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MLB playoff push: Chaos reigns in the NL, plus current postseason bracket

The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than a week away, even though it seems like the regular season has barely kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

Jump to …

Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: Standings | Guide to the final week | Passan: Inside final week | Playoff schedule

If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings after the most recent day’s games.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 Athletics* vs. No. 7 Indians*
No. 3 Twins* vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 White Sox* vs. No. 5 Yankees*

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Reds
No. 2 Braves* vs. No. 7 Giants
No. 3 Cubs* vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres* vs. No. 5 Cardinals

*Clinched playoff spot

Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot

NL: Marlins 3, Reds 4, Cardinals 6 (due to St. Louis having played fewer games).

AL: Blue Jays 1, Astros 2


Who can clinch next?

The Blue Jays can clinch their first postseason berth since 2016 with one more win — and they have their ace, Hyun-Jin Ryu, on the mound Thursday against the Yankees.

Who is already in?

Los Angeles Dodgers

The overwhelming preseason favorite clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth consecutive division title.

What’s next? The big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since the Dodgers previously won it all.

Dodgers must-read: How A.J. and Kate Pollock faced their daughter’s premature birth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.

What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row, as well as their first AL East title since 2010. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.

What’s next? Securing the No. 1 seed in the AL.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s punched their third straight postseason ticket with a win over the Giants, then clinched the AL West three days later.

What’s next? After securing their first AL West crown since 2013, the A’s are still in the mix for one of the AL’s top two seeds.

A’s must-read: Inside the A’s dominance and how they plan to make it last

Minnesota Twins

The Twins clinched their third postseason appearance in the past four seasons. Last year, they were swept by the Yankees in the division series, extending their postseason losing streak to 16 straight since their most recent win, in Game 1 of the 2004 AL Division Series.

What’s next? The Twins are still in the mix for the AL Central title and a top-three seed.

San Diego Padres

The Padres clinched their first postseason appearance since 2006 when they came back to beat the Mariners in extra innings 7-4 after fending off a no-hit bid.

What’s next? With a tight grasp on the No. 4 seed in the NL, they can focus on getting ready to make good on their 2020 breakthrough.

Padres must-read: How Padres GM A.J. Preller decided to go for it

New York Yankees

Although they took a beating in Boston on Sunday, the Yankees clinched a playoff spot when the Padres beat the Mariners.

What’s next? The big question for the Yankees is if they can grab the AL’s No. 4 seed to start the postseason in their ballpark.

Yankees must-read: Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a HR problem

Atlanta Braves

Even before they finished their game against the Marlins on Tuesday, the Braves clinched their third straight NL East title when the Phillies were swept in both ends of their doubleheader against the Nationals. In both of the previous two seasons, the Braves failed to advance beyond the division series.

What’s next? Lining up their shallow rotation for next week’s playoff assignments and keeping everyone healthy seem like the immediate goals for Atlanta.

Braves must-read: Why a Braves-White Sox World Series would be extra special

Cleveland Indians

Powered by Jose Ramirez’s three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the White Sox, Cleveland clinched its return to the postseason after missing out on October in 2019, which snapped a streak of three consecutive playoff appearances.

What’s next? Catching either of the AL Central’s top two teams is unlikely but still in reach.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs snapped a one-season hiatus from the postseason and got rookie manager David Ross’ team to October in his first year in the dugout.

What’s next? Beyond clinching the NL Central title, getting Jose Quintana and Kris Bryant healthy and ready for the postseason are the Cubs’ two biggest priorities in the time remaining.

Cubs must-read: Inside Yu Darvish’s return to elite status as the Cubs’ ace

About last night …

play

1:30

Bryce Harper hits two of the Phillies’ five home runs in a 12-3 win over the Nationals.

Last Sunday, the Marlins beat the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader and improved to 28-24. Even after losing 15-0 in the nightcap, they stood as the fifth seed in the National League — heck, they were only three games behind the Braves and with a four-game series starting Monday in Atlanta, a division title was, however slim, a possibility. FanGraphs estimated Miami’s playoff odds at nearly 84%.

The Braves won 5-4 on Monday, 11-1 on Tuesday and 9-4 on Wednesday, knocking out Sixto Sanchez, Miami’s ace rookie starter, after just three innings. Now the Marlins, the surprise feel-good story of the season, are suddenly in a fight for one of those final four playoff spots in the NL.

They are still the sixth seed, as the current No. 2 team in the East, but they are just a half-game ahead of the Phillies, who recovered from Tuesday’s disastrous doubleheader to beat the Nationals 12-3 behind Bryce Harper‘s two home runs and four runs scored.

