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MLB playoff push: Blue Jays punch their ticket, plus current postseason bracket

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The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than a week away, even though it seems like the regular season has barely kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

Jump to …

Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: Standings | Guide to the final week | Passan: Inside final week | Playoff schedule

If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings after the most recent day’s games.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays*
No. 2 Athletics* vs. No. 7 Indians*
No. 3 Twins* vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 White Sox* vs. No. 5 Yankees*

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Reds
No. 2 Braves* vs. No. 7 Giants
No. 3 Cubs* vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres* vs. No. 5 Cardinals

*Clinched playoff spot

Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot

NL: Marlins 3, Reds 3, Giants 5, Cardinals 5 (due to St. Louis having played fewer games).

AL: Astros 2


Who can clinch next?

The Astros can wrap up the final playoff spot in the American League as early as Friday, when they open a series against the Rangers.

Who is already in?

Los Angeles Dodgers

The overwhelming preseason favorite clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth consecutive division title.

What’s next? The big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since the Dodgers previously won it all.

Dodgers must-read: How A.J. and Kate Pollock faced their daughter’s premature birth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.

What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row, as well as their first AL East title since 2010. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.

What’s next? Securing the No. 1 seed in the AL.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s punched their third straight postseason ticket with a win over the Giants, then clinched the AL West three days later.

What’s next? After securing their first AL West crown since 2013, the A’s are still in the mix for one of the AL’s top two seeds.

A’s must-read: Inside the A’s dominance and how they plan to make it last

Minnesota Twins

The Twins clinched their third postseason appearance in the past four seasons. Last year, they were swept by the Yankees in the division series, extending their postseason losing streak to 16 straight since their most recent win, in Game 1 of the 2004 AL Division Series.

What’s next? The Twins are still in the mix for the AL Central title and a top-three seed.

San Diego Padres

The Padres clinched their first postseason appearance since 2006 when they came back to beat the Mariners in extra innings 7-4 after fending off a no-hit bid.

What’s next? With a tight grasp on the No. 4 seed in the NL, they can focus on getting ready to make good on their 2020 breakthrough.

Padres must-read: How Padres GM A.J. Preller decided to go for it

New York Yankees

Although they took a beating in Boston on Sunday, the Yankees clinched a playoff spot when the Padres beat the Mariners.

What’s next? The big question for the Yankees is if they can grab the AL’s No. 4 seed to start the postseason in their ballpark.

Yankees must-read: Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a HR problem

Atlanta Braves

Even before they finished their game against the Marlins on Tuesday, the Braves clinched their third straight NL East title when the Phillies were swept in both ends of their doubleheader against the Nationals. In both of the previous two seasons, the Braves failed to advance beyond the division series.

What’s next? Lining up their shallow rotation for next week’s playoff assignments and keeping everyone healthy seem like the immediate goals for Atlanta.

Braves must-read: Why a Braves-White Sox World Series would be extra special

Cleveland Indians

Powered by Jose Ramirez’s three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the White Sox, Cleveland clinched its return to the postseason after missing out on October in 2019, which snapped a streak of three consecutive playoff appearances.

What’s next? Cleveland is still in the hunt for either first or second place in the AL Central, so their seeding is very much up in the air.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs snapped a one-season hiatus from the postseason and got rookie manager David Ross’ team to October in his first year in the dugout.

What’s next? Beyond clinching the NL Central title, getting Jose Quintana and Kris Bryant healthy and ready for the postseason are the Cubs’ two biggest priorities in the time remaining.

Cubs must-read: Inside Yu Darvish’s return to elite status as the Cubs’ ace

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays earned their first postseason berth since 2016 with Thursday’s win over the Yankees behind their top starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

What’s next? The Blue Jays are likely to end up as the No. 8 seed, so they’ll be able to keep Ryu lined up for their playoff opener Tuesday.

About last night …

play

1:30

Bryce Harper hits two of the Phillies’ five home runs in a 12-3 win over the Nationals.

