Both college football and the NFL are back but baseball is still going on and there’s another action-packed weekend of Major League Baseball on tap. The Nationals are playing good baseball and haven’t lost any of their last three series. This weekend they head to Philly while I’ve highlighted four, yes four, other massive series with playoff implications to monitor this week. Three teams in the AL Central are within 1.5 games of each other for the division lead, while the AL East and NL East are suddenly in play for the Braves and Rays, respectively. What games are you going to watch?
Current Playoff Picture
This year will be the first year with expanded playoffs as the field as gone from 10 teams to 12. Gone are the one game Wild Cards, replaced with a Wild Card Round that pits the #3-6 seeds in each league in a best of 3 series with the higher seed hosting all three games of the series. The top 2 teams in each league will get a bye into the Divisional Round.
1. Houston Astros 88-49 (AL West Leaders)
2. New York Yankees 83-55 (AL East Leaders)
3. Cleveland Guardians 70-65 (AL Central Leaders)
4. Tampa Bay Rays 77-58 (Wild Card #1, 4.5 GB in AL East)
5. Seattle Mariners 77-60 (Wild Card #2)
6. Toronto Blue Jays 76-60 (Wild Card #3)
Baltimore Orioles 72-65 (4.5 GB in Wild Card)
Minnesota Twins 69-67 (1.5 GB in AL Central, 7 GB in Wild Card)
Chicago White Sox 70-68 (1.5 GB in AL Central, 7 GB in Wild Card)
1. Los Angeles Dodgers 94-42 (NL West Leaders)
2. New York Mets 87-51 (NL East Leaders)
3. St. Louis Cardinals 81-57 (NL Central Leaders)
4. Atlanta Braves 86-51 (Wildcard #1, 0.5 GB back in NL East)
5. San Diego Padres 76-62 (Wildcard #2)
6. Philadelphia Phillies 75-62 (Wildcard #3)
Milwaukee Brewers 73-65 (8 GB back in NL Central, 2.5 GB in Wildcard)
Four Series to Watch
1. Rays (77-58, 2nd AL East) at Yankees (83-55, 1st AL East)
Friday, 7:05: Drew Rasmussen (9-4, 2.70 ERA) vs Frankie Montas (5-11, 3.79 ERA)
Saturday, 1:05 (MLB Network): Corey Kluber (10-7, 4.00 ERA) vs Jameson Taillon (12-4, 3.94 ERA)
Sunday, 1:35 (MLB Network): TBD vs TBD
The Yankees have been terrible since the end of July but luckily got the Twins just when they needed them the most. The Twins were 13-51 at both the old and new Yankee Stadium since 2002 and that trend continued as the Twins dropped three of four in New York. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Rays swept the Red Sox and are now just 4.5 games behind the Yankees for the AL East crown.
Because of the postponement of this past Tuesday’s Twins/Yankees game causing a doubleheader on Wednesday, Gerrit Cole will likely not pitch Sunday on short rest. Domingo German also pitched Wednesday and Nestor Cortes Jr. went Thursday so they won’t be available to start this weekend either. We will most likely see the Yankees go to Clarke Schmidt in the finale on Sunday while the Rays will likely go with either an Opener or Luis Patino. The Rays held the Yankees to just 3 total runs last weekend (2 of those runs were Aaron Judge homers) but that performance should be tough to duplicate at Yankee Stadium.
The good news for the Rays is that stud youngster Wander Franco is set to make his return from a wrist injury he suffered in July and could provide the Rays with a massive boost offensively. The Yankees offense was better in the series against the Twins but overall, with the way the lineup is struggling, why are teams even pitching to Aaron Judge? He currently sits at 55 home runs as he eyes Roger Maris’s Yankee record of 61. But with the rest of the lineup unable to hit, why not walk him and force someone else to beat you? We’ll see how the Rays decide to handle the AL MVP candidate.
Saturday and Sunday’s games will be on MLB Network and all three are available to be watched on MLBtv.
2. Guardians (70-65, 1st AL Central) at Twins (69-67, 2nd AL Central)
Friday, 8:10 (AppleTV+): Cal Quantrill (11-5, 3.55 ERA) vs Dylan Bundy (8-6, 4.34 ERA)
Saturday, 7:15: Tristan McKenzie (9-11, 3.18 ERA) vs Chris Archer (2-7, 4.47 ERA)
Sunday, 2:10: Shane Bieber (9-8, 2.96 ERA) vs TBD
The Guardians are clinging to a 1.5 game lead over the Twins and White Sox after a horrendous stretch where they went 2-8 against the Mariners and Orioles. They rebounded to take two of three from the Royals but now they’ve got the Twins on the road in a massive series that will play a part in the AL Central race. The Twins dropped a series to the White Sox last weekend and then got beat around in the Bronx before stealing a game. They’re 2-5 since last Friday and lucky to be this close in the division. Meanwhile the White Sox are playing really well all of a sudden and get to play the A’s while these two duke it out in the Twin Cities.
