MLB Playoff Push: Everything you need to know about the September postseason races

The 2020 MLB playoffs are right around the corner, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. Well, it wasn’t yesterday but close enough, as the compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games each night, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

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Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: MLB standings | Predictions | Stock Watch | Awards Watch


If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like based on the standings entering play on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 Rays vs. No. 8 Yankees
No. 2 Indians vs. No. 7 Twins
No. 3 A’s vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 White Sox vs. No. 5 Blue Jays

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Marlins
No. 2 Braves vs. No. 7 Giants
No. 3 Cubs vs. No. 6 Cardinals
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Phillies


About last night …

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Jean Segura crushes a two-run home run to left-center giving the Phillies the lead in the 10th inning.

NL East roller coaster on full display

If you wanted a look at what the final three weeks of the season are going to be like for the teams fighting for the final National League playoff spots, three hours on the NL East roller coaster Monday afternoon showed you all you need to know.

Holding the automatic playoff spot that goes with second place in the division, the Phillies started Labor Day with an early six-run outburst against the Mets, looking like the team that had just won 10 of 11 to strengthen its position behind the Braves in the NL East. Then Philadelphia’s season-long bullpen issues (MLB-worst 7.04 ERA entering Monday) reared its head again. New York scored seven straight to take the lead, with the capping blow a three-run homer by Jeff McNeil off David Phelps, one of several recent acquisitions intended to shore up the Phillies’ pen. But just when it looked like the Mets might have a defining comeback victory and the momentum of a three-game winning streak, the Phillies tied it in the eighth and got a two-run 10th-inning blast from Jean Segura for a 9-8 victory. The loss undid a weekend of strong play for the Mets, and sent the Phillies home with a somewhat tighter grip on that all-important runner-up spot in the division.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, the Marlins added another chapter to the most surprising storyline of the season when they stared down the division-leading Braves in a 5-4 10-inning victory that kept Miami inside the playoff picture — at least for the time being.

After the wild extra-innings Labor Day matchups, Atlanta’s lead over Philadelphia for the division lead was down to two games, with Miami 1½ games behind the Phillies and the Mets still within 3½ of Philly. In other words: Buckle up, this is going to be a wild few weeks. — Dan Mullen

Other notable games: The Yankees might already be struggling but heading to Buffalo to face the Blue Jays only made things worse, as they took a 12-7 beating that put New York two games behind second-place Toronto in the AL East race. … The Cardinals could have narrowed the Cubs’ NL Central lead, but Kyle Hendricks delivered a strong eight-inning effort to shut down the Birds to earn a 5-1 win. … The AL West showdown between the A’s and Astros started out with first-place Oakland blanking Houston behind Chris Bassitt‘s seven scoreless innings.


Pennant race debate: What are you most excited to see down the stretch?

Alden Gonzalez: The Giants, Marlins and Orioles — really bad teams that were still far removed from legitimate contention when the year began — are all in the hunt for a spot in the postseason with three weeks remaining. It would be another 2020 thing for one of those teams to get in, get hot in October and play in the World Series. In fact, I can’t think of a better representation of this fascinating time. So, basically, I’m rooting for chaos.

Joon Lee: I’m very interested to see how the NL Central shapes up. Aside from the Cubs sitting atop the division, much of the group below them is still piecing things together. The Reds, a trendy pick to make the postseason before the season, had a sluggish start while the Cardinals dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse and the Brewers’ offense has struggled to get much of anything going, highlighted by the very un-Christian Yelich-like batting line of .201/.335/.791 in the first month.

More than any other team, the Cardinals face an unusual set of obstacles with so many doubleheaders scheduled for the last month. These guys are only human and it will be interesting to see what kind of toll having to play so many games will take, and how it will shape the Cardinals’ chase for a slot in the postseason, let alone affect their odds and energy level if they get there.

Bradford Doolittle: I’m excited to see people realize with horror the evils of an overexpanded playoff format. As we enter the meat of what should be the most exciting month of the season, we are left with the worst stretch drive ever. That observation comes with the obligatory caveat that MLB had to do something because of the scrambled nature of the 2020 season, and is made to help fans internalize just how awful this is.

Nearly all of baseball’s best teams have a virtual headlock on a postseason slot and thus head down the stretch in glorified spring training mode. They are not in any kind of race, per se, unless you consider the positioning for seeds of any importance when there likely won’t even be an October home-field edge. The only teams in actual races — the ones that will attract our attention — are those around .500 or a couple of games below.

This is not how baseball should be deciding its postseason field. Consider the race for the eighth seed in the NL. The eventual winner probably will be closer in winning percentage to the MLB-worst Pirates than the team they’ll meet in the first round, the MLB-best Dodgers. But then with two good (or lucky) days in a best-of-three first round, that team would advance and the Dodgers would not. While we endure this format under the present circumstances, we should also learn from it the rather important lesson that we never want to see it again.

Sam Miller: I’m happy that the standings so far have mostly made sense; you don’t want, from a 60-game schedule, the legitimacy of the whole thing being undermined by completely upside-down standings. That said: It’s a little disappointing how closely the standings hew to preseason projections. This weird year has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see, say, the rebuilding Orioles beat the superteam Yankees, but based on the standings entering Monday there would be … maybe one true surprise entry in the 16-team playoffs, in the Giants. So I’m interested to see what I just wished for: The Orioles beat out the Yankees, or the Mariners beat the Astros, or the Tigers beat either of the superteams. It’s completely plausible: New York and Houston entered the week only two games up on Baltimore and Detroit, and three ahead of Seattle. It’s also a huge long shot: New York and Houston are miles ahead in talent, and FanGraphs’ projections give them each a greater than 90% chance of outlasting the rebuilding underdogs.

Dan Mullen: Partially due to the expanded playoff format but in larger part just because there is a wave of really exciting new teams coming into their own at once, I can’t wait to see a new wave of teams make headlines throughout September and into October. Sure, the Dodgers are still the team to beat, but this will be the first postseason in a while that we don’t go in thinking the same three or four big-market heavyweights are the teams to beat.

There is so much incredible young talent in the game right now and getting to sit down night after night to watch the White Sox, Padres, Braves, Blue Jays and other young exciting lineups do their thing is going to be a treat for fans everywhere.


Key games ahead

Rockies-Padres, Tuesday (9:10 p.m. ET): As San Diego’s Mike Clevinger tries to settle in with his new team, Colorado tries to stay in playoff position in the wild fight for the NL wild-card spots.

Reds-Cubs, Wednesday (8:15 p.m. ET): There are playoff implications, particularly for Cincinnati, which can’t afford to lose much more ground, but we’ve also got a Cy Young-level pitching matchup in Trevor Bauer vs. Yu Darvish.

Orioles-Yankees, Thursday (7 p.m. ET): The Yankees’ biggest fight may end up being not with Tampa Bay for the AL East title, but with Baltimore for a wild-card spot. Gerrit Cole, winless in his last four starts, takes the hill for New York.

Phillies-Marlins, Friday doubleheader (5 p.m. ET): Two hopefuls in the muddled NL race continue a seven-game series — yes, a seven-game series — in Miami.