The MLB season is officially winding to a close with just two more weeks of games remaining. Realistically the playoff picture will in all likelihood be decided when the final games end on September 30. The only game on October 1 is the Marlins facing off against the Pirates. Unless the Pirates produce a miracle they will be out of the playoff race long before that.
As it stands prior to games September 18 we have one division sewn up and one more nearly sewn up. Of the remaining four, there is a clear front runner in one division, a marginal leader in another and chaos in the other two.
We know the American League playoff teams and there are only three realistic candidates for the Wildcard game. The most up in the air thing in the AL is where that Wildcard game will be played. In the National League we know nothing.
The AL East virtually belongs to the Boston Red Sox now. They would need to only win one more game in the rest of the season for that not to be the case. The New York Yankees are now fighting to host the Wildcard game as they sit just 1.5 games in front of the Oakland Athletics.
The division has been decided for a while with the Cleveland Indians advancing. They are most likely to face the winner of the AL West in the Divisional Round. However, there is an extremely slim chance they will have to face the Red Sox but most likely they will be heading West.
The AL West is still all to play for. The Houston Astros lead the Oakland Athletics by four games and have a magic number of nine with 14 games remaining. The Astros have just done enough all year to hold off first the Seattle Mariners, who are technically still in the running, and now the Oakland Athletics. I expect them to be able to do that for the last two weeks and the they will most likely host the Indians.
The team that misses out on the division will play the Yankees in the Wildcard game. The question is who will host the game? The Astros are currently 2.5 games up on the Yankees, who as I said are 1.5 games ahead of the Athletics. This race is likely to go right down to the final weekend and could have huge implications on the Divisional Round. The Yankees will be desperate to avoid a cross country flight for a one game shootout only to have to fly back to the East Coast to face Boston.
This is the simplest place to start. The Atlanta Braves hold all the cards and have a magic number of seven to eliminate both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals have done a really good job to remain in the hunt despite selling off some key pieces, but they are likely going to end up falling short. The Phillies are 3-7 in their last 10 and sliding out of contention for the division and probably the Wildcard as well.
This division is almost still as chaotic as when Tyler Kading wrote about it a week ago. The Chicago Cubs lead by 2.5 games from the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals are a further three games back. The Cubs have a magic number of 10 and with three games against the Chicago White Sox and four against the Pirates they should find most of them there. They will not want to welcome the Cardinals to town on the final weekend with things to play for.
The Brewers have eight games against the Cincinnati Red, the Pirates and the Detroit Tigers. They need to win the majority of those and try and take two games in St Louis this time next week. The Cardinals have a tough road home. Their final six games are their two division rivals. Prior to that they are in Atlanta and hosting the Giants. They need at least three games from those five. They then really need to sweep the Cubs and take two games from the Brewers.
This division has simplified since I wrote about it a couple of weeks back. The Arizona Diamondbacks have fallen basically out of contention. They are five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead the division. The Dodgers lead the Colorado Rockies by half a game. Those two are going right down to the wire. The Diamondbacks only chance is to take all six games they have against the Dodgers and Rockies. That is extremely unlikely but at least they have a chance.
The remainder of this weeks Dodgers and Rockies series could be crucial. If the Dodgers take the next two games they will have a fail safe. However, if the Rockies win the next two then they take the lead once again. The Dodgers schedule overall is easier. They have six games against the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. The Colorado Rockies have to face the Phillies and Nationals in a tough final week. That plus having their next five games on the road is a major issue. The schedule means the Dodgers remain favorites for the division for me.
Now the chaos gets more chaotic. At six games back the Phillies are likely out of contention meaning so are the Nationals. With their schedule you can probably say the same for the Diamondbacks. Their biggest hope is that the Cardinals and Rockies completely meltdown down the stretch. That leaves the West and Central. The team that finishes second in the central is a lock for me at this stage. The Brewers currently have a three game lead in the first Wildcard spot. The runner-up of that division is also likely hosting the Wildcard game.
That likely means the Cardinals and Rockies are fighting it out for the second spot. For both how they do against their division will be the key. Then it will come down to how they handle their NL East opponents. Given the Rockies play their last seven at home I think they have what it takes to nab the final playoff spot.
The Final Word
Here are my final predictions two weeks out.
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Cleveland Indians (Already decided)
AL West: Houston Astros
AL Wildcard: Oakland Athletics @ New York Yankees
NL East: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wildcard: Colorado Rockies @ Milwaukee Brewers