Previewing MLB season's final week: Playoff races, awards chases, more
- From the chaos of the wild-card races to the battles for the MVP and Cy Young awards to the last days of Vin Scully, here's everything you need to know as the final week of the regular season kicks off.
After an emotion-filled weekend that featured the shocking, tragic death of Jose Fernandez, a stirring Dodger Stadium sendoff for Vin Scully and three division titles clinched, the 2016 season is down to its final seven days. Here’s what’s at stake before we reach the postseason.
Divisions and home-field advantage
When play began on Friday, only the Cubs had clinched their division, but each day of the weekend featured another team popping the champagne corks. On Friday night it was the Rangers, who shook off six perfect innings by the Athletics' Kendall Graveman to rally for three runs and secure their second straight AL West flag. On Saturday, the Nationals beat the Pirates to clinch the NL East, giving Dusty Baker postseason spots as the manager of four different franchises; he joins Billy Martin in that exclusive club. On Sunday, the Dodgers clinched the NL West via Charlie Culberson's 10th-inning–walk-off home run, securing their fourth straight division title in Scully’s final home game. Scully followed that celebration by serenading the Dodger Stadium crowd with a recording of himself singing "The Wind Beneath My Wings,"
The weekend clinches leave only the AL East and Central in play, and perhaps not for long. The Red Sox (92–64) have won 11 straight, lead the Blue Jays (86–69) by 5 1/2 games and have a magic number of two. They're idle on Monday night while the Blue Jays host the Yankees. Starting on Tuesday, the Red Sox visit New York for a three-game series, with the Blue Jays hosting the Orioles for a three-game series. If things aren't wrapped up by then, they will be if the Sox win even one game of their season-ending series against Toronto at Fenway Park. As for the AL Central, the Indians (90–65) lead the Tigers (83–72) by seven games; with a magic number of one, Cleveland can wrap things up with one victory in its four-game series in Detroit.
While we're unlikely to see a reversal in either race—the Baseball Prospectus Odds already have the Indians at 100% to win the division, the Sox at 99.8%—postseason seeding is still at stake. The Red Sox and Rangers (92–64) are tied for the league's top record, two games ahead of the Indians. The Rangers have an easier road ahead than the Sox: They're at home the rest of the way, with three-game sets against a pair of sub-.500 teams in the Brewers and Rays. The Indians, after they visit Detroit, end the regular season with a three-game set in Kansas City, and the Tigers visit the Braves for three.
In the NL, the Nationals (91–64) and Dodgers (90–66) are still battling to see who will have home-field advantage during their five-game Division Series, with the former hosting the Diamondbacks (four games) and Marlins (three games) and the latter traveling first to San Diego and then to San Francisco for a pair of three-game series.
Wild-card races and Team Entropy
Alas, the potential for chaos for the wild cards is dwindling, though the NL teams are more tightly clustered than the AL. The Mets (83–73) have a one-game lead on the Giants (82–74), with the Cardinals (81–74) another half-game back. New York plays a pair of three-game series in Miami and Philadelphia; San Francisco hosts the Rockies and Dodgers for three games apiece; and St. Louis also closes things out at home against the Reds and Pirates, with the former series four games, the latter three. The BP odds are particularly down on the Giants (54.1%) relative to the Cardinals (62.2%) and the Mets (83.6%).
There are still multiple scenarios that could produce tiebreaker games. In the event of a two-way tie involving the Giants, they would be the road team, as they're 3–4 against both the Mets and Cardinals. New York and St. Louis split their six-game season series; home field in that one would be determined by intradivision winning percentage, with the Cardinals' .536 (37–32) trumping the Mets' .514 (36–34). If there's a three-way tie, St. Louis picks first in a Club A/B/C scenario: Club A hosts Club B on Oct. 3 (yielding one wild-card team); Club C hosts the loser on Oct. 4 (yielding the second wild-card team). The Cardinals would almost certainly choose A and the Mets B, leaving the Giants C.
Over in the AL, the Blue Jays (86–69) have a 1 1/2 game cushion in the top spot, ahead of the Orioles (85–71), who themselves are 1 1/2 ahead of the Tigers (83–72), with the Mariners (82–73) now 2 1/2 games out and the Astros (82–74) three. The Yankees (79–76, 5 1/2 back) and Royals (79–77, six back) are still alive, but their elimination numbers are two and one, respectively, and their BP odds are at 0.0%, invisible to the naked eye. For the rest, the odds are 94.6% for Toronto, 64.3% for Baltimore, 26.4% for Detroit, 9.8% for Seattle and 4.8% for Houston.
