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 down to the final weekend, 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.
If the season ended today …
Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays*
No. 2 Athletics* vs. No. 7 White Sox*
No. 3 Twins* vs. No. 6 Astros*
No. 4 Indians* vs. No. 5 Yankees*
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Giants
No. 2 Braves* vs. No. 7 Reds*
No. 3 Cubs* vs. No. 6 Marlins*
No. 4 Padres* vs. No. 5 Cardinals
*Clinched playoff spot
Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot
NL: Giants 2, Cardinals 2
Who can clinch Saturday?
• The Giants can clinch with a win AND losses by the Phillies and Brewers.
• The Rays can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AL with a win over the Phillies.
• The Cubs can clinch the NL Central division with a win over the White Sox.
Who is already in?
The overwhelming preseason favorites clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and their 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 most recently won it all.
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 but still could slip to the No. 7 seed.
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.
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
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 games 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.
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
Although they took a beating on Sunday in Boston, 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
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 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
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? Cleveland is still in the hunt for first or second place in the AL Central, so the seeding is very much up in the air.
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
What’s next? The Blue Jays are likely to end up as the No. 8 seed, so they’ll be able to keep Ryu lined up for their playoff opener Tuesday.
The Marlins didn’t just clinch their first season of .500 or better since 2009. They also earned their first appearance in the postseason since they won the 2003 World Series by beating the same team Friday that they beat then: the Yankees, the only team that Miami manager Don Mattingly played for in his career.
What’s next? The Fish are at risk of drawing the NL’s fifth seed, which would pit them against the Padres — not a matchup anybody would welcome. Then again, the Marlins weren’t supposed to get this far, so they’ll enjoy the trip wherever they’re headed.
Marlins must-read: How Olympic speedskater Eddy Alvarez made it to the show
The Reds clinched through a combination of circumstance and scheduling on Friday, beating the Twins for their 30th win while the Brewers and Phillies took their 30th losses, securing Cincinnati’s spot through victory and tiebreaker advantages.
What’s next? There’s no rule against earning another win or two this weekend to make sure the tiebreakers don’t matter.
Despite suffering 5-4 walk-off loss to the Rangers, the Astros backed into the postseason on Friday while falling to .500 when the Dodgers — irony alert — clobbered the Angels to secure Houston’s spot on the AL postseason slate. The Astros become the fifth team that manager Dusty Baker has skippered into the postseason in his remarkable career.
What’s next? Avoiding the ignominy of being the first under-.500 team to reach the postseason by trying to win one more game this weekend.
Astros must-read: Why Verlander’s injury marks beginning of the end of Astros’ sad legacy
About last night …
Jesus Aguilar’s 10th inning sacrifice fly puts the Marlins up 4-3 and sends them to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The Marlins have done it again, reaching the postseason. Should baseball be frightened? This marks the third time in franchise history that Miami has reached the playoffs, which it earned by beating the Yankees 4-3 in the 10th inning Friday. Both times they got there before, the Marlins won the World Series — in 1997 and 2003. That’s right: The Fish have never lost a postseason series. The last time they won a postseason game, it was in Yankee Stadium: Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.
Beyond removing a bit of mystery as far as the still-muddled NL playoff picture goes, why is that significant? Because the Marlins lost 105 games last year. They bounced back from the worst record in the National League and — short season or not — shrugged off their early season problems with COVID-19 to earn a spot in the postseason slate. You remember the many missed opportunities this team has had to turn the corner — trashing the roster in 1998, the meltdown on Ozzie Guillen’s watch, the tragedy of Jose Fernandez’s death — and fans who have stuck around through the franchise’s strange history can take some comfort from this.
In terms of more recent relevance, the Marlins clinched the team’s first season record of .500 or better since 2009 while giving manager Don Mattingly his first postseason appearance since his Dodgers lost the division series to the Mets in 2015. In addition to being the Marlins’ third playoff appearance, this will be just the seventh season in the club’s 28-season existence in which it finished .500 or better.
All of which is fun from the perspective of historical trivia, but how dangerous will the Fish be to their NL rivals in the postseason? Much will depend on their young starting pitchers, Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara in particular. Rebuilding the lineup with affordable and available veterans, such as Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce, plus adding Starling Marte at the deadline, gave the team offensive depth beyond Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper and a puncher’s chance in games the starters kept in reach. Plus, a pen stocked with retreads such as Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger and Nick Vincent has been good enough to nail down leads.
It’s a tough collection to bet on against a strong opponent in a longer series, but as proof of being good enough to get at least this far, Fish fans can’t complain. Despite 18 players’ testing positive for the coronavirus early in the season and the subsequent testing of the organization’s depth, credit the Fish for hanging tough in a strange season and making the most of their circumstance.
Also of note: The Rays clinched the top seed in the American League with a 6-4 victory over the Phillies, who suffered their 30th loss while seeing their playoff hopes dwindle. … The Reds are back in the postseason with their 30th win of the season, thanks in part to their 7-2 victory over the Twins, but also thanks to the Brewers’ split of their doubleheader and the Phillies’ loss. Although Cincinnati could still end up tied with Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the Reds hold tiebreaker advantages over both, thus securing their first playoff appearance since they lost the 2013 NL wild-card game, which brought to an end the six-year Dusty Baker era in the Reds’ dugout. … Speaking of Dusty, the Astros blew their chance to clinch the final AL playoff spot on Friday by losing to the Rangers 5-4 in the 10th inning, but they advanced anyway when the Dodgers clobbered the Angels 9-5 to eliminate them.
The scramble for the final open slots in the NL playoff field saw some additional drama when the Brewers achieved a split against the Cardinals, getting mauled in the nightcap with a 9-1 loss after winning the opener 3-0. … The Giants’ split of their doubleheader with the Padres kept postseason ambitions alive for another day in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and New York. The big story there was the Pads’ witnessing starter Dinelson Lamet go down with an injury just hours after divulging the news that presumptive Game 1 starter Mike Clevinger needed a cortisone shot in his injured elbow.
The AL Central race also got a bit more complicated, as the Twins, White Sox and Indians are all within a game of one another with two to play. That combination of events added to New York’s loss to Miami also cost the Yankees their shot at a No. 4 seed in the AL playoffs.
Pennant race debate: Which 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 finds himself in the middle of a chase not only with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title but also with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu for the American League MVP. 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. Darvish 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. Although I’m not predicting that Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for the team 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 in the opener of a best-of-three series. 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, Saturday (7:07 p.m. ET): Whatever small hopes the Brewers have left, they cannot afford to lose either of their last two games in St. Louis this weekend.
Reds-Twins, Saturday (7:10 p.m. ET): The Reds have clinched, but the Twins suddenly have a one-game lead in the AL Central with two to play. Can they win the division crown and perhaps avoid a first-round matchup against the Yankees?
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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