Every September, the MLB postseason races start to heat up, and fans get treated to a month’s worth of meaningful baseball. The first teams begin clinching spots early in September, with the final teams often clinching on the last days of the season. This season is no different. With just over two weeks left in the season, four teams have clinched their spots. The Braves clinched the NL East first, and the Dodgers followed a few days later, clinching the NL West. Sunday, the Orioles and Rays both secured at least a Wild Card berth. Meanwhile, the other races are still up in the air, and could potentially come down to the wire with major shake ups until then. Taking a look specifically at the Wild Card, and which teams will have a chance in the postseason, the NL Wild Card is a bit more clean cut, while the AL Wild Card will likely come down to the AL West division.
In the American League, the main story lies in the fact that three teams are fighting for the AL West Division title. Only one of the Astros, Mariners, and Rangers will win the West, and the other two will have to fight it out with the Blue Jays for the last two AL Wild Card spots. For me, momentum is going to be huge in this final two week stretch, and Seattle has done nothing as of late to inspire confidence. Since the calendar has switched to September, their 5-11 record has seen them fall from a share of the division lead to on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They’ve dropped four out of five series during that stretch, and with seven games against the Rangers remaining, along with a three-game set against the Astros, Seattle may end up being the odd team out. Texas’ high-powered offense is what will decide those games, and if they can win five or more of those seven with Seattle, it may be simply too much for the Mariners to overcome. Toronto’s next three sets come against the slumping Red Sox and Yankees, a lot more favorable than the teams out West to keep that second AL Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, Houston has far more experience in these high pressure games than any of these teams, and that will be the key that allows them to capture yet another division crown. Although they still have a difficult three game series against the Orioles, a set at home against Kansas City will help them significantly and likely allow them to lock up the second seed in the American League.
How it shapes out for the AL playoffs:
- Tampa Bay Rays, AL East Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Houston Astros, AL West Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Minnesota Twins, AL Central Champs vs 6. Texas Rangers, Wild Card #3
- Baltimore Orioles, Wild Card #1 vs 5. Toronto Blue Jays, Wild Card #2
Out in the National League, the scene is filled with chaos as well, and a scenario where tiebreakers decide playoff berths is seeming more and more likely. Miami is a very interesting team to watch, as they have really turned on the jets to win 12 of their last 17 games. A huge series win against the consensus best team in baseball, the Atlanta Braves, gives the Marlins a massive jolt of confidence, and I can see that carrying into their upcoming games against the Mets, Brewers, and Pirates. I think they will end up overtaking the D-Backs for the second NL Wild Card spot, while Arizona, Chicago, and Cincinnati, will fight for the last berth. Cincinnati has had lots of tight games recently, but with eight of their last 11 games coming against teams with sub-.500 records, they hold the best chance to go on a tear and edge out the field. As for the Cubs, six games against Atlanta and Milwaukee may spell the end of their surprise season. Out in the desert, Arizona only has two division games left, so the nine games against American League teams might prove to be tough, especially the final series against the Astros. One last team who currently sits just two games out of the Wild Card race is the San Francisco Giants, but I didn’t include them because of their sub-par month of September and very difficult remaining schedule. They have gone 6-10 this month, and with seven games against the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, along with a 2 game set against the Diamondbacks, it might be too little too late for the veteran-filled San Francisco team to make a playoff push.
