Plenty left to decide on 'final' day of season

October 3rd, 2021

It is not exactly an original idea to suggest that Mondays are the worst.

A fat, lasagna-loving cat covered this subject extensively some years ago, and the cult classic “Office Space” birthed the term “Somebody’s got a case of the Mondays” to further accentuate the idea that the start of the work week is a bummer.

But for baseball fans, there is no worse Monday than the one that immediately follows the conclusion of the 162-game regular season. It’s a day when players are either cleaning out their lockers or scouting their October opposition.

What they are not doing, typically, is playing baseball. And that’s a bummer for all of us.

This Sunday slate can save us. It is the final day of the 2021 regular season… or is it? That tape stretched across the finish line is mathematically moveable, and the possibility -- maybe even probability? -- of at least one Game 163 on Monday makes for a fascinating finale.

Hope and history will converge at 3 p.m. ET, when all 30 teams are in action. There are many storylines baked into 2021’s denouement, but we’ve got three main races to resolve -- the American League Wild Card, the National League West and the home run crown.

Let’s dig into each of those.

Now, the Yankees and Red Sox both need to win today to ensure themselves a spot in the AL Wild Card Game. If they both win, they play each other in Boston, on account of the Red Sox winning the season series. If one of them loses and either the Blue Jays or Mariners win, it gets ... complicated.

The Yankees will start Jameson Taillon against the Rays’ Michael Wacha. The Red Sox will start Chris Sale against the Nationals’ Joan Adon. The Blue Jays have Hyun-Jin Ryu opposing the Orioles’ Bruce Zimmerman. The Mariners have Tyler Anderson going against the Angels’ Reid Detmers.

If you don’t have a rooting interest in any of these particular four clubs, you know what to root for: Chaos. There is a good chance of next year’s postseason field being expanded. If that happens, there is also a good chance that Wild Card ties would be resolved mathematically, not on the field. We have been rooting hard for tiebreaker chaos ever since the dual-Wild Card system was implemented in 2012, and all we have to show for it is a Rays-Rangers tiebreaker to determine the second AL spot in '13. We need more than that. We need some Sunday sizzle.

How the West is… one

One game. That’s all that’s left and that’s all that separates two longtime rivals with MLB’s two best records. Don’t let the beautiful mess that is the AL Wild Card distract you from the conclusion to one of the best division races in baseball history.

The Giants have already tied their franchise wins record -- a record set when Teddy Roosevelt was president. And yet they still don’t have the NL West nailed down.

The Dodgers have gone an astounding 43-13 since acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner ahead of the Trade Deadline (that’s only eight fewer wins than the D-backs have compiled all season), and yet they have made up just two games of ground in that span.

If the Dodgers beat the Brewers and the Giants lose to the Padres today, San Francisco, having won the season series against L.A., will host Game 163 on Monday. The winner of that game would be the NL West champion and the top seed in the NL. The loser would host the Cardinals in Wednesday’s NL Wild Card Game.

Walker Buehler, who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Padres in his last outing after looking uncharacteristically shaky in his previous two, starts for the Dodgers opposite Brett Anderson. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell will play a role in all of this. On Saturday, he pulled his ace and NL Cy Young Award candidate Corbin Burnes after two innings to rest him up for the postseason, and on both Friday and Saturday, he rested his best relievers, as well. It will be interesting to see if Josh Hader and Milwaukee’s other top relief options get some tuneup work in Sunday’s game against a Dodgers team desperate for one more W.

For the Giants, it’s pretty straightforward: Put the ball in Logan Webb’s hands and see if the young right-hander, who has been so good all season and especially excellent in the second half, can pitch you to victory. He’s opposing Reiss Knehr, a rookie with a 4.85 ERA who is making his fifth Major League start.

 Maybe it’s not realistic to wish for the third Dodgers-Giants tiebreaker in the history of these storied franchises. After all, that would require the Giants to actually lose two baseball games in a row, something they only did once in September.

A home run race unlike any other

There has never been a home run race like the one we’ve seen in 2021, and we can’t wait to see how it ends.

A pitcher led the home run race for much of this year, and that’s still an awesome sentence to type. OK, so Shohei Ohtani, who enters the day with 45 dingers, would have to go completely crazy to regain the Major League lead over Salvador Perez (48), and that’s a tall order, even for him. But considering Ohtani also had a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings, we’ll say he had a pretty impressive personal season, regardless. Here’s one last standing O for Ohtani.

And how about Perez? He’s already broken Johnny Bench’s single-season record for home runs by a primary catcher. Now he can join Bench (both 1970 and '72) as the only catchers to lead the Majors in home runs. And if Perez can go deep today, he’ll gain sole possession of the Royals’ single-season home run record. Perez is doing this at 31 years old and has never previously hit more than 27 in a season. He also plays his home games -- including Sunday’s finale against the Twins -- at Kauffman Stadium, which suppresses power. It’s all completely bonkers.

Perez will have to hold off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (47 homers), who of course has plenty to play for today. Not only are Guerrero’s Blue Jays fighting for their playoff lives, but he’s trying to put a punctuation mark on his MVP case against Ohtani. Guerrero obviously doesn't have the pitching profile that Ohtani does, but he’s put up a .305/.374/.576 slash, eight homers and eight doubles in the final month.