The 2021 MLB regular season is entering the stretch drive. Three weeks from Monday either the regular season will be over and all the postseason races will be settled, or there will be a Game 163 tiebreaker to decide a division or wild card race. Maybe even multiple Game 163s like 2018. That would be fun. Either way, it's shaping up to be a great three weeks.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the remaining schedule, and lay out the series that look like they'll play a major role in deciding the postseason races. At this time of year, the most important series usually feature two very good teams, which means a lot of high-quality baseball. I can't wait. Here are the most upcoming important series to mark on your calendar, listed chronologically.
Seattle is riding its Fun Differential in the wild card race while the Red Sox are trying to overcome a widespread (and continually growing) COVID-19 outbreak. Boston is hanging on to a wild card spot and has the edge in the standings, though the AL wild card race is very tight. The Mariners can gain a lot of ground at home these three games, or the Red Sox can create some breathing room for themselves. These two clubs split four games at Fenway Park in April.
It is looking less and less likely either of these teams will challenge the Braves in the NL East, though this series will be the final time the Mets and Phillies play this year, so it's the last chance for each team to take matters into their own hands and move ahead of the other in the standings. The Braves are rooting for one team to win two of three in this series. They don't want one team to sweep and potentially gain a lot of ground in a short period of time. The season series is tied at eight wins apiece, with the Mets ever so slightly outscoring Philadelphia 56-54.
This will be the last chance for the Cardinals to make a move in the NL wild card race. They wrapped up their season series with the Reds this past weekend, and once they play San Diego this coming weekend, St. Louis will have to rely on other teams to beat the Reds and Padres for them. This is their last chance to handle business themselves and gain ground on a direct wild card competitor. For the Padres, this series is an opportunity to bury the Cardinals and create some breathing room over at least one team in the wild card race. The Padres swept the Cardinals in San Diego back in May.
Sept. 20-23: Mariners at Athletics
Nothing like a nice four-game series between two teams fighting for one postseason spot in late September, eh? It is possible for both the Mariners and Athletics to make the postseason, sure, though one needs to climb into a wild card spot before we can begin thinking about both. Because there are so many other teams in the AL wild card race and because there are only so many games remaining in the season, a split here would help neither team. It's time to win some games and make a move. Appropriately, the Mariners are 8-4 against the A's this season despite being outscored 52-47.
Sept. 24-26: Yankees at Red Sox
An AL Wild Card Game preview? It's possible, though both teams have to get to the postseason first. And if they do, it would be tough to beat a Gerrit Cole vs. Chris Sale pitching matchup. That's must-see television. It goes without saying each team will look to bury the other this series and give themselves a little cushion in the race. The Red Sox are 10-6 against the Yankees this season and have already clinched the season series, which is notable for potential home-field advantage tiebreaker scenarios.
Sept. 27-29: Athletics at Mariners
Oh yeah, the A's and M's will meet again one week after their steel cage match in Oakland. This time it'll be three games in T-Mobile Park rather than four games in RingCentral Coliseum. This series will be the last time the Athletics and Mariners play this season (during the regular season, anyway), so it is of paramount importance to both clubs.
Sept. 28-30: Yankees at Blue Jays
Last week the Blue Jays swept the Yankees in four games and. These two clubs are basically neck and neck for a wild card spot right now. Will that be the case in two weeks? I hope so. This series would lose some luster otherwise. Toronto is 10-6 against New York this year and has already clinched the season series, so they hold the home-field advantage tiebreaker. It should be noted this will be the first time the Yankees play in Rogers Centre in more than two years, since Sept. 13-15, 2019.
Sept. 28-30: Phillies at Braves
If the Phillies take care of business against the Mets during that Sept. 17-19 series, and also keep pace with the Braves in all their non-Mets games, they could go into Atlanta in the penultimate series of the year with a chance to take over the NL East crown. It may require a three-game sweep, but as long the as the Phillies stay close, it's possible. Conversely, this series could be a prime opportunity for the Braves to clinch their fourth straight division title. Philadelphia leads the season series 9-7 despite being outscored 75-64.
The Final Weekend: Oct. 1-3
There is still a ways to go between now and then, and a lot can (and will) change, but right now the final weekend is shaping up to be an exciting three days with multiple important series. Here's what's on tap for the regular season's final weekend.
Mets at Braves: Will the Mets still have a chance at the NL East title? All they need to do is pull to within three games of the Braves going into this series to have a shot. If they do that, they'll control their own destiny. It may require a three-game sweep in this series and then winning a Game 163 tiebreaker to win the division, but hey, it's not impossible. While the Mets and Braves duke it out in Atlanta, the Phillies will face the Marlins in Miami.
Athletics at Astros and Angels at Mariners: The AL West title could still be up for grabs going into the final weekend. I'm not sure I'd call it likely, but it is possible. Even if not, the A's and Mariners could be fighting for one wild card spot, in which case they'll have to keep an eye on the scoreboard to monitor their division rivals. I don't ask for much, baseball gods, but how you give us maximum chaos and send both the Athletics and Mariners into the final weekend within three games of the Astros for first place?
Rays at Yankees: There is basically no chance the Yankees will overtake the Rays for the AL East title at this point. They could still be playing for a wild card spot during the final weekend though. And, if they are, they'll have to watch the Blue Jays and Red Sox beat up on the Orioles and Nationals, respectively, while they have to contend with the best team in the league. That's a tough draw, especially since you know Tampa would consider it a privilege to keep New York out of the postseason.
Brewers at Dodgers and Padres at Giants: Lots going on here, potentially. The Brewers are all but a lock to win the NL Central at this point, so they'll have a low-stakes weekend. The Dodgers and Giants could be fighting for the NL West title though, plus the Padres may be trying to hang on to a wild card spot. That Padres vs. Giants series looks like our best bet for a "both teams have a lot on the line this weekend" series during the final weekend (the Padres and Giants still have three series to play!).
Other series of note: Rays at Blue Jays (Sept. 13-15), Padres at Giants (Sept. 13-16), Dodgers at Reds (Sept. 17-19), Blue Jays at Rays (Sept. 20-22), Mets at Red Sox (Sept. 21-22), Giants at Padres (Sept. 21-23), Astros at Athletics (Sept. 24-26), Braves at Padres (Sept. 24-26), Padres at Dodgers (Sept. 28-30), Rays at Astros (Sept. 28-30)