Los Angeles reliever Joe Kelly was suspended earlier this season for pitching near the heads of Houston hitters, including Carlos Correa. (David J. Phillip)
Right now, baseball really has a 1981 feel to it.
There were already some similarities between the season shortened by the 2020 pandemic and the version interrupted by the strike 39 years ago, but the similarity is even stronger now that the four-division series began.
In 1981, the season was split into two halves, whereby each division champion from the first half played against the champion from the second half to start the playoffs. That meant two teams from the American League East faced off, two teams from the American League West, two teams from the National League East, and two teams from the National League West.
That's also what we have this season in the American League and National League Division Series: Rays-Yankees, Astros-Athletics, Braves-Marlins and Dodgers-Padres.
It wasn't planned that way. This is how the crops worked. The teams from the National League Central and the National League Central, divisions that did not exist in 1981, were eliminated.
With just four teams remaining in each league, there are now 16 possible World Series matchups for this year. Here's a look at five and what would make it interesting.
The matchups are listed in descending order of probability, using probability figures from Fangraphs.com heading into Monday's action.
That 1981 postseason ended with a showdown between these old rivals, the Dodgers beat New York in six games, but we haven't seen him since in the World Series. It would be appropriate for it to happen in 2020.
In terms of sheer hostility, this is the showdown to watch out for. Houston beat Los Angeles in seven games in the 2017 World Series, but the Astros' signal theft scandal put that victory in a new light, and the Dodgers have not taken it kindly. Los Angeles reliever Joe Kelly was suspended earlier this season for pitching near the heads of Houston hitters. Dusty Baker, a standout player for the Dodgers on their 1981 champion team, now manages the Astros.
New York beat Atlanta for the title in 1996 and 1999, and if those series had gone the other way, it would be the Braves, not the Yankees, who would be remembered as the great dynasty of that era.
This series would pit Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, against the team he used to work for. However, he would not do the same with David Price. The right-hander, selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 Tampa Bay draft, opted out this season for the Dodgers due to concerns about the pandemic.
These teams had their postseason battles when they were both in the National League, and Baker's presence would add more intrigue. He is remembered as a World Series and All-Star champion with the Dodgers, but was drafted by the Braves and began his major league playing career with them.