MLB playoff push: The five most important series in last week of 2020 regular


We’re now in the final week of the 2020 MLB regular season, and even though time is running out the standings remain wonderfully muddled, especially in the National League. Thanks in part to the expanded 16-team postseason, we’ve got multiple playoff spots still up for grabs, and bear in mind there are no tiebreaker games for 2020. So to set the scene for the possible madness to come, let’s run down the five most important series left on the ever-dwindling regular season schedule. 

These five series will go a long way toward determining the final playoff field.

1. Brewers at Reds, three games, Sept. 21-23

Going into Monday’s slate, the Reds, Brewers, and Giants are all .500 and in essence tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NL. That “in essence” qualifier is quite important. As just mentioned, the compressed 2020 baseball calendar allows for no tiebreaker games, so ties for seeding, division titles, and even final playoff spots will be determined by the following method: 

  1. Head-to-head record (if applicable).
  2. Intradivision record.
  3. Record in final 20 division games (plus one until the tie is broken).

Now let’s take a look at how these tiebreakers currently stand, in table format for easy digestion: 

Reds

4-3 vs. MIL

19-18

Brewers

3-4 vs. CIN

16-16

Giants

N/A

15-17

Since teams play regional schedules in 2020 — 40 games against division rivals and 20 more against the corresponding division in the other league (e.g., NL East vs. AL East) — the Giants don’t have any head-to-head games against the Reds or Brewers. So to break such cross-division ties, you go to intradivisional record. The Giants come up short in that regard (although, as we’ll soon see, they have a chance to change that). 

As for the Reds, they also hold the edge over the Brewers thanks to their winning four of seven head-to-head games against Milwaukee. That’s why the Reds right now are in possession of the last playoff spot in the NL — they win tiebreakers against the Brewers and Giants. The three-game set in Cincy between the Brewers and Reds, however, could obviously change all of that. In particular, if the Brewers can take two of three against the Reds, then the script would flip. Depending upon how the Giants fare in their four-game home series against the Rockies, Milwaukee would have a one game lead over the Reds, even the season series against the Cincy, and push the tiebreaker between the two teams all the way to the “last 20 games +1” level (the Reds would still hold that tiebreaker for the moment). Should the Reds take two of three, then the Brewers would be in a bad spot going into the final series of the season — a five-gamer in St. Louis. 

2. Brewers at Cardinals, five games, Sept. 24-27

Speaking of which, yes, the Brewers and Cardinals have five head-to-heads yet to play, and they’ll knock those out to end the regular season. The series includes a Friday doubleheader. The Cardinals are effectively one game clear of the three-team fray contending for the No. 8 seed, so at this writing St. Louis’ playoff spot is hardly locked in. Likely, though, this series will matter more to the Brewers. If either the Brewers and Reds sweep the aforementioned series in Cincy, then perhaps the St. Louis series becomes less meaningful. Things as they are, however, the Cardinals figure to be angling to secure a berth, and the Brewers will either be doing that or fighting for their playoff lives. Of note: The Brewers are in the mix despite never having been over .500 at any point in 2020. They’re also trying to make the playoffs in three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history. 

3. Padres at Giants, four games, Sept. 25-27

As noted, the Giants — locked in a mortal struggle with the Reds and Brewers — play a four-game home set against the Rockies. After that, it’s four against the second-best team in the NL, including a Friday doubleheader. The X-factor in this one is whether the Padres still have anything to play for at that point. Going into Monday, the Dodgers‘ magic number for the NL West title is three, and they may indeed have it wrapped up by the time the Padres head to San Fran. As well, there’s almost zero chance the Padres fall below the No. 4 seed in the NL. One thing that may boost the Giants’ hopes in this one is if the Padres are resting some regulars and taking it easy on their starting pitchers in advance of the playoffs. The Padres’ status bears monitoring with regard to this series. First, though, the Giants must take care of the Rockies, who themselves are still alive for that last spot. 

4. Marlins at Braves, four games, Sept. 21-24

The Cinderella Marlins are right now the No. 5 seed in the NL, and they still have a shot at the NL East title. They trail the Braves by three games in the division with, as you see above, four head-to-head games still to play. A sweep obviously puts the Marlins in front, and taking three of four…



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