Unsettled playoff field just one question still to be answered
It has been 25 weeks since Opening Day and 2,330 games have been played. There is just one week and 100 games remaining but several questions still have yet to be answered. These are the most pressing:
The Giants enter Monday with a half-game lead on the Padres and a 4 1/2 game edge on the Rockies in the NL West. Barring a miracle, the Rockies won't win the division. The only way for Colorado to win it outright is for each of the following to happen: 1) It has to win all seven of its remaining games; 2) The Cubs (.452 winning percentage) have to sweep four games from the Padres; 3) The Diamondbacks (.410) have to sweep three games from the Giants; 4) The Padres have to win two out of three games from the Giants. The Rockies possible path to forcing a one-game tiebreaker is similarly unlikely. They have an elimination number of just three behind the Giants and four behind the Padres, meaning any combination of Colorado losses and wins by the teams they're chasing that equal those numbers will eliminate the Rockies for good.
The Giants and Padres are tied in the loss column and, given their series next weekend in San Francisco, each controls their own destiny. San Diego holds the advantage in the weekly starting pitching schedule as its best pitcher this season,
San Francisco is tentatively slated to start
Though the Giants have the advantage of hosting the Padres for the final three-game set, they've struggled against their Southern California rivals, as San Diego has won 10 of 15 meetings thus far, including four of six in AT&T Park.
Whoever finishes as the runner-up in the NL West has the upper hand on the Braves for the wild card. At the moment, the Padres lead the Braves by one half-game while the Rockies are four games out. Atlanta's curious inability to beat the Nationals -- an 8-10 record in the season series, including a 2-4 mark in September -- has left them a game behind both the Giants and Padres in the loss column.
Each of the past three seasons have featured a one-game tiebreaker to determine the final postseason entrant. This year it may not be as simple as two teams playing for one spot, the way it was in 2007 (Rockies beat Padres to win NL wild card), 2008 (White Sox defeat Twins to win AL Central) or 2009 (Twins top Tigers to win AL Central). To wit:
• If two NL West teams are tied for first and both are guaranteed of a postseason spot, the division champion will be the team with the better head-to-head record and the other team will be the wild card.
• If two teams are tied atop the NL West and the Braves also have the same record: the two NL West teams would play a tiebreaker with the team with the better head-to-head record having home-field advantage. The winner claims the division title while the loser would then play the Braves in a one-game tiebreaker for the wild card.
• If three teams finish tied for first in the NL West, each club would be grouped as A, B or C. Again, head-to-head record is used to determine who slots where, but with a catch: teams get to choose their own slot based on head-to-head record. Team A would host team B on Monday and the winner of that game would host Team C on Tuesday to decide the division champion.
The Rangers (AL West) and Twins (AL Central) have clinched their divisions while the Rays (seven games up on the Red Sox with seven games remaining) and Yankees (six and a half up on Boston with seven remaining) are all but in. Now what?
Tampa Bay is a half-game ahead of New York in the AL East and Minnesota for the best record in the AL. Because teams can not face a division rival in the first round, the AL East winner will likely draw the Rangers, who are 87-68, at least four games worse than the other AL playoff teams; the wild card will face the Twins.
The Yankees seem almost hesitant to pass the Rays in the division -- manager
The Rays have a light remaining schedule -- three vs. the Orioles; four at the Royals -- and the tiebreaker over the Yankees, given their 10-8 record against them this season. (New York travels to Toronto for three and then to Boston for three.) If Tampa Bay holds on, it'll likely play the Rangers, against whom the Rays are 4-2 this year.
The Phillies clinched a playoff berth Sunday and both teams have a magic number of one to wrap up their respective division titles, but whom will they face? The Braves, Giants and Padres -- the three teams fighting for two playoff spots -- and the Reds are all separated by just one game. The Phillies, who at 93-63 are five games better than any other NL team, would have to suffer an epic collapse not to lock up the league's best record. That means they will start the playoffs at home, facing the wild card if it comes from the NL West or, if the Braves claim the wild card, then whoever has the worst record of the Reds or the West winner.
One thing is sure: Everyone is hoping to draw the Reds. Cincinnati has a losing record against all possible NL playoff participants. It is 1-4 vs. the Padres; 2-5 vs. the Phillies; 2-3 vs. the Braves; 3-4 vs. the Giants.
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