Beginnings for some, endings for others. That's what makes the final week of baseball's regular season such a swirl of emotions. Awkward goodbyes here, uncertainty there.First, though, the National League race. Wasn't it around mid-June when we wondered if this thing might go down to the last couple of weeks?Things
Beginnings for some, endings for others. That's what makes the final week of baseball's regular season such a swirl of emotions. Awkward goodbyes here, uncertainty there.
First, though, the National League race. Wasn't it around mid-June when we wondered if this thing might go down to the last couple of weeks?
Things are simpler now, but no less compelling: Five clubs are in contention for four spots. While the Braves have clinched the NL East and the D-backs and Phillies have been eliminated, all sorts of possibilities remain.
The Cubs and Brewers are in good shape to make the playoffs, and if that holds, the Dodgers, Cardinals and Rockies will spend this final week fighting it out for the final two spots.
Meanwhile, this could be the final week Bryce Harper plays for the Nationals as he prepares to enter his free-agent offseason. Other prominent players could be changing teams this offseason, and a bunch of managers -- Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia, John Gibbons -- may not be back with their current teams.
Next Sunday, the regular season will again end with every game starting by 3:20 p.m. ET, and let's hope the NL playoff picture won't be settled by then.
With all of that in mind, let's check out the best game for each day for the final week of the regular season:
MONDAY: Brewers at Cardinals (8:15 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
This is playoff baseball. Both teams could still win the NL Central, but a Wild Card berth for one or both seems more likely. They begin the week leading the race for the NL's two Wild Card berths, with the Rockies 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the fight for the second berth. The Brewers are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Cards for the first time since '15.
TUESDAY: Phillies at Rockies (8:40 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Phillies have had a dramatic turnaround season, having already won 12 more games than last season. They did not set out to play a spoiler role in the final week, but that's how it has worked out. The Rockies lost five of nine on this final road trip, but return to Coors Field for four games against the Phils and three against the Nationals. They begin the final week with a huge opportunity, and as manager Bud Black said, this is the kind of thing any team would sign up for on Opening Day.
WEDNESDAY: Marlins at Nationals (4:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
Harper made his Major League debut on April 28, 2012. Whether this is the final time he wears the Nationals uniform at Nationals Park is one of the largest questions that will be answered this offseason as he enters free agency. Harper was drafted to help remake the franchise, and in plenty of ways, he did just that. In seven seasons, only the Dodgers have won more regular-season games than the Nats. Washington went to the playoffs four times, and Harper was a six-time All-Star, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award (2012) and the NL MVP Award ('15). The Nationals say they would like to re-sign him, but they also know that free agency can be unpredictable.
THURSDAY: Yankees at Rays (1:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
The Rays won't make the playoffs, but they finish the regular season energized about the future. They're 53-28 since late June with a roster dominated by kids and a pitching staff that thrived on an "opener" strategy. In 25-year-old Blake Snell, Tampa Bay has found a true ace along with an assortment of gifted kids dotted up and down the roster. Manager Kevin Cash established himself as one of the best in the game.
FRIDAY: Cardinals at Cubs (2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN, MLB.TV)
Even if the Cubs have clinched the NL Central by the start of this series, the Cardinals could still be fighting for one of the NL Wild Card berths. St. Louis is 40-23 under manager Mike Shildt, and like the Rays, got better when the roster was turned over to young players like outfielder Harrison Bader and starters Jack Flaherty and John Gant. The Cubs haven't spent a day out of first place since the All-Star break and are playing their best baseball at the most important time of the season.
SATURDAY: Athletics at Angels (9:07 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
If this is Scioscia's final weekend as manager of the Angels, it will end one of the great runs in baseball history. The Halos made the playoffs seven times in his 19 seasons, and some of his most impressive work was in recent seasons as the Angels remained competitive despite being decimated by injuries. The Athletics have done a great imitation of being baseball's best team the past three months by going 60-26. Their offense, defense and bullpen may be the industry gold standard.
SUNDAY: Yankees at Red Sox (3:05 p.m., MLB.TV)
The Red Sox lead the season series 9-7, but the fun could just be starting if these two end up in an AL Division Series against one another. They haven't played one another in the playoffs since 2004 when Boston rallied from an 0-3 deficit to start a run to its first World Series win in 86 years.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.