If you blinked, you may have missed the regular season. Somehow, it's almost over. MLB is barreling toward a postseason like no other–headlined by 16 teams and a new best-of-three wild-card round. Before we get there, let's highlight what to watch for in the final days of the 2020 regular season. SI's MLB experts weigh in.
I will be watching whether the Miami Marlins can hold on to a playoff spot. It is truly a remarkable story. The team that lost 105 games last year was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, has used a franchise-record 60 players–including 18 who never had played in the big leagues before–stepped up at the trade deadline to get the best position player available (Starling Marté), ranks 10th in the league in runs per game, 12th in OPS and 13th in fielding percentage … and yet here it is on the cusp of its third-ever postseason appearance. (The Marlins won the World Series both previous times they qualified.)
They are winning with young starting pitching. Every game but one has been started by a pitcher 28 or younger. We knew we might see surprises in a 60-game season. None have been bigger than the Marlins’ run to the postseason.
Given Commissioner Manfred's recent hint that this playoff structure might become permanent—which could potentially have serious ramifications for the nature of the season—I'm curious about just how much drama these last several days have to offer. My instinct is that there won't be much... which is a bummer. There's some intrigue around who will get the final few spots in the NL, but there's almost none at all in the AL. And since there's no extra incentive to the top slots other than the usual—no byes, and nothing like the opportunity to pick your opponent that the league previously discussed—I'm not sure it'll feel like there's much excitement over, say, whether the Rays or A's will dethrone the White Sox to be No. 1 in the AL. I'd like to be proven wrong! But I'm not sure I will be.
I'm curious to see how these playoff matchups will shake out, specifically any intradivision battles. Will the Giants stick as the No. 8 seed and face off against the Dodgers in a best-of-three series? Will we see the White Sox take on the Indians? The A's and Astros would be fun, too. Unrelated, but I think we've all seen enough of Yankees-Twins.
The NL Central is fascinating, and with no story line more chaotic and consequential over the final 10 days than the Cardinals' schedule. St. Louis has just played four doubleheaders in the 10 days since Sept. 8, and has two more twin-bills between now and the end of the season.
As of yesterday (Thursday), the Cardinals have five games in four days in Pittsburgh, then travel to Kansas City for three games in three days before finishing the season with five in the final four days at home against the Brewers. That's insane, especially because they just played five games in three days at Milwaukee, so 10 of their last 18 games come against the Brewers. Can the Cardinals make it through without burning out? Can Milwaukee put up enough of a fight to win either of the two wild-card spots or win one of the two NL Central berths? Can the Pirates play spoiler for the Cards? This is madness. This is awesome. This is Baseball in 2020.
How will the Yankees look heading into October? After a stretch of 15 losses in 20 games the club now couldn't look better, winning eight in a row entering Friday. It's hard to know what to make of New York, honestly.
What we do know is the Yankees have both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back on the active roster. Gerrit Cole remains the most dangerous arm in the playoffs. Perhaps a turbulent regular season will lead to a smooth playoff run as the team eyes title No. 28.