A crucial NL wild-card showdown between the Pirates and Cubs is this week's must-see series for SI.com's Watchability Rankings.
Want to know which series, pitchers and players you should try to get tickets to see this week? SI.com's Watchability Rankings will give you the lowdown on the must-see games for the week ahead, including the best pitching matchup and the hottest hitter. Here are our picks for the week of Sept. 21.
All stats and standings are through Sunday, Sept. 20.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Pirates and Cubs are both locks to clinch playoff spots. But will Pittsburgh or Chicago host the National League Wild-Card Game that will see one of these two NL Central rivals get bounced from the postseason? That'll be up for grabs this week when the Bucs head to the North Side to take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Chicago bolstered its chances to take the first wild-card spot and likely ruined the Pirates' division hopes last week by taking three of four from Pittsburgh at PNC Park. Can the Pirates get some revenge and lock up home-field advantage for the Wild-Card Game in the process in this weekend set?
Others To Watch
Angels vs. Astros, Sept. 21–23: Los Angeles is on the outside looking in for both the AL West and the wild card, but the Angels can up their chances at either significantly with this series against the wild-card leading Astros.
Indians vs. Twins, Sept. 22–24: Cleveland is furiously trying to make a playoff charge, as the team is four games back of the second wild-card spot. The Twins, meanwhile, will try to hold off the Indians while restoring their own postseason chances.
Rangers vs. Astros, Sept. 25–27: This weekend series will very likely decide the fate of the AL West, which the Rangers currently lead by just 1 1/2 games after last week's four-game sweep in Arlington.
Giants vs. Athletics, Sept. 25–27: The Bay Bridge Series is renewed this weekend, and while neither the Giants nor A's will be in the playoff picture, this series could feature a throwback matchup on the mound of former teammates Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.
Pitching Matchup To Watch: Chris Sale vs. Justin Verlander, Sept. 23
Raise your hand if you saw this coming in spring training: Verlander has a higher ERA+ and lower ERA than Sale this season. Granted, the differences are miniscule (Verlander's ERA+ is 114, Sale's is 112; Verlander's ERA is 3.46, Sale's is 3.47), but it speaks to the amazing turnaround that Verlander has undergone this year. He's been especially great down the stretch; since his ERA hit a woeful 5.05 on Aug. 4, he's allowed just 12 earned runs in his next 57 1/3 innings over eight starts. That's in stark contrast to Sale, who has been torched over the last month: 20 runs allowed (14 earned) over his last 23 1/3 innings.
Hitter To Watch: Bryce Harper
Forget the NL MVP conversation, which has been over for weeks; the Nationals' 22-year-old rightfielder is simply having one of the greatest seasons of all time. Thanks to a scorching .519/.576/1.111 line last week, including five homers in seven games, Harper is now up to a ridiculous .343/.470/.674 line, all of which are tops in baseball. His 41 homers lead the NL, his 10.2 Wins Above Replacement is far and away tops in the majors (Mike Trout is second at 8.2), and his 206 OPS+ is only the 50th season ever above 200 for a hitter who has qualified for the batting title. You can catch Harper's history-making season in action against the Orioles and Phillies all week at Nationals Park.