The 2020 MLB postseason is bigger than ever before, with the wild card round dwindling the field down from 16 to eight. With more matchups than in years past, I was bound to find similarities between at least one of them and a series I have enjoyed in ages past. One matchup has one team with a dynamic, homegrown superstar that relies on its bullpen for most innings than most teams, while another has multiple established superstars, aces and a championship pedigree. The first applies to the 2020 San Diego Padres and the 2018 Boston Red Sox, while the second description first applies to both the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 2018 Houston Astros.
This year’s San Diego, which went a surprising 37-23, has similar strengths to 2018 Boston, which went a franchise-best 108-54 on its way to winning the World Series, with the teams receiving similar contributions from their best player and their starting pitching rotation. Los Angeles (43-17) dominated the regular season and entered October with as much postseason experience as any team, similar to 2018 Houston, which went 103-59 on its way to a three game American League West division title.
San Diego has had its best season in years, like 2018 Boston, even though both teams struggled throughout the season and into the playoffs with maximizing pitchers’ inning count. San Diego’s starting pitching has been respectable, with its one and two starters, Zach Davies and Dinelson Lamet, both sporting earned run averages well under three, even if their arms tire before their opponents, especially in this shortened season.
Davies and Lamet have been solid players for the front end of the rotation, but, at the same time, they both average under six innings per start, leaving their bullpen to use three to four pitchers for the final few innings even after a normal start. In the postseason, where every game matters more than in a 162- or even 60-game season, skippers micromanage the pitching staff more than the rest of the year, keeping a quicker hook when the bases get filled and using more bullpen arms in October than the rest of the season. The experience of using more relievers than the average team gives a manager more awareness of what to expect from each arm and more comfortability with using multiple bullpen arms between the starter and the closer.
2018 Boston faced similar issues with endurance, especially late in the season, as Chris Sale cooled off from his hot start en route to pitching 158 innings, far fewer than his 214 from the 2017 season. 2018 Boston pitcher David Price similarly struggled with a heavy workload, pitching 176 innings, well below his healthy total of 230 for the 2016 season. Some of this gap can be attributed to his missed time with carpal tunnel syndrome.
The position players of San Diego and Boston are similar as well, with each team boasting Mitch Moreland, a newly acquired slugger, as well as Manny Machado for San Diego and J.D. Martinez for Boston. Martinez is a homegrown superstar on the verge of becoming the face of baseball. Boston features 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts manning right field and Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop for San Diego. Tatis has blossomed at shortstop for San Diego in the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season to the tune of a 0.937 OPS and a respectable 17 homers. Tatis also furthered his superstar status during the wild card round with two home runs late in San Diego’s comeback on the way to a 11-9 victory in game two against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Speaking of Betts, he is now in right field for Los Angeles. Los Angeles boasts an impressive amount of recent postseason experience, even if it has not resulted in any championships. Having made it to the 2016 National League Championship Series, as well as the 2017 and 2018 World Series, before an early exit in 2019, no moment will be too big for Los Angeles. Their longest-tenured player, Clayton Kershaw, having been with Los Angeles for his entire 13-year career, has a history of falling apart in the playoffs. He may finally move beyond his inconsistency in 2020, however, as evidenced by his eight-inning, 13-strikeout, zero-run performance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Oct. 1.
In 2018, Houston was the defending champion before running into 2018 Boston, which found themselves defeated in the 2017 American League Division Series on Houston’s way to a title. Even as a younger team, Houston was the defending champion, having also made it to the playoffs by winning the American League Wild Card in 2015.
Both Houston and Los Angeles were led by a wide range of all-star caliber position players with Los Angeles sporting former MVPs Cody Bellinger and Betts, as well as other great players like Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Houston had homegrown stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Having a wide range of stars makes a team less susceptible to falling to inferior teams. Houston was well-equipped to go far in 2018, even if the strength of its roster did not result in a great run, thanks to Boston. Los Angeles is well-equipped to do the same, with their top pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May, as good as Houston’s frontline staff of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Boston’s ability to win that series 4-1 bodes well for San Diego, though Los Angeles’ winning percentage poses it as a more formidable foe than Houston, especially with San Diego’s record a far cry from the record of 2018 Boston. While the semblance of deja vu leads me to pick San Diego, and I know they will be competitive, the gap in playoff experience is significantly greater between Los Angeles and Houston than it had been between Boston and Houston, so look for Los Angeles to send San Diego home.
Jake Wexelblatt is a junior in the College. Deja Vu All Over Again appears online every other week.