The final day of the 2019 regular season has arrived and the 10-team postseason field is set. The Indians were the last team on the outside looking in and they were eliminated from postseason contention with Friday night's loss (WAS 8, CLE 3). We now know who will be playing in October.
Here is the postseason picture at the start of business Sunday:
- Wild Card Game: Brewers at Nationals (Tuesday, Oct. 1)
- NLDS: Wild Card Game winner at Dodgers; Cardinals at Braves (begins Thursday, Oct. 3)
- Wild Card Game: Rays at Athletics (Wednesday, Oct. 2)
- ALDS: Wild Card Game winner at Astros; Twins at Yankees (begins Friday, Oct. 4)
The 10-team postseason field is set but the postseason bracket is not yet final. Several seeds were clinched Saturday yet there is still something on the line Sunday. Here's what was clinched Saturday:
- Athletics clinched top wild-card spot and thus home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game.
- Nationals clinched top wild-card spot and thus home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game.
- Astros clinched best record in baseball and thus home-field advantage through the World Series.
- Dodgers clinched the second best record in baseball and thus home-field advantage over every team except Houston.
One race remains undecided coming into Sunday and it's a big one: the NL Central title. The Cardinals (90-71) currently hold a one-game lead over the Brewers (89-72). St. Louis and Milwaukee are not playing each other this weekend, so there will be a lot of scoreboard watching Sunday.
The Brewers and Cardinals have both clinched a postseason spot, so one team will win the division and the other will go on the road to face the Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game. There are four possible outcomes Sunday and St. Louis is in the driver's seat given the team's one-game lead. Here's a breakdown of Sunday's possible outcomes:
- Cardinals win, Brewers lose: Cardinals win NL Central.
- Cardinals win, Brewers win: Cardinals win NL Central.
- Cardinals lose, Brewers lose: Cardinals win NL Central.
- Cardinals lose, Brewers win: Game 163 tiebreaker Monday in St. Louis to determine NL Central winner.
The Cardinals would host the Game 163 tiebreaker Monday because they won the season series 10-9 over the Brewers. The only way that game happens is with a Brewers win and a Cardinals loss. Anything else gives St. Louis the division title.
On Sunday, the Cardinals will host the Cubs at Busch Stadium, and their ace Jack Flaherty will be on the mound. Flaherty owns a 1.00 ERA with 124 strikeouts in his last 15 starts and 99 1/3 innings. He's been brilliant. Pitching Sunday means Flaherty will not be available until NLDS Game 2 on Friday at the earliest. St. Louis is putting its best on the mound Sunday to lock down the division.
The Brewers are in Colorado to play the Rockies on Sunday and gosh, they suffered a heartbreaking loss Saturday. Josh Hader gave up a game-tying homer to Sam Hilliard with two outs in the 9th inning, then Matt Albers served up the walk-off homer to Trevor Story in the 10th. Had the Brewers been able to close out that win, they'd be tied atop the NL Central with the Cardinals right now.
Milwaukee will send Adrian Houser (6-7, 3.86 ERA) to the mound Sunday. He has a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts and 53 2/3 innings since moving into the rotation in late July. The Brewers are in a bind with their pitching at the moment. Hader and Drew Pomeranz have pitched four times in the last seven days and Junior Guerra has pitched three times in the last four days.
The Brewers have clinched a postseason spot, so they know they'll play a game beyond Sunday. Whether that's the Game 163 tiebreaker on Monday or the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday remains up in the air. Does manager Craig Counsell put his foot on the gas Sunday and try to force a Game 163, or hold guys back and put the team in the best position to win the Wild Card Game? It is quite the managerial quandary.
As a reminder, every MLB game on Sunday begins at 3:05 p.m. ET. The Cardinals and Brewers will be playing at the same time, so the NL Central race will play out in real time. One team won't have the luxury of knowing whether the other team lost before beginning their game, adding to the intrigue.
The NL Central (and second wild-card spot) is the only remaining race. The other eight postseason-bound teams are locked into their spots and have nothing on the line Sunday. The Cardinals and Brewers are the only important games in town.