Image courtesy of E! Online.

By: Michael Porter

The 2020 Major League Baseball season has been one to remember. Due to Covid-19, opening day was delayed until July 23, and several in-season outbreaks of the virus left analysts and fans wondering if the current campaign could even continue. Despite the unusual circumstances, there is still baseball to discuss, and although the abbreviated season is already nearing its close, there are several teams still battling for a playoff spot.

Just moments before the first pitch of the 2020 MLB season, the groundbreaking announcement that detailed Major League Baseball’s decision to alter the traditional playoff format shocked the entire sports world. Under this new agreement, the top two teams from each of baseball’s six divisions will automatically enter the playoffs when the season comes to a close. Additionally, the two teams from each league that had the best records – but did not seed in the top two in their division – will compete in a three-game Wild Card series that determines who advances.

In the American League, the playoff picture is starting to gain some clarity as the top teams in each division are beginning to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. In the East, the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays currently hold the top two spots. Despite playing all of their home games in Buffalo, N.Y., due to Canadian health regulations and entering the season with one of baseball’s youngest lineups, the Blue Jays are narrowly holding on to a playoff spot with just over two weeks left in the season. Like the Jays, Tampa Bay was widely expected to finish the year looking up at the Yankees in the standings. However, their strategic in-game decision making and continued mastery of platooning players has earned them the American League’s best overall record.

After running away with the division title in 2019, the Minnesota Twins surprisingly find themselves trailing the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central. The Sox invested millions in several of the team’s top performers during the offseason and their core of young, talented players are complementing these additions nicely. As for the Indians, the emergence of starting pitcher Shane Beiber as a legitimate ace and “Cy Young” front runner has given the club a workhorse to hand the ball off to every fifth day. Starters Zach Plesac, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale have all enjoyed solid seasons behind Beiber in the Cleveland rotation and the club has benefitted from one of the game’s most dominant bullpens throughout the season.

The American League West currently has the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros leading the division. Oakland has distanced themselves from the division’s other members and is currently on pace to finish the season as one of the better teams in the entire sport while Houston has taken a much different route to the top of the division. Currently hovering around .500 for the season, the Astros have struggled more than expected during 2020. Staff ace and 2019 Cy Young award recipient Justin Verlander has not pitched since starting on opening day and his rotation mates have struggled to fill the massive void created by his extended absence. Houston has been a powerhouse club for years and is certainly not used to fighting for this division’s crown, however, the club currently qualifies for the postseason despite their season-long struggles. They will definitely be a team to watch closely during the late-season stretch as they are known for getting hot when the games matter most.

The Minnesota Twins are currently the top Wild Card-qualifying team; however, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them reappear in the American League Central title conversation. There is still plenty of regular season baseball left to be played in 2020 and like the Twins, the Yankees are surely looking to make the most of it. After entering the current campaign as favorites to win the East, New York now finds themselves fighting for a Wild Card spot in a crowded, talented American League. The Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners have somehow remained relevant in playoff discussions despite coming into 2020 with three of the most unproven rosters in the sport. It will be interesting to see if these overachieving clubs can come out on top and qualify for the postseason. In this shortened, 60-game season, one winning or losing streak can determine a club’s postseason fate.