Ties involving all of these teams are still on the table, with too many to unravel in this space; I'll be back with an Entropy-specific update later in the week to untangle those as needed. For now, bear the head-to-head grid in mind with regards to tiebreakers.
Remaining series that have escaped mention thus far: The Yankees host the Red Sox and Orioles for three-game sets; the Astros host the Mariners for three before traveling to Anaheim for three; and the Mariners wrap things up by hosting the A's for four games.
Individual accomplishments and league leads
We can't fit everything here, of course, but if you've got an eye on individual performances, there's some fun stuff to watch for. Mike Trout has a one-win edge on Mookie Betts (10.3 to 9.3) for the AL Wins Above Replacement lead (Baseball-Reference.com version) and is half a win away from tying his career high, set in 2012. Barring a slump that knocks him below 10.0, he'll finish as the 12th position player with multiple 10-win seasons and the first since Barry Bonds, who reached the plateau three times from 2001 to '04.
Jose Altuve holds a 16-point edge in the AL batting title race—it would be his second win—over both Betts and David Ortiz (.337 to .321), as well as a one-hit edge over Betts (209 to 208). Mark Trumbo holds a three-homer edge over both Brian Dozier and Edwin Encarnacion (45 to 42) and a four-homer advantage over Nelson Cruz (40). Encarnacion leads Ortiz by one in RBIs (125 to 124), with the latter having already set a record for the most runs driven in in a player's final season; he also has the most homers (37) in that category. Trout, Donaldson and Betts are in a three-way race in runs scored (120 for the first two, 119 for the third).
In the NL, Kris Bryant probably has the WAR lead wrapped up, as his 7.5 outdistances Freddie Freeman's 6.4, Nolan Arenado's 6.3 and Corey Seager's 6.2. D.J. LeMahieu has a three-point edge over Daniel Murphy (.350 to .347) in the bating title race, but the latter hasn't played since Sept. 20 and hasn't started since Sept. 17 due to a strained glute. Jean Segura (193 hits) leads LeMahieu (191) and Seager (190) in that race. Arenado has a two-homer edge over both Bryant and Chris Carter (40 to 38) and a 24-RBI cushion over Anthony Rizzo (129 to 104); he would be the league’s repeat leader in both categories.
AL pitching-wise, Corey Kluber has a substantial lead in WAR over Justin Verlander (6.5 to 5.7), and the latter has the league's highest strikeout total (234) ahead of Chris Archer (228) and Kluber (224). Rick Porcello has 22 wins, J.A. Happ has 20; Kluber has two starts remaining to join them, as he has 18. Michael Fulmer has enough innings (155 2/3) at the moment to qualify for the AL ERA lead; his 2.95 leads Masahiro Tanaka (3.07), Porcello and Kluber (both 3.11) and Aaron Sanchez (3.12). All of which is to say that the AL Cy Young race is still up in the air.
Likewise in the NL, where Max Scherzer owns a substantial lead in WAR, with 6.4 to the 5.6 of both Jon Lester and Tanner Roark, and in strikeouts, with 267. Lester now leads in wins (19), one ahead of Scherzer and teammate Jake Arrieta, and he's second to another teammate, Kyle Hendricks, in the ERA race (2.28 to 2.06). Clayton Kershaw has 142 innings and, with what is likely to be only one brief tune-up start ahead of him before the postseason, will fall short of qualifying for the ERA title. But his 1.65 mark—not to mention his jaw-dropping 16.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (168 to 10)—could garner him some Cy Young votes.
Marlins move on from tragedy
The stunning death of Fernandez early Sunday morning led to the cancelation of the day's game between the Marlins and the Braves; that contest won't be made up. In what is certain to be an emotion-filled night at Marlins Park, Miami will host the Mets on Monday at 7:10 p.m.—a game that Fernandez was scheduled to start. No doubt the two teams will pay tribute to the fallen star prior to the game and throughout in some sort of fashion. Via the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer, the Marlins will all wear jerseys with Fernandez’s uniform number, 16, in his honor.
Vin Scully's finale
As noted above, the Dodgers sent Scully off in style in his final home game, but the microphone maestro’s 67-year broadcasting career isn't over just yet: He will work the final three games of the season as the Dodgers visit the Giants' AT&T Park from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. That last date holds special significance for Scully: As he has explained several times in recent weeks, including in a special letter given to fans at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, it will be the 80th anniversary of when he fell in love with baseball by taking pity on the Giants after seeing the linescore of their 18–4 loss to the Yankees in the 1936 World Series. Even with the division title wrapped up, it's certain to be an emotional day, and the Giants may well be battling for a playoff spot. I'll have my own tribute to Scully later this week.