If we’re looking at the pitching matchups, the Guardians have to be favored in all three games. And because of the postponement of this past Tuesday’s Twins/Yankees game causing a doubleheader on Wednesday, rookie Joe Ryan will not be pitching Sunday on short rest for the Twins. So it’ll be interesting to see how the Twins counter 2020 AL Cy Young Winner Shane Bieber, who has quietly had another really good season. Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy have eaten innings but haven’t been particularly impressive this year while the young starters for the Guardians in Tristan McKenzie and Cal Quantrill have been fairly impressive. I think the Guardians take two of three based on the pitching alone.
Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez, and Jose Ramirez need to step up in this series for the Guardians if they want to remain atop the AL Central standings. The Twins are missing Byron Buxton but Carlos Correa is Carlos Correa and Jose Miranda has been a pleasant surprise.
Friday’s series opener will be a national broadcast on AppleTV+ while Saturday and Sunday’s games will be available as usual on MLBtv.
3. Dodgers (94-42, 1st NL West) at Padres (76-62, 2nd NL West)
Friday, 9:40: Dustin May (1-2, 3.94 ERA) vs Mike Clevinger (5-6, 3.96 ERA)
Saturday, 8:40: Julio Urias (15-7, 2.29 ERA) vs Blake Snell (6-8, 3.73 ERA)
Sunday, 4:10 (MLB Network): Andrew Heaney (2-2, 2.94 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (9-6, 3.16 ERA)
Here we are again, highlighting what should be a much more competitive division rivalry in the Dodgers and Padres. They just faced off last week at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers took two of three to improve their record to 19-3 against the San Diego Padres over their last 22 meetings. The Padres won a series midweek over the pesky Arizona Diamondbacks while the Dodgers took two of three from their archrivals in the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers are cruising to the National League’s top seed, but the Padres are just 3 games up on the Brewers in the NL Wild Card race. They need to win this series much more than the Dodgers do.
Friday night’s pitching matchup should be pretty even, with Dustin May continuing to build himself up returning from a serious injury, while Mike Clevinger will be looking to rebound after the Dodgers roughed him up for 5 runs in 3.1 innings last Sunday. But Saturday’s matchup favors Julio Urias and the Dodgers but Joe Musgrove going on Sunday for the Padres could put them in a decent position to win this series. But to do so, the Padres will have to execute and play better offensively.
Josh Hader has been a bust and Fernando Tatis is suspended. Juan Soto is hitting .232 with 3 home runs and 6 RBIs since the Padres acquired him and he had to face boos from home fans this past week after continuing to struggle at the plate. He left Wednesday’s game after being hit by a pitch, but is expected to be back in the lineup on Friday. Josh Bell is hitting .193 as a Padre after hitting .301 for the Nationals prior to the trade. Brandon Drury is faring slightly better, but is still only hitting .220 with a .672 OPS after hitting .274 with a .855 OPS for the Cincinnati Reds. The fans and media were raving about these moves and right now they are not looking good. The Padres are still going to be in the playoff hunt but these new guys struggling combined with mediocre pitching likely means an early playoff exit if they get there.
Sunday’s game should probably be on ESPN, but it’s not. Instead you can see it on MLB Network or MLBtv. All three games are available on MLBtv.
4. Braves (86-51, 2nd NL East) at Mariners (77-60, 2nd AL West)
Friday, 9:40 (AppleTV+): Charlie Morton (7-5, 4.01 ERA) vs Robbie Ray (12-8, 3.45 ERA)
Saturday, 9:10 (MLB Network): Max Fried (13-5, 2.48 ERA) vs George Kirby (6-3, 3.15 ERA)
Sunday, 4:10: TBD vs Marco Gonzales (10-13, 3.98 ERA)
The Braves are just a half game behind the Mets as they march on in quest of their 4th consecutive division title. They have a tough challenge on the road in Seattle as they hope to overtake the Mets this weekend. The red hot Mariners have cooled a bit after losing a home series to the White Sox during the week, but are still 5 games ahead of the Orioles in the AL Wild Card race. The Braves are 3-0 on their West Coast road trip and looking to improve that record while the Mets face the lowly Marlins and avoid facing NL Cy Young favorite Sandy Alcantara. This is the only non-division matchup we’re highlighting this week and yet seems to be the most intriguing.
The Braves won’t have Spencer Strider pitching this weekend, but they won’t be facing either Logan Gilbert or Luis Castillo versus the Mariners this weekend. Max Fried is facing talented rookie George Kirby on Saturday, while Kyle Wright should be scheduled for Sunday’s finale. Wright has 17 wins and a 3.23 ERA, but got roughed up on Tuesday in Oakland and gave up 8 runs to the woeful A’s. I would still expect to see him start on Sunday.
