In less than four weeks, the regular season will be over. That is nearly impossible to wrap one’s head around, but it’s true.
Thus, it’s seriously time to be thinking about the playoff chase. So every week until the season is over, we’ll be taking a look each Tuesday 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 Rays (last week: 4) vs. No. 8 Blue Jays (last week: 8)
The Rays have not lost since we last updated this column, which is an excellent way to zoom to the top of the playoff chart, particularly when your primary division rival lost its first four games of the week. The Rays are currently tied with the Dodgers for the largest division lead in all of baseball, and are even 2 1/2 games up on the No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have started to take control of the “AL Middle." They’re 1 1/2 games up on the suddenly red-hot Tigers, and at least 3 1/2 games up on everyone else. This would be the first time these teams have ever faced each other in the playoffs.
No. 2 A’s (last week: 1) vs. No. 7 Twins (last week: 2)
The top two teams in last week’s seedings end up facing off in the first round this week: Things can turn fast on you in this short season. The A’s are actually starting to feel the Astros’ breath down their necks in the AL West, while the Twins are in that massive scrum in the middle of the AL Central. Their current six-game losing streak has sent Minnesota plummeting down the standings, and it’s worth noting that the Tigers, after five straight wins, are now only two games behind the Twins. Something would have to give in this series. The A’s have lost their last six postseason series (and 12 of their last 13), and the Twins have lost their last seven. And that one playoff series win by the A’s? It was against the Twins (in the 2006 AL Division Series), of course.
No. 3 White Sox (last week: 7) vs. No. 6 Yankees (last week: 3)
The White Sox emerged this week as serious contenders in the AL Central, and perhaps even favorites. Though it’s doubtful they imagined the reward for winning their division for the first time since 2008 would be getting the Yankees in the first round. The Yanks actually have the same record as the Astros, but Houston has a better intradivision record, giving them the higher seed. These two teams have also never met in the playoffs.
No. 4 Cleveland Indians (last week: 5) vs. No. 5 Houston Astros (last week: 6)
The last time the Indians made the postseason, in 2018, they ran into a historically great Astros club and were swept. They would meet them under very different circumstances this year, albeit without Mike Clevinger this time. Even with the trade of their one-time ace, the Indians are right in the thick of the AL Central.
No. 1 Dodgers (last week: 1) vs. No. 8 Rockies (last week: 7)
The Dodgers are currently five games up on the next-best teams in the NL, and they are starting to look like one of the best teams in recent baseball memory (they’re on the equivalent of a 117-win pace). Not that it’ll make much difference in the Wild Card round; lose two out of three, and it’s over just like that. Of all the teams rattling around this No. 8 spot -- the Giants, the Mets, the Brewers, the Reds -- the Rockies have to be one of the more desirable teams for the Dodgers to play, because of their lack of top-shelf starting pitching. The Dodgers would be heavy favorites here, as they would be over just about everyone.
No. 2 Atlanta Braves (last week: 3) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Philles (last week: NR)
The NL has a whole bunch of tiebreakers to work itself through, starting with the Braves, who had the same record as the Cubs but get the No. 2 spot because they have a better intradivision record. They end up with a hated division rival, in a rematch of the 1993 NL Championship Series, if anyone happens to remember that. Bryce Harper has hit more homers against the Braves than any other team in his career, by the way.
No. 3 Chicago Cubs (last week: 2) vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins (last week: 6)
You will forgive Cubs fans for immediately flinching when they see this matchup, obviously a rematch of that haunted 2003 NLCS. (Remember: It should be known as the "Alex Gonzalez Game" rather than the "Steve Bartman Game.") The Cubs have gone through so much since '03 that it’s easy to forget that it was the most recent time the Marlins made the playoffs. (Watch highlights of that series: Miguel Cabrera is so young!)
No. 4 San Diego Padres (last week: 4) vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals (last week: 5)
The Padres were more active than any other team at the Trade Deadline, completely transforming their team and making it clear that they are all-in for this year. Their aggression is undeniably commendable, but it has to be pointed out that, considering they’re highly unlikely to catch the Dodgers, this No. 4 seed (where they’re already sitting) is their ceiling for playoff seeding. They won’t go higher than here. The Cardinals have many, many baseball games to play in the next month, and their inactivity at the Trade Deadline could cost them: They’re currently closer to the fourth-place Reds than they are the first-place Cubs.
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.
Update: When this piece was originally published, I had the NL seedings as follows:
The NL is confusing because the Phillies, Cardinals, and Marlins are all exactly .500 as of this writing, and upon further review, the Marlins are 2-1 against the Phillies, so I’m giving second place in the NL East to Miami via the head-to-head tiebreaker. And then, the Cardinals get the tiebreaker over the Marlins by virtue of a better intradivsion record (no head-to-head games), so I’ve revised the seedings in the NL as follows, which are now reflected in the blurbs above.