Breaking down all the MLB playoff scenarios on the regular season’s final (?) day


Welcome to the most potentially chaotic day in baseball history. It’s easy to fall prey to the moment and hyperbolize, but, no, what Sunday has in store is legitimately mad. When Major League Baseball laid out its 60-game season and expanded its postseason to eight teams per league, even this — an afternoon in which the playoff fates of 12 teams hang in the balance — would have seemed far-fetched.

A five-way tie for four playoff spots? It could happen.

A team that can secure the No. 2 seed in its league … or drop all the way to the No. 7 seed? Yup. That’s possible, too.

Enough small talk. You’re here because you want to mainline the anarchy of it all. We’ll start with the American League because if this were to begin with the National League, you might run away. All 44 permutations of what could happen there is a lot to handle on an empty stomach.

Let’s first establish the postseason format in 2020.

• There are eight playoff spots in each league.

• The division winners receive the Nos. 1-3 seeds, based on their records and tiebreakers.

• The second-place teams from each division receive the Nos. 4-6 seeds, again in order of record.

• The two best teams in the league that did not finish in first or second place receive the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds, even if their records were superior to the second-place teams from other divisions.

• The Nos. 1-4 seeds will host best-of-three wild-card series at home. The winners will advance to quasi-bubble settings. The winners of the 1-8 and 4-5 matchups in the AL will play at Petco Park in San Diego and the 2-7/3-6 winners face off at Dodger Stadium. In the NL, the 1-8/4-5 series is at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and the 2-7/3-6 series is at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The AL winners will face off in San Diego and the NL victors in Arlington, where the World Series also will be held.

In the AL, the only locked-in seeds with one day left in the season are Tampa Bay at No. 1, because it owns the league’s best record, and Houston at No. 6, because it is guaranteed to be the worst second-place team. While it’s been relatively clear for upward of a month who the eight AL playoff teams would be, the craziness with seeding — and all the different matchups it could mean — lends Sunday much of its intrigue.

Look at the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jays have surged to one game back of the New York Yankees — and that one game could make an immense difference.

• If the Yankees win Sunday, they lock in the No. 5 seed.

• If the Yankees lose Sunday and Toronto loses, New York still is the No. 5 seed.

• If the Yankees lose and Toronto wins Sunday, New York drops to the No. 8 seed and the Blue Jays leapfrog from eighth to fifth.

Yes, the possibility of a Yankees-Rays wild-card series is extremely real. That can’t be terribly appealing to New York, which is 2-8 against Tampa Bay this year. Nevertheless, the Yankees are turning to rookie Clarke Schmidt in his first major league start Sunday. He’ll face the Miami Marlins and veteran Jose Urena. (Much more on Miami later.) The Blue Jays are going against the fading Baltimore Orioles, with veteran Tanner Roark, who has a 7.01 ERA this season, starting for Toronto.

The four remaining AL teams — Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago and Cleveland — will settle into the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7 slots. The Twins need to contend with a very motivated Cincinnati team, the A’s are facing the crafty Marco Gonzales with Seattle, the White Sox are trying to prevent a precipitous free fall from the top seed a week ago to seventh and the Indians are just aiming to play at home. Here’s what can happen.

Minnesota Twins (36-23 record)

Potential seeds: 2, 3 or 4

• If they win (or if they lose, the White Sox lose and the A’s lose): No. 2 seed

• If they lose, the White Sox lose and the A’s win: No. 3 seed

• If they lose and the White Sox win: No. 4 seed

Oakland Athletics (35-24)

Potential seeds: 2 or 3

• If they win, the Twins lose and the White Sox lose: No. 2 seed

• All other scenarios: No. 3 seed

Chicago White Sox (35-24)

Potential seeds: 2, 3, 4 or 7

• If they win, the Twins lose and the A’s lose: No. 2 seed

• If they win, the Twins lose and the A’s win: No. 3 seed

• If they win and the Twins win: No. 4 seed

• If they lose and Cleveland loses: No. 4 seed

• If they lose and Cleveland wins: No. 7 seed

Cleveland Indians (34-25)

Potential seeds: 4 or 7

• If they win and the White Sox lose: No. 4 seed

• All other scenarios: No. 7 seed

Got all that? Good. Because here comes the fun stuff. Remember that talk about the five-way tie. Well, if the Milwaukee Brewers beat the St. Louis Cardinals, the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds lose, and the San Francisco Giants win, all five of them are exactly .500. The Marlins already are in the playoffs because they’re the second-best team in the NL East. The Reds have secured a spot because they’re in a strong position with tiebreakers.

And the Cardinals, who will end Sunday with 58 games played because of their COVID-shortened schedule, would have to fly to Detroit to play at least one and maybe both of their makeup games because they could have an impact on playoff positions — and theoretically knock St. Louis out of the postseason altogether.

Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned the Philadelphia Phillies, who sneak into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed in four of the 44 possible permutations for the rest of the NL season.

