Just two weeks remain before the book closes on a wild 2020 Major League Baseball season and the league embarks on a new 16-team postseason format. However, quite a few uncertainties still surround the teams that will comprise the new playoff structure.
Here are eight key questions about MLB’s teams and players that will get answered in the season’s final two weeks:
Can the Oakland Athletics go on a deep playoff run without a true ace?
Oakland owns a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the American League West Division, which means they can coast their way to a division title and a trip to the playoffs. While their lineup has been serviceable and their bullpen, led by strikeout machine Liam Hendriks, remains outstanding, the starting rotation features one starter with an Earned Run Average below 3.90.
If they cannot slug their way through the postseason, they will need good pitching and that seems to be lacking.
Other than Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, what’s the deal with Philadelphia’s pitching?
The Philadelphia Phillies’ 23-22 season has shown off the strength of their offense. Led by Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, along with newcomers Didi Gregorius and rookie Alec Bohm, there is no shortage of run-scoring ability here.
On the mound, Nola seems to be back at his Cy Young-caliber level from 2018, and Wheeler’s first season with the team could not be going much better. Unfortunately, after those two hurlers, the lack of quality depth does not bode well for a playoff hopeful.
How can the Minnesota Twins lineup keep up the pressure with just Nelson Cruz?
The man known as “boomstick” is still doing just that at age 40. Out of Cruz’s 52 hits in 2020, 16 of them are home runs. His offensive production is nearly twice that of an average MLB player, with an OPS+ of 194.
All of that sounds great, but Cruz’s bat is the only one doing much of anything. Eddie Rosario is solid but not game-changing, and Miguel Sanó can only do so much when he strikes out 42 percent of the time.
With a solid pitching staff, other Twins hitters need to step up and back Cruz for their playoff push.
What is to be expected from the New York Yankees after a very shaky August?
The Yankees’ 2020 season might be the biggest roller coaster ride of all the teams.
At this point, their starting rotation is rebounding nicely with Masahiro Tanaka, a budding rookie in Deivi Garcia and a resurging Gerrit Cole.
However, many questions remain about the lineup and the bullpen. Luke Voit, D.J. LeMahieu and Clint Frazier cannot keep carrying the offense, and their usually reliable relief arms have all had major slip-ups.
Only time will tell if Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return, and if the team will stagnate around 0.500 or surge through September into a higher playoff seed.
The Toronto Blue Jays are playing great baseball, but how real of a contender are they?
The Blue Jays’ core of hitters is taking off and leading the way. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez and more are carrying a lineup with just one starter over the age of 29.
However, the case is very much the opposite on the mound. Toronto has just one starting pitcher, right-hander Taijuan Walker, who is 28. Not to mention that Walker and Hyun-Jin Ryu have injury concerns, and veterans Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark are struggling this year.
There’s a lot to like, but also a lot to be worried about with this team.
Will this be the year the Los Angeles Dodgers go all the way?
The story of the L.A. Dodgers in the 2010s has been one of perennial playoff disappointments. Despite all the money spent, talented rosters and regular-season success, the Dodgers’ seven straight playoff berths have yielded zero World Series titles.
But in this wild 2020 season, the Dodgers are playing 0.700 baseball at 33-14. Everything on this team is dominating as usual, from the lineup led by Corey Seager and Mookie Betts to the Clayton Kershaw-led pitching staff. They once again look like the league’s best team.
Only time will tell if L.A’s core can complete the quest this year with a stacked squad in the new playoff format.
How will the young, surging San Diego Padres handle their first postseason since 2006?
San Diego’s once top-ranked farm system is finally showing off its depth at the major-league level.
Jake Cronenworth, Dinelson Lamet and Fernando Tatis Jr. are bringing a new and youthful look to this organization. At the same time, veterans Manny Machado and Wil Myers both have an on-base plus slugging percentage of more than 0.950.
Drew Pomeranz and Trevor Rosenthal both have ERAs of zero with the Friars, and are leading a sneaky good bullpen. And their young rotation enters October with a new ace in Mike Clevinger.
This team can be viewed as a World Series favorite, but its one concern is being very young, very hungry and very unproven in crunch time.
Where do the Chicago White Sox rank in the AL among its many powerhouse contenders?
The White Sox are the closest comparison to the Padres in terms of how strong they look and how young they are. The difference between the two is that the AL features many more teams loaded with talent and recent playoff experience that they will likely face.
The Rays are still rolling, the Yankees are recovering and the Twins, Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros will all be back, too.
Despite the great season from their bullpen and young, mighty lineup, Chicago hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2008. The White Sox have a much tougher path to the 2020 World Series with such an inexperienced team.