How it shapes out for the NL layoffs:
- Atlanta Braves, NL East Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Milwaukee Brewers, NL Central Champs vs 6. Cincinnati Reds, Wild Card #3
- Philadelphia Phillies, Wild Card #1 vs 5. Miami Marlins, Wild Card #2
Compared to the National League wild-card race, the American League race doesn’t have as many teams in playoff contention, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a tight battle for the chance to play October baseball. The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are both going to be playing this postseason, the question is though, which team will be the AL East champion and which will be the wild-card? As of this writing, the Orioles and the Rays are coming off a four game set against each other which ended in a split, meaning the Orioles have maintained their two game division lead. I think that the Orioles should be able to hang onto the division lead, mostly due to their superior offense as of late as well as the fact that the Rays have six games remaining against the Toronto Blue Jays. Either way though, whichever of these teams doesn’t end up winning the division will be the first AL wild-card team. The fight for second and third is between the Blue Jays and whichever two teams don’t win the AL West between the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. The Blue Jays have a half game game cushion over the third wild-card team and will have to face both the New York Yankees and Rays twice before the end of the season. So far this year, the Blue Jays have a 3-4 record against both those teams. It’s a tough schedule ahead for the Blue Jays, but probably not as tough as the Mariners matchups. Seattle ends the season with a series they should win against the Oakland A’s, but they’ll follow that up with two sets against the Rangers and one against the Astros. The Mariners have actually done pretty well against the Astros this year (8-2), but have struggled against the Rangers (1-5). The Astros have games against the Orioles, Kansas City Royals, and Arizona Diamondbacks in addition to their series against the Mariners, and the Rangers face the Angels and Red Sox in addition to the Mariners. It’s also important to note all three AL West teams have been struggling to different extents coming into Monday. The Mariners are 5-11 since September 1st. The Astros have dropped two straight series, to the A’s and Royals no less, and it doesn’t get much easier for them with the Orioles coming up next. As for the Rangers, they’re coming off of a sweep to the Cleveland Guardians. At the end of the season though, I think it’ll be the Rangers who will be crowned AL West champions. They’ve played the Mariners extremely well this year whereas the Astros have not, and they’ve also played better baseball over the past week compared to the Astros. With this, the Mariners will be the odd team out. They’re struggling the most among the contenders and two series against the Rangers is probably too much for them to handle. As for who will finish second, the Blue Jays should be able to hold onto their spot just ahead of the slumping Astros.
AL Playoff Bracket:
Baltimore Orioles, AL East Champs (1st round bye)
Texas Rangers, AL West Champs (1st round bye)
Minnesota Twins, AL Central Champs vs. 6. Houston Astros, wild-card 3
Tampa Bay Rays, wild-card 1 vs. 5. Toronto Blue Jays, wild-card 2
In the National League the wild-card race is between the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants, six teams fighting for three spots. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have already won the NL East and West respectively, and while the Milwaukee Brewers haven’t won the Central yet, it would take a complete collapse for them to not finish the job there. Even though I included the Phillies and Giants as members of the wild-card race, both of those teams aren’t true fighting members, although for different reasons. The Phillies have a 3.5 game cushion atop the wild-card standings and it would be extremely surprising if they didn’t end the season as the top wild-card team, let alone out of the playoffs entirely. As for the Giants, they’re two games out of a playoff spot and 1.5 games behind the next closest team following a series loss against the Colorado Rockies. San Francisco is 5-17 on the road since August 1, and they have two series’ coming up against the Dodgers, including a four game set on the road. The Giants could still make the playoffs, but it isn’t very likely. With only a game between the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Marlins, and Reds, any of these teams still has a shot at making the playoffs. With that being said, Arizona seems to have the most advantageous route to the second wild-card spot. The D-Backs are hot coming off of a sweep against the Cubs, and will get to face the struggling Giants, as well as the Yankees and White Sox. The Astros could make the final series of the season tough for the Snakes, but I think they’ll do enough to maintain their hold on second place. As for who will finish third, Cincinnati sets up well. The Reds upcoming schedule is far easier on paper than both the Cubs or Marlins, as Cincinnati will face Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and St. Louis to finish the year. The Marlins next three series include two against the Mets, and one against the Brewers. The Marlins are coming off a huge sweep of the Braves, but they didn’t exactly face the best Atlanta had to offer. You can’t imagine the Mets, who have been playing decent lately, are going to go easy on the Marlins either. Prior to their sweep of the Braves, Miami dropped a four-game set with Milwaukee, who they’ll have to find a way to overcome next weekend. As for the Cubs, I think their upcoming schedule is the hardest. Even though six of their remaining games come against the Pirates and Rockies, Chicago also has to face the Braves and Brewers right before the season ends, a tall task for a team that is 38-44 vs. teams above .500.
NL Playoff Bracket:
Atlanta Braves, NL East Champs (1st round bye)
Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West Champs (1st round bye)
Milwaukee Brewers, NL Central Champs vs. 6. Cincinnati Reds, wild-card 3
Philadelphia Phillies, wild-card 1 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, wild-card 2
Looking ahead at all the possible outcomes for the National League Wild-Card, the most obvious one seems to be playing out currently. Philadelphia has basically locked up the first WC spot, but that’s where the sureness ends. There are currently five teams within striking distance of the last 2 wild card spots, and all have a way of reaching them. Arizona is a half-game up for the second wild card spot, with Chicago and Miami tied for the third spot. Cincinnati is a half a game back, and San Francisco is 2 games back. San Francisco has the hardest schedule coming up, and I could easily see them losing quite a few games and falling out of the wild card race. Arizona and Chicago have pretty tough schedules, meanwhile Cincinnati and Miami have fairly easy schedules. I predict that these 4 teams will end up tied in some way, whether it’s a 4 way tie (unlikely), a 3 way tie (potentially) or a 2 way tie (most likely). However it happens, the NL Wild Card will be close, and come down to the last few games of the season.
