New manager Joe Girardi. Year two of Bryce Harper’s megadeal. J.T. Realmuto is a free agent after the season. Zack Wheeler was added to the rotation. Top prospect Alec Bohm is up. Andrew McCutchen got extra time to heal his ACL with the season being delayed. Aaron Nola is back in frontline form.
Get this: The St. Louis Cardinals have only played 50 games. The Minnesota Twins have played 55. Everyone else is in between. And yet, the season ends in less than a week.
Oh, and now 16 teams out of a total of 30 in Major League Baseball make the playoffs. Three all-or-nothing teams really stand out to me, though.
The craziness of the 2020 season has been quite enjoyable to this point and it’s only beginning. We started the year saying we were ready to embrace the chaos, and that continues to be the case. It’s been great and will continue to be.
As such, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see how many teams are playing for something this week. It’s far more than in years past, obviously. Aside from the jockeying for seeds, there are several teams looking at all-or-nothing scenarios.
The Marlins enter the week as a five-seed, but have seven games remaining against the Braves and Yankees. A bad week could send them home. The Reds and Brewers are tied at .500 and could land anywhere from 5-8 or out. The Blue Jays and Astros should hold on, but neither are fully out of the woods just yet.
The defending NL Central champs were in the NLCS last season. It might be the last year for both Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Jack Flaherty looked like a young ace last year. Paul Goldschmidt is back in prime form at the plate.
And yet, eight games in seven days — including five against the Brewers — could bury them.
And yet, they are clinging to a half-game lead for the seven seed over three teams. So many scenarios leave them out. Realmuto is hurt and Harper is now also banged up.
|Do they just toy with the Padres? The two NL West titans have squared off in three series. The Padres won the first game in the two three-game series, only to see the Dodgers win the final two both times. In the four-game series, the Padres won the first two and the Dodgers took the last two. This possibly only interests me, but these are my power rankings, so back off.||—||38-16|
|The path is clear for the one seed, though it doesn’t quite mean nearly as much this season. What a bummer, right? #2020! Then again, I’m not sure the Trop gives the Rays a huge advantage (they are 17-9 at home and 19-9 on the road this year) while they avoid raucous road crowds, unlike any other year.||4||35-19|
|The last time the Padres went to the playoffs, they had Mike Piazza and Trevor Hoffman. I bet many reading this didn’t even remember Piazza played for them!||1||34-20|
|Heading into the season, surely the cautiously optimistic view here was the White Sox would look like a playoff team and make the postseason for the first time since 2008. They’ve accomplished that. At this point, don’t they want more, though?||—||34-19|
|How about the rejuvenated Jake Lamb with a change of scenery? The A’s just have a knack, don’t they?||—||33-20|
|Look, at some point they are just going to have to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. Might as well rip off that band-aid, right?||3||33-22|
|A tale of *three* seasons? The Yankees started 16-6, then went 5-15 and since that woeful stretch they’ve gone 10-1.||3||31-22|
|An MVP would be a nice boost for what looks like is becoming a fringe Hall of Fame candidacy for Freddie Freeman. He’s hitting .346/.464/.634 right now.||1||31-22|
|Believe it or not, the Cubs have the best bullpen ERA in baseball in September. Then again, that won’t matter in the playoffs if they go into one of their signature offensive lulls.||1||31-22|
|The eight-game losing streak is over. They’ve now taken three of four, but it was against the Tigers. Keep en eye on this coming four-gamer against the White Sox to see if we can get a handle on this team heading toward the playoffs.||1||29-24|
|I don’t know how much this means in such a weird season, but the Astros are just 4-13 against teams above .500 right now (they went 2-1 against the Giants, who are exactly .500).||2||27-26|
|The Brewers took care of business against the Royals to get back to .500 for the first time since they were 11-11. In all likelihood, they can’t take the NL Central, but they have all the control over second place. How? They play the Reds three times followed by a five-game series with the Cardinals this week. Time to take care of the more difficult business.||6||26-26|
|This is probably the team to watch closest this week for purposes of maximum chaos, because not only do they have eight games in seven days, but they might have to play the not-yet-rescheduled doubleheader against the Tigers on Monday.||1||26-24|
|I’ve been saying all year that the Reds need to show us they can win on a consistent basis. They’ve now won seven of eight and occupy a playoff position. Can they keep going?||5||27-27|
|Too bad the playoffs don’t use doubleheaders. The Marlins are 8-4 in such games and 20-21 when they are forced to play just one game per day.||1||28-25|
|At 7.15, the Phillies have the worst bullpen ERA in baseball and it’s not really even close if we exclude non-contenders. Everyone should be rooting for them to make the playoffs. Late-inning playoff comebacks are amazing entertainment.||1||27-26|
|Fortunately for the Jays, the AL only has eight real contenders, because otherwise a six-game losing streak timed so poorly would have cost them dearly.||8||27-26|
|Brandon Crawford was one of the worst everyday hitters in baseball last year. This year he’s hitting .283/.252/.483. Brandon Belt has also had a huge turnaround. He’s near a 1.000 OPS after OPSing .742 last year. The offense as a whole is dramatically exceeding expectations and that’s why they are right in playoff contention.||2||26-26|
|Congratulations, Mets fans, on being freed from the Wilpons.||1||24-29|
|The Mariners couldn’t stay within a series of the Astros, but a sweep in this three-game series makes things workable. Still, this one feels over.||3||23-30|
|One of the few positives of this disaster of a season has been starter Antonio Senzatela. He has just one start left and he’s sitting with a 3.13 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Stellar work from the still-young righty.||—||23-29|
|Not only do Nationals fans still have the last full-season World Series title until we get a 2021 champion (if it’s even a full season), but the Nats were 19-31 through Saturday this season. That means their fans can claim they just needed more time this season. Win-win in D.C.||1||20-32|
|The Royals are actually 19-20 when they don’t face a Chicago team. They should file some sort of grievance against the city and proclaim they are actually in the AL playoff hunt.||1||21-32|
|J.D. Martinez homered Sunday, bringing his season line up to .205/.287/.373. I’ll go out on a limb and guess he doesn’t use his opt-out.||4||20-34|
|Jared Walsh is on quite the run, notably with the average and power. A former 39th(!)-round pick appears to have arrived. Good stuff.||2||24-31|
|The Orioles have lost 10 of 13 and last place is once again in reach.||2||23-31|
|Miguel Cabrera hit his 484th career homer on Sunday. The way things have been going the last few years, you never know, but we should see number 500 next year.||2||22-30|
|Madison Bumgarner has a 7.36 ERA, but he did throw five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts on Sunday. Perhaps that’s something to build on as the D-Backs look ahead to 2021.||1||20-34|
|Of the many, many things that make baseball great, how about stuff like this one? Kyle Gibson carried a 6.14 ERA into a start against a likely playoff team last week and threw a four-hit shutout.||3||19-35|
|With four against the Cubs, the Pirates have a chance to play spoiler. Does that motivate pro athletes? I’d like to inject a bunch with truth serum to see the real answers.||—||15-38|