Now that we're in the middle of August -- the good ol' "Dog Days" -- I've found myself for the first time this season starting to think ahead to the Wild Card Series. For the second time in history, and the first time with a full regular season and full ballparks of hometown fans, we're going to see multiple series before the divisional round.
Knowing just how exciting playoff baseball can be and how much fun those four-game playoff days in the divisional round are (that Friday was long one of my favorite days of the calendar year), we're likely in for a treat. The potential for insanity exists.
As a reminder, the new playoff format has the top two division winners in each league getting a bye and surpassing the wild card round. The third division winner will host the third wild-card team in a three-game series while the top wild-card team hosts the second wild card in a three-gamer as well.
Here's how things would look at present.
There's no need just yet to focus on the individual series -- though Mariners-Blue Jays would be pretty fun, given how infrequently they've been playoff teams for the past two decades and with the whole Canada's team vs. Seattle aspect. Also, Robbie Ray won the Cy Young with the Blue Jays last season and would start one of the games.
The Orioles, White Sox, Twins and Red Sox remain in the mix, of course, so there are a good number of combinations. It's too early to start ranking intriguing matchups or anything, but we can all start working through things in our heads. It's part of the fun this time of the season.
The Brewers right now loom large in the races for both the NL Central and the wild card. We could maybe, possibly, squint our way to the Giants getting into playoff position, but that's it. This is to say that on the NL side, it's really more about jockeying for position than which teams get in.
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We might end up with an NL East battle if the Braves and Phillies line up against each other (and, of course, it's always possible the Braves topple the Mets in the division, even if far-fetched). If the Brewers get in and face the Padres, might we see Josh Hader trying to close down a series against his former team? The last time the Cardinals and Braves squared off in the playoffs, the Cardinals had a 10-run first in the deciding game. And hey, the Phillies haven't made the playoffs since 2011 while the Padres haven't hosted a playoff game with fans since 2006.
Again, just play around with the possible matchups in your head.
We've got about seven-and-a-half weeks of maneuvering to be done before we get there. We can enjoy the races while looking forward to the first-round playoff craziness all the same.
|They lost to the Royals on Sunday. How dare they! The Dodgers are now only 34-6 since June 28. They better call a team meeting or something.||--||106-47|
|In his last 94 starts, Jacob deGrom has a 1.93 ERA, which is a 206 ERA+, or roughly 106 percent better than the average pitcher. He might actually look better than he ever has, too. Can he stay on the mound? Pretty please?||--||97-57|
|The strong get stronger as Lance McCullers Jr. returned with six scoreless innings on Saturday. I guess we could technically say it was another minor-league rehab start since it came against the A's, but it was still a flex.||--||101-53|
|Earlier in the season, Michael Harris jumped from Double-A straight to the majors and he's been great. Now Vaughn Grissom appears to be doing the same. What a testament to the Braves' player development system.||1||96-58|
|Through July 8, the Yankees only needed to go 39-39 to win 100 games this season. Surely that was a slam dunk, right? Well, now they need to go 28-19 the rest of the way to go to exactly 100-62. Is anyone confident they can do that right now? As for the ranking, which I'm certain will be the lowest out there, they've banked a ton of credit but just look awful right now. There's an intersection point, sure, but I'd wager heavily on the Braves in a seven-game series over the Yankees right now, for example.||1||94-59|
|After Albert Pujols' two colossal shots on Sunday, he has 689 career home runs. Is he really, actually going to retire if he's like three or four homers shy of 700?||--||89-65|
|They lost the series in New York, but the Mets are tough and the Phillies are still missing their best player. Plus, the Phillies have one of the weakest remaining schedules in baseball.||1||83-69|
|They've recently dealt with a five-game losing streak and the suspension to Fernando Tatis Jr. They've also won four of five (including two of three after finding out about the suspension on Friday -- and even A.J. Preller didn't know until Friday afternoon). Time to band together? We'll see what they're made of.||2||85-68|
|They're on another hot streak, having won seven of their last eight. They just swept the Tigers in Detroit to start last week and now they'll get the Tigers four times at home.||6||86-67|
