The Rays punched their ticket to the postseason for the third consecutive year after beating the Blue Jays on Wednesday, 7-1. The victory also reduced Tampa Bay's magic number to win its second straight American League East title to four. The Rays will look to not only defend their AL pennant from 2020, but this time, win it all after losing the World Series in six games against the Dodgers.
With the Jays' loss, coupled with the Yankees' 7-3 victory over the Rangers, New York leapfrogged Toronto into the second AL Wild Card spot as Toronto slipped to a half-game back. The Red Sox won for the seventh straight time, defeating the reeling Mets, 12-5 -- Boston maintained a two-game lead for the top AL Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Mariners surpassed the A's in the Wild Card chase with a 4-1 win over Oakland -- Seattle is 2 1/2 games back of the Yankees.
In the National League, the Giants kept rolling toward the 100-win mark with their 99th victory of the year, an 8-6 win over the Padres in San Diego. San Francisco got some help from the Rockies, who were 10-5 winners over the Dodgers at Coors Field, dropping Los Angeles to two games back in the NL West.
The red-hot Cardinals won their 11th straight game, beating the Brewers in Milwaukee, 10-2. With the Phillies beating the Orioles, 4-3, and the Reds-Pirates contest getting rained out, St. Louis holds a 4 1/2-game lead over both Philadelphia and Cincinnati for the second NL Wild Card. The Braves were 9-2 winners over the D-backs in Arizona to maintain a three-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East.
While a lot can happen in the standings between now and when the postseason starts on Oct. 5, here is what the playoff picture looks like heading into Thursday.
Reminder: While Major League Baseball expanded the postseason field to 16 teams for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, there once again will be only 10 playoff teams in 2021. Both the AL and NL will have three division winners and two Wild Card teams, who will face off in a win-or-go-home Wild Card Game for the right to advance to the Division Series.
IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY:
AL Wild Card Game (Oct. 5)
Yankees at Red Sox
NL Wild Card Game (Oct. 6)
Cardinals at Dodgers
AL Division Series (starts Oct. 7)
Wild Card Game winner at Rays
White Sox at Astros
NL Division Series (starts Oct. 8)
Wild Card Game winner at Giants
Braves at Brewers
WHO HAS CLINCHED: Giants, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays
WHO IS NEXT: The Brewers' magic number to clinch the NL Central remains three after its third straight loss to the Cardinals. The White Sox can clinch the AL Central with a win over the Indians on Thursday, and they have two chances to do it. With the Astros' 12-inning win over the Angels on Wednesday, Houston's magic number to win the AL West is down to three.
(Note: Magic Number totals are courtesy of Southern Methodist University's RIOT formulas, which account for teams' schedules in addition to their place in the standings).
Tight races to watch
NL West: Giants lead Dodgers by two games
NL East: Braves lead Phillies by three games
ALDS Home Field:
The Astros lead the White Sox by 5 1/2 games for home-field advantage in the ALDS. Houston owns the tiebreaker.
AL Wild Card:
The Red Sox lead the Yankees by two games for the first AL Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays are a half-game back of New York for the second slot, while the Mariners are 2 1/2 back.
NL Wild Card:
The Cardinals lead the Reds and Phillies by 4 1/2 games for the second spot.
Trending up: The Cardinals just refuse to lose, and their 11th straight win has them in firm control of the second NL Wild Card spot.
Trending down: The A's dropped their third straight game to the Mariners, falling behind Seattle in the AL Wild Card race and finding themselves 3 1/2 games out with just 10 games to play in the regular season.
Clinched postseason berth: Dodgers, Giants, Brewers, Rays
Almost there (90% postseason odds or better, per FanGraphs):
White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Cardinals
In good shape (50-89% postseason odds):
Braves, Blue Jays
In the mix (10-49% postseason odds):
Still alive (postseason odds above 1%):