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The path to the postseason

Breaking down every series to watch, and every team’s path to the playoffs heading into the last week of the season.

Blue Jays played the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre in Toronto Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Most of the MLB playoff picture is set, with four of the six divisions wrapped-up mathematically, and two others with strong favorites. Going into the last week of the season, we wanted to lay-out all the scenarios, to ensure we all have a positive viewing experience, tracking games that impact the races we care most about, or those that have the most interesting storylines.

We’ll break this down by division...hold onto your hats, it’s going to be a wild week.

American League East

The Rays have runaway with the division, and are very well positioned for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a baseball game next to a smelly fish tank, get your Tropicana Field tickets now!

Tampa finishes the season against the Astros and the Yankees. If they beat Houston in one game, they’ll clinch home field, even if get swept, they’ll likely finish the season with a better record than Houston anyway.

American League Central

The White Sox have had a strong year despite their myriad of injuries and underperformance, particularly trade deadline acquisition closer Craig Kimbrel. That said, they’re the only team in the division above .500, and are cruising towards a matchup with the Astros in the first round of the playoffs.

American League West

Oakland and Seattle have been on Houston’s heels for the better part of a month, but time’s running short, and this is going to be the Astros division to claim. With a magic number of two, the ‘stros don’t have to do much to seal their playoff destiny — hosting the White Sox in a five-game ALDS.

American League Wild Card

Ah, here’s where it gets interesting. The Yankees vaulted into the top position in the AL Wild Card with the sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway this weekend, giving them a one game cushion over Boston. The Red Sox are in the second slot, and are one game ahead of the Blue Jays, who are currently on the outside-looking-in to the playoffs.

The Mariners and Athletics are still in-the-hunt, but one will likely fall out, as they play each other this week.

Here’s what’s remaining on these teams’ schedule

New York: Controls their own destiny. The Yankees not only are in first place going into Monday’s action, but they play the Blue Jays for three games Tuesday through Thursday, and the Rays for three games this weekend. Tampa will be resting starters, and preparing to host the AL Wild Card winner, but the Jays will be playing for their playoff lives.

Boston: The Red Sox have by-far the easiest schedule of any of the contenders. They go south to play the last-place Orioles for three games Tuesday through Thursday, and finish the season with a three-game set against the last place Nationals. The Sox should at-worst go 4-2, but Boston does have a habit of disappointing when it matters most (see this weekend’s Yankees series for example).

Toronto: Despite being out of the playoff picture going into the week, Toronto is well-positioned to jump right back into the race. They have an off-day on Monday, then host the Yankees for three critical games prior to hosting the lowly Orioles. The Jays have their three best starters going up against the Yankees, and a series win puts them right back into the hunt, while a sweep will position them well going into their weekend series against the Orioles.

Seattle /Oakland: It’s a longshot that either of these two teams overtakes two of the three teams above, but it’s not mathematically impossible. Seattle hosts Oakland for three games, starting on Tuesday. If one team sweeps, they improve their odds, but it’s still a long-putt. If the series is split, both these teams are likely to be out of contention by the time they reach next weekend. For what it’s worth, Seattle is hosting the Angels over the weekend, the A’s go to Houston, where they’ll likely face a resting team that is preparing to take-on the White Sox in the ALDS.

Team Entropy Scenario, AL Edition

There is the ever-small possibility that five teams in the American League finish the season with a 90-72 record.

For this to happen, Oakland would have to win two of three against Seattle, and go 5-1, the Mariners would have to go 4-2, Toronto 3-3, Boston 2-4 and the Yankees 1-5, with that one win coming against Toronto. Will it happen? Absolutely not. But can it happen?? Hell yes!

National League East

Only one team is coming out of the National League West, and while the Phillies are chugging along at the Braves’ heels, it’s Atlanta that’s best-positioned to win the division. The Phillies travel to Atlanta for three critical games, and need a sweep to keep their playoff hopes alive. They end the year against Miami, though at that point, they may be out of the running. This is Atlanta’s division to lose.

Atlanta is scheduled to only play 161 games this season, as a game against the Rockies that was postponed a couple weeks ago will only be played if necessary. It’s not impossible that the Braves have to play that game, and then play the Phillies to determine who wins the NL East.

National League Central

This division has been decided for months. In fact, the Brewers ran away with this division so far, so early, that the 16-game winning streak the Cardinals have put together hasn’t helped them come close to Milwaukee (they currently sit seven games out of first place). The Brewers will host the winner of the East in the NLDS.

National League West / Wild Card

The two best teams in the NL also happen to be in the same division. The Giants have been in first place for nearly the entire season, with the Dodgers generally a game or two behind.

The winner of the National League West, either the 102-win Giants, or the 100-win Dodgers will clinch home field in the NL playoffs, and host the winner of the wild card game in the NLDS.

The loser, will host the one-and-done wild card game against the Cardinals.

Presently, it’s the Giants division to lose. With six games left, they have a full two game lead on LA. San Francisco plays lowly Arizona and free-falling San Diego to end the season. Provided they can muster a 4-2 record, even if the Dodgers go 6-0 against the Padres and Brewers, the division will be the Giants. There’s little room for error if LA is going to overtake San Francisco in the last week of the season.

Team Entropy Scenario, NL Edition

As mentioned above, it is possible that the NL East will come down to a game between Atlanta and Colorado (of all teams), which would effectively be a ‘game 162’ possibly en route to a game 163 between Philly and Atlanta, if Philly and Atlanta are tied in the standings after that game.

For this to happen, the Phillies would have to end the season with the same number of wins OR the same number of losses as the Braves, with Atlanta either in a position to take the division, lose the division, or tie the Phillies with a win or loss in that Colorado game. If both teams have identical records after that Colorado game, voila, game 163.

Similarly, if the Giants and Dodgers end up with the same record, we’d get them battling in a game 163, with the loser having to play the Cardinals, at home, in the NL Wild Card game, the next day.

Good times!


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano