The final weekend of the 2020 MLB season has arrived, already.
Some playoff teams and seeds from this 60-game season have long been known — like the Dodgers as the NL’s No. 1 overall seed — but there is still much to be determined over these final few days, like which of six different teams Los Angeles might face as the No. 8 seed.
“Every day on the show, we throw up the standings and it goes from a Dodgers-Giants matchup to a Dodgers-Reds matchup to a Dodgers-Brewers matchup,” said Mark DeRosa, the 16-year MLB veteran who has become a star as part of MLB Network’s “MLB Central” every morning. “It’s changing constantly. I don’t think the Dodgers necessarily care, but I don’t think anybody wants to see, in a three-game series, the Reds with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.”
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Consider this your “what to know” primer as we head into this final weekend. All the standings and scenarios will be updated before Saturday’s and Sunday’s games.
For the sixth year in a row, every game on the final day of the regular season — well, final scheduled day, but more on that in a minute — will start at the same time, 3 p.m. ET. It’s a great move put in by MLB, and it creates a lot of potential drama for baseball fans, too.
DeRosa moves from his spot on the morning show to help out with MLB Network’s nine hours of coverage, including “MLB Tonight,” starting at 2 p.m. ET.
“Super excited about that, to be honest with you. Our show’s so different from reacting to live action, like on ‘MLB Tonight,’” he said. “A lot of our stuff is pre-prepped the night before and trying to bring a little humor to it, as well. Here you can just get your pants dirty and get into the games. I’m excited for that. I always think back to the year Longoria hit the home run to send the Rays to the postseason and everything took place on that ‘MLB Tonight’ set within a matter of two or three minutes. Hopefully it lends itself to us being pretty excited on the set.”
So that’s how you watch on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know for the five most important playoff/seeding races.
For the AL’s top three seeds …
The three division winners get the top three seeds, but the order for those seeds has yet to be decided. Thing is, getting the No. 1, or especially No. 2, seed isn’t necessarily the best spot for the opening round. Because of the way the seeding/bracket was set up this season, the Astros — as the No. 2 team in the AL West — are pretty much locked into the No. 6 seed (seeds 4-6 go to division runner-ups, and seeds 7-8 go to wild-cards, which means they’ll play the No. 3 seed. But the Astros have hovered around .500 all season, and they’re a much more appealing foe in a best-of-three Wild Card Series than whatever team winds up third in the AL Central or AL East.
Here’s how that race stands heading into Friday’s games …
1. Rays, 37-20, .649, —
2. A’s, 34-22, .607, 2.5 games back
3. Twins, 35-22, .614, 3 back
4 (tie) Indians, 34-24, .586, 4 back
4 (tie) White Sox, 34-24, .586, 4 back
The three AL Central teams cannot catch the Rays for the No. 1 seed, but any of the three could wind up with either the No. 2 or 3 seed. More on that here …
In the AL Central …
It’s a tight race. We’re looking at the 2/3 seed for the division winner, the 4/5 seed for the runner up and the 7 seed for the third-place team. So, for the 2020 postseason, that means home-field in the best-of-three WC round for the division champ, possible home-field for the runner up (if they finish ahead of the Yankees) and no home-field for third place.
1. Twins, 35-22, .614, —
2. Indians, 34-24, .586, 1 back
3. White Sox, 34-24, .586, 1 back
A thought from DeRosa: “I look at the AL Central and it went from the White Sox looking like gangbusters and possibly running away with the Central and having that nice spot up top, to potentially getting run down, and now Cleveland’s gotten hot. They’re probably going to the postseason as one of the scariest matchups for anybody.”
Because it’s a division race, head-to-head is the first tie-breaker. Here’s how those look …
Cleveland holds the head-to-head against Chicago (8-2)
Minnesota has the head-to-head against Cleveland (7-3)
Minnesota and Chicago split the head-to-head (5-5), so it goes to division winning percentage. Chicago takes that, with a 25-15 record against AL Central teams; Minnesota was 23-17.
MORE: Here are MLB’s updated playoff standings, magic numbers
For second place in the NL Central …
Only one of these three is guaranteed a playoff spot — the team that finishes second to the Cubs — but it’s possible all three could wind up in October, if the other two secure wild-card spots. It’s also possible that only the second-place team gets into the postseason. Let’s start with how these three stack up with each other heading into action Saturday …
Cardinals, 29-27, .518, —
Reds, 30-28, .517, —
Brewers, 28-30, 483, 2 back
The Cardinals and Brewers have two head-to-head games remaining. Obviously, the Brewers pretty much need to win both to have hopes of getting into the postseason. The Reds have two more against the Twins in Minnesota; they won the series opener on Friday.
As far as tiebreakers, because they’re division teams, head-to-head plays …
The Cardinals have the head-to-head against the Reds (6-4).
The Cardinals and Brewers are tied (3-3) heading into the final four games.
The Reds have the head-to-head against the Brewers (6-4).
For the two NL wild cards …
OK, here’s where it gets complicated, with division runners-up for some reason getting automatic October tickets. The Marlins clinched second place in the NL East with their win in New York on Friday, and the Reds clinched at least a wild-card spot, though they’re still shooting for second in the NL Central.
Here’s how the teams stack up heading into Saturday’s games
Cardinals, 29-27, .518 (second NL Central berth)
Reds, 30-28, .517, first wild-card team
Giants, 29-29, .500, second wild-card team
Phillies, 28-30, .483, 1 back
Brewers, 28-30, 483, 1 back
As discussed, the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers all have two ways to make it to October — finish second in their division, or get a wild-card berth.
The Giants, though, only have the wild-card as an option.
San Francisco split a double-header on Friday against the Padres and have two more with San DIego, on Saturday and Sunday. The Padres aren’t playing for anything; they’re locked into second place in the NL West and the No. 4 seed in the postseason. So that feels like a good thing for the Giants, right? Well, the Padres are still a talented team even if they’re not playing each game like their season is on the line. No easy task. The Giants, fwiw, are just 2-6 against the Padres this season.
I asked DeRosa for his prediction, and here’s what he said: “Being on the media side, I always try to focus on what’s the better watch, and what’s going to bring me more entertainment, and man, I need the Cincinnati Reds in the postseason. I need Trevor Bauer and I need Nick Castellanos. They’re a team that hasn’t played up to expectations, I feel like, even within their own clubhouse. But they’re catching fire at the right time, and they become very dangerous with their starting rotation.”
The Cardinals conundrum
The Cardinals, as you know, missed a long stretch of baseball as the club struggled to deal with a rash of positive COVID tests. They’ve played a ton of double-headers to catch up, and as things stand now they’re scheduled to play 58 games. There is the potential of playing one or two games against the Tigers on Monday, though, if necessary.
How would this become necessary, you ask? If the result of those two extra games (Nos. 59 and 60) could impact which teams make the postseason, they will be played.
But if the only things on the line are the playoff seeds — not the teams in the playoffs — then the games would not be played, and winning percentage is the determining factor. So, if the Cardinals finish the day Sunday with a 30-28 record (.51724 winning percentage) and the Reds finish at 31-29 (.51666), then the Cardinals would be declared the NL Central runner-up and get the No. 5/6 seed, while the Reds would be a wild-card. Even though the Reds would, in that case, have won more games than the Cardinals, the team that has played fewer games has a fractionally higher winning percentage and that’s the rule.
Fair? Probably not. But it’s a weird year and that’s where we are.