Six months of baseball has come down to seven days.
Unless it takes eight. Or nine. Bear with us.
Major League Baseball’s 2021 season hits the final week with plenty to be resolved – most notably both wild-card spots in the American League and division champions in the National League’s East and West, the latter champion likely needing to win at least 105 games to claim the title.
On paper, the season ends Sunday afternoon, when every game tips off shortly after 3 p.m. ET and whatever champagne still corked up should flow. Yet the specter of tiebreaker games looms heavily over three races, with even the fourth-place Colorado Rockies on notice to make up a game at Atlanta on Monday if it’s germane to the NL East race.
That means potential bonus baseball on Oct. 4 and 5, with the AL wild-card game potentially pushed back should a three-team tiebreaker be necessary. Keep an eye on your Tuesday and Wednesday starters – they’re the arms aligned to start a Game 162 on Sunday, a potential tiebreaker on Monday or a wild card or Division Series Game 1 after that.
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The particulars of each race? We’ve got ‘em, in order of volatility. Oh, and don’t stay up too late this week:
AL wild card
As it stands: The Yankees (89-67), after laying waste to Boston in a stunning three-game sweep at Fenway Park, lead the Red Sox (88-68) by a game for the No. 1 wild card spot. Toronto (87-69) is a game behind Boston and two behind the Yankees, with Seattle (86-70) and Oakland (85-71) two and three games behind Boston, respectively.
The final week: All eyes on Toronto, where the Blue Jays and Yankees open a three-game series Tuesday night. If the Yankees win just one game, they’ll leave Toronto no worse than the No. 2 wild card. But it will behoove the Yankees to pile on if they can: The Red Sox finish with six games at Baltimore and Washington. New York finishes at home against Tampa Bay, and while the Rays have already wrapped up the East, they’re not a team you want to play with survival at stake – particularly when the Blue Jays are hosting three games against the 50-106 Orioles.
The A’s and Mariners open a three-game series Monday at Seattle; if one team sweeps, consider them alive heading into the weekend. Otherwise, it’s likely lights out.
Tuesday/Wednesday starters: Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole go for the Yankees, with Hyun-jin Ryu and Jose Berrios going for Toronto. A Cole-Robbie Ray matchup is possible for the wild-card game. Boston has Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi lined up; Sale vs. Juan Soto in a must-win Game 162 would be spicy.
Family ties: Boston would have home-field advantage for any one-game playoff for the No. 2 wild card or the AL wild card game against Toronto or New York; the Blue Jays would host the Yankees.
As it stands: After a sweep of San Diego, the Braves (83-72) hold a 2 ½-game lead over the Phillies (81-75).
The final week: After threatening to bumble away any chance at contending, the Phillies amazingly have their fate in their hands: Three games at Atlanta starting Tuesday. A sweep would vault them atop the division, and a sweep may be their only option: Atlanta closes at home against the Mets, who have lost 15 of 23 this month. The Phillies finish with three at Miami.
Tuesday/Wednesday starters: Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola go for Philly against Charlie Morton and Max Fried for Atlanta. But should the teams tie for the East title, Fried won’t be available for a one-game playoff. Why? If the Braves lead or trail the Phillies by a half-game after Sunday, they must play a makeup game against Colorado on Monday at Truist Park. And you have to figure Fried will get the ball then if their season is on the line.
Family ties: One win in Atlanta will clinch the season series – and home field in a tiebreaker – for the Phillies. (And if they don’t win one in Atlanta, they’re done, anyway).
As it stands: The Giants (102-54) hold a two-game lead over the Dodgers (100-56) after an impressive sweep at Colorado that concludes a franchise-best 53-28 performance on the road.
The final week: How much pride do the Padres have? They play three against the Dodgers and finish at San Francisco; you wonder how many key players they may rest or shut down in this final week after their elimination.
The difference-maker, then: The Giants begin with three at home against Arizona; they’re 14-2 against the Diamondbacks this season. The Dodgers close against Milwaukee, and while the NL Central champs won’t have much on the line, they will want to stay sharp since they have four days off between the end of the regular season and Game 1 of their NL Division Series on Oct. 8. So, yes, the Dodgers won’t get a weekend vacation from Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader and Co.
Tuesday/Wednesday starters: Logan Webb and Alex Wood for the Giants, Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer for the Dodgers. Few teams in the wild card era are better suited to handle this week than the Dodgers. They can start Buehler on Sunday, Scherzer in a potential one-game division playoff Monday and, should they lose that, still have 19-game winner Julio Urias lined up for the wild-card game. They may be the best runner-up in the history of divisional play.
Family ties: A one-game playoff for the West title would be Monday at San Francisco’s Oracle Park.
Sixteen straight wins come with privileges: The Cardinals’ magic number to claim the NL wild card is one, leaving them a week to fine-tune the engine on Adam Wainwright’s wayback machine before a likely date at Dodger Stadium Oct. 6.
The Astros’ magic number to clinch the AL West is two, over Seattle, and one over Oakland.
One Rays win or one Astros loss will clinch home field throughout the AL playoffs for Tampa Bay. That would essentially lock in the ALDS matchups: Astros-White Sox and the Rays vs. the wild-card survivor.
In the NLDS, the Brewers are assured of facing the Braves-Phillies NL East victor, with the NL West champ facing the wild card winner.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB standings for playoffs: What could transpire in wild week ahead
Source: Yahoo Sports