Last Sunday, the Marlins beat the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader and improved to 28-24. Even after losing 15-0 in the nightcap, they stood as the fifth seed in the National League — heck, they were only three games behind the Braves and with a four-game series starting Monday in Atlanta, a division title was, however slim, a possibility. FanGraphs estimated Miami’s playoff odds at nearly 84%.

The Braves won 5-4 on Monday, 11-1 on Tuesday and 9-4 on Wednesday, knocking out Sixto Sanchez, Miami’s ace rookie starter, after just three innings. Now the Marlins, the surprise feel-good story of the season, are suddenly in a fight for one of those final four playoff spots in the NL.

They are still the sixth seed, as the current No. 2 team in the East, but they are just a half-game ahead of the Phillies, who recovered from Tuesday’s disastrous doubleheader to beat the Nationals 12-3 behind Bryce Harper‘s two home runs and four runs scored.

Those might not even have been the biggest games of the night. The Reds and Brewers both entered their game at .500, so it would be a two-game swing between those clubs. Trevor Bauer started on three days’ rest — he can do it again on Sunday if necessary — and allowed just one run with 12 strikeouts over eight innings, throwing an efficient 104 pitches in the process, as Cincinnati won 6-1.

Bauer is only 5-4 thanks to a lack of run support, but his ERA is down to 1.73 — and this is the kind of game voters will give extra credit to in the Cy Young balloting. If Bauer goes again on Sunday and pitches well, he probably will clinch the award over Jacob deGrom and the other contenders.

The Cardinals also lost — what has happened to Carlos Martinez? — and it now seems clear what we’re heading for: All these teams are going to finish 30-30. Let’s run through the remaining schedules:

5. Cardinals (27-26): vs. Milwaukee (5 games), at Detroit on Monday if needed (2)

6. Marlins (28-28): at Atlanta (1), at Yankees (3)

7. Giants (28-27): vs. Colorado (1), vs. San Diego (4)

8. Reds (29-28): at Minnesota (3)

— Phillies (28-29): at Tampa Bay (3)

— Brewers (27-28): at St. Louis (5)

Yes, we could end up with six teams tied for four spots. Remember that the second-place teams get in automatically, so you would have to resolve the ties between the Marlins and Phillies, and the Cardinals/Reds/Brewers. The Marlins won the season series 7-3 over the Phillies, so they hold that tiebreaker. The Reds went 6-4 against the Brewers and 4-6 against the Cardinals, while the Brewers are up 3-2 against the Cardinals.

We could end up deadlocked among these teams, in which case the tiebreaker goes to best intradivision record. That is also the tiebreaker used between teams from different divisions.

Also of note: There were two big injuries Wednesday. Braves starter Max Fried left after one inning when he tweaked his ankle fielding a bunt. Manager Brian Snitker said after the game that Fried wanted to keep pitching, but Atlanta wasn’t going to allow that. The Braves are hopeful Fried will be ready for Game 1 of the wild-card series. … The bigger issue is Mike Clevinger, who left his start after one inning with biceps tightness. He went underwent an MRI. Clevinger was the projected Game 1 starter for the Padres, so if he can’t go, that honor falls to Dinelson Lamet, with Zach Davies or Chris Paddack likely to go in Game 2. … Congrats to the Rays, who clinched their first division title since 2010, beating the Mets 8-5 while the Yankees lost 14-1 to the Blue Jays. Kevin Cash would get my hypothetical vote for AL manager of the year. Case in point: 12 relievers have recorded a save for the Rays. … Yes, that’s the Angels creeping up on the Astros, just 2½ games behind Houston after the Angels beat the Padres and the Mariners beat the Astros. The Angels have three games left against the Dodgers, while Houston has four at Texas. Big edge to Houston because of the lead and schedule. The Angels would have to sweep the Dodgers to finish 29-31 and hope the Astros finish 1-3 to also end up at 29-31. The Angels won the season series 6-4 so they hold the tiebreaker. … The Shane BieberLucas Giolito duel wasn’t quite epic, but it was pretty marvelous, with Bieber fanning 10 in five innings (one unearned run) and Giolito fanning 11 over six (two runs). The Indians won on Jordan Luplow‘s walk-off home run off Gio Gonzalez. The Twins, with their 7-6 win over the Tigers, moved past the White Sox into first place in the AL Central; if they hold on to that position it would mean they wouldn’t have to play their October nemesis, the Yankees, in the first round. But it could mean they face Bieber and the Indians. One thing about Bieber: He’s been getting so many strikeouts that his pitch counts have run up. He threw 98 on Wednesday in those five innings. He threw 103 in another five-inning outing earlier this month. He can go deeper — he went 118 in his previous appearance — but that will be something to watch in his first playoff start. — David Schoenfield


Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?

David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and they are hardly the favorites to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner-in-2014 type of run and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.

Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amid another career season. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox, and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic bat at the top of the lineup on the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.

Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn’t appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch and once more become — surprisingly, but not too surprisingly — one of the world’s five best starting pitchers. He has never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn’t need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series — his career is so much more than those two starts — but it’ll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.

Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins’ championship runs were fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I’m not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-three series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.

Alden Gonzalez: Sixto Sanchez — because I don’t think anybody has an answer for him at the moment.

Key games ahead

Brewers-Cardinals, Thursday (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): Milwaukee and St. Louis begin a season-ending five-game series that will have major implications on two of the NL’s remaining playoff spots.

Phillies-Rays, Friday (6:40 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Phillies could enter this final series of the weekend on either side of the line for the final playoff spots while the Rays are fighting for the AL’s No. 1 overall seed.

Padres-Giants, Saturday (9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Padres’ playoff spot is secure, but the Giants are still fighting for their October ticket.

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Way-too-early 2021 MLB Power Rankings: What’s next for Dodgers, Rays and all 30 teams

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We can only hope 2021 will be a more normal season, with 162 games and fans in the stands and hot dogs to eat and overpriced beer to drink. We don’t know what the state of things will be come April 1, when the 2021 season is scheduled to begin, but we can speculate on the state of the 30 franchises.

Yes, we’re back with our annual Way-Too-Early Power Rankings. There are a few obvious teams at the top, a handful at the bottom and a whole bunch in the middle. Throw in the difficulty of analyzing a 60-game season and the uncertainty of how the offseason will play out due to the financial losses of this season, and these are the most difficult rankings we have had to do. But we fearlessly move forward.

(Title odds for 2021 from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill)

2020 record: 43-17
Won World Series
2021 title odds: 4-1

They’re reigning champs. They’ve won eight straight division titles. They have Mookie Betts signed for the long term. They have young starters such as Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin to keep the rotation strong for years to come. They have players capable of better seasons (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux). They have a good farm system. They have financial flexibility, with only Betts signed past 2022 and all those young players to help them keep the payroll in check. Justin Turner is a free agent, but he would be a nice DH option if the NL makes that permanent. We know they will be good. But we know it’s really all about October.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost NLCS to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 12-1

The offense gives them a high floor:Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, even Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall raked in 2020. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and it would be nice to bring him back, but rookie center fielder Cristian Pache is ready and he looks like he’ll be valuable on both sides of the ball. The rotation will see the return of Mike Soroka from his Achilles injury and a full season of Ian Anderson to back up Max Fried. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have potential, and Atlanta will probably bring in a veteran starter on a one-year deal the way they did with Dallas Keuchel in 2019 and tried to do with Cole Hamels in 2020. The Braves will be favored to win a fourth straight division title even if they don’t do anything this offseason.


2020 record: 37-23
Lost Division Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 17-2

Sure, an argument can be made to put the Padres ahead of the Braves, but I think we have to first make sure Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger are completely healthy in spring training. San Diego brings back essentially every significant player after running out the youngest lineup in the NL, with Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham looking like foundation additions alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. (All were acquired in trades; good job, A.J. Preller!) We’ll see if Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers can match their 2020 rate of production, but if Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore become impact starters, the Padres are poised to make a multiyear run in challenging the Dodgers for NL West supremacy.


