MLB Wild Card Playoff Power Rankings

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A staggering, monumental and thrilling all-time high, eight MLB post season games occurred the last day of September, 2020. This unprecedented whirlwind of playoff baseball ran for slightly more than eleven hours coast to coast. Once the dust settles tomorrow, weather permitting, eight teams will advance from the expanded Wild Card format to four division series hosted at neutral locations and stadiums. But why not power rank the entire playoff field anyway? Onward!

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Hunter Renfroe’s game two second inning grand slam punctuated a seven run two inning. And the Rays bulldozed a young Blue Jays before Tampa cruised to an easy Wild Card round series win, as they showed why they’re absolutely still the hottest team in baseball, and well deserving of the number one seed in the American League. The Rays will face off against their bad blood division rivals New York Yankees for a best of seven game set in the Division round next week. This has nothing to do with what we’ve seen so far, but I should mention I did explicitly pray to the Baseball Gods for this premiere AL East showdown because both teams are stacked, elite powerhouses, and more vitally important to guaranteeing good, hard and fast October baseball, they absolutely hate each other. Should be spectacular. And. I. Can’t. Wait.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: This team should win the National League Championship. They’re long overdue for a World Series. And their eighth straight NL West Division win this season does not alleviate the insufferable agony of watching 18 other MLB franchises win the World Series since LA last took home a title in 1988. The not at all surprising success of 5 Tool right fielder, and leadoff power hitting, Mookie Betts translated into two clutch doubles in his first two post season Dodger ABs. Fun fact: their expanded, final projected win percentage this year indicted Dave Roberts’ ultra-stacked squad finished the regular season on pace for an MLB record-setting 116 wins – had a full season elapsed. And Cory Seager smashed Dodger Stadium’s longest HR of the year, 497 feet, in the bottom of the seventh during their game one win over the Brewers. Clayton Kershaw finally seems to have nixed his post season demons as well, because in game two, he dazzled Milwaukee by hurling an utterly flawless eight inning gem, fanning 13 Brewers and allowing no runs on three hits as LA won in classic, laid back, southern California style, 3-0.

3. New York Yankees: DJ LeMahieu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to win undisputed batting titles in both leagues. His .364 batting average was the best in the American League since 2009. The Bronx Bombers demolished AL Cy Young favorite Shane Bieber in game one, who gave up seven earned runs in less than three innings of work. Game two featured multiplicitous oddities including two prolonged rain delays, 19 Walks, ESPN commentator, Alex Rodriguez called a rare Gary Sanchez opposite field home run literally two seconds prior to the ball launching off the bat and leaving the yard; and all of this happened before Gleyber Torres tomahawked a breaking ball for his second infield hit in two games to load the bases with no outs for the Yankees in the top of the ninth, against the MLB’s regular season save leader, 16, Brad Hand, who then blew his very first save of the year when Gary Sanchez tied the game on a sacrifice fly, just moments before LeMahieu knocked in the go-ahead run on a ball back up the middle to give the Yankees their final edge, and a 10-9 lead. The first time he’s thrown a second inning all year, Aroldis Chapman recorded a total of six outs for the win. The Yankees became the first team in baseball history to score 22 runs and shellack 7 home runs in the first two games of a post season series. 

4. Atlanta Braves: Took five hours and thirteen brutal innings for the Braves, who also struck out twenty seven times, to finally sink the Reds, 1-0, in a game featuring the longest scoreless deadlock in post season history. Atlanta’s hero was none other than the man, who after defeating a reported 105 degree fever due to coronavirus complications before the MLB season began, Freddie Freeman, who finished with a .341 batting average, and the league’s second best OPS 1.102, would up walking it off for the Braves by finding the long shadows and grass with an RBI bloop behind second after both sides, in this single game, compiled more total strikeouts than the entirety of punch outs amassed during the Reds sweep of the Yankees in the 1976 World Series.

5. Oakland Athletics: Bob Melvin’s squad snagged their first post season win since 2013; finally snapping a six loss playoff game slide. However, nothing comes easy for the vast majority of teams in October, and it was ultimately an ugly A’s victory because A’s Closer, Liam Hendricks, arguably the best late innings arm in the American League this season, recording 14 saves, good for second in all of baseball, and allowing only three runs all year before giving up three to the M’s in his final regular season appearance – was in line for a monumental six out save until he threw a staggering 49 pitches before failing to record the final out in his botched save attempt during game two. Hendricks surrendered two runs in the eighth, loaded the bases in the ninth, and was charged with a third run after being yanked by Melvin before that third White Sox runner crossed over when Jake Diekman, walked veteran, Yasmani Grandal to thoroughly stress out all of A’s Nation; who’re typically spoiled during the regular season, then devastated come October, until Diekman lugubriously slammed the door on Chicago when he got Jose Abreu to ground out to second. Hendricks was flawless in game three, as the A’s cruised onward, 6-4.

