It has been nearly 10 years since the historic ending of the 2011 MLB regular season where there was not a single playoff matchup that was decided heading into the final night of the season. The St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays erased a monumental Wild Card deficit in September to clinch postseason appearances, with the Cardinals ultimately winning the World Series.
Will we something similar on the 10-year anniversary of that night?
Let’s take a look at where everyone stands heading into the final week:
1) NL West: San Francisco Giants (102-54)
The Giants have been listening to the whole world tell them that their hot start to the season was going to slowly fade away in August, yet here we are. The Giants currently hold a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into the final week of the season. San Francisco has held the division lead for the majority of the season and has done an excellent job at fighting off the Dodgers to hold onto the spot.
The Giants will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game series before the San Diego Padres come to town to finish off the regular season. Arizona and San Diego are both eliminated from playoff contention, giving them nothing to play for except for pride. San Francisco’s magic number to clinch the NL West is five, meaning they need a combination of five games that result in either a Giants win or a Dodgers loss to win the division.
The winner of the NL West will take on the winner of the NL Wild Card game in the NLDS.
2) NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers (94-62)
The Brewers will have the least stressful week in the National League. They have already clinched the NL Central division and have already been locked in as the two seed in the National League playoffs. This week for Milwaukee will simply be about setting their rotation up, making sure no one gets hurt, and trying to just bring a little momentum into October. The teams they are playing, however, have a lot to play for. They will be traveling to St. Louis for a three-game series with the Cardinals, before ending the year with a three game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. They could very well meet one of these teams again in a few weeks.
The Brewers will take on the winner of the NL East in the NLDS, which will be either the Atlanta Braves or the Philadelphia Phillies.
3) NL East: Atlanta Braves (83-72)
The Atlanta Braves always knew they were going to be in this spot, even with all of the players they have lost this year. Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Mike Soroka, and Huascar Ynoa have all missed significant time, yet the Braves still sit 2.5 games up on Philadelphia for the NL East title after going for it all at the trade deadline. It’s going to be a massive week as Atlanta will host Philadelphia for a three-game set that will likely decide who claims the three seed in the National League.
For Atlanta, they pretty much just need to not get swept by the Phillies to be in a good spot. After facing Philadelphia, the Braves will welcome in the New York Mets, who would love to play a little spoiler if possible. If needed, Atlanta will play a makeup game against the Colorado Rockies the day after the regular season ends if the race is not yet over.
The winner of the NL East will take on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS.
4) NL Wild Card 1: Los Angeles Dodgers (100-56)
It’s a crime that a team that wins over 100 games must play in a one game playoff, but that’s just how the news goes. Los Angeles still only trails the Giants by two games, so it is not a definite that LA will be playing in this game yet. The Dodgers will take on the San Diego Padres at home for a three-game set before the Milwaukee Brewers come to town to wrap things up. Both of these teams have nothing to play for at this point, so it is going to be fascinating to see how serious they take these games.
The Dodgers have been looking up at the Giants all season, but they still have a chance to avoid the one game playoff. If they were to make the playoff, they are well suited for that as Max Scherzer will get the ball coming off a dominant second half of the season since being acquired by Los Angeles at the deadline.
The NL Wild Card 1 winner will host the NL Wild Card 2 winner for a one game playoff, which will most likely be with the St. Louis Cardinals, but mathematically they could still play the Cincinnati Reds or the Philadelphia Phillies.
5) NL Wild Card 2: St. Louis Cardinals (87-69)
All season long, the Cardinals were just hanging around in the middle of the pack waiting for their opportunity to strike. No one was taking that second Wild Card spot for grabs, and the Cardinals took matters into their own hands by winning 16 straight games to all but clinch that second spot heading into the final week of the season. Every couple of years, the Cardinals are due for one of these magical runs. They will first have to host the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs in three game sets to officially punch their ticket to the postseason.
The NL Wild Card 2 winner will travel to either Los Angeles or San Francisco for a one game playoff.
1) AL East: Tampa Bay Rays (97-59)
Tampa Bay has wrapped up the AL East title, and barring an abysmal final week, will be the top seed in the American League for the second consecutive year. This is one of the most impressive team efforts in recent history as the Rays lost the top three members of their 2020 rotation and haven’t skipped a beat. The Rays are in a very similar scenario to the Milwaukee Brewers in that they will likely not be moving from the spot they are currently in, but the teams they are playing need to win.
Tampa Bay will start off the week by traveling to Houston to take on the Astros in a three game set before finishing the season with a three-game set in New York against the Yankees. We’ll get to those teams shortly, but the Rays are certainly not just going to let them win.
The Rays will more likely than not be taking on the winner of the AL Wild Card game in the ALDS.
2) AL West: Houston Astros (91-65)
The Astros currently sit 5 games up in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners heading into the final week. While the race isn’t over yet, we will mostly likely see Houston once again winning the division. The interesting thing to note here is that unlike in the National League, the seeding here is not fully set. The Astros have not clinched the two seed in the league yet, so these games still have some level of importance.
As mentioned above, the Astros will be hosting the Tampa Bay Rays for a three-game set before the Oakland A’s come into town to wrap up the regular season.
Barring a meltdown of epic proportions, Houston will take on the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS. Home field advantage in that hypothetical series is still up for grabs, with Houston leading Chicago by three games.
3) AL Central: Chicago White Sox
The race for the AL Central has really been over for months now, with the White Sox being the only team that is over .500. At this point, Chicago still has a chance to get home field advantage in the ALDS, but they are guaranteed a spot either way. This week for them is about trying to shake some of the rust off and get back to playing competitive baseball and making sure everything is lined up for next week.
Chicago has a bit of a bizarre schedule this week as they have a makeup game vs the Detroit Tigers, then two games vs the Cincinnati Reds, and then three more games against the Tigers.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Chicago ends up as the higher seed in the ALDS, but what we do know is they will be taking on the winner of the AL West.
4/5) AL Wild Card 1 and 2: New York Yankees (89-67), and Boston Red Sox (88-68).
Now this is where things start to get spicy.
After their thrilling win on Sunday Night Baseball to complete a sweep over the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees now hold the top spot in the AL Wild Card race. Unlike the National League, this race is wide open and could feature any of five teams still remaining which is why I have combined this into just one section.
The Yankees currently sit in the top spot with the Red Sox in the second spot. The Toronto Blue Jays sit one game back, the Seattle Mariners sit two games back, and the Oakland A’s sit three games back. This is without a doubt the most entertaining race that has yet to be decided, and we could be in store of a repeat of 2011 on the final day of the season.
Here’s what every team faces to get there:
New York Yankees: 3 @ Toronto, 3 vs Tampa Bay
Boston Red Sox: 3 @ Baltimore, 3 @ Washington
Toronto Blue Jays: 3 vs New York, 3 vs Baltimore
Seattle Mariners: 3 vs Oakland, 3 vs LA Angels
Oakland A’s: 3 @ Seattle, 3 @ Houston.
Buckle your seatbelts everyone, it’s time for a wild finish.