There are only four weeks remaining in the 2021 MLB regular season. It feels like Opening Day was just last week, yet it also feels like this season is taking an eternity after the 60-game sprint a year ago. This season has both flown by and been exhausting.
Over the next four weeks and change the postseason races will all be decided, and there are still several races that are very wide open. Not much is settled right now.. Now here are three bold predictions for the stretch run. Come with me, won't you?
The final Yankees-Rays series will be meaningful
As of Friday morning, the Rays hold a comfortable enough 6 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. Tampa has been in sole possession of first place since July 31. Here are the current AL East standings:
- Rays: 84-50
- Yankees: 77-56 (6 1/2 GB)
- Red Sox: 77-59 (8 GB)
- Blue Jays: 70-62 (13 GB)
- Orioles: 41-91 (42 GB)
For the Yankees, a 6 1/2-game deficit with 29 games to play is not insurmountable but it is daunting. Especially since they only have three head-to-head games remaining with the Rays. The math says the Yankees need other teams to do their dirty work for them, and beat Tampa a few times these next few weeks.
Those three head-to-head games are the final three games of the regular season. The Yankees and Rays close out the season with three games at Yankee Stadium, so as long as New York's deficit is three games or fewer going into that series, they'd still have a chance to win the division. Worst case is you go in down three games with a chance to sweep and force a Game 163 tiebreaker to decide the AL East title.
For this bold prediction, I am going to say that final Yankees vs. Rays series will be meaningful. By that I mean the division title will not yet be locked up, and both clubs will go into the series with a chance to win the AL East. Not an equal chance, necessarily, just a chance. That would be fun, no? A division race coming down to the final weekend is always a blast.
Three-team tie for the second NL wild card spot
This is not so much me boldly predicting a three-team tie as it is me hoping we get a three-team tie for the second wild card spot. We're long overdue to get some true tiebreaker chaos. We had a pair of Game 163 tiebreakers to decide the NL Central (Brewers vs. Cubs) and NL West (Dodgers vs. Rockies) in 2018, though two-team tiebreakers are boring. We need a three-teamer.
Long story short, a three-team tie would force a mini-tournament to decide the second wild card spot. The three teams would be designated Club A, Club B, and Club C using a long cookbook formula (based on head-to-head records, etc.), then this happens:
- Game 1: Club B at Club A (loser goes home)
- Game 2: Club C at Game 1 winner (winner gets wild card spot, loser goes home)
You want to be Club C in that scenario so you only have to win one game to advance rather than two, though you do have to play on the road. Clubs A and B have to win two tiebreaker games just to make the Wild Card Game.and presumably tiebreaker Game 1 would be played Mon., Oct 4 with Game 2 on Tues., Oct. 5.
As for the bold prediction, let's say the Cardinals, Padres, and Reds will finish with identical 87-75 records, forcing the three-team tiebreaker. What happens after that is anyone's guess, though we'd get that little two-game mini-tournament to determine the second wild card spot. The winner would then have to play the second place team in the NL West in the Wild Card Game.
Ohtani and the Angels will play spoiler
For the seventh straight year and the 11th time in the last 12 years, the Angels will not be going to be the postseason. It would take a miracle to erase either their 12 1/2-game deficit in the AL West or their 10-game deficit for the second wild card spot. Maybe they'd be in the race with a healthy Mike Trout. Alas and alack, Trout has not played since May 17 because of a calf injury.
What the Angels can do in September is play spoiler, and create headaches for other teams in the race. The Astros have a fairly comfortable 4 1/2-game lead in the AL West, though the Athletics (2 GB of second wild card spot) and Mariners (4 GB of second wild card spot) are right in the thick of the wild card race, and the Angels will see them plenty down the stretch.
Here is Anaheim's remaining head-to-head schedule with the three AL West teams in the race:
- vs. Athletics: 3 games (Sept. 17-19 in Anaheim)
- vs. Mariners: 6 games (Sept. 24-26 in Anaheim and Oct. 1-3 in Seattle)
- vs. Astros: 7 games (Sept. 10-12 in Houston and Sept. 20-23 in Anaheim)
The Angels will play more than half their remaining games against those three AL West rivals. Making life difficult for the Astros would be tough at this stage in the game. Not impossible, but unlikely. Making life difficult for the Athletics and Mariners though? That is very much in play and I am going to boldly predict it will happen.
To be specific, I'm going to say Shohei Ohtani drives the final nail in the coffin of the 2021 Mariners with a two-homer game on Saturday, Sept. 25. Ohtani's two homers will officially eliminate Seattle from postseason contention and extend their postseason drought to 20 years. The Angels have nothing to play for at this point other than pride and making other teams miserable. The Mariners are a perfect target.