MLB Postseason 2020 Report

min read
BetMGM Jun 16, 2021, 2:20 PM
Touki Toussaint of the Atlanta Braves, throws a pitch. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
(Photo by Sara Stier/Getty Images)

The 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season was always going to be unique because of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. The season had all sorts of specially adapted rules and culminated in a one-of-a-kind 16-team playoff that crowned the Los Angeles Dodgers as World Series champions at last. So who did the Dodgers beat, and how did we get there?

The unique 2020 playoff format made for a very unusual MLB betting market throughout the postseason. What would the expanded playoffs mean for favorites like the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays? Would underdogs have any chance at making a surprising Cinderella run? The world of online sports betting was abuzz with wild predictions and bets as the playoffs got started.

So how did the postseason shape up, how did the pandemic affect things along the way, and how did the Dodgers win the 2020 World Series?

The End of the 2020 MLB Regular Season

Instead of the usual 162 game schedule, each team was scheduled to play just 60 games this fall, the shortest regular season since 1878. In order to reduce travel and Coronavirus exposure, the MLB schedules were changed drastically so that each team only played opponents from its own region.

There were other changes. When games had to be postponed, make-up doubleheaders were reduced to seven innings each. When a game went to extra innings, each team began with a runner on second base starting in the 10th inning. The goal was to get through the games expediently and get to meaningful playoffs.

The playoffs would be different too, of course.

Baseball had already expanded its playoffs. Then on the eve of the season, MLB announced it would expand the playoffs further to 16 teams for the 2020 season. That meant eight teams from the American League (AL), eight more from the National League (NL), and four full rounds of playoffs. It also meant that almost every team was in the playoff race until late in the season.

Each division would send two teams to the playoffs, along with two more Wild Card teams from each league. In the American League, most of the playoff picture was clear outside of the final AL West spot. The Houston Astros ended up earning the final spot at 29–31, becoming the first MLB playoff team ever with a sub-.500 record.

The Astros joined the AL West division winner Oakland Athletics in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays won the 1-seed in the American League with a record of 40–20. The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays also made the playoffs from the AL East. The AL Central playoff teams were the division-winning Minnesota Twins along with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.

The Houston Astros celebrate a win. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The eight National League playoff teams were mostly settled heading into the final week. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in baseball all season at 43–17, a 116-win pace, putting the 2020 Dodgers up there with the great regular season MLB teams. But the Dodgers were not interested in regular season accolades. After getting so close to a World Series title for so many years, they had bigger goals in mind.

The San Diego Padres were one of the big surprises this season and joined the Dodgers from the NL West, and the Atlanta Braves and surprising Miami Marlins joined from the NL East. Both National League Wild Cards came out of the NL Central, where four of the five teams made the playoffs. The Chicago Cubs won the division and were joined by the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers.

The Marlins and Cardinals were especially surprising playoff teams because both seasons looked derailed before the season had barely gotten going. Both Miami and St. Louis had significant COVID-19 outbreaks during the season and missed big stretches, battling all season to make up games. Many thought it would be a miracle to see either team even finish the season. No one expected they might make the playoffs against all MLB odds.

And with that, the playoffs were set. But they’d look a little different this year.

The Special Pandemic Playoff Format for 2020

With the playoff field set, the new format set up for a very exciting 2020 playoffs.

The three division winners would be the top three seeds in each league. Then the three second-place winners would be seeds four through six, in order of finish, with the Wild Cards getting the last two seeds.

The Wild Card Series would be a best-of-three series for the first time ever. After all that hard work, two losses could end the entire season in short order. And there would be no travel either. Each Wild Card Series matchup would be played entirely at the home stadium of the better-seeded team.

That changed for the Division Series and going forward. Those series would be played at neutral “bubble” sites, similar to how other American sports leagues had found success. The AL Division Series (ALDS) and League Championship Series (ALCS) would be played in Southern California at Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The National League would play their games in Texas, at Minute Maid Park in Houston and brand new Globe Life Field in Arlington.

Exterior of Dodger Stadium. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

After the three-game Wild Card Series, the winners advanced to play a five-game series in the ALDS and NLDS rounds. Then the final two American League teams met in a seven-game ALCS, with the same in the NLCS, and a traditional seven-game World Series.

And little did we know, we would need all seven of those games down the stretch.

The Three-Game Wild Card Series

The Wild Card games were fast and furious. They had to be, with the new format. Just losing a single game already would put the loser on the brink of elimination.

All but two Wild Card Series matchups ended in two games.

