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Welcome To Baseball Bracket Madness

We start with baseball. After a moment of sympathy for the rotten weekend Philadelphia sports fans have just endured, we discuss the format changes for the MLB postseason. We’re all happy baseball made it to the playoffs. Neil and Geoff like the change to a more bracket-friendly approach, with all 16 playoff teams taking part in a best-of-three wild-card series, and would enjoy this structure in future years that are hopefully less disruptive than 2020. However, Sara thinks that, in the long term, this goes against some of what makes the MLB playoffs special. In terms of this year, the Los Angeles Dodgers are overwhelmingly favored to win the World Series, but teams with especially deep benches could mount an upset or three. The lack of rest days changes how teams are going to need to think about their pitching, which shouldn’t be as much of a problem for Cleveland or Oakland as it will be for Houston or Toronto. By virtue of having picked the Dodgers, Geoff is also overwhelmingly favored to win Hot Takedown’s World Series draft.

Next, we return to the NBA to preview the Finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. Although the media focus has been on the interpersonal drama of LeBron James confronting Pat Riley (and vice versa), the team thinks that what’s really interesting about this matchup is the clash of two very different team-building philosophies. The Lakers feature a traditional superstar duo in LeBron and Anthony Davis, while the Heat have assembled a deep ensemble to support Jimmy Butler. It’s an approach that seems more accessible to more teams throughout the league — cultivating young talent prevents some of the crushing lows of tanking and trying to get lucky in free agency or the draft. The Heat aren’t going to completely shut down LeBron and Davis, but they have a host of options to try and slow them down just enough. Two out of our three hosts (Sara and Neil) think the Lakers will win in the end — despite our anti-Lakers model — but these Finals look very fun no matter who comes out on top.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, we get geographical and talk about this most Southern of Stanley Cups won by the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Dallas Stars. On the ice, Southern and Western expansion teams have done quite well, even if their fan bases remain relatively small compared with the lucrative (but recently light on trophies) contingent in the Great White North. The hosts all have slightly different feelings on how beneficial a hockey final between teams at or below the 33rd parallel really is, but they all agree that Tampa has done a fantastic job building a team that’s consistently dangerous — and exciting to watch.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.