Cubs just one of the teams that helped thwart MLB’s expanded playoffs plan | st. Louis Cardinals
Major League Baseball, in its seemingly infinite frenzy to change the rules every year, has established a 12-team playoff field for the first time, including three wild-card teams in each league to complement three division champions in each league. Ostensibly, this was designed to keep more teams alive, and attendance up, late in the season.
So, how’s that working out?
With two weeks to go, 15 of the 30 major league teams are under .500. Thirteen of them absolutely have no chance for postseason play. No matter the playoff format, there still were a half dozen or so teams — Oakland, Washington, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs, Detroit and Kansas City — which showed little or no interest at the front-office level in trying to compete for a playoff spot this year.
There is the real possibility that nine of the 30 teams — or 30% — will lose at least 90 games this season. That would be the second most in 18 years, with 10 clubs dropping 90 games in 2019.
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The tight division races that were hoped for don’t exist, other than the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, both of whom have qualified for the playoffs, grappling for the National League Eastern Division title. The teams play a three-game series a weekend from now in Atlanta and, if the Mets win one of three, they will have the season-series tiebreaker if there is a tie for the division title.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros already have bagged division crowns and the Cardinals and New York Yankees are about to, leaving in doubt only the NL East and the American League Central, where a barely-above .500 Chicago White Sox team is trying to track down Cleveland. But the White Sox entered Wednesday’s play five games behind Cleveland, and really the margin is six because Cleveland clinched the season-series tiebreaker on Tuesday with an 11-inning win at Chicago. There are no tiebreaker games played any more.
In the big picture, there are only 13 teams remaining who have a real shot at the 12 playoff berths with the Milwaukee Brewers hanging just a couple of games out of the race for the third National League wild card, behind San Diego and Philadelphia. The American League’s three wild cards are virtually spoken for in Toronto, Tampa Bay and Seattle. All have been within a game or two of one another for a couple of weeks now but Seattle has the edge because it plays all its final 14 games against teams with losing records in Oakland (4), Kansas City (3), Texas (3 ) and Detroit (4), with the final 10 of those games coming at home.
This slate suggests that Seattle could be the No. 4 seed, or first wild card, and then would stay at home to play either Toronto or Tampa Bay. In any event, the Mariners are set for their first postseason since 2001, when Seattle won a league record 116 games but lost in the American League championship series to the New York Yankees and Ichiro won the batting title, Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player all in the same season.
In the National League, Philadelphia and San Diego are almost even for the second wild-card spot. The second wild-card team almost surely will be playing at the NL East runner-up and the third wild card would be playing the Cardinals here in a best-of-three opening-round series.
If there is a two- or three-way tie involving wild-card positioning, Milwaukee would be on the outside looking in. San Diego and Philadelphia both beat the Brewers 4-3 in the season series. A San Diego-Philadelphia tie would be settled by the Phillies having beaten the Padres in four out of seven.
So, for the Brewers to avoid this tiebreaker, they would have to finish one game ahead of either the Phillies or the Padres.
The Brewers have the easiest schedule with their last four games this weekend at Cincinnati and their final nine at home against the Cardinals (2), Miami (4) and Arizona (3).
San Diego has 10 of its final 13 games at home, save for a trip to Colorado this weekend. But, of those, one comes against the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon, three more against the 100-plus win Los Angeles Dodgers and three against the chasing White Sox, who still may be alive by a weekend from now.
By contrast, the Phillies have their final four home games this weekend, starting Thursday night against Atlanta, before a 10-game trip to play at Wrigley Field against the Cubs (3), at Washington (4) and, most intriguingly, at Houston (3) to finish the season.
The Astros, who will have the American League’s best record, can play it almost anyway they want before they have five days off, not having to play in the wild-card round. Do they play — and pitch — most of their regulars in this season-ending series against the Phillies knowing they won’t be in action for nearly a week?
MLB could have the absolute most contentious World Series atmosphere if the favored Astros and Dodgers meet in the World Series. The Dodgers, who should have the better record, would have four home games in that Series, reminiscent of the 2017 World Series won by the Astros, who later were to have found to eclipsed normal chicanery by famously banging on trash cans in the dugout to signal certain pitches.
Several careers of Astros’ staff and players were darkened by the ultimate revelations. And the Dodgers’ fans and the Dodgers themselves haven’t forgot that seven-game loss.
But, just for the record, the Astros won two of the four games played at Dodger Stadium, where they presumably had no tub-thumping advantage and two of three at Minute Maid Park. They outscored the Dodgers by one run at home, 21-20, and by one run on the road, 14-13. Not that anybody in Los Angeles really noticed.