In the AL, the 1-seed Tampa Bay Rays took care of the Toronto Blue Jays in short order. The Rays won a close opener and closed out the Blue Jays 8–2 in Game 2. They’d face the New York Yankees next, who outlasted the Cleveland Indians in two high-scoring games. New York scored in five different innings in the opener to win 12–3. Cleveland responded with a 4–0 first inning lead in Game 2 but the Yankees fought back, scoring in five innings again, including two runs in the ninth to come from behind and knock Cleveland out, 10–9.

The big upset came on the other half of the AL bracket. The Minnesota Twins won their division and lucked into facing a sub-.500 team in the Houston Astros, but the Twins never got their bats going in the playoffs. They scored a single run in each game, and the Astros swept them with ease. The other matchup on that side of the bracket was nearly an upset too. The Chicago White Sox upset the Oakland A’s in the first game, but Oakland battled back with a big early start in Game 2 to tie things up. Both teams went deep into their bullpen in a deciding Game 3, but Oakland had the hotter bats and scored six in the fourth and fifth innings to get the victory.

Over in the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers took care of the Milwaukee Brewers in short order, shutting out Milwaukee twice to end the Brewers season. LA would face the upstart San Diego Padres next. The Padres played the only three-game series in the National League and looked like they were in trouble after falling 7–4 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener.

Luis Urias of the Milwaukee Brewers collapses to his knees after he is picked off at first base. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Game 2 was the best game of the Wild Card Series round. The Cardinals jumped out to a 4–0 lead in the second and looked set to end the Padres dream season, but San Diego fought back. Young stars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers became the first teammates since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to hit two home runs each in the same playoff game, and San Diego battled back for a wild 11–9 win. That was it for the Cardinals, as San Diego shut St. Louis out in Game 3 to advance.

The big upset in the National League mirrored the American League, with the 3-seed falling in two games. In the NL, that was the Chicago Cubs, who scored a single run in two games. Miami’s incredible season continued as they got their first postseason series win since winning the World Series in 2003. The Marlins would play the Atlanta Braves next. The Braves played a marathon Game 1 against the Cincinnati Reds, with neither team scoring all game until Freddie Freeman’s walk-off single in the 13th inning won it for Atlanta. The Braves won 5–0 in Game 2, sending Cincinnati home without a postseason run. All four NL Central teams had been eliminated in the Wild Card Series round.

With the playoffs whittled to eight teams in just a few days, the field was ready to head to their respective bubbles for the Division Series.

The Mostly Boring Division Series

The playoffs began with a bang, and even though most of the first round series were sweeps, there was a ton of excitement around the league with the new format. That started to die down a bit with a dud of a Division Series round.

The National League was especially boring, with both series ending in sweeps as the top two seeds in the NL advanced to the NLCS.

The Padres used nine pitchers in Game 1 and briefly held a 1–0 lead, but the Dodgers hung four runs in the sixth inning to take an easy win. San Diego took another 1–0 lead in Game 2, and again the Dodgers responded immediately with a crooked number one inning later. The Padres trailed 6–3 in the ninth but came roaring back with two runs off star LA closer Kenley Jansen, but Joe Kelly came in to save the day. The Padres loaded the bases but couldn’t get that last run. The Dodgers got the win and took care of business easily in Game 3 to sweep the Padres.

The Braves swept their series too, as the dream Marlins season finally came to an end. Ronald Acuña Jr. set the tone with a lead-off home run in Game 1 for Atlanta. The Marlins responded by taking a 4–1 lead in the third and looked like they might steal Game 1, but the Braves broke the game and the series wide open with a six-run seventh. They won 9–5, and the Marlins never scored again, shut out twice to end their season.

Miami Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm ready to run after hitting the ball. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Over in the AL, the Houston Astros run continued. The Astros bats exploded with 10 runs in Game 1, including a pair of homers by Carlos Correa, as Houston won the game. The Astros jumped on the Athletics early in Game 2 too and looked headed for a sweep before Oakland bounced back in Game 3. Tommy La Stella got things started with a first inning home run and was joined by Mark Canha, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, and Chad Pinder, who all hit homers. Oakland scored five over the final three frames to save their season with a 9–7 win. The A’s came out hot in an elimination Game 4 and took a 3–0 lead in the second, but the Astros responded with five runs in the fourth and another pair of runs in each of the next three innings to put the series to bed.

The final Division Series was the best, pitting the division rival Rays and Yankees. The series opened with a showdown of aces as Tampa’s Blake Snell and New York’s Gerritt Cole took the mound, but both teams’ bats were ready. It was a back and forth battle all game and the Yankees took a 4–3 lead into the final frame before blowing things open with a Giancarlo Stanton grand slam in the ninth. The Rays bounced back in Game 2 and scored in five of the first six innings to support Tyler Glasnow, tying the series up at one apiece.