6. San Diego Padres: Before entering game 2 against St. Louis, the Padres were 0-12 all time when down by more than four in a playoff game. Though this particular flock of friars had the greatest win percentage in franchise history. They literally bet the farm (system) on post season success this year. And Most win-now moves are flawed excursions if the maneuvering’s totals happen to exceed a swap for one singular big piece or two. Great example: when the Cubs picked up Chapman from the Yankees in 2016, the rest of Joe Maddon’s roster was strong and well established. But the Padres flouted conventional wisdom, and performed the unprecedented by moving a staggering 16 players, and all mostly in support of both the bullpen and their dreadful starting rotation. New arrivals Clevinger and Lamet were steadfast, until both arms wound up shelved due to season-ending injuries. With everything falling apart for the tooled-up, and limping, though mercurial, “Sham Diego,” they looked drained, gassed and deflated across the roster when they showed up for game one of the Wild Card round. St. Louis won a game and was leading by more than four, and Tatis had left a whopping 10 runners on base, 5 in each game, before, it happened: (FINALLY!) Tatis and Machado revived, “Slam Diego,” with back to back bombs, tying game 2 at 6 in the bottom of the sixth to at least temporarily avoid getting swept out of the playoffs by the scorching hot red birds of St. Louis. No matter how game three shakes out, they should make another October appearance in 2021. They’re loaded with talented young hitters: Tatis, Machado, Hosmer, Moreland, Myers, plus new addition, and former Mariner, Austin Nola. They will most likely solve at least some of their starting pitching problems by signing an ace this off season, or potentially a fleet of new cannons, to add to one of baseball’s best slugging rosters. And maybe that’s Trevor Bauer? James Paxton? Or, perhaps, both.

7. Houston Astros: There is no way around it, so I must say what pains me greatly: The Astros smoked the Twins in two games at Target Field. And they looked phenomenal. Though they won’t have Verlander on deck due to Tommy John surgery, and they lost Gerrit Cole in the offseason to the Yankees. They will, as we know already, do anything within their power and imagination to find a way to win big games. All of their key offensive statistics are down from last season. But the ‘Stros still have a lot of post season experience. Carlos Correa didn’t pull any punches during his post series win interview session either, saying, “I know a lot of people are mad. But what are they going to say now?”Watch out for the MLB’s latest and least remorseful super villains next week against AL West division rivals Oakland, where and when, yet again, the quality in October equation remains tried and true: bad blood + animosity + hostility + venom = better baseball.

8. Florida Marlins: This franchise has never lost a playoff series. Both times they qualified for the post season, they won the World Series. This odd factotum remains true as of this publishing because their second game at Wrigley was postponed due to forecasted inclement weather. I predict the streak ends this season, BUT, they wound up clobbering the dreadfully inconsistent Cubs during game one of the Wild Card round, so who knows what Jeter’s ball club can rustle up? And yes, some might call their success this season a fluke. But to quote the ever sagacious and savvy accountant from, “The Office,” Kevin Malone, “Look, I know it’s easy to say tonight was just a fluke, and maybe it was. But here’s a piece of trivia: A fluke is one of the most common fish in the sea, So if you go fishing for a fluke, chances are… you just might catch one.

9. Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson became the first player in baseball history with nine hits in his first three post season games. Lucas Giolito was lights out when he kept a perfect game bid intact until the seventh against the A’s in game one. But the rest of their Oakland series was dominated by close calls and electrifying rallies that fell short just about every time proficiency ruptured because it just so happens the Oakland was the single best team in baseball when down late in games and, leading every bug league team in comeback victories this season. The core group of this upstart White Sox side should make another strong post season run next year with power hitters Abreu, Anderson and Jimenez likely to return, and I expect they’ll post big numbers again during the regular season. This year, after shattering power hitting franchise records, and leading baseball for many weeks, they finished third in home runs overall. Another bonafide silver lining for the White Sox rests in its local juxtapositions because south side baseball is far more fun than what is an utter lack of thunder at Wrigley Field; where the Cubs might just give up and plunge into a full blown rebuild sometime in next several years, during which time, the White Sox should, without question, become the better of the windy city’s ball clubs, which is something they haven’t managed to accomplish since the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. 

10. St. Louis Cardinals: For multiple weeks the Cardinals were quarantined in a hotel following several positive coronavirus tests. Rack and ruin and humiliation turned into reports of players throwing baseballs into mattresses just to keep their arms live. Paul Goldschimdt was the only slugger in the lineup batting over .300 going into their Padres series. They emerged from the NL Central’s postseason hunt’s bottleneck flying below the radar until they stunned baseball fans everywhere by slamming into the Padres in S-D by hanging a quick four on the first inning frame pushing back the nationally popular friars 7-4 Wednesday. And it seemed they’d found another something special in reserve for what looked like another among many of this team’s clever ways to win, by scoring early and often, once again in game two Thursday evening. And that is all that matters come October. But every great story must end at some point: the Cardinals bullpen imploded. Their combined ERA was 17.06 as they surrendered 4 in the sixth, 3 in the seventh, and 2 in the eighth, with Tatis tattooing not one, but two multi-RBI bombs, and his first home runs since more than a month ago. The Cards’d finally ran out of gas. Earlier this year they played 53 games in 44 days. And then St. Louis snuck into the wild card with zero expectations. Matt Carpenter told reporters, “If we win the World Series, it will be considered nothing short of a miracle.” Scrapping for every inch and advantage was and is their M.O. And it was astonishing. Until it wasn’t enough. They play game three in San Diego tomorrow evening. 