2020 record: 40-20
Lost World Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 10-1

The Rays won their first division title since 2010 and did it in quite remarkable fashion, with 12 different relievers recording a save and the pitching staff overcoming a slew of injuries along the way. They were able to pull that off because of the depth of their staff, but having expanded rosters over the 60-game season made it possible to rely so heavily on the bullpen. Of course, you can argue that pitching depth will be even more valuable over 162 games. The offense isn’t elite, although we can’t wait to see what Randy Arozarena will do over a full season or if super rookie Wander Franco is ready to make an impact at some point in 2021.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to A’s
2021 title odds: 12-1

Much like the Braves, the offensive firepower of the White Sox should give them a high floor. Even if you see some regression coming from Jose Abreu or Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada should improve and a full season of Nick Madrigal will help. Michael Kopech, who opted out of 2020, will hopefully be back, but he hasn’t pitched in two years, so finding another veteran arm to go with ace Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will be key. Closer Alex Colome is a free agent, but the White Sox have several power arms in their organization, including 2020 first-round pick Garrett Crochet, who could be a dominant reliever right away. Manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper got the boot, with A.J. Hinch a possible replacement for Renteria. That would be an upgrade.


2020 record: 33-27
Lost Division Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 6-1

You can make an argument to put them a couple of spots higher, but not winning the AL East in 2020 points to some flaws. They simply can’t count on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton being healthy for an entire season, plus DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka are free agents, two important players to re-sign or replace. Of course, we know the Yankees will do something big, perhaps signing J.T. Realmuto and moving on from Gary Sanchez or trading for Francisco Lindor and shifting Gleyber Torres to second. Getting Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery will be a big boost as well.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Wild Card Series to Astros
2021 title odds: 14-1

The Twins didn’t do it quite like they did in 2019, when they bashed a record 307 home runs (although their 162-game pace for 2020 was still 259), as their team batting average dropped nearly 30 points, and they fell from second in the AL in runs to 10th. Still, they’ve established a foundation of success with three playoff appearances in four seasons. The big issue is they have a lot of free agents to replace or re-sign, starting with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz, but also Jake Odorizzi, Marwin Gonzalez, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May and Homer Bailey. Those players were minor contributors, but with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers getting more expensive in arbitration, the Twins may not be able to fill out the roster with minor free agents the way they’ve done of late. They need a healthy Josh Donaldson, especially if Cruz leaves, and they will have to discard the emotional baggage of 18 consecutive playoff losses to get revved up for 162 games just to get back to October again.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Division Series to Houston
2021 title odds: 14-1

The A’s weren’t as impressive as they were in 2019 — Matt Olson morphed into an extreme “three true outcomes” slugger, Matt Chapman‘s OBP dipped to .276 and Marcus Semien declined from his third-place MVP performance. They still coasted to the AL West title though, and the division projects as being pretty soft, at least right now. Semien and closer Liam Hendriks are free agents as are several other key role players, so this ranking is not presented with a high degree of confidence. The A’s always seem to maximize their talent, and I do think the rotation will be much better, making up for some of the likely bullpen regression.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

I feel like we need another National League team here, but let’s be honest: There is a wide gap between the NL’s top three teams and the block of mediocre teams in the middle. Let’s roll the dice on the Mets with new owner Steve Cohen to the rescue (once he gets formally approved). Let’s just say Mets fans are pumped about Cohen’s WAW (wins above Wilpon). There have already been reports about all the money he’ll sink into the franchise, not just on players but things like building out a more robust analytics staff. Aside from any splashy moves Cohen may make — trading for Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor? Signing J.T. Realmuto or Trevor Bauer? — there is a strong base of talent here. They ranked third in the majors in wOBA (behind the Braves and Dodgers) and fifth in the majors in pitcher strikeout rate. They should be better — a familiar refrain for Mets fans, unfortunately.


