There’s only one week left in Major League Baseball’s regular season, and the playoff races are dwindling.
MLB has benefitted from more exciting postseason pushes since the introduction of the second wildcard team, but 2021 might be an anticlimactic jog to the finish line.
Here are the three races baseball fans should continue watching:
By far the most entertaining race should be for the American League wild card slots. With six games remaining, five teams are battling for two playoff positions -- including three in the same division.
Here’s how the standings break down heading into Monday:
- New York Yankees: 89-67
- Boston Red Sox: 88-68
- Toronto Blue Jays: 87-69
- Seattle Mariners: 86-70
- Oakland Athletics: 85-71
It doesn’t get much cleaner than that. Five teams -- all with exactly six games left -- sitting at 89, 88, 87, 86 and 85 wins.
The winner of this group will host the second-place finisher in a one-game playoff, with that winner moving on to the divisional round against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Here’s how the remaining schedules look for all five teams:
- Yankees: 3 games at Toronto, 3 games vs. Tampa Bay
- Red Sox: 3 games at Baltimore, 3 games at Washington
- Blue Jays: 3 games vs. New York Yankees, 3 games vs. Baltimore
- Mariners: 3 games vs. Oakland, 3 games vs. Los Angeles Angels
- Athletics: 3 games at Seattle, 3 games at Houston
Obviously, Oakland is in a tough spot. Already at the bottom of these standings, the Athletics have no home games remaining and play two winning teams.
The Blue Jays-Yankees series will be critical, especially for the Yankees, as they have to play Tampa Bay over the weekend. How much will the Rays care once they’ve locked up the No. 1 seed? That’s certainly a variable.
Boston just got swept by the Yankees at Fenway Park, but has a favorable final six games against two of the five worst teams in baseball.
This race lost some sizzle on Sunday, when the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates and dropped 2.5 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they have one last chance to control their own destiny. The two teams begin a three-game series in Atlanta on Tuesday.
Philadelphia has its two best pitchers scheduled to start the series in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, followed by their top trade deadline acquisition, Kyle Gibson. Atlanta will counter with its top three arms: Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson.
A series win would keep them alive, but realistically, the Phillies need a sweep. The Braves end the season with a three-game home series against the New York Mets, and then -- if the East hasn’t already been decided -- a makeup game at home against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 4.
The Mets are better than the Marlins (Philadelphia’s final opponent), but the Braves would have to lose two of their final four games to open the door for the Phillies if the Phillies don’t sweep the head-to-head series. It’s also not a given that the Phillies will sweep the Marlins on the road.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be must-watch games if the Phillies continue to win. If not, the Braves will lock this up.
Unlike in the NL East race, both of the top teams in the NL West will be in the postseason. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers own the two best records in baseball, but one will be forced into a single-elimination game against the St. Louis Cardinals -- a team on a 16-game winning streak -- while the other advances to the division series.
The stakes are extremely high.
Right now, San Francisco leads the division by two games. Both teams have six left to play.
- Giants schedule: 3 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, 3 vs. San Diego Padres
- Dodgers schedule: 3 vs. San Diego Padres, 3 vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Neither team has to play on the road, and they each get three games against the scuffling Padres. The difference between the Diamondbacks and Brewers is massive, though -- the former is the worst team in MLB and the latter is the best team in the NL behind the Giants and Dodgers.
The Brewers have already clinched the NL Central and locked themselves into the No. 2 seed in the National League, so how much will they throw at the Dodgers that final series? Right now, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta are scheduled to start the final two games, but they might be on short leashes as Milwaukee lines up its playoff rotation.
It’s hard to see the Giants, who have held the best record in baseball for pretty much the entire summer, finishing worse than 4-2 or 3-3 in these last six games. That means the Dodgers have to be nearly perfect if they want one last shot at avoiding the wildcard situation.