Only 30 of the possible scenarios will play out on Sunday. The remaining ones tease the possibility that St. Louis will go to Detroit to play the Tigers. If the Cardinals are to do that and win the first game of their doubleheader, they’ll stop playing right there. It will lock them into the playoffs. If the Cardinals lose the first game but win the second, they’re still in. There are only seven of 44 scenarios in which they do not make the playoffs

St. Louis Cardinals (29-28)

Potential seeds: 5, 6, 7, 8 or out

• If they win: No. 5 seed (by percentage points)

• If they lose to the Brewers, the Giants win, the Reds lose, the Marlins lose and they win Game 1 of a potential doubleheader Monday: No. 5 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win, the Reds lose, the Marlins win and they win Game 1 Monday: No. 6 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win, the Reds win, the Marlins win and they win Game 1 Monday: No. 7 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win, the Reds lose, the Marlins lose, and they lose Game 1 but win Game 2 of the doubleheader: No. 8 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win, the Reds lose, the Marlins win and they lose Game 1 but win Game 2: No. 8 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win, the Reds win, the Marlins win and they lose Game 1 but win Game 2: No. 8 seed

• If they lose and the Giants lose: No. 8 seed

• If they lose, the Giants win and they lose twice Monday: Out

In other words: The Cardinals are rooting hard against San Francisco. Speaking of.

San Francisco Giants (29-30)

Potential seeds: 8 or out

• If they win and the Brewers lose: No. 8 seed

• If they win and the Cardinals lose Sunday and twice Monday: No. 8 seed

• All other scenarios: Out

Philadelphia Phillies (28-31)

Potential seeds: 8 or out

• If they win and the Giants and Brewers lose: No. 8 seed

• All other scenarios: Out

Milwaukee Brewers (29-30)

Potential seeds: 7, 8 or out

• If they beat the Cardinals, the Giants lose and the Reds lose: No. 7 seed

• If they win, the Giants win and the Cardinals lose Game 1 of the doubleheader Monday: No. 7 seed.

• If they win and the Giants lose: No. 8 seed

• If they win, the Giants win and the Cardinals win Game 1 Monday: No. 8 seed

• If they lose, the Giants lose and the Phillies lose: No. 8 seed

• All other scenarios: Out

All in all, from the 44 scenarios, here is the breakdown that illustrates what strong favorites the Cardinals and Brewers are to give the NL Central half of the league’s playoff field (joining the Cubs and Reds):

• In 37 of 44 scenarios, St. Louis is in

• In 33 of 44 scenarios, Milwaukee is in

• In 14 of 44 scenarios, San Francisco is in

• In 4 of 44 scenarios, Philadelphia is in

The Reds and Marlins, in the meantime, are playing for seeding … which could mean the difference between playing the Atlanta Braves (No. 2), Chicago Cubs (No. 3) and San Diego Padres (No. 4).

Cincinnati Reds (30-29)

Potential seeds: 5, 6 or 7

• If they win, the Marlins lose and the Cardinals lose: No. 5 seed

• If they win, the Marlins win and the Cardinals lose: No. 6 seed

• If they lose, the Cardinals lose and the Giants lose: No. 6 seed

• If they lose, the Cardinals lose, the Giants win and the Cardinals lose both doubleheader games: No. 6 seed

• All other scenarios: No. 7 seed

Miami Marlins (30-29)

Potential seeds: 5 or 6

• If they win and the Cardinals lose: No. 5 seed

• If they lose, the Reds lose, the Giants lose and the Cardinals lose: No. 5 seed

• If they lose, the Reds lose, the Giants win, the Cardinals lose Sunday and the Cardinals lose Game 1 Monday: No. 5 seed

• All other scenarios: No. 6 seed

In total, of the 44 permutations, the seeding breaks down as follows:

• Miami: No. 5 seed (22 times), No. 6 seed (22)

• St. Louis: No. 5 seed (17), No. 6 seed (2), No. 7 seed (5), No. 8 seed (13)

• Cincinnati: No. 5 seed (5), No. 6 seed (20), No. 7 seed (19)

• Milwaukee: No. 7 seed (20), No. 8 seed (13)

• San Francisco: No. 8 (14)

• Philadelphia: No. 8 (4)

On a day of such madness, it’s nice to have some guarantees. And thankfully, amid the chaos, they do exist and bring at least a little bit of balance to a day where all you want to know is what this all means. For the following teams …

• If the Cardinals win, they’re in and the NL No. 5 seed.

• If the Yankees win, they’re the AL No. 5 seed.

• If the Twins win, they’re the AL No. 2 seed.

• If the Brewers win, they’re in.

The Giants and Phillies need some help to get where they want to be. Same with Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, Oakland, Toronto and the White Sox as they try to claw up the standings.

First pitch for Yankees-Marlins is 3:05 p.m. ET. Over the next 10 minutes, 13 other games — 11 with a playoff team or a team with a shot at the postseason — will begin. It will be a mad dash to season’s end, to this unfamiliar playoff format, to a month of baseball plenty of people thought would never happen.

The postseason is almost here. But first comes Sept. 27, 2020: baseball bedlam.



Source link