NL Playoff Bracket:
Atlanta Braves, NL East Champs (1st Round Bye)
Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West Champs (1st Round Bye)
Milwaukee Brewers, NL Central Champs vs. 6. Chicago Cubs
Philadelphia Phillies vs 5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The American League Wild Card race is shaping up to be one for the ages, and one that will, in all likelihood, jump to the top of the charts in terms of most entertaining. Only two teams in the American League have secured a postseason berth, with the Orioles and Rays both punching their ticket on Sunday. However, neither team has won the AL East yet. Baltimore’s magic number is 10, but the Rays are only 2 games back. Whichever team comes in second in the division will likely take the first wild card spot. After that, it’s anyone’s game when it comes to the other 2 wild card spots. Currently, Houston holds a 1.5 lead in the AL East, with Texas in second and Seattle in third. As of right now, Texas holds the third Wild Card spot, and Seattle is one game back. Toronto currently has possession of the second wild card spot, but is only a half a game up on Texas. Despite there being a possibility of 3 AL East teams making the playoffs, I think that Tampa Bay will have the first spot. Toronto will hold on to the second, and the Rangers will take the third, with the Astros winning the AL West, the Twins winning the AL Central, and the Orioles winning the AL East.
AL Playoff Bracket:
Baltimore Orioles, AL East Champs (1st Round Bye)
Houston Astros, AL West Champs (1st Round Bye)
Minnesota Twins, AL Central Champs vs. 6. Texas Rangers
Tampa Bay Rays vs. 5. Toronto Blue Jays
As the wild card races wind down, there’s five teams fighting for a wild card spot in the NL and four teams in the AL, with the AL race having division race complications down the stretch. Seattle and Houston have stumbled down the stretch, after the Mariners were swept by the Dodgers and the Astros dropped two straight series’ againt the A’s and Royals. Texas has been rolling as of late, including a sweep by the Blue Jays earlier last week. Texas, I believe, is prime to take the division in the AL West because of this momentum. Elsewhere, the Orioles and Rays are fighting for the AL East, while whoever loses out on the division crown. The division race has been back and forth, but I believe the Orioles will take the division crown. The Blue Jays have been really solid this month and can take the second wild card spot from both AL West teams. Ultimately, whoever wins the third wild card spot comes down to the Mariners final three series’ as they face Texas and Houston. While Texas I believe are the more dominant team, I think Seattle is a slightly better team than the Astros. The M’s have already clinched the tiebreaker over the defending champs, winning the season series. I believe the Mariners can take the third spot from their longtime rival.
AL Playoff Bracket:
- Baltimore Orioles, AL East Champs (1st round bye)
- Texas Rangers, AL West Champs (1st round bye)
- Minnesota Twins, AL Central Champs vs. 6. Seattle Mariners, wild-card
- Tampa Bay Rays, wild-card 1 vs. 5. Toronto Blue Jays, wild-card 2
The NL race is even closer as five teams are within 2.5 games of each other for just three spots. The Diamondbacks are just coming off a sweep of the Cubs who are faltering towards the end of the season. There’s a real possibility that the Cubs trend out of the wild card race, but the Reds and Giants certainly haven’t been consistent either. The Giants have an extremely tough schedule to end the season starting with division rivals Arizona and Los Angeles. The Giants haven’t looked relatively strong all season and just seemed to hang around, which doesn’t get you in the playoffs most of the time. The Marlins, however, just dominated against the rival Braves and have solidified themselves as a real threat come playoff time. In the end, I see the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Cubs getting the wild card spots in that particular order. The Cubs will have to get it together though, or they could see themselves as an early exit come October. Phillies are set with the number one wild card spot, as they’re 3.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for the second wild card spot.
NL Playoff Bracket
- Atlanta Braves, NL East Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West Champs (1st Round Bye)
- Milwaukee Brewers, NL Central Champs vs. 6. Miami Marlins
- Philadelphia Phillies vs 5. Arizona Diamondbacks