Aside from Monday Night Football, the week belongs to on and there’s another action-packed slate of Major League Baseball games on tap. After a stretch of good baseball over the past few weeks, the Nationals were swept by Philly over the weekend to end their road trip. This week they return home for the Battle of the Beltway against the Baltimore Orioles while I’ve highlighted three other massive series with playoff implications to monitor this week. The Orioles and Twins postseason hopes are dwindling but the White Sox might be salvaging their season with manager Tony LaRussa out with health issues. The Yankees look to be back on track and the Mets are once again 1.5 games up on the Braves. There’s still some time left in the season, but the end is nigh. Who is going to make a run down the stretch?
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 90-50 (AL West Leaders)
2. New York Yankees 85-56 (AL East Leaders)
3. Cleveland Guardians 73-65 (AL Central Leaders)
4. Tampa Bay Rays 78-60 (Wild Card #1, 5.5 GB in AL East)
5. Seattle Mariners 79-61 (Wild Card #2)
6. Toronto Blue Jays 78-61 (Wild Card #3)
Baltimore Orioles 73-67 (5.5 GB in Wild Card)
Chicago White Sox 72-69 (2.5 GB in AL Central, 7 GB in Wild Card)
Minnesota Twins 69-70 (4.5 GB in AL Central, 9 GB in Wild Card)
1. Los Angeles Dodgers 96-43 (NL West Leaders)
2. New York Mets 89-52 (NL East Leaders)
3. St. Louis Cardinals 83-58 (NL Central Leaders)
4. Atlanta Braves 87-53 (Wildcard #1, 1.5 GB back in NL East)
5. Philadelphia Phillies 78-62 (Wildcard #2)
6. San Diego Padres 77-64 (Wildcard #3)
Milwaukee Brewers 75-66 (8 GB back in NL Central, 2 GB in Wildcard)
Three Series to Watch
1. Rays (78-60, 2nd AL East) at Blue Jays (78-61, 3rd AL East)
Monday, 7:07: Cooper Criswell (0-1, 20.25 ERA) vs Jose Berrios (10-5, 5.23 ERA)
Tuesday, 1:07 (MLB Network): Jeffrey Springs (7-4, 2.54 ERA) vs TBD
Tuesday, 7:07: TBD vs TBD
Wednesday, 7:07: Drew Rasmussen (10-4, 2.57 ERA) vs Ross Stripling (7-4, 3.03 ERA)
Thursday, 3:07: TBD vs Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.31 ERA)
This is the only series this week that I’ve highlighted that’s more than two games and boy, is it a big one. Not only does this 5-game series have an impact on the AL playoff seeding, but the Yankees and Orioles will be looking on anticipation as each of those teams hope to gain ground in the AL East and AL Wild Card races, respectively. The Rays swept the Red Sox last week and then beat the Yankees in Game 1 of their series over the weekend to get within 3.5 games of first place in the division, then dropped the next two to lose the series and fall back to 5.5 games behind the boys in pinstripes. The Orioles were just 2.5 games out of the Wild Card race last week when they hosted the Blue Jays for four games, but Toronto took care of business at Camden Yards and took two of three to break open their Wild Card lead a bit. They now lead the Orioles by 5.5 games in the Wild Card and now just trail the Rays by a half game and the Yankees by 6 games.
It’s going to be a busy week for these two teams with no off days and a doubleheader on Tuesday. Blue Jays ace Alek Monoah will pitch in one of those two games and I’d honestly expect Yusei Kikuchi, who was recently moved to the bullpen following Ross Stripling’s return from injury, to make a spot start in the other game. The Rays have already announced that Jeffrey Springs will pitch the afternoon game on Tuesday but have yet to announce starters for either Tuesday night or Thursday night. Rays ace Shane McClanahan, who has been injured for the last two weeks, could return for Thursday night’s game, which would be a massive boost with the Blue Jays going with Kevin Gausman that day.
The Rays already got a massive boost prior to this past weekend when Wander Franco returned to the lineup after a few months away with injury. In their lone win over the Yankees, Wander Franco and outfielder Randy Arozarena were hitting 2nd and 3rd in the Rays lineup and combined to go 6-10 with 4 doubles and all 4 RBIs as the Rays won 4-2. In total, Wander Franco went 4-11 with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs in three games since his return. That being said, I’d expect Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette to be named the AL Player of the Week after going 16-32 with 5 home runs and 13 RBI last week as Toronto went 5-2 over the Orioles and Rangers. If he continues to stay hot, the Blue Jays are going to finally look like the team we all expected them to look like before the season.
Tuesday’s afternoon game will be on MLB Network and all five will be available to be watch on MLBtv.
