Our final weekend of baseball’s regular season! It has been a fun ride, my friends.
Here’s a quick look at what to watch for this weekend:
Game of the day: Cubs at Cardinals (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
The Cardinals were 7½ games up on the Brewers on Sept. 5, but Milwaukee is an improbable 18-2 since then to climb just one game back in the National League Central and put pressure on the Cardinals this weekend. (Both teams will at least earn a wild-card spot.) It’s not as though St. Louis has played poorly: The Cards are 11-8 since that date.
Dakota Hudson gets the ball for the Cardinals, and the sinkerball specialist — he leads qualified starters with a 57.2% ground ball rate — is 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA over his past eight starts. There has been some good fortune in his run, with a .167 BABIP, but he has allowed only three home runs over 48⅓ innings. The reeling Cubs have lost nine in a row and have nothing to play for but pride. Will they find any?
With a win and a Brewers loss, the Cardinals clinch at least a tie for the NL Central. The Cardinals won the season series with Milwaukee 10-9, so if a tiebreaker game is required Monday, the Cardinals will host it.
Other games to watch
Indians at Nationals (7:05 p.m. ET, ESPN+): With losses Wednesday and Thursday, the Indians have entered desperation time, as they need some help from the Blue Jays against the Rays to keep their playoff hopes alive. A three-way tie for the two American League wild cards is still possible, however:
— If the A’s go 0-3 against the Mariners, they finish 96-66
— If the Rays go 1-2 against the Blue Jays, they finish 96-66
— If the Indians go 3-0 against the Nationals, they finish 96-66
If all that happens, we go to the three-team tiebreaker for two slots. Let’s explain that out one more time. Teams are given A, B and C designations. Club A hosts Club B. The winner is one wild-card team. Club C then hosts the loser of the first game to determine the second wild card.
The A’s won both season series, so they get first choice on their designation. They probably choose A, giving them one home game and a second game if they lose. Tampa Bay gets next choice and likely chooses B. So our tiebreaker games probably would be:
Monday: Tampa Bay at Oakland
Tuesday: Tampa/Oakland loser at Cleveland
Then we get the actual wild-card game on Wednesday. Tampa Bay could potentially travel from Toronto to Oakland to Cleveland and back to Oakland in four days. Give that traveling secretary a raise if that happens.
Braves at Mets (7:10 p.m. ET): Pete Alonso has three games left, needing one home run to tie Aaron Judge‘s rookie record of 52 and two to break it. I wonder if the Mets will bat him leadoff to get him an extra at-bat or two in the series. Dallas Keuchel starts for the Braves, and he’s looking like the Game 1 starter for the Braves in the division series, as rookie Mike Soroka saw his final start pushed back to Sunday, lining him up to pitch Game 3 (with Julio Teheran for Game 2). Keuchel, of course, has plenty of postseason experience, with a 3.31 ERA, and he has a 2.06 ERA over his past eight starts.
Brewers at Rockies (8:10 p.m. ET): Can the miracle continue? The Brewers’ 18-2 run matches the best 20-game stretch in franchise history (they also did it in 1987 and 2011). Zach Davies starts against Chi Chi Gonzalez. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell has 20 pitchers on his roster and he has been using all of them in September. It will be interesting to see how hard he pushes the bullpen this series, knowing he might have a tiebreaker game Monday and the wild-card game Tuesday. Josh Hader, for example, threw 16 pitches on Thursday and 24 on Tuesday. Not a big workload, but how available will he be in this one?
Twins at Royals (8:15 p.m. ET): The Twins go for win No. 100. Even including their days as the Senators, they’ve reached that mark only once in franchise history, in 1965, when they won 102 games and lost in the World Series. If the Twins do get to 100, that’s four 100-win teams across the majors. That has never happened. (The Twins also could tie the Yankees at 102 wins, but New York owns the tiebreaker and home-field advantage over Minnesota.)
Game of the day: Brewers at Rockies (8:10 p.m. ET)
If the A’s and Rays win Friday and the Indians lose, the A’s and Rays clinch and the Indians are done. So the only games guaranteed to mean anything of playoff importance Saturday are the Brewers and Cardinals games. Brandon Woodruff starts for Milwaukee, but this will be another bullpen game, as Woodruff has gone only two innings in each of his two starts since coming off the injured list. Will the Brewers be going for their 20th victory in 22 games? There is also the matter of home field for the wild-card game. Entering the weekend, we have:
The Cardinals and Brewers both hold the tiebreaker over the Nationals, so the Nationals need to finish with the better record.
