Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

11 must-watch series as playoff race ramps up

@RichardJustice
July 21, 2019

Now to the really good stuff. To games that are played with what feels like a season hanging in the balance. To those late innings so tense you simply can’t sit whether you’re in the ballpark or at home. To sum up: The playoff races start now. At least this

Now to the really good stuff. To games that are played with what feels like a season hanging in the balance. To those late innings so tense you simply can’t sit whether you’re in the ballpark or at home. To sum up: The playoff races start now.

At least this week has that feel thanks to a string of matchups that could decide more than simply buyers and sellers as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches.

MLB's new Trade Deadline rules explained

This is that time of the year when players on contending teams tell you that adrenaline takes over and that they count down the hours to get back to the ballpark. Sometime later, they’ll feel the exhaustion in their mind and bones.

Not now, though. At least 16 teams remain in serious contention for a spot in the postseason, a chance to do something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

Here are 11 series we’ve got our eyes on:

MONDAY

Red Sox at Rays (3): Remember when three American League East teams seemed headed for the playoffs? Now, the Red Sox and Rays have been passed by the A’s and Indians in the fight for the two AL Wild Card berths. The Red Sox haven’t been higher than third place in the AL East since the first week of the season.

A’s at Astros (3): The Astros saw their 10-game lead reduced all the way to 4 1/2 for a couple of days last week thanks, in part, to Oakland winning 21 of 28 and Houston losing seven in a row. The Astros are 16-7 since then, but the A’s begin with a one-game lead for the second AL Wild Card berth.

Yankees at Twins (3): The Twins led the AL Central by 11 games on June 15, and suddenly that seems like ancient history as the Indians have closed to within three games by winning 13 of 16. Now the Yankees visit the Twin Cities with baseball’s best record. They’ve won 24 of 30 and appear to be a team with no serious weakness.

Cubs at Giants (3): The Giants have been a nice feel-good story by winning 15 of 18 and getting to within 2 games of a National League Wild Card berth even as they listen to trade offers for Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith. The Cubs arrive at Oracle Park on a 9-3 stretch that has opened up a 2 1/2 game lead in the NL Central.

TUESDAY

Angels at Dodgers (2): The Angels have not given up on making the playoffs as general manager Billy Eppler shops for rotation help for a team that is solid in every other area. The Angels have a brutal schedule down the stretch, but by finishing the season with nine games against the Astros and A’s, that’s also an opportunity.

THURSDAY

Yankees at Red Sox (4): The Yankees and Red Sox play eight times in an 11-day stretch that may go a long way toward deciding if the defending World Series champions will return to the postseason. The Red Sox have had themselves a nice month (10-6), but the Yankees, Indians and A’s have been insanely good, making every game feel as important as a playoff game.

Rangers at A’s (4): The Rangers have played themselves to the edge of being out of contention, but a four-game series against a hot team is a chance for a course correction.

FRIDAY

Dodgers at Nationals (3): Since Opening Day 2012, the Dodgers and Nationals are the NL’s two winningest regular-season teams. While the Dodgers are cruising toward a seventh straight division championship, the Nationals have clawed their way into contention. As both front offices work furiously to acquire bullpen help, this series could be must-watch baseball.

Braves at Phillies (3): The Phillies begin the week having gone 8-8 this month as the Braves have opened up a 5 1/2-game lead in the NL East. If the Phillies are going to come close to fulfill a season that began with such optimism, it pretty much has to begin now.

Cubs at Brewers (3): The Brewers have had a bumpy ride, but with 13 more game against the Cubs, including six in 10 days beginning Friday, they can redefine their season.

Astros at Cardinals (3): The Cardinals have begun to play the way they were projected to play at the end of a spring in which they looked like one of the two or three best teams in the Majors. Players and managers play down talk of any series being a chance to make a statement, but that’s what this is for St. Louis.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.