2020 record: 34-26
Lost Wild Card Series to Marlins
2021 title odds: 25-1

Everyone was down on the Cubs, especially after that sad two-and-out to the Marlins, but we do need to point out Chicago still won the NL Central despite Javier Baez (59 OPS+), Kris Bryant (73) and Kyle Schwarber (88) all producing well below an average major league hitter and Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras performing below their career norms. That continues a downward trend for this once-great offensive core, from second in the NL in runs in 2016 and 2017 to fourth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and 10th in 2020. Baez, Bryant, Schwarber and Rizzo are all free agents after 2021, but frankly, the trade value for Bryant and Schwarber — and even Baez, to a lesser extent — has cratered. Theo Epstein also hinted that 2021 will be his last season with the Cubs. Does this group get one last chance? In a weak division, with some bounce-back potential, the Cubs could be better than everyone believes. Or maybe the front office will just tear it all down.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost ALCS to Rays
2021 title odds: 20-1

It promises to be a busy winter for the Astros. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke are set to be free agents after 2021, as are Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, both of whom will likely miss the season following Tommy John surgery. They’ll need more from Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman (and don’t forget about Yordan Alvarez) but they could have a strong rotation if they keep McCullers and Greinke to go with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. The outfield free-agent market is thin, so if Springer and Brantley sign elsewhere, the Astros may have to scramble to find help for Kyle Tucker.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to Yankees
2021 title odds: 20-1

We start with one of the biggest questions of the entire offseason: Will Cleveland trade Francisco Lindor? It seems weird to say this, but there isn’t an obvious fit, as most of the top teams are set at shortstop. It will be interesting to see if a team tries to pull the Mookie Betts maneuver: trade for Lindor, then sign him to a big extension before he hits free agency after the 2021 season. Aside from the Lindor issue, it’s going to be a similar Cleveland team as we’ve seen the past two years: enough starting pitching to be a playoff team, but an offense that may prevent them from getting there. Please, find some competent outfielders. Cleveland’s outfielders hit .196/.270/.304.


2020 record: 30-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Padres
2021 title odds: 30-1

In one sense, it’s harder to evaluate what the Cardinals did in 2020 than any other team, with them having to play 11 doubleheaders after the team’s COVID-19 outbreak early in the season. On the other hand, they were exactly what we thought they would be: below-average offense with no power, good defense, good bullpen, decent starting pitching. I just don’t how they’re going to get better, especially given that some of their pitching peripheral numbers don’t quite match the ERA figures. Look, as always, you can never discount the Cardinals. They haven’t had a losing season since 2007. The division is wide open. Jack Flaherty will be better. Dylan Carlson could give them an impact outfielder. The bullpen projects as a big strength.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

No team had less incentive in 2020 than the Nationals, and once Stephen Strasburg went down, it kind of felt like the entire team went down with him. Juan Soto played at an MVP level for 47 games, leading the NL in batting average and the majors in OBP and slugging. It wasn’t a full season so I’m not saying it compares, but his 212 OPS+ was the best since Barry Bonds in 2004.

There are concerns in the starting rotation, however, beyond Strasburg’s nerve issue. Anibal Sanchez fell apart, Patrick Corbin got knocked around (85 hits in 65⅔ innings) and even Max Scherzer had his highest ERA since 2012.The real problem may have been the defense: The Nationals ranked last in the majors with minus-43 defensive runs saved. As always, depth is an issue and they need youngsters Carter Kieboom (no home runs in 99 at-bats) and Victor Robles (.608 OPS) to contribute at the plate. If Strasburg is healthy, don’t ignore the 2019 champs.


2020 record: 32-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 50-1

The Blue Jays face a very interesting offseason after making the playoffs as a wild card and ranking third in the AL in runs. The offense potentially looks even better if you’re buying the breakouts of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez. Worth noting: The Jays hit much better at their temporary home in Buffalo, so we have to be careful about overrating the offense. Hyun-Jin Ryu was terrific (at least until his playoff start), but the rest of the rotation was so problematic that the Jays acquired Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling for the stretch run. Walker and Ray are free agents, but Nate Pearson will help, and the Jays should have some money to spend in free agency.


