As the regular season nears its end, we’ve been able to at last gain some clarity in the standings.
The Dodgers have the NL West wrapped up, the winner of the NL East is going to get the No. 2 seed in the NL, and the Cardinals are in good shape in the NL Central. The Astros and Yankees have the top two spots in the AL, the Guardians have pulled away in the AL Central, and the three AL Wild Card teams, barring something especially dramatic from the Orioles, are mostly locked up. That means you can almost start filling out your bracket.
The most fascinating aspect of this first season of the new postseason format is the Wild Card Series that will take place that first week, Oct. 7-9. Remember, they will be best-of-three series, with all games played at the higher seed’s home field, for the right to play the top two seeds in each league in the Division Series.
And here’s the fun part: We can narrow down exactly what those series are going to be.
First up, the projected seeding:
2) NL East Winner
4) NL East Runner-Up
Of course, things might not play out like that. But it’s almost certainly going to go down like that. That means we know just about every possible matchup for Wild Card Weekend -- so we can rank them. By our count, there are 15, as long as the Brewers are still alive.
Thus, here are the potential Wild Card Weekend matchups, ranked! (Sorry, Orioles. We suspect we will see you back here next year.)
It has to be this one first, right? These teams have been through so many scraps and crazy games over the years, and there is a lot of heat among the fans. And wow, Phillies fans would love nothing more than to go into Queens and end the Mets’ dream season.
2) Blue Jays-Mariners
First off, the color schemes alone here would be wonderful. Something to keep in mind for every Mariners series, by the way: They all get bumped up a tick if they take place in Seattle, which will lose its ever-loving mind if it gets to host its first playoff games in 21 years.
Anyway, the Blue Jays would love a triumphant postseason to erase a somewhat inconsistent regular season. And the Mariners want every good moment to last forever.
Obviously, there is a lot of good NL East hate built up here, too, even if the teams haven’t played in the postseason since 1993 (when they were in different divisions entirely). The Phillies would love their first postseason journey in 11 years to start by knocking off the defending champs.
Fun fact: The last playoff series the Mariners won (the 2001 ALDS) came at Cleveland's expense -- a tight, taut, five-game series that featured a Game 5 victory from Jamie Moyer, who was only 38 years old back then.
There have been some truly heated battles between these NL Central rivals in recent years. The Brewers have also never beaten the Cardinals in the postseason, losing the 1982 World Series (when they were in the AL) and the 2011 NLCS. (Of all the NL Central teams, only the Cubs, in 2015, have defeated the Cards in the postseason).
Many observers saw the Brewers as a sleeper World Series pick heading into the postseason last year. The Braves ended that idea in four games in the NLDS. The Brewers would now have a chance at revenge.
7) Blue Jays-Rays
These two teams met in the Wild Card round just two years ago, with the Rays knocking out the Jays (in St. Petersburg, not Buffalo) in a two-game sweep. (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went 1-for-7 in that series.) That series is the reason the Jays haven’t won a postseason game since 2016.
The Padres must be tired of seeing the Cardinals in October. They have made the postseason only six times in their existence, and have drawn St. Louis in four of those instances. The 2020 Wild Card Series was the first of those four times that the Padres actually won the series.
This would be the first postseason meeting between these two teams. Of course, the Rays were only three years old when the Mariners were last in the playoffs.
10) Guardians-Blue Jays
The Guardians have lost their last four playoff series: the 2016 World Series to the Cubs, the 2017 ALDS to the Yankees, the 2018 ALDS to the Astros and the 2020 Wild Card Series to the Yankees. Their last win? Beating the Blue Jays in five games in the 2016 ALCS.
These are two of the most active, ambitious, floor-it teams in baseball, with two very different approaches. Lots of star power here.
Juan Soto caused the Braves all sorts of headaches, for years, as a National. Now he can do the same thing in a different uniform. They can’t shake this guy.
Two teams with two of the lowest payrolls in the sport playing for the right to play the big, bad Yankees in the ALDS.
There would be a certain poetry to the Phillies facing the Cardinals in their first postseason appearance since that infamous 1-0 loss in Game 5 of the 2011 ALCS, which ended with Ryan Howard limping up the first-base line after he injured his Achilles tendon.
The pitching matchups -- if the Brewers were able to get their rotation set, anyway -- would be riveting here. And hey: Daniel Vogelbach revenge game!