1 reason each team can win it all

Now that the postseason field is complete, it’s time to break down each club’s strengths ahead of the Wild Card Series, which begin with Game 1 for each American League series on Tuesday, followed by Game 1 for the National League series on Wednesday.

Sixteen teams enter and one will be left standing as the 2020 World Series champion when it’s all said and done. Here’s one reason each playoff-bound club can win it all.

2020 postseason schedule

AMERICAN LEAGUE (in order of playoff seed)

Rays: Starting pitching

Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton are all fully healthy heading into the postseason, which is not something you were able to say when they pushed the Astros to the brink in last year’s AL Division Series. The Rays are built on pitching and defense, and they’re going to need their three-headed monster in the starting rotation to lead them through October. — Juan Toribio

A’s: Bullpen excellence

The one constant that has followed the A’s throughout their run to capture their first AL West title since 2013 has been a dominant group of relievers. Oakland’s bullpen has led the Major Leagues in ERA for most of the season, led by lights-out closer Liam Hendriks and left-hander Jake Diekman, who did not allow an earned run until Oakland’s 55th game of the regular season. The bridge to the eighth and ninth innings has been solidified by experienced veterans like Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria, and young flamethrowers such as Lou Trivino and Jordan Weems. If the A’s can get just five quality innings from their starters, they’ll feel like they’re in a good position to win. — Martin Gallegos

Twins: Pitching depth

Yep, you read that right. The team that bashed the most homers in MLB history last season and added Josh Donaldson has instead been powered by a pitching staff that has been, by most metrics, a top-three unit in the AL. No off-days between playoff games? No problem. Led by Kenta Maeda, the starting rotation has five options peaking at the right time, while the bullpen is nine deep with options that manager Rocco Baldelli won’t hesitate to use. Teams won’t be able to rely on three starters and a handful of relievers this October, and the Twins have the unrivaled depth to make it work. — Do-Hyoung Park

Indians: Starting pitching

The Indians already have an advantage, boasting the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award in their rotation in Shane Bieber. A combination of Bieber and Zach Plesac in the first two games of a three-game Wild Card Series will be a challenge for any offense. But if the Tribe advances beyond the first round against the Yankees, it also has the pitching depth required to thrive in a postseason without off-days during the ALDS and AL Championship Series. While teams won’t be able to rely on just three starters this year, the Indians have quality options in Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Triston McKenzie to back Bieber and Plesac. — Mandy Bell

Yankees: Gerrit Cole

When Cole agreed to the richest contract ever issued to a free-agent pitcher this past offseason, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner made his expectations clear, saying that he expected the deal would result in “multiple” World Series titles. The 2020 season has presented a multitude of challenges and surprises, but Cole and the Yankees chasing a ring in October is one thing we all banked on. Like CC Sabathia in 2009, it’s time for the ace to earn those big bucks, backed by one of the Majors’ most fearsome lineups. — Bryan Hoch

Astros: Redemption

In the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball, the Astros became the least-liked team in the game. Opposing players made that known in the spring when they spoke publicly about the legitimacy of Houston’s 2017 championship. And the Astros were booed loudly in the spring. They played stretches of lackluster baseball and looked nothing like last year’s 107-win club, but the playoffs represent a fresh start. The Astros know nothing would be more satisfying than to put everything — the sign-stealing scandal, the boos and the injuries — behind them and win another World Series. — Brian McTaggart

White Sox: Youth

The same factor that could potentially push the White Sox toward postseason excellence could, ironically, also prove to be their undoing. It will be the first postseason experience for many of these players, and it’s never certain how young players will respond in this sort of high-pressure situation. But the White Sox have top talent such as Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada, to name a few, and by taking a one-game-at-a-time approach, as they have throughout this breakout 2020 campaign, they have succeeded at pretty much every step. They also have a solid group of veterans leading them through these more challenging times. — Scott Merkin

Blue Jays: A young lineup with upside

The Blue Jays won’t be confused for the most consistent team in the postseason, but when this lineup of young hitters clicks, it’s awfully tough to keep up with them. From Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette at the top of the lineup to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and 2020 breakout star Teoscar Hernández, the Blue Jays have the power to change the game in any inning and come back from most deficits. Stringing hits together and playing small ball hasn’t often been their style, but once one of these young hitters gets rolling, it seems to spread instantly to the rest of the offense as they jump on opposing pitchers early. — Keegan Matheson

NATIONAL LEAGUE (in order of playoff seed)

