In a normal year, when late March comes around, I try to get invested in the NHL. The regular season is wrapping up and the playoff picture is nearly set save for a handful of seemingly meaningful games. I’ll check the standings on NHL.com, realize I don’t know how to read them, and search for “nhl playoff race.” At which point, I’ll be met with an article that includes a breakdown of what needs to happen for a particular team to make the playoffs, and this usually includes a flowchart more complicated than the one needed to determine enemy movement in Gloomhaven.
After reading through the flowchart, it’s not any clearer what exactly it is I’m supposed to be rooting for. Do I want Team A to win and Team B to tie while Teams C and D lose or is it okay if Team A ties while Teams B and C win and Team D loses? The whole process is so needlessly complicated and boring that I give up and just check back in during the actual playoffs so I can watch Team A get bounced against the highly superior top seed thereby rendering the multi-pronged battles against Teams B, C, and D pointless.
Expanding the playoffs have brought the NHL’s convoluted, meaningless scoreboard watching to MLB. After games finished up on Thursday night, there are still eight teams in the NL that haven’t clinched or been eliminated yet. With three days left in the season, that should be exciting, but instead it’s just confusing.
It’s not just me that can’t wrap my head around the structure. When the Dodgers clinched the NL West on Tuesday night, a lot of the players didn’t realize it.
Dave Roberts: “Truth be told, there were some guys who didn’t know we had a chance to clinch tonight."— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) September 23, 2020
Celebrations have been understandably muted this year, but this wasn’t a product of social distancing. They just didn’t know what was going on.
It’s technically possible the Rockies/Mets could win their last four games while the Phillies, Giants, Brewers, and Mets/Rockies lose all theirs. That probably isn’t happening, so the race for the two Wild Card spots is down to the Reds, Giants, Brewers, and possibly the Phillies. There’s also a chance the Cardinals could slide out of the second central slot.
The Phillies still have a chance at the NL East as they are one game behind the Marlins. The Marlins hold the tiebreaker over the Phillies, so the Marlins need to go 1-2 for Philadelphia to have a shot at the division. Even then, the Phillies would need to sweep the Rays. To win the Wild Card, the Phillies need to win at least two of their games and hope the Giants and Brewers don’t do better than split. Phillies hold the tiebreaker over the Giants and Brewers.
The Giants have a 0.5 game lead on the Phillies and a one game lead on the Brewers. San Francisco has no shot at the division, so they need to hold onto the Wild Card. If they sweep, they’re in. If they get swept, they need everyone else to get swept, too. If they go 3-1, they need the Phillies and Brewers to lose at least one game. Or they need the Brewers to sweep the Cardinals and the Phillies to lose one game. If they split, they need the Phillies to go 1-2 and the Brewers to split. If they go 1-3, they need the Brewers to go 1-3 and the Phillies to get swept.
Things are even dicier in the NL Central because the Cardinals are currently scheduled to play 58 games. If they can clinch the second spot in the Central, they won’t have to play a doubleheader against Detroit. To do that, they’ll need to at least match the Reds in win total while splitting the final four games with Milwaukee. The Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over the Reds so if they finish Sunday with the same number of wins, the Cardinals win the Central.
If the Cardinals finish one or two games behind the Reds or Brewers in wins, they will have to play a doubleheader in Detroit.
The Reds can win the second division outright if they sweep and the Cardinals drop three of four. The Brewers can win the second division if they sweep the Cardinals and the Reds get swept.
Now, there are lots of ways this weekend can shake out, and again, that should be exciting. But aside from trying to keep all the above straight, any excitement generated by this is undercut by the fact that none of these teams are any good. Of the
eight teams in the hunt, the team with the best run differential is the Giants at +7. Only the Cardinals have won at least half their games against .500 or better teams. Whoever wins the eighth seed is going to be a smoldering crater when the Dodgers are through with them.
So, here’s the playoff picture. Convoluted and probably pointless.