NL, AL Central Divisions flamed out

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The playoff field of 16 has been reduced to eight and the League Divisional Series got underway in the American League on Monday and the National League on Tuesday.

The American League series are being played in San Diego and Los Angeles with Houston and Arlington hosting the NL teams. Interestingly, all four Divisional Series match up Division rivals, which begs the following question — How bad was the NL Central this season?

Despite sending four of its five teams to the Playoffs the NL Central had just one win in nine games with the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs and Reds outscored by a combined 39-19 with the Cardinals accounting for 16 of the 19 runs. The Reds were shut out in being swept by Atlanta and the Cubs scored just one run in being swept by Miami. Of the eight NL playoff teams, Milwaukee was the only one that had a losing record in the regular season.

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The AL Central barely fared better although all three teams lost. Only the White Sox managed a win against Oakland as both Cleveland and Minnesota were swept by the Yankees and Astros respectively.

Houston was the only AL playoff team with a losing record. But the Astros had the good fortune to face Minnesota, which had lost 16 consecutive postseason games entering these playoffs. That streak is now at 18.

The Divisional Series are best-of-five and while I don’t object to this format, my main complaint is that — due to the neutral site — games are played on consecutive days.

Aside from taxing bullpens and virtually assuring no second start for the series-opening starting pitcher, everyday players may also get worn down, with perhaps the quality of play suffering and the risk of injury rising.

MLB is considering expanding the playoffs on a permanent basis to 14 rather than 16 teams, giving the team with the best record in each league a Bye for the best-of-three series. A return to normalcy will eliminate consecutive days of play as teams will be traveling between cities once again.

Here are thoughts on the four Divisional series and a game selection.

Yankees vs. Rays: The Yankees won Monday’s opener 9-3 and in doing so set a record by slugging 11 home runs through their first three postseason games.

This series opened a pick ‘em even though Tampa won eight of 10 regular season meetings. The early money moved the Yankees to -135 favorites prior to Game 1. After winning the opener the adjusted price had the Yankees slightly better than 5-2 favorites to advance.

Losers of six of eight to end regular season play, New York’s bats — considered the main strength in addition to a strong bullpen — have erupted at the right time.

The Rays are a gutsy, hard-working, low-budget team and their 40-20 regular season record was the AL’s best. Playing on consecutive days give an edge to the team with the deeper roster. Yankees in four.

Athletics vs. Astros: Despite the absence of elite starting pitchers from last season — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander — the Astros eliminated Minnesota in two straight games and took Monday’s opener from Oakland. Houston had lost seven of 10 regular season meetings.

This series matches successful playoff experience vs. unsuccessful experience. Oakland is in its 11th postseason since 2000 but had not advanced since making the 2005 ALCS. Oakland opened -120 to win the series but following Game 1’s win Houston is now -210.

Houston’s bats were quiet for most of the season in the aftermath of last off-season’s signal-stealing revelation. Manager Dusty Baker’s done a fine job taking over a tough situation and has a roster with enough depth to take this series the distance. Astros in five.

Marlins vs Braves: Miami is by far the biggest surprise in the 2020 playoffs and used timely hitting and outstanding pitching to sweep the Cubs with wins of 5-1 and 2-0. Atlanta swept its series from Cincinnati with similarly low scoring wins of 1-0 and 5-0, the former in 13 innings.

Atlanta’s lack of offense was surprising but should have more success against a Miami staff that has yet to feature an ace though 22-year-old Sixto Sanchez shows signs of becoming that ace.

The Braves have a healthy margin in average runs per game (5.8 vs 4.4) which should be the difference in a series. Atlanta Game 1 starter Max Fried is the best in the series with No. 2 Ian Anderson having outperformed fellow rookie Sanchez. Braves in four.

Dodgers vs Padres: The Dodgers swept Milwaukee in another low-scoring series (4-2, 2-0). San Diego needed all three games to eliminate St Louis. The Padres were without two of their top three starters — Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet. Clevinger was listed as Tuesday’s starter. A decision on Lamet was pending.

San Diego’s best chance for a win would be with that pair, but a win Tuesday was less likely with Walker Buehler slated to start for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw was brilliant in his start as he seeks to silence critics for past playoff failures and gets the Game 2 start Wednesday.

The Padres have plenty of offense and should avoid a sweep with a significant drop off in Dodger starting pitching behind Kershaw and Buehler. Dodgers in four.

Thursday

Rays vs. Yankees: Barring a sweep, the Yankees will be in position to either clinch or even their series against the Rays after winning Monday.

Playing a fourth consecutive day is an edge for the Yankees, especially with a deeper bullpen. In seeking to clinch the series, Yankees manager Aaron Boone is likely to manage this game in an all-out effort for an extra day of rest as the ALCS is scheduled to start Sunday.

If facing elimination, the same management style would apply to extend the season. YANKEES

Last week: 0-2

Season: 16-10

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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