Dodgers: Mookie Betts

That’s why they traded for him, right? He was the difference-maker Andrew Friedman always wanted. Now is the time for Betts to make that difference and take the Dodgers to the promised land. So far, he’s lived up to all the hype, even exceeded it if you ask the manager and teammates who see all the intangibles that aren’t reflected in the stats. That said, his career postseason slash line (227/.313/.341) doesn’t match his sterling regular-season numbers (.301/.373/.522). But Betts is not one to make excuses. He said he’s here to win rings. OK, it’s ring time. — Ken Gurnick

Braves: Offense

It’s been said good pitching beats a good offense in the playoffs, but the power located throughout the Braves’ lineup is strong enough to test this belief. Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna established themselves as the game’s top hitting trio as they spent the final weeks of this season filling Atlanta’s first three lineup spots. Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall have helped strengthen the depth of this offense, which could be explosive enough to compensate for the rotation concerns. — Mark Bowman

Cubs: October experience

The Cubs have gone through a variety of issues this season, but they still managed to punch a ticket to the postseason for the fifth time in six years, and the first under new manager David Ross. Four of the core stars — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Kyle Schwarber — have struggled, so it has been pitching (led by the rotation duo of Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks) that has shouldered the load. The one thing that has fueled this club dating back to Spring Training has been the idea that the core group does not know how many more seasons they will have together. They are looking forward to the stats resetting to zero in October and counting on their collective October experience to recapture the World Series glory of 2016. — Jordan Bastian

Padres: The best infield in baseball

There’s a lot to like about this Padres team. The rotation is strong at the top, the bullpen has been excellent and the outfield has exceeded expectations. But let’s keep this simple. The Padres have two MVP candidates, a Rookie of the Year Award candidate and a former World Series winner and All-Star in their infield. Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. have been excellent this season. They’ll anchor the lineup and provide their usual sure-handedness on the left side. Jake Cronenworth has broken out at second base. And Eric Hosmer has authored his best season as a Padre after overhauling his swing. — AJ Cassavell

Cardinals: Pitching depth

With as inconsistent of an offense that the Cardinals have, their pitching allows them to win close games. A rotation that consists of Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim is backed up by a bullpen that has a left-right combination in Génesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes, a veteran lefty in Andrew Miller, high-leverage relievers in Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley, long-inning relievers who can also serve as starters in Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber and about four other relievers they can trust in different matchups. The pitching is a huge reason the Cardinals are in the postseason — and can be the reason they win it all. — Anne Rogers

Marlins: Power arms

From Spring Training, through Summer Camp and the 60-game season, the Marlins’ front office and coaching staff based their optimism on a hard-throwing and deep starting rotation. Rookie sensation Sixto Sánchez and Sandy Alcantara, in particular, are among the hardest-throwing starters in the game. Per Statcast, among starting pitchers, Sánchez has the third-highest average fastball average (97.6 mph), and Alcantara’s 96.4 mph is 17th. Pablo López has been the steadiest starter all season, and his average fastball is 93.3 mph. Rookie left-hander Trevor Rogers averages 93.4 mph. José Ureña is the veteran of the staff, but he might wind up in the bullpen with his 95.3 mph fastball. — Joe Frisaro

Reds: Starting pitching

The Reds’ hitting has been suspect much of the season and the bullpen was iffy the first month. But there has been no doubt that the rotation has been the team’s backbone all season. Cincinnati has a leading NL Cy Young Award candidate in Trevor Bauer and the always-formidable Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. Should the Reds advance past the first round of the postseason, they still have depth with Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone and Wade Miley, who can all make starts or pitch multiple innings of relief. But if Bauer, Castillo and Gray can go deep and hand off straight to the back portion of the now-solid bullpen, the Reds can shorten many games. — Mark Sheldon

Brewers: Everything’s upside down in 2020

The Brewers never spent a day above .500. They joined this year’s Astros as the first teams ever to make the postseason on the strength of a losing record. Their perennial MVP candidate, Christian Yelich, was one of the many MLB stars who saw his production plummet, with an OPS down more than 300 points from a year ago. Their best starter, Corbin Burnes, is out with a left oblique injury and won’t be available until the NLCS at the earliest, and another steady starter, Brett Anderson, left Sunday’s game with a blister. And, oh yeah, they face the juggernaut Dodgers in the opening round. Wouldn’t it be the most 2020 thing for the Brewers to sneak through, given that anything can happen in a best-of-three series? The Brewers still have the pitching to pull it off, with Brandon Woodruff sure to start one of the first two games, and strikeout machines Devin Williams and Josh Hader rested and ready for multiple innings at the back of games, if needed. — Adam McCalvy