2. Brewers (75-66, 2nd NL Central) at Cardinals (83-58, 1st NL Central)
Tuesday, 7:45: TBD vs Jordan Montgomery (8-3, 3.08 ERA)
Wednesday, 7:45 (FS1): Corbin Burnes (10-6, 2.93 ERA) vs Adam Wainwright (10-9, 3.33 ERA)
On Friday, August 5th, the Brewers and Cardinals were tied atop the NL Central standings and it looked like we were in for quite the race to end the season. Just over a month later, on September 12th, the Cardinals hold a commanding 8 game lead over the Brewers for the division with 22 games to go for both teams. Even if the Brewers manage a sweep in these two games, a 6 game deficit with 20 games to go is just about insurmountable. The NL Wild Card, however, is a much more manageable goal. They are just 2 games behind the Padres and catching them isn’t out of the question.
This is their last series in St. Louis for the season, and the Cardinals have their two best pitchers on the mound in Jordan Montgomery and Adam Wainwright. Montgomery, acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees, has been a revelation for the Cardinals. He’s gone 5-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 7 starts for the Redbirds since coming over and looks to continue that on Tuesday night against a Brewers team that isn’t known for its offensive abilities. Veteran Adam Wainwright will get the ball on Wednesday against Brewers ace Corbin Burnes in what could be a very fun pitching matchup to watch. Wainwright has had a really good season, but in September he’s gone back-to-back starts of only 5 innings and giving up 4 earned runs in each start. He’ll hope to end that cold streak against the Brew Crew.
NL MVP favorite Paul Goldschmidt has cooled down of late and his longshot chance at a National League Triple Crown has gotten even longer as he’s been overtaken in the batting title race by the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman. He remains in third with 35 home runs, two behind NL leader Kyle Schwarber of the Philadelphia Phillies and he is tied with 109 RBIs with the Mets’ Pete Alonso. The chance is still there, but he’ll need another big hot streak to get there.
Wednesday’s game between Burnes and Wainwright will be a national broadcast on FS1 while Tuesday’s game will be available as usual on MLBtv.
3. Padres (77-64, 2nd NL West) at Mariners (79-61, 2nd AL West)
Tuesday, 9:40 (MLB Network): Yu Darvish (13-7, 3.31 ERA) vs Logan Gilbert (12-5, 3.23 ERA)
Wednesday, 4:10 (MLB Network): Mike Clevinger (5-6, 4.13 ERA) vs Luis Castillo (2.81 ERA)
The Padres finished off a 3-3 week by losing yet another series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Padres are now 4-21 against their rivals over their last 25 meetings, which is insane. They’re just 2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card race and a 4-game series against the Diamondbacks in Arizona isn’t a gimme. Meanwhile, the Mariners are looking really good in their quest for their first playoff berth since 2001. They just took two of three from one of the National League’s best in the Atlanta Braves, and are safely 6 games ahead of the Orioles in the AL Wild Card Standings.
The Padres are the most at risk team to miss the playoffs of the teams currently in playoff positions. They are scuffling offensively and now they have to face the Mariners’ best two pitchers in Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo. Yes, they counter with Yu Darvish on Tuesday, but they still need to score runs to support him. Juan Soto is hitting just .151 with 2 homers in his last 22 games but has 0 extra base hits in the last twelve. And that’s while batting in front of Manny Machado. Josh Bell has finally gotten his average for the Padres over the Mendoza Line at .205, but he’s been terrible as a Padre as well, and that’s to say nothing of Josh Hader. A team that had World Series aspirations after acquiring those three and Bradon Drury on August 2nd are now just desperately trying to secure a playoff spot here on September 12th.
Since Mitch Haniger returned for Mariners on August 6th, Seattle is 22-11 and comfortable in the AL Wild Card. Ty France and AL Rookie of the Year contender Julio Rodriguez continue to hit, while Eugenio Suarez swatted his 30th home run of the season over the weekend. The Mariners are legit and will end their postseason drought. They could sweep this two-game series at home against the scuffling Padres.
Both games will be available on MLB Network and MLBtv.
The Rest of the Games
Orioles (73-67) at Nationals (49-92)
Tue 7:05, Wed 7:05
The Nationals stretch of good baseball came to an end over the weekend though they kept all three games within 3 runs against the Phillies in the City of Brotherly Love. The Orioles had a terrible week at Camden Yards, going first losing three of four to the Blue Jays and two of three to the Boston Red Sox. They have now fallen 5.5 games back in the Wild Card and remain a long shot for the postseason. The Nationals will not have to face former pitcher Austin Voth in this two game series but they will have to face Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells.
