In one of the more bizarre decisions from any sports league I can remember, MLB decided to expand the postseason field literally hours before the first pitch of the 2020 season was thrown. In fact, the official announcement wasn’t even made until after the season had already technically started. I already talked a little bit about the decision and my feelings about it here — basically, I’m fine this year but don’t want it to be long-term — so I won’t go into all of it again for too long. But I will give a quick refresher on how things will work.
Instead of the normal five teams from each league qualifying for postseason play, this year there will be eight. The top two teams in all six divisions will automatically qualify, and then there will be two more wildcards from each league. Then, instead of having one do-or-die game to start the postseason, there will be four best-of-three series. Those will take place over three days with the higher seed hosting all three games.
Like I said, I don’t like this long-term, but it’s hard to deny that this is very good news for the Red Sox, who were generally seen to be on the outside looking in before this rule, and now are right in the thick of things. According to FanGraphs’s playoff odds, the Red Sox saw their chances jump from 39 percent by the old rules to 64 percent after the rule change. It has since jumped to 67 percent after yesterday’s game. They aren’t the only team to see a big jump, but they were right there with the biggest jumps in the league.
So, now the question becomes who they are competing with for a postseason spot. We’ll start with the caveat that, in a 60-game season, we know even less than we usually do at prediction time. Basically anything can happen (besides the Orioles making the playoffs) and I wouldn’t be totally shocked. That said, I am still assuming the Red Sox will not crack the top two in the division. The Yankees and the Rays just look to be clearly better and they should be the AL East teams to waltz into the postseason.
So that means they will be competing for one of the two wildcard spots. To get to who I think they’ll be competing against, let’s look at the teams who I think are bad enough to write off, and also the teams that are good enough that I’m confident in their ability to finish in the top two in the division.
The teams that are too bad are: Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle
The teams that are too good are: Houston, Oakland, Minnesota, New York, Tampa Bay
So, that leaves five teams against whom the Red Sox are most likely to be battling for those two wildcard spots. In no particular order, those teams are: Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Texas and Toronto. The Red Sox only need to beat three of those teams, though, because one of the Central teams are going to finish second in their division and earn an automatic spot.
The main takeaway here is that the Red Sox, while admittedly mediocre on paper, have a damn solid chance to make the playoffs this year. If we average the projected win total from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus for these six teams (including Boston), this is how they line up:
1. Indians (32.5)
T-2. Red Sox (31)
T-2. White Sox (31)
T-2. Angels (31)
T-5. Blue Jays (28)
T-5. Rangers (28)
So, there you have it. According to the projections, the Indians would be that second place team in the Central, and there would be a three-team battle between the Red Sox, Angels and White Sox for those two wildcard spots. Los Angeles is very similar to the Red Sox in that they have a big-time offense with major pitching questions, while Chicago is a team coming out of a rebuild looking for their newly supplemented young core to take the next leap forward.
How do you feel about the Red Sox chances against this competition?