Let’s all take a collective breath before we dive into this final week of MLB goodness. What a long strange season it’s been! Noah Syndergaard got too much muscle mass and not enough MRIs, the Dodgers decided to win most of the games they played in, Aaron Judge forgot how awful he looked in 2016 and went BANANAS on everyone, Madison Bumgarner went dirtbike riding and now we know he’s not immortal, and the Cleveland Indians won a record-setting 22 games in a row. I mean, it’s a doozy and we didn’t even talk about Cody Bellinger or Giancarlo Stanton. HOWEVER, it’s not over. Not even close.
So how do I watch the last week of the season? How do I get myself mentally and physically prepared for the postseason? Don’t worry, I have the answers.
Watch the NL Wildcard Race
As it stands right now, the Arizona Cardinals will face the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wildcard game in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockies have been in the 2nd Wildcard spot since what seems like June, which is actually probably accurate… and I just checked it, it is. The Rockpile had an incredible first half of the season, going 52-39 in the first half. Because of the insane hot streak that the Dodgers went on after the All-Star Break, a lot of people forget that the Colorado Rockies were ahead of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers up until June 20th. That’s not to say the Rockies were up by a ton, but with the competition tight out West, the Rockies were able to stay on top for a long period of time.
What Bud Black has done with this young group of players has been nothing short of miraculous. And if you’ve read a 3 Up, 3 Down piece about baseball before you can already guess who knew that would happen:
San Diego hired Bud Black for the 2007 season, and the pitching success continued, breaking the top 5 pitching staffs 5 times in his 8 years there. That’s what the Rockies need, a former pitcher taking the reigns of a staff pitching in the most hitter friendly park of all time. The offense is there and the pitching potential is there as well. The Rockies starters are young and if you’re a Rockies fan, you have to realize just how bright the future is.
YA BOI CALLED IT. With this young staff, they needed a manager who knew pitching inside and out and with Bud Black at the helm, their pitchers have fallen out of the top 5 highest ERAs in the league and now sit just south of the league average. Seriously, the Rockies hitters are lucky to play in the most hitter-friendly ballpark ever constructed, but the Rockies pitchers are the unluckiest of all-time. To have a staff that has been solid all year is something Denver hasn’t seen since Ubaldo Jimenez almost won the Cy Young back in 2010. Isn’t it funny to think about how lights out Jimenez was at Coors Field, and now every time he pitches he gives up dingers like he’s still there?
Back to the Rockies team at hand. With three games remaining, the Colorado Rockies are clinging to a 2.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and a 3.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers have 4 games left in the season, 1 against the pesky Cincinnati Red and 3 against Stl Louis, whereas the Cardinals have 1 against the NL Central Champs and bitter division rival Chicago Cubs as well as the series in Milwaukee. Who do the Rockies face? Well, after taking 2 of 3 from the Miami Marlins, the Rockies will stay home to face off against the struggling NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, who are desperately trying to right their ship heading into the postseason.
So where do we go from here? Good question. Let me answer it in a relatively complicated way, by going through all of the possible scenarios.
SCENARIO 1: The Rockies Sweep LA
If the Rockies win the rest of their remaining games they will take the second Wild Card spot and play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the one-game playoff. Both the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals are eliminated.
This will be the hardest task to pull off, especially considering that the Dodgers are trying to get their bats back in shape for the divisional round of the postseason. If there’s one thing we can count on it is Los Angeles tee-ing off on the Rockie’s staff. This is going to be three games of batting practice for the Dodgers.
The Rockies will also have to face an odd assortment of Dodgers pitchers. Hyun-Jin Ryu gets the ball in Game 1, followed up by Clayton Kershaw pitching in an abbreviated start. For there it’s going to be a patchwork of Dodgers pitchers just trying to connect the dots. It’s going to throw the game’s pacing and the Rockies timing into chaos, so pulling out a sweep is going to be rough.
SCENARIO 2: The Rockies go 2-1 against the Dodgers
If the Rockies go 2-1 in their remaining games this season they take the second Wild Card spot and play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the one-game playoff. Both the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals are eliminated.
Does this seem easier than sweeping the Dodgers? Yes, plus it gives the Rockies some room to give up a game and let themselves live to see another day. Simple. The Brewers could have still hung around in this scenario if they didn’t lose to the Reds 6-0 on Wednesday night. Cincy has been Trap Game City all year, giving teams hell when they need to get a win. It almost blows my mind that the Reds aren’t in the playoff hunt since it seems that every time I turn around they’re beating a successful team.
SCENARIO 3: The Rockies lose 2 games against the Dodgers
If the Rockies lose 2 games to the Dodgers, effectively going 1-2 in their remaining games this season they take the second Wild Card spot and play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the one-game playoff, only if the Milwaukee Brewers win their remaining 4 games, in which case the Rockies and the Brewers would play a one-game playoff for the second wildcard spot. If the Brewers were to pull this off, the St. Louis Cardinals are eliminated, because that means they would have been swept by the Brewers.
