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Down the stretch they come: Here’s what to watch out for as the MLB season hits final run


Not every game can be Padres-Dodgers, but we can hope.

Not every game can be Padres-Dodgers, but we can hope.
Image: Getty Images

We have less than a month and a half before the MLB postseason starts on October 5. We know most of the teams that will be involved. The White Sox are pretty much locked in as either the two- or three-seed in the American League. The Brewers could potentially make a run at the top seed in the National League, but with how well the Giants and Dodgers are playing, that seems unlikely. However, there are still some divisional and Wild Card races going down.

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Even with the Toronto Blue Jays struggling to maintain pace with the rest of their division, the AL East is still muddled with uncertainty. The Red Sox have fallen from first to third and the Yankees are playing their best baseball of the season — all while the Rays have stayed consistent, and find themselves hanging on to that top spot. Meanwhile, the NL East is still up in the air between the Braves and Phillies, and the second NL Wild Card spot is being fought over like the last fry in the basket by teams like the Reds and Padres. With those division titles and playoff berths still up for grabs, here are the series to watch in the final quarter of the regular season.

LAD @ SD: August 26 & SD @ LAD: September 10-12, 28-30

I’m sure everyone has seen something on Twitter or Instagram about the Dodgers-Padres game last night. Every time these two teams take the same field, they’ve given us unforgettable games. The final game of that series goes down tonight. While the Dodgers are fighting to climb up to the top spot in the NL West, the Padres are clinging on to their playoff hopes. After leading the race for the NL’s second Wild Card spot for most of the season, the Reds snuck up quietly and stole the Padres position from right under their nose. Now, the Padres are scrambling to recover. However, having lost eight of their last ten, the Friars are not in the best position. Their schedule does get easier after today, though, as seven of their next ten games are against struggling teams (the Angels and Diamondbacks). However, the Reds’ next 18 games after tonight are all against teams under .500.

As for the other two series listed that aren’t going on as we speak, they are placed practically at the end of the regular season. I don’t know who is in charge of scheduling at Major League Baseball headquarters, but they need a raise: six games that will ultimately determine whether or not the Padres, a team so hyped during the preseason, will reach their preseason goal. They’ve got their backs to the wall and the ground under them only gets smaller down the final stretch. They’ve got their work cut out for them, but they also have the talent to make it happen.

NYY @ OAK: August 26-29

The Yankees and Athletics are on two opposite sides of the same coin. One team, Oakland, has been consistent all year long. They’ve coasted above .500 since early on in the season and were sitting comfortably in second place in the AL West, just riding out the remainder of the season oscillating between that first and second Wild Card spot. Not a care in the world. Nothing could ever knock them off their Wild Card pedestal…

Right?

Wellll… then, the New York Yankees had to go and win 11 in a row and 19 of 23 since the start of August. Now, the Athletics are a game and a half out of the second Wild Card spot. If the Athletics drop three or four games in this series, not only would their chances at a Wild Card spot drop substantially — what with the Yankees gaining two-to-four games on them — but their hopes of catching the Astros would take a nosedive as well. The A’s have gone 2-8 in their last ten, and now get the hottest team in baseball. There’s never been a better time to change your recent fortune.

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MIL @ SF: August 30-September 2

Do you know how important finishing as the top seed in either conference is? Not as important as it is in the NFL where you get a whole bye for finishing with the best record, but it’s still drastically beneficial. Since the inception of the AL & NL Wild Card games in 2012 (not including 2020 for obvious reasons), only three of the 16 Wild Card-winning teams have gone to the World Series. Having to go into a series with your ace still recovering is a pretty serious disadvantage that both the Giants and Brewers would love to take advantage of.. While it’s likely that your ace will be able to start Game 2, and maybe Game 5 if the series comes down to that, the opposing team’s ace will get Game’s 1 and 4, two of the most pivotal junctures in a best-of-5 series. It’s unlikely your team will even get to Game 5 if their ace is solid enough.

