Regular season has wild final Friday on tap

September 29th, 2023

There are only three days left in the regular season (probably). Can you believe that? It’s truly remarkable how quickly six months can go by when there is baseball every day.

On Tuesday, the Wild Card Series will begin, and it will be frantic and thrilling and exhausting and everything we know the postseason to be. But a day where every team in baseball plays: There are only three of those left. And there is still much to be decided.

And you never know: Thanks to Mother Nature, there’s still a chance we get free extra baseball on Monday. Well, an inning’s worth, anyway. Maybe.

Here’s a look at the games on Friday that you won’t want to miss.

Marlins at Pirates (Cabrera vs. Bido), 6:35 p.m. ET

Well, we’ve got ourselves a pickle in the NL Wild Card race. The Mets-Marlins game was suspended on Thursday night after going into a rain delay shortly after the Marlins took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth. The understanding is that if the game needs to be finished to settle the Wild Card race, the Marlins will have to come back to Citi Field on Monday to play a half-inning to decide the game.

Suffice it to say, it’s going to get extremely hairy if that game has to be finished, for a seemingly infinite number of reasons. First and foremost that the Marlins will have to go from Pittsburgh to Queens for one inning and then, potentially turn right around and fly to either Milwaukee or Philadelphia (probably Milwaukee) on Tuesday. Oh, and there’s a strange, hilarious possibility that the Padres -- yes, the Padres -- could still be alive on Monday, watching that game to see if they made the playoffs. It would be much, much simpler if the Marlins could just win two out of three in Pittsburgh and take care of this before Monday. But if you want madness, chaos, insanity … go Buccos.

Rays at Blue Jays (Civale vs. Kikuchi), 7:07 p.m. ET

After the Orioles’ division (and No. 1 seed)-clinching win over the Red Sox on Thursday night, the Rays don’t have anything to play for: They are locked in as the No. 4 seed. (Well, they might have something to play for: If they sweep this series, they’ll end up with 100 wins.) But “not having anything to play for” doesn’t mean “they’re not going to try to win,” particularly against a division rival like the Blue Jays.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays salvaged the final game of their series vs. the Yankees, and it’s a good thing. If they hadn’t, they’d be tied with the Astros right now and only one game ahead of those plucky Mariners. If they win two out of three from the Rays, they’re in. But it’s a lot easier to win two out of three in a series when you win the first one.

Cubs at Brewers (Hendricks vs. Rea), 8:10 p.m. ET

So much for the Cubs catching the Braves, a team that had already clinched everything it needed to clinch, at the right time. The Braves won two total heartbreakers against the Cubs in the first two games of the series and then swept the series on Thursday with considerably less drama. That has left Cubs fans with some serious 2003 vibes going on. (All told, a collapse that puts the Marlins in the playoffs would be a fitting way to honor the 20th anniversary of that NLCS.)

The Brewers have exactly as much to play for as the Braves do this final weekend: They’ve locked up the No. 3 seed and are just trying to keep everyone healthy and find out who they will play in the NLDS. That can still be the Cubs, but that Braves series sure has them in a very bad spot.

Because they don’t have the tiebreaker against the Marlins, if Miami wins all three in Pittsburgh, the Cubs are done no matter what they do in this series. The Cubs need to win one more game against the Brewers in their three games than the Marlins do against the Pirates … and then, if that happens, they need to hope the Mets come back against the Marlins on Monday. The Cubs have eliminated all margin for error. And it’s still possible that even if they win every game, it won’t be enough. It's either going to be a long scary weekend for Cubs fans … or a very short one.

Reds at Cardinals (Williamson vs. Woodford), 8:15 p.m. ET

The Reds have had two days off this week to sit back and watch all the action -- and all the rain delays -- going on with the rest of the NL Wild Card chase. Their odds of sneaking into the third slot are slim -- that loss to Shane Bieber and the Guardians on Wednesday really, really hurt.

But getting to play three games against an entirely checked out Cardinals team gives them a chance to stay afloat. The Cardinals lineup this weekend could include Juniel Querecuto, Richie Palacios, Irving Lopez, Michael Siani and … Adam Wainwright. No, seriously: Adam Wainwright.

The Reds essentially have to sweep to have any chance at all, and that’s before that whole Marlins-at-Citi-Field-on-Monday-for-an-inning scenario. But they’re still in this thing … and that means that they’re worth watching.

Astros at D-backs (France vs. Gallen), 9:40 p.m.

The D-Backs didn’t do themselves any favors by losing the last game of their series against the White Sox on Thursday, but it’s still fair to say they’re pretty well-positioned. Their magic number to clinch a Wild Card spot is essentially 1: Because Arizona holds the tiebreaker over the Cubs, the only way the North Siders can catch the Snakes is if they sweep the Brewers and the Astros sweep the D-backs. Having Zac Gallen on the mound --who wouldn’t be able to start a theoretical Game 1 of a Wild Card series, for what it’s worth -- is a great way to nail down the postseason berth before anyone has a chance to start getting nervous.

Meanwhile, the Astros got to sit back, rest and watch the Rangers and Mariners beat up on each other Thursday night. The Mariners’ victory made the Astros' Wild Card bid tougher, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that it kept the Astros’ hopes alive to win the AL West. Remember, Houston has the tiebreaker over Texas, if it comes to that. This is the toughest game they’ll face this series, running into Gallen. If they can beat him, everyone in Houston will breath a lot easier.

Rangers at Mariners (TBD vs. TBD), 10:10 p.m. ET

If you are a Rangers skeptic, at least as far as their postseason hopes are concerned, Thursday night was a big blinking neon sign as to why. Aroldis Chapman hasn’t been right for the Rangers in weeks, but manager Bruce Bochy didn’t have much choice but to bring him in to close out a 2-1 ninth-inning game anyway; there weren’t many better options.

Next thing you knew, the Mariners had loaded the bases with no outs and Chapman was out of the game. That said: They still almost got away with it … until J.P. Crawford, with two outs and the T-Mobile Park crowd grinding its collective molars, went out and saved the Mariners' season. The magnitude of Crawford’s hit can barely be overstated. It brought Seattle within one game of Houston -- whom the Mariners own the tiebreaker over, remember -- and finally ended a miserable skid against the Rangers, a team that sure looked like it had the Mariners’ number.

The Mariners still have an uphill climb, but they are still in this. Before Crawford’s hit they weren’t. Meanwhile, the Rangers can clinch a playoff berth with a win … and the AL West with an Astros loss as well.