It’s the final weekend of the regular season, and there’s still plenty left to be decided before the playoffs begin Tuesday. One division race still needs to be wrapped up, and three teams are still fighting for the two AL wild-card spots.
Whether you’re trying to keep up with the home-field advantage race or intrigued by the possibility of a Game 163, SI’s final weekend viewer’s guide has you covered. Here are three things to watch for as the 2019 regular season comes to a close.
1. NL Central Race
Miraculously, the Brewers sit just a game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central entering Friday, despite losing MVP Christian Yelich for the season on Sept. 10. Both teams have already clinched a playoff berth—St. Louis on Sunday, Milwaukee on Wednesday—but neither team wants to settle for a single-elimination game against Max Scherzer and the Nationals.
The Cardinals (90-69) still have the edge—if they win two of their three games at home against the Cubs, the Brewers would have to sweep the Rockies in Colorado to force a Game 163 tiebreaker to decide the division. St. Louis has realigned its starting rotation for its weekend series, with Adam Wainwright (14-9, 3.98 ERA) set to start Saturday in place of Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.16 ERA), believing the veteran righthander is the better option to possibly clinch the Central before the final game.
If the division still isn’t decided entering play Sunday, the Cardinals could throw Jack Flaherty (10-8, 2.85 ERA)—whose second-half ERA (0.97) ranks first among starters—to give them their best chance to clinch on the season’s final day. The downside to that, though, is if Milwaukee wins the division Sunday and St. Louis needs to play the one-game wild-card matchup on Tuesday, or the two teams are tied and they need to play a 163rd game, the Cardinals wouldn’t have their ace available.
How manager Mike Shildt elects to use his starting pitchers this weekend, in addition to the excitement in the standings, is something to keep in mind.
The Brewers are no strangers to their current situation. Last season, they won their final seven regular season games to force an extra game at Wrigley Field, which they won. This year’s team has won seven straight—and 18 of its last 20—to pull within a game of first place. If needed, the tiebreaker would be played in St. Louis because the Cardinals won the season series vs. Milwaukee, 10-9.
2. AL Wild-Card Chaos
If you’re like me and love absolute madness, this race is one to watch. A three-way tie for the two wild-card spots was a lot more likely before the Indians lost to the White Sox Thursday night, pushing them two games back of the Rays and three behind the A’s, with three to play. Nevertheless, there’s still a chance for chaos to ensue! Below are the scenarios that would create ties for at least one of the two wild-card spots, and how the various ties would be broken.
A three-way tie would happen if...
• A’s lose their final three games to the 93-loss Mariners in Seattle, AND
• Rays lose two of their three games against the Blue Jays in Toronto, AND
• Indians sweep the Nationals in D.C.
A tie for the second wild-card would happen if…
• Rays lose two games AND the Indians sweep
How they would be settled:
So, this result is unlikely, if only because it’s hard to imagine Oakland losing three straight to Seattle. The Mariners haven’t won three consecutive games against a team above .500 this season. But, if things get wild and all three of the requirements for a three-way tie do occur, the A’s would get the choice to either a) host one of the two other teams Monday night, with the winner advancing to the wild-card game and the loser traveling to play third team, with the winner of that game also advancing to the wild-card game, which would be played Wednesday; b) host the loser of Monday’s game between the Rays and Indians (played in St. Petersburg).
Oakland has the head-to-head advantage over both Cleveland and Tampa, which is why the A’s would get first choice of whether they’d play Monday or Tuesday. Play Monday and they have two chances to advance, with the downside of having to possibly fly across the country twice and playing three days straight. Pick Tuesday and they have to win an elimination game to get into the elimination game, the upside being they’d have a day off to reset their pitching.
If the Rays and Indians are tied, there would be a game Monday night at Tropicana Field to decide the second wild-card, with the winner playing the A’s in Oakland on Wednesday.
3. Home-field advantage
The Astros, Dodgers and Yankees still have a shot at securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Houston (104-55) can earn home-field advantage for the AL postseason bracket either by winning one of its three games against the Mike Trout-less Angels in Anaheim or if New York (102-57) loses one of its games on the road vs. the Rangers. (The Astros went 4-3 against the Yankees this season and would have home-field advantage if they finish with the same record.)
Los Angeles (103-56) already has home-field advantage throughout the NL bracket. To have home-field in the World Series, too, the Dodgers would have to finish the regular season with a better record than the Astros because Houston has a better divisional record than L.A., which would be the tiebreaker if the two finish with the same record.
If the Yankees don’t finish with a better record than the Astros, they can still have home-field advantage in the World Series—should they make it—if they win one more game than the Dodgers this weekend. This would give them the same record, and the Yankees would have the tiebreaker because they won their only series against the Dodgers this year.
Best of the rest
For fans whose teams have little left to play for and a few non-postseason reasons to watch baseball’s last normal weekend, we’ve got you covered with that, too.
• Justin Verlander is six punchouts away from reaching the 3,000 strikeout club. He makes his final regular season start Saturday on the road against the Angels, one of two teams he’s faced this year to average less than one strikeout per inning against him (18 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings). Verlander needs 12 strikeouts to reach 300 this season, which would make he and Gerrit Cole the second pair of teammates to ever strike out that many hitters in the same season—Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson on the 2002 Diamondbacks is the other.
• Pete Alonso needs two more home runs to break Aaron Judge’s all-time rookie record of 52, which he set in 2017. The Mets host the Braves for three games, giving fans a reason to pack Citi Field for one final weekend despite being eliminated: to cheer on the Happiest Man in Baseball. Alonso currently leads the majors with 51 homers, two ahead of Eugenio Suarez of the Reds. Howard Johnson was the last Met to lead the NL in dingers, with 38 in 1991. No Mets player has ever led MLB in homers.
• Hi, Royals fans! We haven’t forgotten you. Jorge Soler needs one homer to match Mike Trout (45) for the most in the AL. If he does, Soler would be the first Royal to lead the league in longballs.
• Cubs fans have something to root for besides playing spoilers this weekend in the NL Central race. Trade-deadline acquisition Nicholas Castellanos has 58 doubles, the most in a season since Todd Helton had 59 in 2000. If Castellanos rips a couple more two-baggers, he’ll be the first player to reach 60 doubles since Hall of Famers Joe “Ducky” Medwick and Charlie Gehringer respectively tallied 64 and 60 in 1936.
• Finally, it’s the last weekend of regular season baseball. Isn’t that reason enough to flick on the tube, listen to the radio or go out to the ballpark for a few hours and bask in the beauty of all that is our glorious game? It should be. Enjoy the weekend.