As we enter the final week of the regular season and October baseball peeks around the corner, 6 of the 12 playoff spots are up for grabs. Madness was abound this weekend as the Houston Astros were laughably swept by the 54-102 Kansas City Royals, the Mariners were swept by the Texas Rangers in their quest to clinch the AL West, the Phillies swept the Mets to lower their magic number to clinch a wild card spot to 1, while the Yankees, Padres, and Giants were all eliminated from postseason contention.
The key weekday series we will be watching this week is the Seattle Mariners vs the Houston Astros, who will begin a 3-game series tonight with the Astros holding a ½ game lead over the Mariners for the final wild-card spot. In the American League, the Twins are the only team to clinch their division (and happen to hold the worst record amongst the three division leaders), with the Orioles and Rangers holding a semi-comfortable 2.5-game lead over the Rays and Astros respectively. Currently, the three wild card spots are controlled by the Rays (who have clinched a playoff spot), the Blue Jays (who have a 2.5-game lead over the Mariners), and the Astros who as previously mentioned have a 0.5-game lead over the Mariners. Other than the Mariners no other AL teams are contending for a playoff spot with the Yankees being eliminated after losing to the Diamondbacks yesterday.
The American League
The American league doesn’t have as much to talk about, the Blue Jays should wind up in the playoffs but do have 6 tough inter-division games, with 3 against the Yankees, and 3 against the Rays, but have the advantage of the two teams behind them the Astros and Mariners playing three games against one another. Either they beat up on each other, or one team takes the series pushing the other into obscurity. The Astros remaining three games is against the Diamondbacks who are playing great ball this September and are also competing for a playoff spot. The Mariners remaining three games will be against the Rangers in a series that could determine the outcome of the A.L West if the Mariners manage to sweep the Astros and the Rangers drop a game or two against the Angels to start the week (they won’t).
To come to a sensible prediction of how this is going to play out let's take a closer look at the series between the Astros and the Mariners. The series is in Seattle where the Mariners are 41-33 this season, while the Astros have a very impressive 46-29 record on the road this season. Meanwhile, the Mariners have dominated the season series with an 8-2 record. Each team is putting their best foot forward on the mound with likely A.L. Cy Young runner-up Luis Castillo taking the mound for the Mariners in Game 1 against Justin Verlander, advantage Mariners. Game 2 sees sophomore breakout George Kirby take the rubber for the Mariners against an inconsistent Christian Javier, again advantage Seattle. Game three sees the Mariners' worst starter Bryce Miller line up against Houston’s ace Framber Valdez, advantage Houston. I very much believe the Mariners will take this series 2-1 to tie up the Astros for the final wild-card spot.
Now call me crazy but I think Houston and Seattle will both go 2-1 in their respective final series ending the year in a tie and going to tiebreakers since MLB has unfortunately done away with a game 163. A tie would go to the team with the head-to-head advantage which would be Seattle with a 10-3 record in this scenario against the Astros and the defending World Series champs would go home before even beginning their defense. This means our wild card round would be as follows:
#1 Orioles: First Round Bye
#2 Rangers: First Round Bye
#6 Mariners at #3 Twins
#5 Blue Jays at #4 Rays
The National League
In the National League, the Braves have clinched the N.L. East, the Dodgers have clinched the N.L. West and the Brewers have clinched a playoff spot holding a 6-game lead over the Cubs. The 3 wild card spots are currently held by the Phillies who will clinch a playoff spot with any win this week or any loss by the Marlins, the Diamondbacks with a 1.5-game lead over the Marlins, and the Cubs with a 1-game lead over the Marlins. Meanwhile, the Marlins and the Reds are vying for one of those last two spots, the Marlins being 1 game behind the Cubs and the Reds being 1.5 games behind the Cubs.
The Diamondbacks wrap up the season with 3 games apiece against the White Sox and Astros, the Cubs wrap things up with 3 games apiece against the Braves and the Brewers, the Marlins have 3 games against the Mets and Pirates, and the Reds play 3 games against the Guardians and 3 games against the Cardinals.
In terms of the remaining strength of schedule, I would feel far from comfortable if I were a Cubs fan with the Braves and Brewers commanding a combined 188-124 record and 6 road games to end the season at a disadvantage as the Cubs barely play .500 ball on the road with a 37-38 record away from Wrigley this season and a 33-43 record against teams playing above .500 ball.
The Diamondbacks have a remaining strength of schedule of 145-167, the Marlins a remaining strength of schedule of 145-167, and the Reds 142-164. Factoring in the fact that the Cubs and Reds haven’t been playing their best baseball lately, while the Diamondbacks are 13-8 this September and the Marlins 14-8 I believe the last two wild card spots will be clinched by the Diamondbacks and the Marlins. This scenario would make our wild card round in the National League as follows:
#1 Braves: First Round Bye
#2 Dodgers: First Round Bye
#6 Marlins at #3 Brewers
#5 Diamondbacks at #4 Phillies
Come back next week and either call me a fool or a genius! We’ll see you again for my postseason predictions!
You can follow Jay Rooney on Twitter @jvr1210