Angels (61-79) at Guardians (73-65)
Mon 6:10 (MLBN), Tue 6:10, Wed 1:10 (MLBN)
The Guardians bounced back this week after going 5-1 against the Royals and Twins. They maintain a 2.5 game lead over the White Sox and a 4.5 game lead over the Twins. They have a chance to put the division away over the next 11 days with nine games against the Twins and White Sox. But first they’ve got the Angels in town and need to take care of them first. It could be a difficult challenge as both Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale are out injured and their inexperienced replacements pitch on Monday and Tuesday for the Guardians. Mike Trout has been on a tear recently and had a stretch where he hit a homer in six straight games.
Astros (90-50) at Tigers (54-86)
Mon 6:40, Tue 6:40, Wed 1:10
The Yankees might be back on track so the Astros have to keep an eye on the American League standings moving forward to ensure they get the #1 seed for the playoffs. They’re currently 5.5 games ahead of the Bronx Bombers and a three game series against Detroit should help them maintain that lead. AL Cy Young contender Justin Verlander will likely not pitch in this series, but could be back this weekend when the Astros play the Oakland Athletics.
Pirates (51-88) at Reds (56-82)
Mon 6:40, Tue 12:35, Tue 6:40, Wed 12:35
A series between two terrible NL Central teams as the Pirates try to stay ahead of the A’s and Nationals for MLB’s worst team.
Cubs (58-82) at Mets (89-52)
Mon 7:10, Tue 7:10, Wed 7:10
The Mets were in second place in the NL East for a short time at the beginning of the weekend, but rebounded against the Marlins to regain a 1.5 game lead over the Braves after Atlanta lost their series in Seattle. Max Scherzer is still on the IL for a little longer, but Jacob deGrom pitches on Tuesday for the Mets as they look to hold off the Braves.
Dodgers (96-43) at Diamondbacks (66-73)
Mon 9:40, Tue 9:40, Wed 9:40 (MLBN)
The Diamondbacks were wreaking havoc all over the place against playoff hopeful teams but then couldn’t win their series over the Rockies in Colorado over the weekend. Ace Zac Gallen’s scoreless streak was snapped on Sunday against the Rockies after 44.1 innings on shutout baseball. He still got the win and improved to 12-2 with a 2.50 ERA on the year. The Dodgers once again took care of business against the Padres, taking two of three in San Diego to improve their record to an incredible 21-4 against the Padres over their last 25 meetings.
Braves (87-53) at Giants (67-73)
Mon 9:45 (MLB), Tue 9:45, Wed 3:45
The Braves are currently 3-2 on their West Coast road trip but have to be kicking themselves after a crazy series in Seattle over the weekend where they lost two of three capped by an incredible 9th inning of baseball in the series finale on Sunday. Now they head to San Francisco trailing the Mets by 1.5 games to face the scuffling Giants. NL Rookie of the Year favorite Spencer Strider goes for the Braves on Monday, while Giants ace Carlos Rodon pitches on Wednesday in the finale, which could prove a difficult challenge for the Braves if they look to win the series or sweep that day.
Phillies (78-62) at Marlins (57-82)
Tue 6:40, Wed 6:40, Thu 6:40
Man, it’s good to be home if you’re the Phillies. After a disastrous West Coast road trip, the Phillies returned home and pummeled the Marlins and Nationals to go 5-1 and remain 3.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card standings. The bad news for the Phillies in this series is that they’ll have to face NL Cy Young favorite Sandy Alcantara.
Yankees (85-56) at Red Sox (69-72)
Tue 7:10 (TBS), Wed 7:10
The Red Sox love just hanging around. They remain just under .500 after taking two of three in Baltimore over the weekend, and they’ll be looking to play spoiler against their archrivals this week. Just when the Yankees needed to play them the most, the cursed Twins came to Yankee Stadium last week and helped the Bronx Bombers get back on track. After taking three of four over the Twins, the Yankees took two of three crucial games against the Tampa Bay Rays to regain a 5.5 game lead in the AL East. They are also just 5.5 games back of the Astros for the American League’s #1 seed.
Royals (57-84) at Twins (69-70)
Tue 7:40, Wed 7:40, Thu 7:40
After being swept at home by the Guardians, the Twins might be cooked. They’re now 4.5 games back in the division behind both the Guardians and White Sox.
Athletics (51-90) at Rangers (60-79)
Tue 8:05, Wed 8:05
This series doesn’t matter except that the Athletics are just 2 games ahead of the Nationals for the MLB’s worst team, so go Rangers?
Rockies (61-80) at White Sox (72-69)
Tue 8:10, Wed 2:10
The White Sox are 9-3 since Tony LaRussa left the team August 30th and are just 2.5 games behind the Guardians in the AL Central. White Sox ace Dylan Cease looks to overtake Verlander for the AL Cy Young and will start for Chicago on Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies.