With one week to go in the MLB regular season, playoff spots are still up for grabs.
In the American League, the New York Yankees have clinched the American League East for the first time since 2012, while the Houston Astros secured their third consecutive AL West title. The Minnesota Twins have a four game lead in the AL Central with just six games to go, including series against two of the weakest teams in the American League, so they should be a lock to win the division.
That leaves the Oakland Athletics (94-62), Tampa Bay Rays (93-64) and Cleveland Indians (92-64) fighting for the two wild card spots.
Oakland, led by All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman and shortstop Marcus Semien, is the likeliest of the three to secure a wild card spot. The A’s have the best record and the easiest remaining schedule, closing out their season against two teams with a losing record in the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners. The Rays and the Indians have identical records going into the final stretch, resulting in what is shaping up to be the most exciting storyline of the regular season’s final week.
The Rays have been performing above expectations this season and are on pace to have their best record since their last AL East title in 2010. Acquiring veteran pitcher Charlie Morton in the offseason has proven to be an exceptional signing, as he has posted a 3.15 ERA and was voted to his second All-Star Game.
The Rays have a good overall team but no true superstar and have struggled with filling their own stadium despite performance (29th out of 30 teams in home attendance).
The Indians have a strong team as well, and sent three players to the All-Star game this year (first baseman Carlos Santana, shortstop Francisco Lindor, and second-year pitcher Shane Bieber, who was named All-Star Game MVP). Cleveland hopes to hold off Tampa Bay and secure their fourth consecutive playoff berth.
If the Indians and Rays remain tied in the standings after Sunday, September 29, Tampa Bay would host the one game playoff due to the Rays 6-1 head-to-head record against the Indians this season. Neither team has an easy end to their season, as Tampa Bay will face the 100-plus win Yankees and the promising Toronto Blue Jays in their final two series, while the Indians will come up against the Chicago White Sox and a Washington Nationals side looking to secure a wild card berth of their own.
It is a similar story in theNL, with the NL East and West titles secured by the Atlanta Braves and the NL-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. The St. Louis Cardinals hold a three and a half game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and are strong favorites to win the division following their road sweep of the Chicago Cubs, eliminating their rivals from division contention.
The Brewers could make a late push, but it is more likely that they will end up in one of the two wild card places. The New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks [Diamondbacks may be eliminated Monday, so just remove them from the list if they are] have not officially been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but have a much harder path to continue playing in October.
The Brewers’ Christian Yelich, reigning NL MVP, is out for the season with a fractured knee cap. However, Milwaukee has fared well regardless, taking eight of their last ten games. As of now, the Brewers hold the second wild card position in the National League with a four game lead over Chicago, and will face two struggling teams to finish the season in the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.
Just a month ago, Manager Joe Maddon’s Cubs looked like they would easily reach the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, but a shaky, injury-ravaged September and six consecutive home losses to division rivals have put them in third place in the Central for the first time since April and four games behind Milwaukee for the second wild card. The Cubs will close out their season with two series on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the division leading Cardinals, but they will need to do something extraordinary and have other results around the NL go their way for a chance at playoff baseball this year.
The Washington Nationals are currently a half game up on the Brewers, and have played one fewer game, giving them a good chance to take the top wild card position. Third baseman Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old phenom outfielder Juan Soto have been on fire for the Nationals this year, while veteran pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have been among the best in the NL. They face the Philadelphia Phillies and AL playoff contender Cleveland Indians to close out their season.
It is unclear which teams will make it into the playoffs, but one thing is certain: the final week of the MLB regular season will contain plenty of drama. All stats and records are from before games played on Tuesday, September 24.