The Rays won again in Game 3 as star Tampa rookie Randy Arozarena hit a home run for the third straight game, and the Rays scored eight runs on 13 hits to take the series lead. But the Yankees responded in a bullpen Game 4. Both teams started “openers,” something many teams used in this weird pandemic season to start a bullpen pitcher for a brief inning or two. New York’s pen came through and the Yankees won 5–1 to push the series to a fifth and deciding game.

Game 5 again meant another Cole and Glasnow showdown, and this game was all about the pitchers. Aaron Judge blasted a third inning homer, and Cole took a no hitter into the fifth before Tampa’s Austin Meadows tied the game with a solo shot of his own. It remained 1–1 until the bottom of the eighth, when Mike Brosseau finally got revenge on Aroldis Chapman by taking him deep for a 2–1 lead. Diego Castillo got the final three outs, and the Rays were headed to the ALCS.

The Incredible League Championship Series

The Division Series may not have been particularly memorable outside of that Yankees-Rays series, but the rest of the playoffs were certainly a doozy. Both League Championship Series would go the full seven games.

The ALCS didn’t look like it would be all that interesting at first. Remember, this was the best team in the AL in Tampa Bay along with the Astros, who weren’t even .500 when the playoffs began. The games were close early, but the Rays always had the winning touch. Another Arozarena home run helped Tampa win Game 1, and the Rays put up three runs in the first inning of Game 2 and held on for another win. When Tampa scored five in the sixth inning of Game 3 and went on to win that one too, it looked like a wrap. Only the Boston Red Sox have ever overcome a 3–0 MLB playoff series deficit.

But the Astros weren’t ready to roll over and die. Zach Greinke was ready for battle in Game 4, and the Astros got homers from Jose Altuve and George Springer to take a game. Game 5 was close all the way, with Houston leading early but Tampa tied it up late before Carlos Correa took a familiar hero role, walking it off for Houston with a long solo homer in the ninth off Tampa’s Nick Anderson to keep Houston’s season alive. Game 6 was not close, as the Astros rode their hot bats and momentum to another big lead and won 7–4 to send things to a deciding Game 7.

Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout smiling. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Rays were determined not to fall behind again, scoring a pair of runs in the first and another run in the second to grab a 3–0 lead, with yet another dinger from Arozarena, who starred for Tampa Bay all postseason long. The Rays led 4–0 late when the Astros came back once more with two runs in the eighth, but that was as close as Houston got. Pete Fairbanks got the final outs for Tampa to send them to their second World Series.

The NLCS was even more dramatic.

Game 1 was a pitchers’ duel between LA’s Walker Buehler and Atlanta’s Max Fried, and the game was tied heading into the ninth with the Braves got homers from Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies to grab an early series lead. When Clayton Kershaw was a late scratch in Game 2 with back spasms, the Braves jumped all over LA and led 7–0 in the seventh before the Dodgers came storming back. Corey Seager hit a three-run homer in the seventh and then doubled as part of a huge rally in the ninth, but the Dodgers came up one run short and lost 8–7, as Atlanta took a two-game lead.

Game 3 was over before Atlanta even came to bat. The Dodgers batted around in the top of the first, scoring an incredible 11 runs. That included three home runs, one a Max Muncy grand slam, and LA won 15–3 to cut the series lead in half. But Atlanta won again in Game 4, taking down Kershaw with a big six-run sixth inning to take a 3–1 series lead. The Braves would need only one more win to get to the World Series for the first time this century — but they never got that win.

The Braves led early in Game 5, but the Dodgers scored three runs in back-to-back innings late, buoyed by a pair of Corey Seager home runs. Seager homered in the first inning of Game 6 too as the Dodgers got three runs in the first and let Walker Buehler do the rest. The Dodgers won 3–1 to send the series to a deciding Game 7.

The Braves scored in the top of the first and again in the second to take a 2–0 lead, but a two-run single by Will Smith tied it up for the Dodgers in the third. But a wild fourth inning was when it all came crashing down for Atlanta. The Braves scored again to take a lead but should almost certainly have scored more, if not for an incredible base-running gaffe that led to an unusual 5–2–5–6 double play. Atlanta had runners on second and third with no one out before blowing things, and they never really recovered. The next inning, LA’s Mookie Betts made an incredible catch to rob Freddie Freeman of a home run, and homers by Kike Hernandez and Cody Bellinger flipped the game for LA late and won it for the Dodgers.

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts catches a fly ball. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

LA was headed back to the World Series for the third time in four seasons, and this time, LA wanted to finish the job and win it all.

