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Morning Mound Visit: Ranking the AL Wild Card matchups

Which two teams reign supreme?

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Tampa Bay Rays v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The first Friday of a normal postseason is one of the greatest days of the year. It’s the one day out of the entire playoffs where there are four guaranteed games, and they all happen back-to-back. That first Friday has nothing on the next two days which will 12 individual playoff games.

The AL Wild Card series starts today, so let’s rank the four matchups based on completely objective reasoning.

#4 Cleveland vs. Yankees

Gerrit Cole versus Shane Bieber is going to be incredible, but it’s just so hard to root for either of these teams.

The Yankees used to be a good villain, but they’ve been usurped by the Astros as the most hated team in baseball. They don’t even outspend other teams now. Hating the Yankees just feels so passé. The most offensive thing they do is prohibit their players from growing beards. They’re not the Empire anymore. They’re the First Order. Bland and anodyne.

Cleveland, of course, has the longest championship drought in the four major American sports, but is this really the year they want it to end? Let’s face it, this season is dumb and illegitimate. If you’re a Cleveland fan, do you really want the first championship of your lifetime to be met with “lol didn’t count” every time it’s brought up?

Also, Cleveland shouldn’t win a World Series until they change their name to the Spiders or the Cyclops or whatever.

#3 Blue Jays vs. Rays

No. 1 vs. No. 8 seed matchups are rarely compelling in the NHL or NBA, but the chance for an upset here is so much higher. The Rays are heavily favored because they can send out Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow for the first two games while also countering with a potent lineup of Brandon Lowe and friends.

The Blue Jays might not be as good as the Rays, but they are more fun. Toronto has a revamped rotation chock full of pitchers it’s easy to forget are on the Blue Jays now. Hyun-jin Ryu? On the Blue Jays now! Taijuan Walker? Also on the Blue Jays! Ross Stripling? You guessed it, on the Blue Jays! Robbie Ray? Not very good, but he’s on the Blue Jays!

The Blue Jays also have a battalion of large adult sons from Rowdy Tellez to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to Alejandro Kirk. They might get thwarted by Tampa’s unstoppable bullpen, but there’s also a chance they sock massive dingers.

#2 Astros vs. Twins

The Astros are the number one villain in baseball, so it’s easy to develop an emotional rooting interest. What’s keeping it out of the number one slot (aside from the quality of the top matchup) is that the Astros have already been embarrassed this season by finishing under .500. Had they continued their dominance, there would be more urgency to see them getting knocked off their high horse, but they’ve already been shamed.

Also, a first-round exit would be fitting the reigning AL champs, but the Twins don’t feel like the right team to land the killing blow. The Twins knocking out the Astros would feel a bit like Barric Dendarrion killing the Night King. Sure, he’s got beef with the Night King, but so does everyone. It would feel better if the Dodgers or even the Yankees got to knock them down.

#1 White Sox vs. A’s

If the Blue Jays are fun because they’re young, talented, and contending ahead of schedule then the White Sox are doubly so. Chicago bookended their season with some dreadful stretches, but in those middle forty games, they looked like one of the best teams in baseball.

Though he cooled off considerably, Luis Robert showed why he was so highly-regarded as a prospect. Tim Anderson improved on a year in which he won the batting title. Lucas Giolito pitched like an ace. Dane Dunning did what I thought Michael Kopech would do. José Abreu finished fifth in wRC+.

The White Sox are going up against the A’s who are favored and also just as much fun. Oakland will be without Matt Chapman, but they still have Matt Olson who tried to answer the question: What happens if you only hit homers? Jesús Luzardo looks like he’s ready to be the team’s number one starter, and Chris Bassitt has a chance to make the White Sox regret trading him.

One of these teams will win their first postseason series in 14+ years. Oakland last won a series back in 2006, and they’ve made five trips since but they’ve gotten bounced in the first round each time. The White Sox, who snapped a 12-year playoff drought, haven’t won a series since they won it all in 2005. For one of them, the heartache will continue, but for the other, they get to pop the bubbly* that’s old enough for a learner’s permit.

*Figuratively speaking. Champagne and alcohol won’t be allowed in celebrations due to COVID-19 concerns.

Robert O’Connell | Baseball Prospectus $: Alex Gordon played the final game of his major league career over the weekend. The longtime Royal is beloved in Kansas City despite his ups and downs.

Sam Miller | ESPN: We’re about to see the first MLB postseason played without fans in attendance and fans do more than make noise. People in the stands often have a direct impact on what happens on the field.

James Fegen | The Athletic $: Though it was reasonable to assume Tim Anderson would take a step back this year, the rising star improved. Now, he’s in the postseason and in the national spotlight where he belongs.