|Kevin Gausman has an 8-9 record and the low-hanging fruit here would be to mock the remaining few people who think W-L is the lone indicator as to how a starting pitcher has performed. Let's skip that part and go a touch deeper, which is that the Blue Jays being 11-11 in his 22 starts this season is unacceptable given how well he's pitched. The shortfall here is part of the reason the Yankees remain out of reach.||3||87-67|
|Going by opposing winning percentage, the Mariners have the single easiest remaining schedule in all of baseball. Quite simply, the coast should be clear for a home playoff series. Man, that would be fun. The place would be rocking.||2||83-69|
|The two wins over the Rays had to feel nice, but then they lost two of three to the Cardinals and now the Brewers will have to deal with the Dodgers seven times in the next 10 days.||1||82-71|
|Drew Rasmussen has a 2.21 ERA in his last 10 outings now, after taking a perfect game to the ninth on Sunday.||2||84-69|
|They're 8-4 this month and don't seem to be going away. Much more exciting this past week was hearing general manager Mike Elias say they are set to greatly increase payroll. Of course, that should go without saying. They are right now only slated for about $35.5 million for 2023. Let's see how much they spend before celebrating.||--||80-73|
|After winning on July 5, the Twins held a 4 1/2-game lead in the Central. They've gone 11-18 since and now sit in third place.||3||74-79|
|They are now three games over .500, which seems an awfully modest accomplishment to point out, especially considering they won the AL Central last year. It is, however, the first time the White Sox have been three games over .500 since they were 6-3 on April 17.||--||76-77|
|They've been as many as 10 games over .500. They were four games under .500 just over a week ago. And now they sit exactly even at 57-57. As a lover of roller coasters, I've enjoyed the up-and-down voyage.||--||75-78|
|Major League Baseball determined that the one makeup game the Red Sox played against the Orioles on Thursday was considered a "series," even though it was just one game. The Red Sox won it. It was their first series win against an AL East opponent in 2022. Then they won two of three against the Yankees. They're on fire!||--||72-81|
|They've won six of eight and I actually took a peek at the wild card standings, just to see. (It's 10 games, so don't think too hard)||1||71-83|
|Adolis García has 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Marcus Semien has 17 homers and 19 steals. The Rangers have only had multiple 20-20 guys once before, in 2009. Could you name the players who did it? Ian Kinsler would be the easier of the two. Would you believe the other was Nelson Cruz? For real! It was his first full season (well, 128 games, but it was enough for 33 bombs and 20 steals).||1||65-87|
|The Angels went 5-1 last week, winning two series. They hadn't won back-to-back series since May 9-15.||4||67-86|
|You know what was really fun? Watching Wynton Bernard's debut Friday night. If you're unaware, go check it out. It's a feel-good story about perseverance, not unlike the Nationals' entry below.||1||65-88|
|University of Cincinnati product Ian Happ has 97 career home runs. In 80 career games against the Reds, he's hit 25! He has 16 homers in 40 career games in Great American Ball Park.||1||67-86|
|Edwin Díaz's brother, Alexis, is making a name all on his own at this point. Through 42 appearances this season, the rookie righty has a 1.83 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings.||3||60-94|
|The Marlins have now lost 13 of their last 16. They've only scored 31 times in that span. If you can do elementary math, you'll realize that's less than two runs per game. If you can examine the context in baseball terms, you'll realized that's an atrocious offensive output.||3||63-90|
|Brady Singer went six scoreless innings Sunday against the Dodgers, allowing only one hit while striking out seven. The 26-year-old right-hander is in his third season and has a 3.29 ERA in 104 innings. It looks a lot like a breakout season.||--||63-90|
|They've lost 20 of 27 and somehow remain ahead of three pitiful teams here. This feels like a good time to mention we're on pace to see three 100-plus loss teams. The record is four, which happened in 2019 and 2021. The Pirates are on pace to lose 99. For all the good we've seen this last handful of seasons, it's very bad for the game to see such extreme futility in the bad teams.||--||57-97|
|Last year at this time, the A's were 68-50 and in the top AL wild card spot. Now they're being accused of manipulating Elvis Andrus' playing time to prevent his 2023 option from vesting. Talk about a plunge.||--||56-97|
|Finally, they've moved on from Al Avila. The next step is making a great hire and, I gotta say, Chris Ilitch's press conference wasn't encouraging.||--||60-92|
|Joey Meneses is a 30-year-old rookie with 894 career games in the minors and 482 games in foreign leagues, including in Mexico and Japan. He's now played in 10 MLB games and is hitting .400 five home runs in 35 at-bats. Connecting back to the Rockies comment above, the baseball world has given us two excellent "never give up on your dreams" stories here in the last few weeks.||--||53-100|