An Incredible World Series to Remember

The World Series would also be played at the new Globe Life Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with teams from each coast meeting in the Fall Classic in the first neutral-field World Series since World War II. Even with the expanded playoff field and longer MLB odds, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays were the best teams all season, and now they’d play for a World Series championship. The Rays and Dodgers combined to win 69.2% of their regular season, the best combined winning percentage ever for a pair of World Series opponents.

Game 1 featured a showdown between LA’s Clayton Kershaw and Tampa’s Tyler Glasnow, and Cody Bellinger got the scoring going with a two run jack in the fourth. The Dodgers blew the game open with four more runs in the fifth frame and took an early series lead, 8–3. But the Rays responded in Game 2. Brandon Lowe hit a first inning homer for the first Tampa lead of the series, and Tampa scored two more in the fourth and fifth innings. Rays pitchers struck the Dodgers out 15 times, tying a World Series record, and we were tied 1–1.

In Game 3, Charlie Morton struggled for Tampa as Justin Turner homered in the first and Morton allowed five runs early. The Rays never got the bats going and fell 6–2, but they fought back again in a wild and memorable Game 4. Turner hit another first inning home run, and Corey Seager hit one of his own in the third for a 2–0 lead. Then things got crazy as the teams scored runs in eight straight half-innings, going back and forth in a wild and unpredictable game that went 2–0, 2–1, 3–1, 3–2, 4–2 before the Rays finally took a 5–4 lead in the sixth, gave it right back at 6–5 in the seventh, then tied it again in the bottom half of the inning.

LA scored one more in the eighth to retake the lead, and with Kenley Jansen on the mound in the ninth, the Dodgers had a chance to put things away. The Rays got two runners on but sent Brett Phillips to the plate, who had never had a postseason hit. Phillips singled to center to score Kevin Kiermaier to tie the game, but LA’s Chris Taylor fumbled the ball in center field. Tampa’s star rookie Arozarena had stumbled and fallen rounding third, but he got back to his feet and dove in safely for an incredible 8–7 win to tie the series at 2–2. It was the first World Series game to end on an error since that memorable Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs.

Game 5 was another Kershaw and Glasnow rematch, but the Dodgers got to Glasnow early with three runs in the first two frames. Kershaw finally shook his postseason demons with a second World Series win, and Los Angeles won 4–2 to pull within a single win of a title.

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks off the field. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
(Photo by Tommy Pennington/Getty Images)

The Rays started Blake Snell in an elimination Game 6, and he was brilliant. Tampa took a first inning lead with a home run by Randy Arozarena, his third of the World Series and tenth of the playoffs, a new single postseason record. Snell was fantastic with nine strikeouts and no walks through 5 1/3 innings, but Rays’ manager Kevin Cash removed him controversially in the sixth and that’s when things went sideways. Nick Anderson gave up a double to Mookie Betts, and then a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice helped the Dodgers tie it up and then take the lead. LA added a Betts home run in the eighth, and that was a wrap. Julio Urias pitched the final 2 1/3 innings and struck out Willy Adames looking to win the World Series for the Dodgers.

Of course, in typical 2020 fashion, even a World Series winning game was not without controversy. Longtime Dodgers star third baseman Justin Turner had been quietly removed in the eighth inning unexpectedly, and it was revealed shortly after the game that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Turner rejoined his teammates on the field to celebrate the World Series win in a bit of a controversial finish. He was the only player to test positive for the virus in the MLB postseason bubble, and thankfully, there were no further reported positive COVID-19 cases after Turner’s celebration with the Dodgers.

And with that, the 2020 MLB season and playoffs were a wrap. The Los Angeles Dodgers are finally World Series champions again, for the first time since 1988. It was a long wait, but it was worth the wait for LA fans. The Dodgers became just the seventh team in the Wild Card era to win the World Series with the best record in baseball, losing only one series all season.

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Even with their history of heartbreak and a weird pandemic season, the Dodgers were World Series favorites when MLB betting lines opened, and they paid off those bets handsomely for bettors. Even with things mostly shut down around the country, many Americans took to online betting for the first time and enjoyed the wild and unpredictable 2020 MLB playoffs.

And in an odd twist of fate, even in perhaps the most unpredictable season and postseason format ever because of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, it was the best team teams in baseball battling for the World Series crown in the end, with the best team of the past half decade putting an exclamation mark on the season and win the world championship.

Finally, after everything, the Dodgers are world champions.

With the 2020 season in the books, many are already looking ahead to the 2021 season. Will the Los Angeles Dodgers repeat as champions and become the latest baseball dynasty? Will the Tampa Bay Rays youth movement bring them back to the brink of a title? Will the New York Yankees or Houston Astros bounce back, and will young upstart teams like the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox continue to break through?

When you place your early bets for the 2021 season, you can always trust BetMGM to have the best online sportsbook odds and promotions around. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.