11. Chicago Cubs: Seems like lovable losing might resume indefinitely for the north siders as their potential early exit from the post season seems to indicate their championship window is slamming hard and fast. Earlier this year, Javier Baez complained about the lack of real-time video equipment he could use during games, completely forgetting the technology was banned from baseball because the Astros used it to seal signs from opposing teams. However Baez may have been covering for not just his lack of production with his commentary, but his teammates too, because he, Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and Hayward have looked nothing short of mystified and sub-par at the plate this entire season, as the heart of this former All Star battery is producing nothing beyond the rare game saving home run. Ian Happ was sterling example of what can rise from a strong farm system, but seismic personnel swaps seem forthcoming among their stars.

12. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds earned more walks than singles this season. That’s never happened before. Their 22 inning scoreless streak to begin a post season also became another dreadful, woebegone baseball record; as they hit a combined 11-48 in game one, and 2-29 in the second consecutive game they dropped to an Atlanta Braves team that managed to stymy the Reds, and find gutsy ways to win big games even when they played their absolute worst offensive baseball. The Reds were a perennial dark horse in baseball writer circles all year. No more. One silver lining for Cinci though – Trevor Bauer. Bauer was monstrously efficient during game 1. He set a Reds post season record with 12 K’s against Atlanta. Only Gerrit Cole had more in his first start this round, 13. If the Reds find a way to sign Bauer to a long-term deal after his current contract runs out, and if he’s not snatched away by deep pockets in New York or Los Angeles, Bauer could potentially win at least one or perhaps two Cy Young Awards for the oldest franchise in baseball. 

13. Toronto Blue Jays: The ceiling on this scrappy squad is very high. But this? Was not their year. They received the worst, most insurmountable opening round draw of the MLB’s nascent Wild Card format: Tampa Bay. They could not strung together any rallies whatsoever. And their ace starting pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu who was also their single biggest off-season signing – though they traded for and added Walker and Robbie Ray at the trade deadline – was briskly hustled off the diamond in his first post season blue bird appearance for his new team after surrendering 8 hits, 2 home runs, 7 runs – though only 3 were earned – in just 1.2 innings of work. 

14. Cleveland Indians: The Tribe won nine of eleven before running into the stunning battery and buzzsaw of a New York Yankees team where all of us watching from our homes learned that home field advantage does not exist without the legendary zest of one-sided cacophony at work. American League Cy Young favorite, Shane Bieber, got rocked in his first ever post season appearance for the Indians and left game one after 4.2 innings, 7 ER, 9 hits, and 2 HRs. 

15. Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich was a bitter disappointment this year for the embattled and barely ever above five hundred Brew Crew. Yelich’s batting average dropped an alarming 124 points since his MVP Award winning slugging one season ago, and Yelich posted the most dramatic and largest batting average plummet by a defending league batting champ since Norm Cash went from .361 down to a dreadful .243 in 1962. Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen, struck out Yelich when it mattered most to seal game one of their LA series for the Dodgers. In game two, the Craig Counsel’s Brew Crew were flummoxed and smothered by Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw. The Brewers played nowhere near as strong as they did last year, and this is just a hunch, but I expect they’ll use this offseason to re-tool and recalibrate before bouncing back next season with at least half of their current roster playing somewhere other than Milwaukee.

16. Minnesota Twins: The first team eliminated, the Twins extended North American professional sports’ longest post season losing streak, 18 consecutive losses, by dropping two straight to a dreadfully underperforming* Astros* team* that entered the playoffs with a losing regular season record; and all at home as well, where the Twins did not lose back to back games the entire season. To punctuate the Bomba Squad’s big time flop, they had zero home runs in their Houston series after clobbering 91, third best in baseball, during the regular season. Seems like all the hype surrounding baseball’s most competitive division was nothing but hot air. All three AL Central teams fell in the Wild Card round. And to me, this is exactly why playing well during the regular season is vital, but is also, without question, NOT the most important part of determining what the league looks like once October arrives. Long live the new and exhilarating and expanded 16 team playoff format! (At least the M’s have a chance of getting in next year).

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About Author

Jackson Pappin

Jackson Pappin is a freelance writer. A 2018 WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication alumni, he writes fiction, journalism, columns, essays and poetry. His work has been published in Anastamos, The Oregonian, The Spokesman Review, The Seattle P.I. Reader Blogs, The Daily Evergreen, The Central Circuit, LandEscapes and at the Spectra Art Gallery. His writing is available at https://jacksonpappin.blogspot.com

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