The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than two weeks away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.
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, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.
Jump to …
If the season ended today …
Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team
No. 1 White Sox* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 Rays* vs. No. 7 Indians
No. 3 Athletics vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Twins vs. No. 5 Yankees
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Phillies
No. 2 Cubs vs. No. 7 Giants
No. 3 Braves vs. No. 6 Reds
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Marlins
*Clinched playoff spot
Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot
NL: Padres 5, Cubs 7, Braves 8, Marlins 12, Reds 12, Giants 12, Phillies 13
AL: A’s 2, Twins 2, Yankees 4, Indians 6, Blue Jays 7, Astros 8
Who is in?
The overwhelming preseason favorite was the first team to secure a spot in the postseason tournament, clinching a berth with Wednesday’s win over the Padres. L.A. took two of three from San Diego, which sits in second place in the NL West.
What’s next? The Dodgers, who hold the best record in baseball, are looking for their eighth consecutive NL West championship and the top seed in the National League. Of course, the big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since they last won it all.
The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 on Thursday. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.
What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field. After taking three of four from the Twins, the White Sox hold a three-game lead in the Central.
White Sox must-read: Rookie Luis Robert could be baseball’s next superstar
The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.
What’s next? The Rays’ next goal would be to win the AL East title. It would be their first division crown since 2010.
Who could clinch next?
The A’s and Twins appear to be next in line for the postseason party, with both teams having a chance to punch their tickets Friday night. Oakland hosts the Giants, and the Twins face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
About last night …
Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit hit back-to-back-to-back home runs, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres go deep later in the inning for the Yankees.
The Yankees have awoken. Watch out, American League.
A little more than a week ago the Yankees had lost their fifth straight game and dropped to 21-21. Even with the expanded playoff format, the unthinkable suddenly seemed possible: The Yankees were actually in danger of missing the playoffs. They were just a half-game ahead of the Orioles for the final wild-card spot, a mere one game ahead of the Tigers — two teams that combined for 222 losses in 2019. “Droppin’ Like A Stone,” exclaimed the headline on the back cover of the New York Post, featuring a photo of Gary Sanchez dropping a foul pop-up.
The Yankees haven’t lost since. They won the series finale against the Blue Jays, swept four games from the Orioles in which they gave up only three runs, and just bludgeoned the Jays in a three-game sweep, winning 20-6, 13-2 and 10-7. Thursday’s win included six more home runs, including a ridiculous five in one inning, all against Blue Jays reliever Chase Anderson. The slugging feats in this series were unprecedented:
• The Yankees became the first team to homer at least six times in three straight games.
• Their 19 home runs in the three-game series set the record not only for a three-game series, but for a series of any length. (The 1963 Twins hit 17 home runs in a four-game series.)
• The 19 home runs are the most over any stretch of three games.
• The Yankees became the seventh team to hit five home runs in one inning, and Anderson joined Michael Blazek (2017 Brewers vs. the Nationals) as the only pitchers to give up five in an inning.
• For the three games, the Yankees hit .383/.478/.957.
Yeah, welcome back Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Actually, Judge didn’t play Thursday after going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in his return Wednesday. Stanton went 4 for 5 with a home run Thursday after going 0 for 4 in his return Tuesday.
The new chief Bomber is Luke Voit, who homered twice Tuesday and hit one each Wednesday and Thursday, increasing his MLB-leading total to 20. He joins two guys named Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to hit at least 20 home runs in the team’s first 50 games (Ruth did it three times). DJ LeMahieu is hitting .373. Gleyber Torres has started to hit after a terrible start. Even Sanchez had two hits Thursday, raising his average all the way up to .145.
So the Yankees are getting hot and healthy at the right time. They’ve jumped up from the eighth seed to the fifth seed and would play the Twins in the first round based on the current standings. They even have a shot at the AL East title (although the Rays swept the Orioles in a doubleheader to increase their lead to 3½ games). Actually, the Yankees are in a good spot right where they are. They have a remarkable 13-game postseason winning streak against the Twins, and if they moved up to the second seed, where the Rays currently reside, they would have to play the Indians in the first round and you don’t want anything to do with Shane Bieber in a three-game series.
Then again, Bieber might not want anything to do with Luke Voit & Co. right now.