For some reason, none of these three games are being broadcast on national tv, but are still available to seen on MLBtv.
The Rest of the Games
Nationals (49-89) at Phillies (75-62)
Fri 7:05, Sat 6:05, Sun 1:05
The Nationals are 7-4 over their last 11 and now just one game stands between them and the Oakland Athletics for the worst team in MLB. Patrick Corbin gets the start on Friday night in Philly after back-to-back quality starts. Top catching prospect Israel Pineda is joining the team and the Nationals will look to continue their good play and wreak some havoc on the playoff race. The Phillies returned from a disastrous 1-5 West Coast road trip to take two of three from Miami but their Wild Card lead is just 1.5 games over the Brewers. Wouldn’t it be great if the Nationals could play spoiler against our division rivals this weekend?
White Sox (70-68) at Athletics (50-88)
Fri 8:40, Sat 4:07 (MLBN), Sun 4:07
The White Sox took the opening game of this series on Thursday night by a score of 14-2. After taking two of three from Seattle, is this where they finally take the division lead? Cleveland is in Minnesota for three games and the Guardians only lead the Sox and Twins by 1.5 games. If the Guardians and Twins beat each other up, the White Sox have a golden opportunity with three more games against the American League’s worst team in the Oakland A’s. You’ll be able to watch this matchup on MLB Network on Saturday afternoon.
Giants (65-72) at Cubs (57-80)
Fri 4:05 (MLBN), Sat 2:20, Sun 8:08 (ESPN)
For some reason, this billing between the Giants and the Cubs are getting some top billing in limited national broadcasts this weekend. On Friday afternoon, they will be on MLB Network. And on Sunday night, for some inexplicable reason, the Giants and Cubs will be the primetime ESPN game. I’d recommend skipping and watching Tom Brady and the Buccaneers play the Dallas Cowboys on NBC.
Cardinals (81-57) at Pirates (50-86)
Fri 6:35, Sat 7:35, Sun 1:35
The Cardinals split a four game series with the Nats at home, so they’ll be wary of struggling against another awful team in the Pirates. Jack Flaherty will make his second start following his return from injury, while the Pirates will avoid both Jordan Montgomery and Adam Wainwright in this series, Albert Pujols still needs 5 home runs to reach 700, while Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado will be looking to pad their stats as they compete for the NL MVP award.
Mets (87-51) at Marlins (56-80)
Fri 6:40, Sat 6:10, Sun 1:40
The Mets are in a bit of trouble. They have seen a commanding lead in the NL East disappear to just a half game over the surging Atlanta Braves. The Braves have a tough matchup on the road in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, while the Mets go on the road to Miami. Max Scherzer is on the IL and Jerry Seinfeld is blaming Edwin Diaz’s trumpet walk-in song as the reason for their collapse. The pressure is on.
Red Sox (67-71) at Orioles (72-65)
Fri 7:05, Sat 5:05, Sun 1:05
The Orioles have lost four of five all of a sudden and find themselves 4.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the final AL Wild Card spot. They need a big weekend over the Red Sox to stay in the race, and they’ll like their chances with Austin Voth pitching Friday and Kyle Bradish going on Sunday. All three games will be on MASN if you are in the Nats/O’s broadcast area.
Blue Jays (76-60) at Rangers (59-77)
Fri 8:05 (MLBN), Sat 7:05, Sun 2:35
The Blue Jays look like they’re finally getting in a groove. Bo Bichette hit 4 home runs in the Orioles series and is looking poised for a big month. They currently hold a 4.5 game lead over the Orioles for the final AL Wild Card spot. The Rangers are terrible and trending downwards after firing their manager and GM in August.
Angels (60-77) at Astros (88-49)
Fri 8:10, Sat 7:15 (FOX), Sun 2:10
The Astros are going to cruise to the American League’s top seed, but they’ll have to face Shohei Ohtani on Saturday night on FOX, which should be a fun match. Jose Urquidy is going for the Astros.
Tigers (52-85) at Royals (56-82)
Fri 8:10, Sat 7:10, Sun 2:10
This series is between two teams fighting at the bottom of the AL Central and AL standings. Not much to talk about here.
Reds (55-80) at Brewers (73-65)
Fri 8:10, Sat 7:15, Sun 2:10
The Brewers are 8 games back of the Cardinals and should not be looking at the division title at this point. That dream is dead. But they are just 2.5 games behind the Phillies for the final NL Wild Card and have three against the terrible Reds at home this weekend. A sweep could be huge if the Nationals give them some help in Philly.
Diamondbacks (65-71) at Rockies (59-79)
Fri 8:40, Sat 8:10, Sun 3:10
The Diamondbacks lost two of three to the Padres but it wasn’t easy for San Diego at home. The Diamondbacks have been outstanding lately and have been wreaking havoc on playoff hopefuls. Zac Gallen has an incredible scoreless streak that he hopes will continue in Colorado on Sunday.