Those might not even have been the biggest games of the night. The Reds and Brewers both entered their game at .500, so it would be a two-game swing between those clubs. Trevor Bauer started on three days’ rest — he can do it again on Sunday if necessary — and allowed just one run with 12 strikeouts over eight innings, throwing an efficient 104 pitches in the process, as Cincinnati won 6-1.

Bauer is only 5-4 thanks to a lack of run support, but his ERA is down to 1.73 — and this is the kind of game voters will give extra credit to in the Cy Young balloting. If Bauer goes again on Sunday and pitches well, he probably will clinch the award over Jacob deGrom and the other contenders.

The Cardinals also lost — what has happened to Carlos Martinez? — and it now seems clear what we’re heading for: All these teams are going to finish 30-30. Let’s run through the remaining schedules:

5. Cardinals (27-26): vs. Milwaukee (5 games), at Detroit on Monday if needed (2)

6. Marlins (28-28): at Atlanta (1), at Yankees (3)

7. Giants (28-27): vs. Colorado (1), vs. San Diego (4)

8. Reds (29-28): at Minnesota (3)

— Phillies (28-29): at Tampa Bay (3)

— Brewers (27-28): at St. Louis (5)

Yes, we could end up with six teams tied for four spots. Remember that the second-place teams get in automatically, so you would have to resolve the ties between the Marlins and Phillies, and the Cardinals/Reds/Brewers. The Marlins won the season series 7-3 over the Phillies, so they hold that tiebreaker. The Reds went 6-4 against the Brewers and 4-6 against the Cardinals, while the Brewers are up 3-2 against the Cardinals.

We could end up deadlocked among these teams, in which case the tiebreaker goes to best intradivision record. That is also the tiebreaker used between teams from different divisions.

Also of note: There were two big injuries Wednesday. Braves starter Max Fried left after one inning when he tweaked his ankle fielding a bunt. Manager Brian Snitker said after the game that Fried wanted to keep pitching, but Atlanta wasn’t going to allow that. The Braves are hopeful Fried will be ready for Game 1 of the wild-card series. … The bigger issue is Mike Clevinger, who left his start after one inning with biceps tightness. He went underwent an MRI. Clevinger was the projected Game 1 starter for the Padres, so if he can’t go, that honor falls to Dinelson Lamet, with Zach Davies or Chris Paddack likely to go in Game 2. … Congrats to the Rays, who clinched their first division title since 2010, beating the Mets 8-5 while the Yankees lost 14-1 to the Blue Jays. Kevin Cash would get my hypothetical vote for AL manager of the year. Case in point: 12 relievers have recorded a save for the Rays. … Yes, that’s the Angels creeping up on the Astros, just 2½ games behind Houston after the Angels beat the Padres and the Mariners beat the Astros. The Angels have three games left against the Dodgers, while Houston has four at Texas. Big edge to Houston because of the lead and schedule. The Angels would have to sweep the Dodgers to finish 29-31 and hope the Astros finish 1-3 to also end up at 29-31. The Angels won the season series 6-4 so they hold the tiebreaker. … The Shane BieberLucas Giolito duel wasn’t quite epic, but it was pretty marvelous, with Bieber fanning 10 in five innings (one unearned run) and Giolito fanning 11 over six (two runs). The Indians won on Jordan Luplow‘s walk-off home run off Gio Gonzalez. The Twins, with their 7-6 win over the Tigers, moved past the White Sox into first place in the AL Central; if they hold on to that position it would mean they wouldn’t have to play their October nemesis, the Yankees, in the first round. But it could mean they face Bieber and the Indians. One thing about Bieber: He’s been getting so many strikeouts that his pitch counts have run up. He threw 98 on Wednesday in those five innings. He threw 103 in another five-inning outing earlier this month. He can go deeper — he went 118 in his previous appearance — but that will be something to watch in his first playoff start. — David Schoenfield


Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?

David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and they are hardly the favorites to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner-in-2014 type of run and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.

Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amid another career season. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox, and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic bat at the top of the lineup on the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.

Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn’t appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch and once more become — surprisingly, but not too surprisingly — one of the world’s five best starting pitchers. He has never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn’t need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series — his career is so much more than those two starts — but it’ll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.

Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins’ championship runs were fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I’m not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-three series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.

Alden Gonzalez: Sixto Sanchez — because I don’t think anybody has an answer for him at the moment.

Key games ahead

Brewers-Cardinals, Thursday (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): Milwaukee and St. Louis begin a season-ending five-game series that will have major implications on two of the NL’s remaining playoff spots.

Phillies-Rays, Friday (6:40 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Phillies could enter this final series of the weekend on either side of the line for the final playoff spots while the Rays are fighting for the AL’s No. 1 overall seed.

Padres-Giants, Saturday (9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Padres’ playoff spot is secure, but the Giants are still fighting for their October ticket.

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