Other games to watch
Cubs at Cardinals (7:15 p.m. ET): This could be the division clincher for St. Louis, so it’s fitting that Adam Wainwright will get the start (the Cardinals moved Wainwright up from Sunday to start here instead of Miles Mikolas). The 38-year-old has had his best season since 2014, going 14-9 with a 3.98 ERA — oh, and he’s 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA in September. The most recent pitcher to go 6-0 over the final month? Felix Hernandez in 2009, although it took him seven starts, and the seventh one actually came in October. Before that: Jose Contreras for the White Sox in 2005 (all six starts in September). Guess who won the World Series that year?
Yankees at Rangers (8:05 p.m. ET): Luis Severino has looked good in his first two starts of the season, giving up no runs over nine innings against the Angels and Blue Jays. The Rangers will be a little better test. He threw 80 pitches in five innings against Toronto, so the Yankees might try to get him in the 90-to-100 range in his final start before the postseason.
Astros at Angels (9:07 p.m. ET): Justin Verlander makes his final tune-up start ahead of next Friday’s Game 1 of the division series. Teammate Gerrit Cole makes his final start Sunday. Without digging into the next layer of stats, it looks like a toss-up for the American League Cy Young Award:
Verlander: 20-6, 2.53 ERA, 217 IP, 133 H, 42 BB, 288 SO, 34 HR, 7.8 bWAR/6.2 fWAR
Cole: 19-5, 2.52 ERA, 207⅓ IP, 138 H, 46 BB, 316 SO, 28 HR, 6.7 bWAR/7.3 fWAR
Split the difference in WAR and you get … a dead heat. Cole has fanned 39.7% of the batters he has faced, the single-season high for a starting pitcher. He also has won 15 decisions in a row, posting a 1.78 ERA over 21 starts. Verlander has the no-hitter and 10 more innings. Cole has made 20 of his 32 starts against teams under .500 while Verlander has made … 20 of his 33 starts against teams under .500. Can we call it a tie?
Game of the day: Dodgers at Giants (3:05 p.m. ET)
We could have five games that really matter — or none. But none might be more emotional than this one. The Giants host the Dodgers in Bruce Bochy’s final game as manager … and Madison Bumgarner will be taking the mound in what could be his final start in a Giants uniform if he leaves as a free agent.
The game also could mean something for the Dodgers. The standings for best overall record and potential home-field advantage throughout the postseason look like this entering Friday:
The Astros own the tiebreaker over the Yankees if they end up with the same record (and meet in the American League Championship Series). The Yankees own the tiebreaker over the Dodgers by virtue of a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head games. The Astros and Dodgers did not play, so the second tiebreaker is divisional record. The Astros are 53-20 against the AL West and the Dodgers are 48-25 against the NL West, so that edge goes to Houston.
Other games to watch
Indians at Nationals (3:05 p.m. ET): If the Indians are still alive, Mike Clevinger will go. The Nationals are undecided, as it’s unlikely Max Scherzer will pitch — giving manager Dave Martinez the option of either Stephen Strasburg or Scherzer in the wild-card game.
Rays at Blue Jays (3:07 p.m. ET): 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell will make his third start since coming off the IL. The Rays have 2019 ace Charlie Morton ready to go on full rest, whether that’s in a Monday tiebreaker or Wednesday’s AL wild-card game.
A’s at Mariners (3:10 p.m. ET): Tanner Roark starts the final game for Oakland. He has struggled over his past three starts, with a 9.45 ERA and including eight home runs in 13⅓ innings. After losing wild-card games at Kansas City in 2014 and at Yankee Stadium in 2018, the A’s hope they’ll get this one at home. Sean Manaea, who has dominated since his return from the IL, will be the likely starter for that game.
Brewers at Rockies (3:10 p.m. ET): Adrian Houser starts for Milwaukee.
Cubs at Cardinals (3:15 p.m. ET): The Cardinals obviously hope they clinch Saturday, so they wouldn’t have to start Jack Flaherty (and his 0.97 ERA in the second half) on Sunday — and thus have him available to start the division series opener next Thursday. If the division title is still up for grabs Sunday, however, Mike Shildt hinted that Flaherty would get the ball. That’s not necessarily the worst thing, as Flaherty could then start Game 2 of the National League Division Series on regular rest Friday and then, thanks to the off days, also start Game 5 on regular rest. Of course, if Flaherty pitches Sunday and the Cards end up tied with the Brewers, that takes Flaherty out of the equation for not only the tiebreaker game Monday but a potential wild-card game Tuesday.