This is where things get a bit tricky, considering that the Brewers and the Cardinals end the season against each other. For now, let’s focus on the Brewers sweeping the Cardinals since this the first scenario that gets the Brewers in. Well cover a Cardinals sweep in the following scenario, I promise.
So the Rockies drop 2 games, and the Brewers have already lost a game to the Reds. So, in order to force the one-game playoff, the Brewers have to win against a pesky Reds team and sweep a Cardinals team looking to play spoiler.
SCENARIO 4: The Dodgers Sweep the Rockies
If the Rockies lose 3 games to the Dodgers, effectively going 0-3 in their remaining games this season, and the Brewers win their remaining 4, they would fall behind Milwaukee and drop out of the postseason. If the Brewers win 3 of their remaining 4 games, they would force a one-game playoff for the second Wild Card spot. If the Rockies get swept by the Dodgers, and the Cardinals win the rest of their games this season, the Cardinals can force a one-game playoff for the second Wild Card spot.
Pretty self-explanatory. If the Rockies get swept, and the Brewers lose today against the Reds, then they will need to sweep the Cardinals this weekend to force a one-game playoff. If the Cardinals win tonight against the Cubs and sweep the Brewers this weekend, they could force a one-game playoff.
Of course, this would mean the Rockies fold in a major way against LA. It should be mentioned that this has happened before. The first team to sweep the Rockies this year was Los Angeles Dodgers, and out of the five series sweeps the Rockies have suffered this year 4 of them have been by a team from the NL West. It also is of note that the Rockies and the Brewers have the same record against their final two opponents, both teams entering their final series with 9-7 records. This bodes well for the Brewers and Rockies, but not so much for the Cardinals.
St. Louis will have to play perfect baseball this final weekend. And with Lance Lynn, John Gant, Luke Weaver and Carlos Martinez going up against this offensively gifted Brewers lineup means that they’ll need to pitch perfect and shut down the Brewers in a big way. In can be done, but they’ll need to be perfect.
The NL Wildcard has been a tight race in the past two years and the fact that this year is no different reinforces how great the one-game playoff has been for the game.
Watch the AL East
This option is a little less exciting as the Red Sox magic number is now 2. However, they’re going up against the Houston Astros, who just so happen to be a tough team beat. The two teams haven’t seen each other since June 18th, so long ago that David Price got the win in their final meeting. The Sox will also be facing a trio of Astros starters that are nothing to shake a stick at. Peacock, Morton, and McCullers are set to face the Sox in the upcoming series with the final start of the season up for grabs. The Astros have locked up the AL West handily, so whether or not they full go at Boston is tough to say, but there’s one thing that should be in the back of their minds: this is a preamble for their first round.
If the Red Sox clinch the AL East then they will face the Astros in the first round. If they get swept and the Yankees managed to usurp the division, they’ll face Cleveland and give 2016 PTSD to every Sox fan. This series is not about bragging rights its about momentum, it’s about strength. The first round could be won this weekend, this is the start of a week-long series. The Sox will be sending E-Rod, Fister, and Pomeranz to the hill against Houston and I don’t think that’s a bad lineup for the Sox. Keeping Sale for Game 1 of the ALDS, and Porcello for Game 2, if both of those games go south you can see who your 3 and 4 guys are after this weekend. This is 100% a tryout for a rotation spot in the postseason and it comes at a perfect time.
The New York Yankees have already clinched a playoff berth, but have yet to find out if they will face the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card game or the Astros in the First Round. If I’m a Yankees fan, which I most certainly am not, I’m hoping against hope for the Wild Card game. The Minnesota Twins do not scare me, the Cleveland Indians do not scare me, it’s the solid pitching from the Astros that scare me. I want that Wild Card Game at home against the Twins and I want Game 1 against Cleveland in front of a nervous home crowd. Both the Twins and the Yankees are playing with house money this year. The Yankees were in the middle of a sensible rebuild, but here they are staring down the Red Sox going into October. The Tribe has a lot more riding on this year’s playoffs considering they went into extra innings of Game 7 last year.
I remember watching last years Wild Card games and there are a few moments that stand out. Zack Britton never entered that game, but Ubaldo Jimenez did (THAT’S TWO UBALDO JIMENEZ REFERENCES!) The Blue Jays crowd was nervous going into the 8th inning, so much so that a fan threw a beer can at Hyun-Soo Kim. The Mets came out nervously swinging against Madison Bumgarner, who only gave up 4 hits in his complete game shutout. After Conor “Constantly Touching My Junk” Gillaspie hit his 3-run dinger off of Jeurys Familia you knew it was over, and so did every Mets fan at Citi Field. These games are built to be won by the team with nerves of steel. So what happens when two teams with nothing to lose enter the cage match that is the Wild Card Game? History happens. What happens when that team with nothing to lose faces a team with everything to lose? Upsets happen. If the Yankees lose the AL East, they’ll make it to the ALCS. You heard it here first folks. LOCK IT IN.