The last day of the MLB regular season is less than six weeks away, a truly remarkable fact. One can superficially understand how short the season is and still have a difficult time wrapping one’s mind around the fact that the season is only three weeks old, yet we are already in the stretch run.
That means it’s time to be seriously thinking about the playoff chase. So every Tuesday until the season is over, we’ll be taking a look at what the playoffs would look like if the season ended that very day. It’ll be here before you think.
To remind: The playoff format has changed for this unique season …
The top three seeds (Nos. 1-3) in each league will go to the three division winners (East, Central, West) in order of record.
The next three seeds (Nos. 4-6) will go to the three teams that finish in second place in their division, in order of record.
The final two seeds (Nos. 7-8) will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division and division standing. Because the first- and second-place teams in each division automatically advance to October, the 7 and 8 seeds are the actual “Wild Card teams.”
Also, any ties will be broken mathematically, rather than with tiebreaker games. That could require head-to-head-matchup records, or division records, or, depending on what ends up happening with the Cardinals, simple winning percentage. And remember: These first series are three games, all at the higher seed’s home field, win two to advance. What a weekend that’s going to be.
No. 1 Yankees (last week: 3) vs. No. 8 White Sox (last week: NR)
Do you like home runs? Sure you do. Everybody likes home runs. Well, one of these teams hit four consecutive home runs on Sunday afternoon … and the other one has Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. (Not to mention Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela and all the rest.) This would be an explosive matchup across the board, and all told, the White Sox seem like the sort of young, too-green-to-be-scared team that the Yankees should be a little wary of in best-of-3 series like this. This would be the White Sox’s first postseason appearance since the 2008 AL Division Series.
No. 2 A’s (last week: 1) vs. No. 7 Orioles (last week: 8)
Yep, the Orioles are still hanging around! Despite hitting a bit of a speed bump the last couple of days, the O’s aren’t just still in the playoff chase, they’ve moved up a spot. Their reward for, well let’s face it, doing one of the most shocking things in recent baseball memory, would be a series with the A’s, who have emerged as one of the most well-rounded teams in baseball. (Perhaps emerged is the wrong word here: They have won 97 games in consecutive seasons.) Nothing goes wrong no matter what happens in this series: If the A’s win, they have their first postseason series victory since 2006, and if the O’s win … well, their jaw-dropping 2020 run somehow keeps going in the face of all logic, reason and sense.
No. 3 Twins (last week: 2) vs. No. 6 Astros (last week: 6)
With the AL West struggling so much outside of the A’s, the Astros have a clear path to the postseason, even with all their injuries and early wobbles. (How in the world is Jose Altuve still hitting .176?) They’re hot right now, having won five in a row, and this would be a gem of a matchup with the Twins, who are probably just as good as they were last year, but suddenly find their division a lot tighter than perhaps they have been used to. Oh, and poor Twins: To finally win their first postseason series since 2002, they have to get past the team that has reached two of the past three World Series and has a serious chip on its shoulder about this particular year.
No. 4 Rays (last week: 5) vs. No. 5 Indians (last week: 7)
A rematch of the 2013 AL Wild Card Game -- which is surprisingly the only time these teams have faced each other in the postseason -- features two teams that have been on the cusp several times over the past decade-plus but never quite broken through. (And the Yankees likely await whoever wins.) The Indians have actually gotten hotter since putting two of their best pitchers in the penalty box, and the Rays, as usual, are one of the best teams in baseball but stuck in the wrong division. Assuming those Indians starters return, this would be quite a terrific nightly pitching matchup.
No. 1 Dodgers (last week: 4) vs. No. 8 Padres (last week: 8)
The Dodgers, predictably, have gone on a hot streak that zipped them past the Rockies and comfortably into the top seed in the National League. (The Dodgers are so good that no season can be so short that it stops them from settling into first place.) The Padres have Fernando Tatis Jr. dazzling the planet and emerging as the most exciting player in the sport, and by the time the playoffs come around, they might have Manny Machado in a groove and Tommy Pham healthy. An October series in Southern California like this one would be lovely for everyone.
Note: These brackets are unofficial, and the Padres are actually tied at .500 with the Cardinals and the second-place-in-NL-Central Brewers, but I gave the nod to the Padres over the Cards for the No. 8 seed -- and the Brewers over the Cards for second place in the NL Central -- because they have both played a lot more games than St. Louis. This will resolve itself in the next few weeks.
No. 2 Cubs (last week: 1) vs. No. 7 D-backs (last week: NR)
The D-backs were in danger of being left behind in the NL West until they shot out to a five-game winning streak this week. The Cubs hit their first speed bump against the Brewers, but they still have the biggest division lead in the league and are otherwise cruising along like it’s 2016 again. Imagine what happens when Kris Bryant and Javier Báez start hitting.
No. 3 Braves (last week: 5) vs. No. 6 Brewers (last week: NR)
Dansby Swanson’s dramatic walk-off homer on Monday night put the Braves back into first place, and even though the team has been besieged with injuries so far, they look primed to stay atop the NL East. The Brewers have all sorts of troubles going on right now -- Christian Yelich is somehow hitting .194, but really that whole offense is struggling -- but the three straight wins over the Cubs over the weekend got them back to .500. That puts them in a statistical tie with the Cardinals, but again, they’ve played twice as many games as the Cardinals and thus get the nod.
No. 4 Rockies (last week: 3) vs. No. 5 Marlins (last week: 2)
Yes, 1993 expansion represent! The two new teams of '93 have never met in the postseason, but this would be a fascinating series between an older group that has been a major surprise in the early going … and a younger team that has done the same. Seeing that young Marlins rotation at Coors Field would be jarring -- and would likely decide the series.
This is not how the playoffs will end up panning out, of course. But that they could is a reminder of how wild this season is going to be … how wild it is now. I’ll see you again in a week with some surely equally nonsensical -- yet very possible -- matchups.