When Major League Baseball expanded the 2020 playoffs to eight teams per league, it provided a cushion that protected baseball’s best teams from the variance of a shortened 60-game season. The Los Angeles Dodgers went out and proved they didn’t need any extra help.
The Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 7-5 on Wednesday, becoming the first MLB team to clinch a playoff spot.
Gaudy Record Grants Few Advantages
Los Angeles compiled a 35-15 record – the best in the majors – to ensure it will do no worse than earn a wild-card position when the season ends. The Dodgers also hold a 3.5 game lead over the San Diego Padres in the NL West.
The playoff bubble format reduced the importance of seeding this year, as there will be no home-field advantage after the first round. But the Dodgers can still host all three games in the opening playoff series if they end up with a top-four seed, which seems all but certain to happen.
Because Los Angeles’ clinching scenario wasn’t straightforward, the team didn’t realize they had officially made the playoffs until after the game.
“I think it caught us all by surprise. We were so focused on winning the series,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters. “I think word will travel on the plane. But it should be celebrated, for sure.”
The Dodgers have now made the playoffs eight years in a row. FanDuel Sportsbook lists LA as the +350 favorite to win the World Series. Oddsmakers also favor the Dodgers to win the NL West (-3000) and the National League pennant (+145).
Even if the Dodgers wanted to hold a clinching celebration, it may have been difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No, we’re not allowed to,” Los Angeles pitcher Dustin May told reporters after the game. “This season is different, but we had to grind in the quarantine zone, so you’re still going to feel super excited.”
More Teams Will Soon Join Dodgers
Several more teams will clinch their own playoff berths over the next week. Baseball analytics website Fangraphs estimates the Padres, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees all have a 100% chance of making the playoffs, while the Atlanta Braves are 99.9% likely to reach the postseason.
While the American League playoff race lacks drama outside of questions of seeding, the NL race remains wide open. As many as eight teams still have a realistic chance of grabbing the final four berths, with just four games separating the Marlins (25-22) and the Mets (22-27). Six other teams are hovering around the .500 mark.
While the Dodgers will enter the playoffs as the clear World Series favorite, anything can happen in the expanded postseason, especially with three-game opening series. The Rays (+750), Yankees (+850), and Padres (+1000) are also among the teams with the best odds of winning a title in 2020.