By Matt Veasey
The regular season in Major League Baseball is a 162-game marathon. An endurance test that begins in the cold of early spring advances through the long, hot dog days of summer and winds down as the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the weather again cools at the start of fall.
As of the start of play on Thursday, September 21, there were 10 days remaining in the 2023 regular season. For at least half of the 30 clubs in MLB, the test results are going to result in a failing grade. Well, that is, at least if post-season contention is your measuring stick.
But the other half still hold out hope of becoming World Series champions this year. And in both the National and American Leagues, the races for the final precious post-season berths are shaping up to be particularly dramatic over the final week.
In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are battling for the East Division crown. The Minnesota Twins are on the verge of clinching the Central Division title. And out in the West Division a three-team scrum is unfolding, with the defending world champion Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners all with the same number of losses.
The National League East Division has been clinched by the Atlanta Braves, the West Division by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Central Division nearly clinched by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Let’s examine the postseason races and closing team schedules as these final days approach.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Both the Orioles and Rays have clinched playoff spots. The O’s are up by three in the loss column, hold the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay by virtue of winning their season series, and entered Thursday with a ‘Magic Number’ of seven.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Minnesota lost its season series to second-place Cleveland but that hardly matters at this point. The Twins hold a nine-game lead and with a ‘Magic Number’ of just one may already have clinched the division crown by the time you read this on Friday morning. Cleveland hosted Baltimore on Thursday and an Orioles victory would clinch it for the Twins. If that didn’t happen, it likely only delays the inevitable.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Okay, now it gets interesting. The best divisional race in baseball this season is setting up as a three-team dash to what may be a photo finish. Houston leads both Texas and Seattle by a half-game but all three have 68 losses.
The Mariners appear to be the key. Seattle will visit the Rangers for a three-game set this weekend, then host the Astros for three at the start of the final week and end the season by hosting the Rangers for four next weekend.
Here are each of the club’s remaining contests: Houston (KC-3, at SEA-3, at ARZ-3), Texas (SEA-3, at LAA-3, at SEA-4), SEA (at TEX-3, HOU-3, TEX-4).
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD
Barring an epic collapse by Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays will be the top AL wild card team and host a first-round post-season series. But the final post-season berths are set up to be a four-team battle for two spots.
One of the three above AL West clubs will win that division. The two who fall short will have to contend with the Toronto Blue Jays for just two remaining playoff berths. Toronto is currently one game better in the loss column than all three. The Jays close things out by playing all their remaining games against the Rays and Yankees in this order: at NYY-1, at TBR-3, NYY-3, TBR-3.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
The Milwaukee Brewers lead the Chicago Cubs by seven games entering Thursday. The two teams have split the season series thus far at 5-5 and will close things out with three in Milwaukee next weekend. The Brew Crew have a ‘Magic Number’ of four to clinch their third division crown in the last six years.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
The defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies are up by three over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the loss column for the top wild card berth and home field in an opening round series.
The Phils ‘Magic Number’ to clinch that top spot and the coveted wild card round home-field advantage is seven and is at six to clinch a post-season berth overall and a chance to again fight through a ‘Red October’ in defense of that league pennant.
Loss column totals for the other teams still in the race: Diamondbacks – 72, Cubs – 73, Marlins – 74, Reds – 75, Giants – 76. While the San Diego Padres have won seven in a row, they are virtually eliminated with 78 losses and needing to climb over four teams with just over a week remaining.
Closing schedules for the NL contenders: Phillies (NYM-4, PIT-3, at NYM-3), Dbacks (at NYY-3, at CHW-3, HOU-3), Cubs (PIT-1, COL-3, at ATL-3, at MIL-3), Marlins (MIL-3, at NYM-3, at PIT-3), Reds (PIT-3, at CLE-2, at STL-3), Giants (at LAD-4, SDP-3, LAD-3).
Now…what about (gulp) a tie for any of these final races? Well, MLB has a tie-breaker system. Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com broke it all down with a fine piece back on August 31st. The simplest of these tiebreakers would be the head-to-head regular- season records of games between teams involved in ties.
Needless to say, it should be interesting.
Matt Veasey is the voice behind @PhilliesBell on Twitter, the most interactive Philadelphia Phillies news and history social media account on the Internet. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org