In less than three 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 tiebreakers games. That could require head-to-head matchup records, or division records, or simple winning percentage. (The order of those tiebreakers, by the way: Winning percentage, head-to-head, division records.) And remember: These first series are three games, win two to advance. What a weekend that’s going to be.
Here’s what they would look like if the postseason started today:
No. 1 Rays (last week: 1) vs. No. 8 Yankees (last week: 6)
The Rays have extended out to a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL East, but the second-place team they’re ahead of now is Toronto … not the Yankees. The Yankees’ continued skid has them only one game above .500 and down all the way to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. It would be just the Rays’ rotten luck that the Yankees would get all their injured players back just in time for a three-game AL Wild Card Series, but at this point, that might be hopeful for the Yankees. Teams behind them for this spot are starting to catch up: The Orioles are only 1 1/2 games back, and the Tigers and Mariners (yes, the Mariners!) are only two back. The Yankees need to figure this out, and fast.
No. 2 Indians (last week: 4) vs. No. 7 Twins (last week: 7)
The Indians win the tiebreaker with the White Sox, with whom they share a spot atop the AL Central, because Cleveland has won four of six from the Pale Hose so far. Their reward is a first-round matchup with a hated division rival that’s absolutely desperate for a postseason series victory. Of course, the AL Central is so tightly bunched that this matchup could very well be reversed next week; the Twins are only one game behind both the Indians and White Sox, after all.
No. 3 A’s (last week: 2) vs. No. 6 Astros (last week: 5)
It is sort of remarkable that the top three seeds in the AL are facing the Yankees, the Twins and the Astros … universally considered as by far the top three teams in the league heading into the season. The A’s have been a little wobbly since they had to pause their season after a positive COVID test, but that’s been more than offset by the plummeting of the Astros, who have now lost five in a row and are actual danger of being passed from behind by the Mariners, who are only two games back of Houston at this point. (Even the Angels, if you’re feeling frisky, are just 4 1/2 back.) If you’re intrigued by this matchup, you can preview it right now: The A’s won the first game of a five-game series against the Astros on Monday night.
No. 4 White Sox (last week: 3) vs. No. 5 Blue Jays (last week: 8)
The White Sox, again, are technically tied for first: Their remaining games against both the Twins and Indians will be particularly weighted with import. Meanwhile, it was just a week ago that we were positing that the Blue Jays were well-positioned to hold off all the teams trying to chase them down for the No. 8 spot. But after a terrific week, and some handy success against the Yankees, they’ve actually chased New York down for the No. 5 spot. When you take a step back from it and compare these AL matchups to what we expected coming into the year, the whole thing looks entirely upside down. And the next three teams in line are the Orioles, Mariners and Tigers!
No. 1 Dodgers (last week: 1) vs. No. 8 Marlins (last week: 6)
The Marlins win the unlucky spin of having to face the dominant Dodgers in the first round, though the Marlins -- who, to remind, have never lost a postseason series -- upsetting an all-timer of a Dodgers team in the NL Wild Card Series would be the most 2020 thing imaginable. The Marlins are actually tied with the Giants at .500, but the Giants have a better intradivision record (by one-half game). This really does feel like a 1 vs. 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament, doesn’t it?
No. 2 Braves (last week: 2) vs. No. 7 Giants (last week: NR)
It’s starting to get a little tighter in the NL East thanks to the Phillies’ recent run, but the Braves stay locked in this spot for the third straight week. The Giants are a nice addition to the matchups, winning three in a row to make it all the way to .500. They haven't finished at .500 since 2016, the most recent season they've made the playoffs (and gave the Cubs a little bit of a scare in the NL Division Series). And it sure would be a ringing endorsement of the first stages of Farhan Zaidi’s turnaround.
No. 3 Cubs (last week: 3) vs. No. 6 Cardinals (last week: 5)
And look who ends up matched in the NL Wild Card Series this week. The heated division rivals, who, thanks to postponements, are playing a lot of doubleheaders against each other this year. If they face each other in the Wild Card round, it would be their second postseason collision. (The first was the Cubs’ wrecking of the Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS.) The Cardinals still have many games to make up in the season’s final few weeks, and they were inactive at the Trade Deadline, so it’ll be fascinating to see how they hold up down the stretch. Winning three of five over the Cubs over the long weekend has given St. Louis a small cushion of two games over third-place Milwaukee in the NL Central. The Cards also have their final day off of the season on Wednesday.
No. 4 Padres (last week: 4) vs. No. 5 Phillies (last week: 7)
Is this a matchup of the top two NL MVP Award contenders, Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres and Bryce Harper of the Phillies? There are some Dodgers who might have something to say about that, but either way, this series would absolutely not lack for star power. It also would not lack for fanbases desperate for some postseason success; the Phillies have not won a playoff series since 2010, and the Padres not since 1998.
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. And it’s almost over.