. There’s an edge for the team that doesn’t have to travel.

However, will that be enough? Nobody knows, since this format has never been done before. But it is safe to say that there will be more than a couple surprises coming our way as the playoffs get under way, and SportsAttic is here to give you a glimpse into how things are likely to unfold.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  1. Dodgers vs 8. Brewers— Somebody had to be given the eighth seed in the N.L., and with a late assist from the Phillies and Giants, who both completely spit the bit in the season’s final week, we give you the sub-.500 Milwaukee Brewers traveling to L.A. for the Wild Card round. The Dodgers were heavy favorites to reach the World Series back in February, remained so at the restart in July, and did nothing to make us think otherwise over the last 60 games. They can pitch, hit, and are deep across the diamond with plenty of talented arms. Even Dave Roberts can’t mess this series up. It ends in two. DODGERS
  2. Braves vs 7. Reds — The Braves were never really challenged in what most expected to be a strong NL East. Their lineup is loaded with menacing bats, and they are clearly the stronger squad here. But this is a series where the Wild Card format casts question marks over the outcome. If Trevor Bauer steals Game 1 for Cincy, how tight do the Braves get as they remember their playoff implosion from a year ago. The upset call is tempting here, but the Braves are too strong. Look for Atlanta to pull it out in three behind the broad shoulders and hot bat of MVP candidate Freddie Freeman. BRAVES
  3. Cubs vs 6. Marlins — On paper this should be an easy call, right? Quick, name just one of the three starting pitchers Miami skipper Don Mattingly plans to throw out there in the Windy City this week (answer below, and for the record not one of them is older than 25). Didn’t think you could, and would it have been any easier if we asked you to name more than one Marlin position player? Despite the dearth of household names, the Marlins were the absolute worst matchup for the Cubs to draw in round one. Athletic, fearless, and playing with the house’s money, Miami heads to Chicago with nothing to lose, because nobody expected to see them in the postseason to begin with. The Cubs, on the other hand, have nothing but downside. A complete roster teardown looms should they fail to dismiss the upstart Marlins. This is the series where the home team will most suffer not having its fans in the seats, as the Wrigley faithful may have been able to rattle the upstart Marlins. Chicago’s rookie manager, David Ross, is finding out that managing a club is a whole lot harder than it looked from ESPN’s booth. Go with the young guns — and the sweep. MARLINS
  4. Padres vs 5. Cards — Let the record note that SportsAttic had the Padres advancing to the NLCS in our July MLB preview (never mind that we had them losing to the Mets to end their season). San Diego boasts loads of young talent, now surrounded by some smart, veteran acquisitions, and if not for the Dodgers, would appear to be the class of the NL. But lest we forget, they are the Padres. With the Mets watching from home, is there a more snakebit franchise still alive in the Wild Card round? And not only that, but they get the Cardinals to kick things off? You remember St. Louis, right? That team that always seems to end up beating a better club when the playoffs roll around? Well throw history out the window here, and go with San Diego behind the All-World Fernando Tatis, Jr., in a nail biter that won’t be decided until the final out is registered in Game Three. PADRES

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  1. Rays vs 8. Blue Jays — Time to eat a little crow here. Won’t be the first time, and certainly won’t be the last, but the Rays are actually very good. If SportsAttic’s disastrous selection of Utah as NBA champs wasn’t so fresh in our minds, picking Tampa for last in the AL East might just claim Worst SportsAttic Prediction of 2020 honors. In fact, if the Rays weren’t such a solid club, top to bottom including an outstanding manager in Kevin Cash, it would be tempting to go with more young guns — this time from Toronto via Buffalo. The Blue Jays are another organization loaded with young talent (anyone see a theme emerging?) and have nothing to lose (Miami North, you might say). But unlike the Cubs, the Rays are hitting on all cylinders as the calendar turns to October, and will prove too much for the “just happy to be here” Blue Jays. Two and out. RAYS
  2. Athletics vs 7. White Sox — Wait a minute, weren’t the Chisox about to win the AL Central last time we checked? What happened and how the heck did they fall to the seven-seed? Whatever transpired, the biggest loser here will be the unable-to-ever-catch-a-playoff-break Oakland A’s. Poor Oakland, first they lose the Warriors and the Raiders, and now their fans will watch the A’s come up short in the postseason once again. The White Sox possess (you guessed it) young talent, and send a stud in Lucas Giolito to the hill in the opener. Oakland is an eminently admirable, division-winning squad. They are also a franchise that’s never accomplished anything when the games matter, at least not since the Bash Brothers left town. Yet they are expected to win this series easily. Perfect recipe for an upset, folks. The A’s are a terrific regular season club that suffers from the lack of a true ace or an elite superstar in the postseason. And they will go home a Wild Card loser for what feels like the twentieth year in a row. Oakland will get a game, but the “other” Chicago ball club advances in three. WHITE SOX
  3. Twins vs 6. Astros — How happy must they be in Minnesota to have finally missed the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs? The Twins are strong top to bottom and have at last assembled enough pitching to back the big bats. The Astros have the worst regular season road record for a playoff team in the history of major league baseball, and now get set to play every postseason game on the road. You can’t help but get the feeling the ‘Stros simply want this nightmare of a season to end. Too much talent remains on the Houston roster for the Twins to sweep, but the Astros are on fumes and the Twins will advance. And if that isn’t enough good news for the Twin Cities, wait til they realize there will be no re-seeding following the first round this year, so they won’t have the Yankees waiting for them in the ALDS either. TWINS
  4. Indians vs 5. Yankees — Based on the Bombers regular season, the safe bet is to predict a sweep here. The problem is knowing which way to go with that call. The feast or famine Yanks were another terrible road club, not to the extent Houston was, but they will miss the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium big time. However, the Indians let SportsAttic Nation down a year ago, when they were our upset selection to win the World Series, and we still aren’t over Cleveland’s dismal 2019 showing. So what’s a Yankees-hater to do when forced to rely on a team we have no faith in to rid us of the Evil Empire? We try our reverse psychology approach, of course, and call for the Yankees in a sweep. Gerrit Cole wins a classic pitcher’s duel over Shane Bieber in Game One, and figure the Yankees bats to bludgeon their way to another “W” in Game Two. Here’s hoping a little SportsAttic negative juju sends the Yankees home as Wild Card losers. So… call it a sweep for the Bombers! YANKEES

And there you have it. In a short series, on the heels of a truncated regular season, take the momentum play and go with the young athletes over the postseason vets. Innocence is bliss when it comes to pressure baseball in an empty stadium.

And should things proceed as we suggest, it will leave us with the following matchups in the Division Series:

NL

Dodgers vs Padres and Braves vs Marlins

AL

Rays vs Indians and White Sox vs Twins

Let the real baseball begin. And in case you didn’t know, the names attached to those young Miami Marlins arms are — Sandy Alcantara (age 25), Pablo Lopez (24) and Sixto Sanchez (22) — go with the young guns!

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