Also of note: The Rays and White Sox both clinched playoff spots. The Rays, who swept a doubleheader with the Orioles, continue to get good production from first baseman Nate Lowe, who wasn’t called up from the alternate site until Sept. 2 but has hit .278/.395/.583 in 12 games. The White Sox clinched with a 4-3 win over the Twins, taking three of four in the series. Jose Abreu continues to make his case for MVP honors, going 2-for-3 with a home run against Twins ace Kenta Maeda. It will be the first postseason appearance for the White Sox since 2008, but the celebration was subdued. “We want the bigger goal,” Tim Anderson said. “It was a fun moment, but we just said we’re going to save it for when we clinch our division.” … Big win for the Mets, who rallied from a 6-3 deficit against Aaron Nola and the Phillies for a 10-6 victory. The bullpen tossed 7⅓ scoreless innings after Seth Lugo struggled. Brandon Nimmo hit a tying two-run triple in the sixth and a go-ahead home run in the ninth. Things got hairy for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth when the Phillies loaded the bases against Edwin Diaz, working for the third straight night, but Andrew McCutchen grounded out to end it. Diaz threw 29 pitches, so he’ll probably need a day off Friday (if not Friday and Saturday). … Nimmo’s go-ahead home run came against Brandon Workman, who hasn’t exactly given the Phillies what they bargained for when they acquired him from the Red Sox. Workman has given up nine runs and has a 2.66 WHIP in 11⅔ innings with Philadelphia. With no J.T. Realmuto, no Rhys Hoskins and a struggling bullpen, the Phillies might be in trouble. By the way, the entire pitching staff has allowed a .350 average on balls in play. That would be the worst BABIP ever allowed. … The Astros saw their lead over the Mariners fall to 1½ games a couple of days ago, but it’s back up to three after Houston got another gem from Framber Valdez while the Mariners — playing their “home” game in San Francisco due to air quality issues in Seattle because of wildfires — lost to the Giants. Valdez fanned 11 in 6⅓ innings in a 2-1 win over the Rangers. All 11 K’s came with his curveball. … The Indians snapped their eight-game losing skid with a 10-3 win over the Tigers. Bieber got the win with 10 K’s in 7⅔ innings — although his ERA rose from 1.53 to 1.74 as he gave up three runs. — David Schoenfield
Pennant race debate: Which unexpected contender is the biggest surprise, and which is the best bet to get past the first round?
Joon Lee: The emergence of the Orioles as playoff contenders definitely surprised me most, as I expected them to finish in last place in the AL East. Between Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino, the team has had some bright spots this season in terms of continuity from last year. But among the surprise playoff contenders, I expect the San Francisco Giants to have the strongest chance to make it to the second round. This team has had its share of surprises this year, between Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano emerging as key offensive cogs, but the relatively young Giants have a bevy of veterans with postseason experience, including Johnny Cueto, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, who could help San Francisco pull off a first-round upset in what has already been a chaotic season.
David Schoenfield: I’ll go with the Orioles as the biggest surprise. Coming off a 108-loss season that featured one of the worst pitching staffs of all time and a record number of home runs allowed, Baltimore basically did nothing in the offseason to supplement the roster. In fact, the Orioles’ biggest move was trading their best position player, Jonathan Villar, to dump his salary. But the O’s have played respectable baseball and somehow hung close to the eighth playoff seed. The Giants are the best bet to advance, however, thanks to a very good offense. There’s a little bit of 2010 in this team. That year, Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres were the two best players (by WAR). This year, it’s Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano.
Bradford Doolittle: The Giants seem like the best bet to get into the playoffs, which makes them the most likely to win two games in a first-round best-of-three. If the Marlins can sneak in, however, they seem like the best bet to pull off an upset (if there is such a thing in a best-of-three). That’s especially true if they don’t match up against another team from the NL East, as they’d be able to throw out some dynamic young arms the opponent will not have seen much, if at all. The Orioles rate as the biggest surprise. I actually thought the Tigers would be a bit worse, but I also thought Detroit’s Central-only schedule would be considerably weaker, boosting them over the O’s in the standings. Baltimore might be in the process of being knocked down by its slate right now, but the Orioles done a great job of hanging in so far.
Dan Mullen: The Orioles and Tigers aren’t going to catch the Yankees, so we can rule them out, leaving a choice between the Giants and the Marlins. Here’s why I’m taking Miami: Even year or not, if the Giants beat the Rockies for that final spot (San Francisco and Colorado have four games left against each other), they’re looking at a No. 8 seed and a first-round date with the Dodgers. I know this is a short series and anything can happen, but L.A. is the best team in baseball by a pretty large margin and beating the Dodgers in any series is unlikely.
Miami, on the other hand, is currently the No. 5 seed and could finish anywhere between there and the No. 7 spot, based on how the Marlins, Phillies and Cardinals end the season. In a very only-in-2020 thing, finishing No. 5 would be the worst-case scenario here, as it would mean playing the Padres, while getting in as the No. 6 or No. 7 could set up a winnable chance at a Braves team with major starting pitching issues.
Key games ahead
Blue Jays-Phillies, Friday doubleheader (4:05 p.m. ET): Let’s play two in the City of Brotherly Love. A doubleheader kicks off a big four-game series between two East teams on the right side of the playoff line (barely, in Philadelphia’s case).
A’s-Giants, Sunday (4 p.m. ET): Will the Giants’ lead in a tight race for the NL’s final playoff spot last through a tough three-game series with their Bay Area rivals?