2020 record: 28-32
Third in NL East
2021 title odds: 40-1

It’s hard to see the Phillies much better than the .500 team they’ve been the past three seasons, which led to general manager Matt Klentak being reassigned within the organization. They had two great starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and finished fourth in the NL in runs, but the bullpen (6.92 ERA, worst of all time) undermined all the positives. The Phillies allowed a .345 average on balls in play, and maybe that would drop over a full season, but it stands as the highest ever. This has been a multiyear problem. They were middle of the pack in BABIP allowed in 2019, but fifth-worst in 2018 and sixth-worst in 2017. They’ve been unable to fix the defense. Anyway, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents. The payroll would have been more than $200 million given a full season in 2020, so you wonder if there is room to re-sign Realmuto and fix the bullpen and replace/re-sign Gregorius and maybe add another starter.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL West
2021 title odds: 40-1

Billy Eppler is out as general manager after a five-year run that included no winning seasons. Yes, he inherited the bad Albert Pujols contract, but he also inherited Mike Trout and was never able to build a successful team around him, despite additions like Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. Simmons is a free agent, Pujols is finally down to his final season and Jared Walsh (.971 OPS, nine home runs in 99 at-bats, a low 13.9% strikeout rate) has to play. The immediate concerns are trying to turn Jo Adell into a major league hitter (.161, 55 strikeouts, seven walks in 132 PAs), figure out what happened to Ohtani (.190) and Justin Upton (.204) and — as always — address the pitching. Sounds like the same story as the past five years.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost Wild Card Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 50-1

This is a difficult team to read. The Brewers didn’t hit at all in 2020 (I think the NL must have stored its balls in Lake Michigan, because nobody could hit). Two-time batting champ and 2018 MVP Christian Yelich hit just .205, and I know it was just 58 games, but his strikeout rate went from 20.3% to 30.8%. Something doesn’t add up there.

They do have two great one-two combos in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the rotation and Devin Williams and Josh Hader in the bullpen. Does Williams’ stunning breakout (53 K’s in 27 innings) make Hader trade bait? Burnes certainly looked like the real deal with his new cutter, but he’ll have to prove he can do it over 30 starts instead of 10. David Stearns is one of the more creative GMs around, although he’d probably like a do-over on the Trent Grisham/Zach Davies for Luis Urias/Eric Lauer deal.


2020 record: 24-36
Fifth in AL East
2021 title odds: 60-1

This was the hardest team to project. The pitching was so awful — 5.85 runs per game, the most for the franchise since 1932 — that it’s easy to assume it will be bad again in 2021. It was also bad in 2019 (5.11 runs per game), so we have a two-year track record. Maybe they get Chris Sale back at midseason and Eduardo Rodriguez returns from his COVID-related heart issue. There is a nice offensive core with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez (and J.D. Martinez if he bounces back). I’m not sure what Bobby Dalbec will be. I guess his upside is Joey Gallo, if that’s a good thing. More importantly, is Chaim Bloom playing the long game or will there be pressure to get the Red Sox immediately back into contender status?


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Wild Card Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 25-1

The Reds sneaked into the playoffs as a wild card with a late surge, but the team embarrassingly exited with two shutouts to the Braves, including a 13-inning defeat. The Reds have morphed into the most extreme example of a “three true outcomes” offense we’ve seen in this launch-angle era. They ranked fourth in the NL in home runs and first in walks, but hit a pathetic .212. The entire package added up to ranking just 13th in the NL in runs, then you dig deeper and realize they hit 55 home runs at home and 35 on the road, so much of their power was simply a result of their home park. It’s a bad offense, and I’m not sure it improves much in 2021. Trevor Bauer is a sure bet to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and we still don’t know if Nick Senzel is the solution in center field or an injury-prone role player.


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Division Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 60-1

It was a fun ride to their first postseason trip since 2003, but once you get past the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez, holes remain. The pitching staff was next to last in the majors in strikeout rate, and the team’s top five relievers were all 30-something guys you can’t necessarily count on for 2021. There are no offensive stars as the lineup relied on stopgap veterans, while the young hitters still have trouble controlling the strike zone (and the young hitters aren’t really all that young). The minus-41 run differential is a little misleading as the Marlins had to use more players than any other team due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but I’m not sure I see another .500 season unless some of the young hitters suddenly develop into solid regulars.


2020 record: 29-31
Third in NL West
2021 title odds: 80-1

Call me skeptical. They went from the second-worst offense in the NL to a top-five offense — without making any significant additions. Brandon Belt with a 1.000 OPS? Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson over .900? Donovan Solano chasing a batting title? I smell a lot of regression coming on, and the Giants don’t have the rotation to back that up. They also had the oldest lineup in the league: Mauricio Dubon is the only returning regular who won’t be 30 or older in 2021. Maybe catcher Joey Bart makes an impact, but a 41 to 3 strikeout-to-walk rate suggests he’s not ready for prime time. Several of their big contracts come off the books after 2021 if you factor in buyouts, so look for the Giants to wait until that big 2021-22 free-agent class to start flipping over the roster.


2020 record: 27-33
Third in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

There were some nice positives in 2020: Kyle Lewis may win Rookie of the Year, Justus Sheffield was much improved, Marco Gonzales solidified himself as one of the most underrated starters in the majors, Dylan Moore turned into one of the best utility players as a power/speed combo. But there is still zero star power here, at least until Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez arrive as potential All-Star outfielders, Kelenic in 2021 and Rodriguez probably in 2022. Jerry Dipoto will have to reconstruct a bullpen that was one of the worst in the league (5.92 ERA). The Mariners are on the rise and have other potential impact prospects, including pitchers Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock, but look for them to hold the course in 2021 and push forward in 2022.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 150-1

The Royals have some interesting young pitchers in Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, with Josh Staumont as a potential closer, but there are still huge gaps across the roster, especially on the offensive side of things. They need to figure out center field, second base and left field, and even Adalberto Mondesi Jr. now looks like just a placeholder at short until Bobby Witt Jr. arrives in a couple of years. This ranking could be selling the Royals a bit short, as young pitching can carry a team if it comes fast (and 2020 top pick Asa Lacy may not need much time in the minors), but they need to find some hitters.


2020 record: 25-35
Fifth in NL West
2021 title odds: 60-1

That was ugly, and the fans are turning on the team after a couple of years of trades (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and the deadline deals this season) that don’t appear to have returned any front-line talent. Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, so good in 2019, fell off, with Marte inexplicably deciding he no longer wanted to walk. Robbie Ray couldn’t throw strikes and was finally traded. Merrill Kelly hurt his shoulder. Madison Bumgarner didn’t win a game. The problem for 2021? The Diamondbacks had the second-oldest lineup in the NL (six of their top eight regulars were 29 or older). Bumgarner now looks like a bad $80 million gamble. They’re only a season removed from going 85-77, so there is rebound potential, but the Snakes are a mess at the moment.


2020 record: 25-35
Fourth in AL East
2021 title odds: 150-1

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positives in 2020, especially after losing 108 games in 2019 and 115 in 2018. Anthony Santander had a small-sample breakout with the metrics to back it up. Ryan Mountcastle looks ready to join the lineup in 2021 and Trey Mancini will hopefully be back at full strength after finishing his chemo treatment in September. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer could be arms to watch for the rotation.

They do have financial flexibility, especially as they get closer to the end of Chris Davis‘ deal, and with Adley Rutschman close to the majors and starters D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez perhaps ready in 2022, the farm is better than it’s been in at least 10 years. But the base level of talent here remains pretty low.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in NL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

Right now, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are still on the roster. Will they be there come spring training? The relationship between Arenado and the Rockies is strained, making him a trade candidate this winter. He won’t be easy to trade, though: He didn’t have a good 2020 at the plate, ended the season on the IL, has a full no-trade clause and can opt out of his deal after 2021. If Arenado is traded, you could see the Rockies dealing Story as well since he’s a free agent after 2021. Mostly, this team just needs a makeover. They ranked eighth in the NL in runs, and for a Rockies team, that’s horrible. (They had finished below fifth just one other time in franchise history.)


