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The week ahead in MLB playoff races: September 5-11

Though overt drama is limited, a lot of specifics are still up in the air as teams trod into mid-September

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As we’ve mentioned in these pages before, the new playoff format has resulted in a pervasively strange feeling so far this season. With six playoff spots available in each league and an array of competitive teams not much higher than that, most of what’s going on is jockeying for postseason position, rather than postseason spots. Still, a lot of races have the potential for substantial reshuffling. Let’s take a look.

NL East

Current status: Mets (85-50) lead Braves (84-51) by 1.0 games.

Mets’ upcoming schedule:

  • @Pit: Walker v. Keller (53%)
  • @Pit: deGrom v. Wilson (71%)
  • @Pit: Bassitt v. Oviedo (60%)
  • @Mia: Scherzer v. Cabrera (58%)
  • @Mia: Carrasco v. Lopez (49%)
  • @Mia: Walker v. Luzardo (50%)
  • Sum win probability: 3.41

Braves’ upcoming schedule:

  • @Oak: Wright v. Irvin (62%)
  • @Oak: Strider v. Waldichuk (65%)
  • @Sea: Morton v. Ray (51%)
  • @Sea: Odorizzi v. Kirby (43%)
  • @Sea: Fried v. Gonzales (60%)
  • Sum win probability: 2.81

Both the Mets and Braves head out on the road for the week, with the Braves playing one fewer game on the West Coast. The Braves also have to visit a contender, while the Mets face some non-pushover pitching matchups but a bad team overall in Miami. Overall, it seems that by next Monday, these two teams will keep pace with the Mets picking up a half-game due to the schedule, but as we just saw with New York losing a series at home to the Nats, it’s baseball and no one really knows what kind of crazy stuff might happen.

Last 2 NL Wild Card Spots

Current status: Padres (74-61) lead Phillies (73-61) by 0.5 for fifth seed; Brewers (70-63) trail sixth seed by 2.5 games.

  • Padres: 3 vs. ARI, 3 vs. LAD; sum win probability = 3.33
  • Phillies: 3 vs. MIA, 3 vs. WSN; sum win probability = 3.75
  • Brewers: 3 at COL; 2 vs. SFG; 3 vs. CIN; sum win probability = 5.01

The Phillies have by far the easiest slate this week, but the Brewers have a compressed schedule that they can use to really force chaos. It looks like right now, the Brewers might have Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta face Jakob Junis and Sean Hjelle in their home doubleheader against the Giants, which could give them a big boost. If the Padres go 4-2 given that they have to face the Dodgers, and the Brewers go 7-1, things might get feisty.

The Phillies appear to be in line to face Sandy Alcantara in their finale with the Marlins, but shouldn’t have a tough time of it otherwise. Then again, they’ve lost six of seven, with three of those losses coming in games where they were favored. Why are we letting any of these teams into the postseason, again?

AL East and Wild Card Spots

Current status: Yankees (80-54) lead Rays (74-58) by 5.0; Blue Jays (73-59) by 6.0; and Orioles (71-62) by 8.5 games. Mariners (76-58), Blue Jays, and Rays are separated by 1.0 games each for the three Wild Card spots, with the Orioles 2.5 games out of the last spot.

  • Yankees: 4 vs. MIN; 3 vs. TBR; sum win probability = 3.87
  • Rays: 3 vs. BOS; 3 at NYY; sum win probability = 3.21
  • Blue Jays: 4 at BAL; 3 at TEX; sum win probability = 4.20
  • Orioles: 4 vs. TOR; 3 vs. BOS; sum win probability = 3.01
  • Mariners: 3 vs. CHW; 3 vs. ATL; sum win probability = 3.13

The Yankees will have a decent chance to ensure they stop frittering away the division with a favorable home series against the Rays over the weekend, though they do have to face contenders all week. The Blue Jays seem most primed to make a move here with essentially seven easy matchups (the worst is Mitch White vs. Kyle Bradish, which doesn’t seem bad at all), though the Orioles have thrived this season by defying expectations and odds, meaning that the four-game set these teams kick off on Monday could be a very important one. Mariners aren’t in any real danger of missing the playoffs at this point, given that the AL East teams have to play each other a fair bit in September, but could see their position as the top Wild Card seed erode this week if the Blue Jays take advantage of their easy pitching matchups.

AL Central

Current status: Guardians and Twins (68-64) tied and 2.0 games ahead of White Sox (67-67)

  • Guardians: 3 @ KC; 3 @ MIN; sum win probability = 3.25
  • Twins: 4 @ NYY; 3 vs. CLE; sum win probability = 3.27
  • White Sox: 3 @ SEA; 4 @ OAK; sum win probability = 3.76

This division is clearly the Sick Man of MLB this year, and not much about it looks like it’s going to get clarified this week, even with the two frontrunners set for a weekend showdown. The pitching matchups in that series (Quantrill/Bundy, McKenzie/Archer, Bieber/Ryan) aren’t really lining up to give either team an advantage, and the Twins do get an extra game relative to the Guardians to try and pull ahead. The White Sox won’t go away this week, either, given that they get to play Oakland while the frontrunners battle over the weekend.

Non-Braves games to watch (assuming pitching matchups hold):

  • Monday/Labor Day: White Sox @ Mariners, Lance Lynn v. Marco Gonzales. Team quality-wise this is a mismatch, but Marco Gonzales has been bad while Lance Lynn has been horribly unlucky (101 FIP-, 82 xFIP-). If the White Sox are going to stay relevant, they need to take advantage of matchups like this when they get them, even against better teams.
  • Wednesday: Twins @ Yankees, Sonny Gray v. Domingo German. The only favorable matchup for the Twins in their four-game set in New York. If they don’t win this one, they could be at a sizable disadvantage going into the weekend set with the Guardians.
  • Thursday: Marlins @ Phillies, Sandy Alcantara v. Kyle Gibson. Both starters here got trashed in their most recent outings, but it’s also the biggest impediment (other than the Phillies themselves) to the Phillies taking a lead for the fifth Wild Card spot in the NL.
  • Friday: Reds @ Brewers, Nick Lodolo vs. Jason Alexander. The Brewers have the benefit of an easy schedule to get back into playoff position this week, but this matchup could be a problem given that Lodolo has been quite good, and Alexander really hasn’t.
  • Saturday: Guardians @ Twins, Triston McKenzie vs. Chris Archer. Probably the most even matchup overall in this series (McKenzie has been much better than Archer but the Twins are at home) and likely the fulcrum point for how the division bounces going into the next week.
  • Sunday: Mets @ Marlins, Taijuan Walker vs. Jesus Luzardo. Walker has been bad since late July, Luzardo has been mostly solid. This is the Mets’ worst matchup of the week, and could be the Braves’ best chance to pick up a game, perhaps even the game they need to actually take the division lead.

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