With more playoff teams than ever before, October will be ripe for a big upset or two. The postseason begins with the best-of-three wild-card round, underscoring just how much of a crapshoot this all might be. Even the best teams throughout the regular season will lose a three-game series every so often–and no one seems to notice. This will be different, for sure.
So which talented team might be susceptible to an earlier October exit than expected? SI's MLB experts weigh in.
Tom Verducci: Whoever Faces the Indians
The top team most in danger of getting bounced early is whoever draws Cleveland in the first round. That could be Oakland depending on how the remaining games play out. The Indians send Shane Bieber to the mound in Game 1. He’s been so good he can shut down any team. Cleveland is 9-2 in games he has started–and the only losses were 2-1 and 3-1. A Game 1 loss for the higher seed immediately flips the quick series, putting tremendous pressure on the favored team. Cleveland has Zach Plesac and Carlos Carrasco lined up behind Bieber and a hot bat in José Ramírez, who is making a run at AL MVP. The A’s don’t have the starting pitching to match up against the Indians’ rotation.
Stephanie Apstein: Oakland A's
I'm a little worried about the A's. With All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman (hip) and top pitching prospect A.J. Puk (shoulder) out for the year, they're hobbled. Even a team at full strength would probably be disappointed in Oakland's likely matchup: the seventh-seeded Indians. They can send out Shane Bieber, who might win the AL MVP award, and Zach Plesac, who despite his COVID-related immaturity has pitched sensationally this season. Bieber has a 1.74 ERA. Plesac's is 1.85. Even if the Indians drop one of those, their No. 3 is Carlos Carrasco (2.90). It's almost enough to make the A's want to fall to the third seed.
Emma Baccellieri: Oakland A's
While it's true that they've been generally excellent in 2020, that's partially because they've enjoyed the easiest schedule in all of baseball (as calculated by Baseball-Reference) while their bullpen has out-performed its expected peripherals. And it certainly doesn't help matters that now they'll have to go without Matt Chapman.
Connor Grossman: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have been a pleasant story this year, reestablishing themselves as a playoff club under old friend/new manager David Ross. They're not necessarily in a bad spot entering the wild-card round, but nothing about Chicago's roster inspires a lot of hope it can repeat what happened in 2016.
Veteran starters Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks will dictate much of the team's October success, which is a scary proposition despite their regular season success. Ian Happ and Jason Heyward have been the only offensive standouts this year, which says as much as you need to know.
It's not that the Cubs faked their way into a playoff berth and an all-around nice season. I just don't think there's overwhelming talent to fuel a long October run, let alone escaping the first round. We'll see.
Matt Martell: Oakland A's
Oakland is staring at an unfavorable matchup with Cleveland. Game 1 would oppose the A's Chris Bassitt, who has been quite good for Oakland this year (5-2, 2.57 ERA), against Shane Bieber. Good luck.
Of course, the A's could end up as the No. 3 seed and face the injury-depleted Astros. Bassitt is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA against Houston this year; Oakland has won seven of its 10 games vs. Houston. This would be a more palatable series for the A's than one against the Central teams, but they'd still have to face Zack Greinke in Game 1. And they'd be playing without Matt Chapman, who is 5-for-14 with a homer (.357) in his career against Greinke.
Michael Shapiro: Atlanta Braves
The Braves mashed their way to another National League East title, but their pitching staff's startling lack of depth is a serious concern. Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels are out for the year, and there's little reliability behind Max Fried. There's plenty of pressure on youngsters Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright. Josh Tomlin and Huascar Ynoa could be prominently featured. The wrong lineup could end the Braves' playoff hopes in a hurry.
Friendly reminder that Atlanta hasn't reached the NLCS is its last nine playoff appearances dating back to 2002.