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The Brewers are currently 4.5 games back of the Giants for the top seed in the National League. This series is four games, meaning that if both teams maintain the same record through August 30, the Brewers would have a chance to pull right up to the Giants. Obviously, the Dodgers would still be a concern for Milwaukee, seeing as how LA is currently two games ahead of the Brewers, and the Dodgers have won 15 of their last 17. So pulling ahead of both the Dodgers and Giants is probably just a pipe dream, but the Brewers will at least have the opportunity to make it happen.

LAD @ SF: September 3-5

The Dodgers will likely be able to gain some ground on the Giants after their series with the Brewers. After that, Los Angeles will have a chance to take the division for themselves for the first time in a long time. These two squads have played 16 games against one another this season and are an even 8-8, although the Giants have taken five of the last seven contests. The Dodgers-Giants games might not bring us the same pulsating energy that the Dodgers-Padres games have brought us this year, but if you’re someone who wants to see a race unfold, this will be the series. They will not play each other again for the remainder of the season after this, so it’s only time either team gets to control their own destiny in this division will be when they play each other for this three game series in San Francisco.

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BOS @ TB: August 30-September 2 & TB @ BOS: September 6-8

The Rays have owned Boston recently, with Tampa Bay taking seven of their last nine against the BoSox. With Boston now on the outside looking in on both the Yankees and Rays for the AL East crown, as well as fighting to stay in a playoff position with Oakland out west, the Red Sox have all the motivation they need to beat their division rival.

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The Red Sox and Rays may not be the most flashy rivalry in baseball, but six games over a 10-day stretch will absolutely shape the postseason. The Red Sox need to get out of this funk they’ve been in because the Rays aren’t going to take them lightly, and just a few missteps could lead to the Red Sox making like Toronto and falling almost entirely out of the playoff picture.

PHI @ NYM: September 17-19

The Mets didn’t just drop the ball at the trade deadline. They dropped the ball off a cliff onto the toe of a dragon that had been sleeping for thousands of years and is now ready to eradicate humanity. They’re also just finishing up an absolute gauntlet where they had 13 straight games against either the Giants or Dodgers. The Mets are down, but not out though. For the remainder of the season, they have just one series left against the Phillies though.

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Despite falling under .500, the Mets are only seven games out of first place, currently. While the Mets won’t have much opportunity to gain ground on their divisional foes directly, when they do have those opportunities, they need to make the most of them. As for the Phillies, they have one of the easiest remaining schedules known to man. They could probably take this series lying down, drop all three games, and still feel very good about their chances in the division. However, Bryce Harper has been playing out of his mind lately and has a serious case for NL MVP. As much as it shouldn’t matter in MVP voting, whether or not the Phillies reach the postseason will play a part in Harper’s case. With the Mets being one of their most difficult series in the remainder of the season, a few victories would go a long way in catching up to Atlanta.

HOU @ OAK: September 24-26 & OAK @ HOU: October 1-3

What was once a very close divisional race is turning into a runaway title for the Astros. The Athletics are that team that is going cold at the worst possible time, and as noted, are about to face the hottest team in the league in the Yanks — and will probably find themselves down in the AL West by six to eight games by Monday of next week. The A’s don’t have an easy schedule either, meaning they’d have to gain ground on the Astros and then sweep Houston in both series if they want any chance at a division title. If the A’s are willing to settle for a Wild Card spot, they still have Seattle to worry about, who they’ll face seven times in their last 13 games. Huh, that sounds like a pretty important set of games too, doesn’t it?

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SEA @ OAK: September 20-23 & OAK @ SEA: September 27-29

The Mariners are the Giants of the American League. Nobody knows how they’re doing this well. They didn’t make an effort to improve themselves at the trade deadline. In fact, they might have worsened their team overall by trading away Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero to the Astros. But now that they’re here, they might as well try to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.

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I don’t believe the Mariners have the pitching to compete with the Athletics down the stretch. They are also the best team (record-wise) to have a negative run differential, which doesn’t inspire much hope. Only nine teams in MLB history have ever reached the playoffs while posting a negative run differential, and three of them came during COVID-shortened 2020. Of the remaining six, this year’s Mariners (-56) are on pace to blow the all-time record (-42 by the 2005 Padres) out of the water. That being said, the Mariners are the strangest professional sports franchise to have ever existed, so if any team was going to pull off something like this, I’m glad it’s them.

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