2020 record: 23-35
Fifth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 200-1

Sometimes you just have to point out the obvious: Jeimer Candelario was the team’s best player in 2020 — a 26-year-old first baseman who hit .203 the year before. Look, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal project as good starters at some point, but their struggles in limited action in 2020 suggest that may not be in 2021. Along with Spencer Turnbull and prospect Matt Manning, there is a rotation to dream on, but there is no offense, and Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, their top position player prospects, are more on a 2022 timetable.


2020 record: 22-38
Fifth in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

The Rangers continue to go backward. They were bad in 2020 in a year they thought they could contend, they weren’t particularly young and the farm system has struggled to develop pitchers and turn toolsy position players into quality hitters. The offense had a brutal year — and not just because of the new park. They didn’t hit on the road either. It’s time to admit that Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are never going to be the core of a championship lineup, and if Lance Lynn is traded — he’ll be a free agent after 2021 — the rotation will have a huge hole to fill.


2020 record: 19-41
Fifth in NL Central
2021 title odds: 300-1

Let’s see, a small-market team coming off the worst record in the sport, won’t spend any money in free agency, and whose three best players in 2019 were all terrible in 2020. The first step is to hope Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman rebound, but with most of the organization’s top prospects still a ways off, the short-term outlook looks bleak. Heck, the long-term outlook isn’t exactly full of roses and puppies.

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Bryant, out 2 years, joins Ravens practice squad

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant is back in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens signed the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to their practice squad, the team announced Tuesday. Bryant has been out of the league for two years.

Bryant appeared to acknowledge the deal in a tweet Tuesday: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying”

The biggest question is when Bryant will suit up for the Ravens. Baltimore’s wide receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions (58) and receiving yards (737).

Bryant, 31, could become a physical possession-type receiver for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and can complement the speed of Marquise Brown.

The addition of Bryant might lead to a high-profile reunion on Dec. 3, when the Ravens play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Bryant starred for the Cowboys for eight seasons, totaling 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and a franchise-record 73 touchdown catches.

“Obviously, that’s kind of like an ‘OG’-type guy,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said when asked about Bryant on Monday. “He’s been around the league for a long, long time. He actually followed me on Twitter a year or two ago, so I’m excited to meet him, and I’m excited to [be] around him hopefully, and just learn.”

This marked Bryant’s second workout with Baltimore in two months. When Bryant left in August without a contract, he was told to improve his conditioning, a source said.

The Ravens are off to a fast start at 5-1, but their passing game ranks 31st in the NFL. It looks as if Jackson would benefit from another target on the outside because Brown is the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 11 catches this season.

Bryant is attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Josh Gordon was the first.

Bryant hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

In November 2018, Bryant signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But he tore an Achilles tendon during his first practice with the Saints and has been out of the NFL since.

Bryant’s 531 career receptions would be the most by any wide receiver before missing two full seasons and then returning to the NFL, according to Elias’ data.

To make room for Bryant, the Ravens waived safety Marcus Gilchrist from the practice squad.

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Augusta National to host College GameDay during Masters

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ESPN’s College GameDay Built By the Home Depot show has originated from dozens of college campuses across the country since 1993.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the show will combine two of sport’s greatest traditions — college football and the Masters.

ESPN announced on Tuesday that College GameDay will originate from Augusta National Golf Club, which is hosting the postponed Masters Tournament next month, Nov. 12-15.

Top matchups that day are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama at LSU.

“Any time College GameDay travels to a new destination, it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “As this iconic event coincides with the college football season for the first time, we look forward to getting fans ready for a football Saturday while also showcasing the Masters and the greatest golfers in the world.”

Longtime ESPN hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and others will broadcast from the par-3 course from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

In its 13th year at the Masters, ESPN will once again televise the first and second rounds, Nov. 12-13, from 1 to 5:30 p.m. There will also be expanded coverage on ESPN+, including exclusive practice-round coverage Nov. 10-11.

Golf fans will also be able to watch featured holes coverage on ESPN+ on Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in each of the four rounds of the Masters.

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