Considering how next Tuesday is going to feel -- next Tuesday being the first day of the four Wild Card Series, absolute mayhem from lunchtime until bedtime -- you could almost talk yourself into thinking this Tuesday is going to be comparatively sedate. Take a rest, a breather, a little relaxation -- you’ll need all the energy you can get in seven days.
But then … you look at what’s actually happening tonight. You look at the context of all these games, just how much is happening, and suddenly: Heck, there’s nothing relaxing about this at all. This might as well be the playoffs at this point.
After a day where there were only four games -- one a makeup, and three on the West Coast -- this promises to be a deeply fascinating day. As intense as next Tuesday? Maybe not. But trust us: Tonight, at several points, it’s going to feel that way.
Here’s a look at nine -- nine! -- games you won’t want to miss. (Games listed in chronological order.)
Reds at Guardians (Hunter Greene vs. Lucas Giolito), 6:10 p.m. ET
For all the frustration and worry going on in Cincinnati right now -- that nine-run lead that went away against the Pirates could haunt this team for a long time -- it should be pointed out that the Reds are not, in fact, out of this race yet. With only five games left on the schedule, the Reds do not control their own destiny, but if they were to go 5-0 -- not the craziest idea with games against the Guardians and Cardinals, two teams who are long out of the pennant chase -- it would put considerable pressure on everyone they’re chasing. Plus, Greene is on the mound, coming off his electrifying 14-strikeout outing (albeit in a loss) against the Twins last week. But if the Reds lose this one, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to crawl back into this thing.
Nationals at Orioles (Josiah Gray vs. Kyle Bradish), 6:35 p.m. ET
Here is your reminder that the Orioles are three victories away from winning 100 games, something they never did the entire time Cal Ripken Jr. was on the team. But the larger priority in Baltimore right now is that magic number of 3 and the tiebreaker they hold over the Rays. The division title, which would be the first for the team since 2014 and its second this century, isn’t just an AL East pennant -- it also means the No. 1 seed in the American League. They have six home games the rest of the way, too -- it sure looks like they’re going to do this at Camden. Few fanbases will have deserved it more.
Royals at Tigers (Zack Greinke vs. TBD), 6:40 p.m. ET
Obviously, this doesn’t have any bearing on the playoff chase. But history lasts a lot longer than any individual postseason runs. This might not be Greinke’s last start ever -- he would be lined up to start on the season’s final day -- but it could be, and it is very much uncertain whether or not he’ll be back next year. Is this your last chance to see the quixotic likely Hall of Famer? Oh yeah, by the way, he’ll be facing another future Hall of Famer here in Miguel Cabrera, who is starting off his final homestand. Get out the tissues for this one: It might be emotional.
Yankees at Blue Jays (Michael King vs. Kevin Gausman), 7:07 p.m. ET
As all the madness goes on in the AL West -- so much madness! -- the Blue Jays are just trying to take care of business against that already eliminated, non-contender from The Bronx. (What a strange thing to say out loud!) The Jays are at home the rest of the way, and they’re primed to lock in a Wild Card spot if they can hang in against the Yanks and the Rays, who may be cemented in at the No. 4 playoff seed. (Perhaps playing these Jays again in a week.) In an added bonus, this could be Gausman’s last start of the year, and in a tight Cy Young race, grabbing that strikeout title would be a nice data point in his favor.
Marlins at Mets (Braxton Garrett vs. Joey Lucchesi), 7:10 p.m. ET
The NL Wild Card race, we might humbly submit, is a little bit underrated. The Marlins are right on the tail of the Cubs, just one game back, and remember: The Marlins hold the tiebreaker between the two teams. (2003 all over again!) You can forgive the Marlins if they’re a little twitchy around the Mets right now; they just lost two of three from them last week, which has helped put them in their current pickle. The Mets would be delighted to play spoiler again.
Cubs at Braves (Justin Steele vs. Bryce Elder), 7:20 p.m. ET
Speaking of those Cubs, the current keepers of the third Wild Card spot have what appears on the surface to be a tough schedule this week: Three on the road against the NL’s No. 1 seed, followed by three against the No. 3 seed (Brewers). But it’s an open question how engaged both teams will be down the stretch: Will the Cubs get their best shot? Will we get a sense of how much the Braves are pushing it in this game, which, if the Braves win, would be their 101st victory, tying last year’s mark. (The last time they won more than that? 1999.) But it may be just as important, if not more so, for the Braves to remain healthy. The Cubs have everything to play for. Does Atlanta?
Cardinals at Brewers (Zack Thompson vs. Adrian Houser), 7:40 p.m. ET
Obviously this one doesn’t have much relevance to the playing-out-the-string Cardinals, and it’s not the end of the world for the Brewers either: They’ll be the No. 3 seed in the NL by virtue of winning the NL Central. But it’s not official yet. It will be, however, with a win tonight, which would mean the Brewers would get to pop some champagne, at home, with Bob Uecker there and everything. It will be the second division title in three years for the Brewers … and maybe just the start.
Rangers at Angels (TBD vs. Reid Detmers), 9:38 p.m. ET
Uh … are we sure the Rangers aren’t going to clinch this division in the next couple of days? After all, remember up top, where we talked about how the Baltimore Orioles might just clinch this whole division thing in the next couple of days? Well, after the Rangers’ 5-1 win over the Angels on Monday, Texas now has the exact same lead in the AL West (2 1/2 games) that the Orioles have in the AL East. Sure, the Orioles have the tiebreaker over the Rays, and the Rangers don’t have one against the Astros, so it’s a little different. But just a little. The fact is, for all your concerns about the Rangers’ bullpen and their lack of top-shelf starters, this team is this close to being the No. 2 seed in the American League. A win on Tuesday night gets them that much closer. There’s a non-zero chance they come into Seattle over the weekend having already clinched a playoff spot.
Astros at Mariners (Cristian Javier vs. George Kirby), 10:05 p.m. ET (on MLB Network)
All right, Mariners fans: How worried are you now? Seattle’s 5-1 loss on Monday night wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about -- it was a Justin Verlander night, the Mariners aren’t the first team to run into one of those -- but it sure is putting them behind the 8 ball in the season’s final week. The downside to having all these games against the AL West is that if you get cold at the wrong time -- as the Mariners, who have now last four in a row, clearly are -- your season can be over in the blink of an eye. The Mariners are now 1 1/2 games behind the Astros and three full games behind the Blue Jays. It’s difficult to overstate how much this one means to them. Lose, and the hill sure looks too high to climb.