1. Tampa Bay Rays (-215) vs. 8. Toronto Blue Jays (+185)
An AL East matchup pits the best team in the American League, record-wise, against an up and coming Blue Jays team. In the shortened 2020 season, the Rays continued to do Rays things, as they made under-the-radar acquisitions such as trading for Randy Arozarena and signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo out of Japan. The Rays certainly have the pitching advantage, especially in a three game series. Tampa Bay will likely throw Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and possibly Charlie Morton in Game 3. The Rays also have one of the best bullpens in baseball, headlined by Nick Anderson. Through all of the Blue Jays acquisitions both in the offseason (Hyun-Jin Ryu) and at the trade deadline (Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray), they will simply face too big of a disadvantage pitching wise.
Both offenses were fairly similar, production-wise, in 2020. They both dealt with a myriad of injuries, including one to star SS Bo Bichette. However, the offensive depth of the Rays will allow them to platoon against any pitcher and create creative lineups filled with on-base machines. This young Blue Jays team certainly raised some eyebrows in 2020 and their core looks set for 2021 and beyond. In 2020, I think their story ends here and the Rays move on. With that being said, there is so much variance in a three-game series and I can’t recommend laying over -200 on the Rays.
Pick: Rays (No bet)
2. Oakland Athletics (-120) vs. 7. Chicago White Sox (+100)
The Oakland Athletics get a tough draw as the 2-seed, facing a young and hungry Chicago White Sox team. The difference between these two squads is slight, signified by the small advantage the Athletics have on the series price. This price has actually moved towards the White Sox, as it opened closer to +120 for the South Siders. The White Sox have the advantage offensively, as their lineup led by MVP candidate Jose Abreu was near the top of the lead in .SLG, wOBA, and WRC+. Not to mention, they also had incredible splits against left-handed pitching, led by another MVP candidate Tim Anderson. Offseason acquisition Edwin Encarnacion has not exactly panned out, although he does get on base and hit for power. However, the White Sox can more than make up for him with backup catcher James McCann, who quietly outperformed many stars on this team with a 1.4 fWAR. The biggest knock on the White Sox offense is their poor discipline. Chicago is in the bottom-third of the league in BB% and K%. This generally does not bode well for teams in the postseason (see Minnesota Twins).
On the other hand, the Athletics are one of the best teams in terms of plate discipline, even if their offensive stats don’t jump off the page. The will be without their best overall player, Matt Chapman, who went down with a season-ending hip injury. The good news? Trade deadline Tommy La Stella has fit this lineup perfectly and Matt Olson is starting to swing the bat better. The A’s will need to rely on their elite bullpen, headlined by closer Liam Hendricks. Interestingly, the White Sox bullpen has been very good in 2020, somewhat unexpectedly. Runs will come at a premium in the late innings during this series, so the advantage will go to the team who can put runs on the board early. Neither rotation has a decisive edge, my lean would be towards the White Sox behind Lucas Giolito. The White Sox will jump all over lefties like Jesus Luzardo and Mike Minor if Oakland decides to use them in Game’s 1 and 2. With the relative inconsistencies in Oakland’s rotation and the White Sox offensive superiority, I have to give a slight lean to the South Siders.
Pick: White Sox (Lean)
3. Minnesota Twins (-180) vs. 6. Houston Astros (+150)
Like it or not the Twins are one of the most one-dimensional offenses in baseball. If they are not hitting home runs, they are not scoring runs. 2019 standouts Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver have simply not hit up to par in 2020 and offseason acquisition, Josh Donaldson has missed a lot of time due to injury. This offense is still led by the ageless wonder Nelson Cruz, who seems to hit home runs and doubles in his sleep. The Twins are definitely happy not to have drawn the Yankees and are in an unfamiliar positions against the 2017 World Series Champs*** (Houston Asterisks).
That being said, although it has been a down-year for the Astros offense they still have more talent on a pay-to-player basis than the Bomba Squad. The Astros will need George Springer, Alex Bregman, and young-stud Kyle Tucker to lead this team against Minnesota’s solid pitching. The biggest advantage here is plate discipline. Although both offenses seem to be having a down year, the Astros have retained the plate discipline and contact metrics that have made them dangerous in the playoffs before. The Twins have a pitching advantage with ace Kenta Maeda in Game 1, followed by Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda. Although Berrios has shown great flashes, he is not a second ace and has struggled in big spots before. After Zach Greinke, the Astros will be asking a lot of young pitcher Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy. The Astros certainly have a lot of talent in their pitching ranks (Ryan Pressly, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers), but their bullpen can be a black hole. That being said, I like the Astros here at a plus price. The Twins are very beatable and their bullpen isn’t rock solid like some of the other teams in the AL. I’m not projecting a deep run for these Astros but I do believe this series is far closer to even than the price should suggest.
Pick: Astros +150
4. Cleveland Indians (+100) vs. 5. New York Yankees (-120)
In a matchup made for primetime, Shane Bieber will square off against Gerrit Cole for game one of this series. The 300-million dollar man Cole, has not been the ace of years past. He has given up far too many home runs in 2020 and his strikeout rate has plummeted. This isn’t necessarily cause for concern in the long run, but it is asking a lot of Cole to suddenly figure it all out in a matchup against Bieber. Outside of Cole, the Yankee staff has not been great. James Paxton has likely pitched his last innings in a Yankee uniform and it’ll be hard to expect much out of Deivi Garcia and J.A. Happ. I am stiff a firm believer in “Playoff Tanaka”, but the Indians clearly have the pitching advantage. Between Civale, Cerrasco, and Plesac the Indians certainly have options for Games 2 and 3. This is not to mention that their bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, behind Closer Brad Hand and set-up man James Karinchak.
Both offenses are stumbling heading into the postseason, although the Yankees have finally gotten healthier. With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back in the lineup, it at least looks like the lineup the Yankees intended to have. However, the real production comes from Batting Champ D.J. LeMahieu, HR Champ Luke Voit, and OF Clint Frazier. On paper the Yankees lineup should give pitchers worry, but their performance in actuality has yet to be seen. The Indians offense has not been good in to 2020, basically relying on the sole production of Jose Ramirez and the occasional burst from Francisco Lindor. The question here is, Will 2-3 runs be enough for the Indians to win 2 games? If Bieber and company can keep the Yankees bats quiet, you have to believe that the Yankee pitching will falter. This series price is deservingly very close to even, but in a three-game series, the pitching of the Indians is way too strong of an advantage.
Pick: Indians +100