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Ready for crazy September playoff races in 2020?

@paul_casella
June 24, 2020

With Major League Baseball preparing to play a 60-game regular season in 2020, the September postseason races figure to be more dramatic and tightly contested than ever before. The 2020 regular season is anticipated to begin on July 23 and 24, meaning teams will have played approximately 35 games apiece

With Major League Baseball preparing to play a 60-game regular season in 2020, the September postseason races figure to be more dramatic and tightly contested than ever before.

The 2020 regular season is anticipated to begin on July 23 and 24, meaning teams will have played approximately 35 games apiece by the time the calendar flips to September. Now, consider this: Under the current postseason format (since 2012), a whopping 82% of teams (197 of 240) were within five games of a playoff spot through their 35th game of the season.

FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season

Below is a season-by-season look at just how close each race was at the 35-game mark, including one year in which all 15 American League clubs were within five games of postseason position at that juncture. Note that these numbers were based on each team's positioning specifically after its 35th game, as opposed to a set date in a given season.

Here's a closer look at each year since 2012, the first season to feature two Wild Card berths in each league:

2019
AL teams within 5 games of postseason spot: 13/15
NL teams within 5 games of postseason spot: 13/15
Total: 26/30 (87%)

Amazingly enough, one of the four teams that was not within five games of a postseason spot through 35 games last season was the eventual World Series champions. The Nationals sat 6 1/2 games out of the picture at the time, ahead of only the Marlins (10 1/2 games) in the National League. As for the AL, only the Orioles (six games) and Royals (7 1/2 games) were more than five games out of a postseason spot through 35 contests, while 11 clubs were no more than three games back of the final berth.

2018
AL teams within 5 games: 11/15
NL teams within 5 games: 11/15
Total: 22/30 (73%)

Once again, one of the outliers in 2018 was the team that eventually won the NL pennant: The Dodgers were 5 1/2 games out of a postseason spot through 35 contests. The other three NL clubs that weren't "in the race" at that time were the Marlins, Reds and Padres -- the eventual last-place finishers in each division. As for the other 11 NL teams, they were not only within striking distance of a playoff spot, but all 11 were no more than two games back.

As for the AL, nine teams were no more than two games out of the final playoff spot through 35 contests. The only clubs more than five games back were the Rays (6 1/2 games), White Sox (eight games), Rangers (eight games) and Orioles (13 games).

2017
AL teams within 5 games: 15/15
NL teams within 5 games: 9/15
Total: 24/30 (80%)

Picture this scenario in the AL playing out in 2020: All 15 clubs would be within five games of a playoff spot entering the final month of the season. Not just that, but 12 of the 15 would be within three games; the only exceptions in '17 were the Rangers (3 1/2 games), Royals (4 1/2 games) and Blue Jays (five games).

Even in the NL, things were a bit tighter than the numbers might suggest. Though only nine of the 15 teams were within five games, another three -- the Braves, Phillies and Pirates -- were exactly 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, and no team was more than seven games out of the picture through that point in the season.

2016
AL teams within 5 games: 11/15
NL teams within 5 games: 12/15
Total: 23/30 (77%)

Though "only" 11 AL teams were within five games through the 35-game mark in 2016, that number jumps to 14 when expanding the cutoff to six games. Only the Twins (11 games) found themselves more than a half-dozen games out of the playoff picture at that point.

The NL, meanwhile, was incredibly tight, with all but three teams sitting within 2 1/2 games of a postseason spot. That included the entire NL West, where the Dodgers led the way with an 18-17 record through May 12. At that point, all five NL West clubs were separated by a total of 2 1/2 games.

2015
AL teams within 5 games: 13/15
NL teams within 5 games: 12/15
Total: 25/30 (83%)

An argument could easily be made that all 30 big league clubs were still within striking distance of a postseason spot through 35 games in 2015. After all, all 15 AL teams were within six games of the final spot, while no NL squad was more than seven games out of the playoff picture.

2014
AL teams within 5 games: 14/15
NL teams within 5 games: 13/15
Total: 27/30 (90%)

Every AL club except the Astros was within 3 1/2 games of a postseason spot through 35 games in 2014 -- and nine of the 15 were within a single game. The AL West race would have been especially intriguing. The A's led the way through 35 games at 20-15, while the Angels, Rangers and Mariners were all just two games back at 18-17. Meanwhile, the entire AL Central was separated by just two games at the 35-game mark.

In the NL, it's the East that was still wide open at the 35-game mark. The Marlins and Braves each started 20-15, while the Nationals were 19-16, the Phillies were 17-18 and the Mets checked in at 16-19. The Cubs (seven games) and D-backs (eight) were the only teams more than five games out of a playoff spot at that point.

2013
AL teams within 5 games: 12/15
NL teams within 5 games: 11/15
Total: 23/30 (77%)

The AL Central once again found itself jumbled through 35 games in 2013, with the Tigers and Indians leading the way at 20-15, though the Royals (19-16) and Twins (18-17) were nipping at their heels. Over in the NL, eight teams were no more than a single game out of a postseason spot at the 35-game mark.

2012
AL teams within 5 games: 13/14
NL teams within 5 games: 14/16
Total: 27/30 (90%)

In the first year of each league receiving two Wild Card berths, all but three clubs were within five games of a postseason spot through 35 games -- and another was just 5 1/2 games back. Both division races in the East would have been incredible had it been just a 60-game season, with four AL East clubs separated by just three games and four NL East teams sitting within four games of first place.

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.