Previewing the 2020 MLB Playoffs With World Series Winner Ryan Dempster

The retired pitcher now works as an MLB Network analyst and hosts “Off The Mound”

September 29, 2020 11:15 am
Previewing the 2020 MLB Playoffs With 2013 World Series Winner Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game One of the 2013 World Series.
Getty Images

With the shortest regular season in Major League Baseball’s history in the books, baseball’s expanded postseason is about to get underway.

The 16 teams that made the MLB playoffs will take the field over the next few days and play best-of-three series to whittle the field down to eight clubs that will then head into a pair of bubbles — one in Texas and one in California — to finish out the playoffs.

In the American League, the No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays are at the No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays, the No. 5 New York Yankees are at the No. 4 Cleveland Indians, the No. 6 Houston Astros are at the No. 3 Minnesota Twins and the No. 7 Chicago White Sox are at the No. 2 Oakland Athletics. In the National League, the No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers are at the No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers, the No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals are at the No. 4 San Diego Padres, the No. 6 Miami Marlins are at the No. 3 Chicago Cubs and the No. 7 Cincinnati Reds are at the No. 2 Atlanta Braves.

So what will the MLB playoffs look like this season? According to 2013 World Series winner Ryan Dempster, an analyst for MLB Network and. Marquee Sports Network as well as the host of late-night talk show Off the Mound, it all comes down to pitching.

“Whoever pitches the best is going to win. That’s just factual reality of what it takes to win a World Series,” he tells InsideHook. “You need good pitching to contain good offenses. It has shown through time and history: the team with the best starting pitching usually wins. Just look at it last year. You can have all the offense in the world, but good pitching is going to always neutralize good offense. So, if you have two No. 1 starters in your rotation, that’s really good to have. Having good starting pitching in any series is important. In a short series, starting pitching is vital.”

Also, how players continue to react to playing without fans in the stands may be a big factor in determining which teams advance and which go home.

“It’s different without fans. You have to find a way to get down to your inner self to draw that adrenaline. It’s not easy for all guys,” Dempster says. “We’re seeing players who really feed off crowds and off of that adrenaline have a tough time being able to replicate it. But at the end of the day, you have to just be able to do that. You have to find a way to dig deep. But I think it plays both ways. Without fans, it really lends to just focusing on the task at hand instead of outside things. You’re just able to try and worry about the only thing that you have to, whether that’s executing a pitch or executing a swing. Just focusing on that, and not 40,000 fans screaming at you, can avoid bringing the adrenaline level to an uncomfortable place.”

Dempster also says the momentum teams have built up over the regular season, both good and bad, won’t necessarily carry over into the postseason.

“As a player, you’ve got to keep focusing on the now, the today, the right now,” he says. “Now, does it help if you’re playing great going in? Sure, that can help. But that momentum helps because of one reason: confidence. That plays just as much of a factor. One swing of the bat, one good outing from a starter, one reliever coming in and striking out the No. 3, 4, 5 hitters with runners on first and second … all of those moments just lead to confidence. At this level, guys are always ready. You don’t need everybody hot in every game. You just need a couple of guys to carry you for a game and then another couple of guys for one game. You’re always just one game away from getting that confidence back.”

While the Dodgers are heavily favored to win it all at 7-to-2 odds followed by the Rays at 7-to-1, Dempster sees the race to the World Series as being wide open.

“I don’t have one team where I’m like, ‘Ah man, these guys are just unstoppable.’ I just don’t see it that way,” he says. “I think there’s a couple of teams that are really good. I think the Oakland A’s are really good. I think Tampa Bay pitches extremely well and Cleveland’s dangerous. I’m watching Shane Bieber throw and then bringing in Triston McKenzie right off him. That’s dirty. That’s hard to hit. But I feel like there’s a good chance of anybody winning the World Series. There’s no clear-cut favorite. I think that an eighth seed on either side could win the World Series, strictly for the reason that it’s 2020. It’s been a strange year. The Cubs playing the White Sox in the World Series in Arlington with no fans? If that won’t sum up 2020, then I don’t know what will.”

For the team that does end up winning, the championship should not come with an asterisk.

“I don’t think it comes with an asterisk for being more or less valuable to the players,” Dempster says. “Everybody’s playing on an equal playing field under the same conditions and same rules. At the end of the day, one of those teams has to fight for it all and come out on top. I guarantee they will feel just as good when that happens after a 60-game season as they would after a 162-game season because, in some weird way, it might actually have been a little bit harder from a mental standpoint to have to endure a lot of the things they did. So, it might be just as rewarding, if not more rewarding, for some people.”

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