CHICAGO – Mookie Betts, meet Devin Williams and his devastating changeup. Aaron Judge, take a closer look at a much improved Shane Bieber. Fernando Tatis Jr., say hello to Jack Flaherty.
Welcome to the first round of the 2020 playoffs, a class with an unusual amount of homework — and precious little room for error.
After the pandemic-shortened regular season was limited to regional play, seven of the eight wild-card series involve teams that haven't played any meaningful games against each other since last year. The one exception is Blake Snell and Tampa Bay taking on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Toronto in an all-AL East matchup.
“It’s like the old days, man, when you played a team you’ve never played before. It’s exactly what it is,” said Sandy Alomar Jr., the acting manager for the Indians. “It’s very strange."
That means a lot of video and scouting work before the AL playoffs begin Tuesday and the NL postseason starts Wednesday. And the advance reports might be a tick or two off after scouts were shut out of ballparks this year because of COVID-19 protocols.
White Sox ace Lucas Giolito got some tips from teammate Dallas Keuchel on the feel of the mound in Oakland. He has only two career starts against the A's — both in Chicago.
“Both sides, our offense and their offense, they're going to be facing pitchers that they haven't seen this year,” Giolito said Monday. “I think that'll make it a little bit interesting.”
Factor in the format — it's a best-of-three series in the first round, compared to best of five in the division series and best of seven in the final two rounds — and the wild-card round might be a more apt description than Major League Baseball had intended.