The 2018 MLB playoff picture is getting clearer by the day, as teams clinch postseason berths and matchups start falling into place. It will all be settled over the next week, before the postseason gets underway with the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 2 and the American League
The 2018 MLB playoff picture is getting clearer by the day, as teams clinch postseason berths and matchups start falling into place. It will all be settled over the next week, before the postseason gets underway with the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 2 and the American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 3.
The AL Wild Card Game matchup will likely feature the Yankees against the A's (barring a furious rally by Oakland to overtake Houston in the AL West). The NL Wild Card race is more wide open, with the Brewers leading, the Cardinals in the second slot and the Rockies close behind.
• Postseason Picture: Where we are right now
But one thing that's up for grabs for the Wild Card Game in both leagues? Home-field advantage. All those teams will be playing for the right to host the winner-take-all games.
• Wild Card standings
Has home field helped in the Wild Card Game? MLB.com breaks down the history since its inception in 2012, when MLB expanded to a two-Wild Card playoff format in each league.
Has there been a home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game?
Not so far. Of the 12 Wild Card Games played across both leagues since 2012, the home team has won five, while the visitors have taken seven. But the home team did win both of last year's Wild Card Games -- and one of those teams, of course, was the Yankees, who beat the Twins, 8-4, at Yankee Stadium.
In the AL, the Wild Card winners have been evenly split. The home team has won three of the six games -- 2014, '16 and '17. In the NL, the visiting team has taken four of the six Wild Card Games, with the home wins coming in 2013 and '17.
Home teams to win the Wild Card Game
2017 Yankees: 8-4 over Twins, AL
2017 D-backs: 11-8 over Rockies, NL
2016 Blue Jays: 5-2 over Orioles (11 innings), AL
2014 Royals: 9-8 over A's (12 innings), AL
2013 Pirates: 6-2 over Reds, NL
Home teams to lose the Wild Card Game
2016 Mets: 3-0 to Giants, NL
2015 Yankees: 3-0 to Astros, AL
2015 Pirates: 4-0 to Cubs, NL
2014 Pirates: 8-0 to Giants, NL
2013 Indians: 4-0 to Rays, AL
2012 Rangers: 5-1 to Orioles, AL
2012 Braves: 6-3 to Cardinals, NL
What about other recent winner-take-all playoff games?
Going back to 1995, when the original Wild Card playoff format was implemented, the home team has a losing record in winner-take-all games. There have been 58 winner-take-all postseason games played across all rounds since 1995. The home team is 27-31.
By series: home teams are 5-7 in Wild Card Games, 11-18 in Game 5 of the Division Series, 7-3 in Game 7 of the League Championship Series and 4-3 in Game 7 of the World Series.
What's been the key for the home teams that won their Wild Card Game?
Offense, offense, offense. The home teams to win Wild Card Games haven't exactly been doing it in pitchers' duels. Last year's scores are a perfect example -- 8-4 for the Yankees at home over the Twins in the AL, 11-8 for the D-backs at home over the Rockies in the NL.
Home Wild Card winners have averaged 7.8 runs in those games. The only team that didn't homer multiple times in its win was the 2014 Royals -- against the A's -- and they still scored nine runs.
The lowest-scoring winner was the Blue Jays, who beat the Orioles, 5-2, in an 11-inning 2016 AL Wild Card Game. And even that game was decided by a big blow -- Edwin Encarnacion's walk-off three-run homer.
What happened to the home teams that lost?
On the other end, when the home team has lost the Wild Card Game, they've often simply run into opposing aces who were lined up for the elimination game. In fact, the past five times home teams have lost the Wild Card Game, they've been shut out.
In three of those games, the starting pitcher did it all himself -- Madison Bumgarner shut out the Mets in 2016 and the Pirates in '14, both on the road, while Jacob Arrieta shut out Pittsburgh on the road in 2015, the year he won the NL Cy Young Award.
Another of those games was actually against the Yankees -- the 2015 AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium, when AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the Astros' 3-0 win over the Bronx Bombers.
How do this year's Wild Card contenders rank in terms of offense?
The Yankees lead the Majors with 252 home runs and entered Monday second in runs per game, averaging 5.15. The A's aren't far behind, ranking third in home runs with 218 and they were fifth in the Majors with 4.97 runs per game entering Monday. (The top five scoring offenses in baseball are the five AL playoff teams.)
Of the teams in the NL Wild Card mix -- the Brewers, Cardinals and Rockies -- St. Louis has the strongest scoring offense at 4.74 runs per game (tied for second in the NL). Colorado is next at 4.65 (sixth in the NL), followed by Milwaukee at 4.54 (seventh). If the NL West-leading Dodgers fell into the Wild Card pack, they'd have the strongest offense, an NL-best 4.87 runs per game. The NL Central-leading Cubs, who could be a Wild Card team if overtaken by the Brewers, rank fourth in the NL at 4.71 runs per game.
Do any Wild Card contenders have an ace who could neutralize home-field advantage?
In the AL, the A's starting rotation has been depleted by injuries, so they're likely to make heavy use of their deep relief corps no matter who starts. The Yankees, already locked into the Wild Card Game, could line up a starting pitcher -- but it's uncertain which one. Luis Severino's rocky second half mean he's no longer a lock (and he was knocked out of last year's Wild Card Game after one-third of an inning). Masahiro Tanaka has had an up-and-down season, too, although he has a very strong playoff record. J.A. Happ has been terrific since joining the Yanks, but Severino and Tanaka are more established at the top of New York's rotation.
In the NL, the team with the clearest-cut ace is the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw, who could be lined up for a Wild Card Game if needed -- but if their division lead slips, they might need him to pitch on the final weekend of the regular season.
The Cubs are probably in the best position from a starting pitching standpoint -- they have three strong options in Jonathan Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels, which would give them flexibility in lining one up for a winner-take-all game. But if they can hold their lead in the Central, they won't need to.
The Cardinals have a pair of strong candidates in Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty, but they might need one or both to pitch at the end of the regular season. If Mikolas pitched on normal rest on Friday, he'd be on short rest for the Wild Card Game the following Tuesday; if Flaherty followed on Saturday or Sunday, he'd be unavailable to start the Wild Card Game.
Similarly, the Rockies would love to have Kyle Freeland ready, but if he needs to pitch in his final turn in the regular season on Friday, he'd be on short rest for the Wild Card Game like Mikolas. The Brewers don't really have an ace-type pitcher.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.