Sports Analyst Nathan Fahland gives a rundown of the top seeded teams going into the Playoffs.
With the Major League Baseball 2021 regular season ending soon as the first Wildcard game will be played on Oct. 5, there are several different strategies teams can employ to prepare for October baseball. Some teams utilize the last two weeks of a season to give their star players rest and realign their rotations. After a grueling schedule of 162 games in a span of six months, a couple days off can be a tremendous help to some players dealing with nagging injuries.
Teams that have already secured a postseason spot can also change the order in which their starters pitch, ensuring that these pitchers are available for the most important games. However, not all teams can afford this luxury. Other teams that are fighting for a spot in the Playoffs have to keep their rotation as is, since they cannot risk losing games and jeopardize their chance at the postseason entirely. Still, other teams clinch a berth but choose to keep their foot on the gas in order to avoid becoming complacent in the regular season which could affect the team’s mindset in the postseason. With all of this being explained, here are the different tiers of teams heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
The only two teams to clinch a Playoffs spot this year so far also reside in the same division, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants have the best record in the MLB this year, but the Dodgers are only two and a half games behind them. While each team has already clinched a berth, neither can ease up. The Dodgers could find themselves with the second best record in the MLB at the end of the regular season, but if they don’t have a better record than the Giants, then they will be forced to play in the Wildcard game. The winner of each division receives an automatic entry into a best of five divisional round series, but the teams who make the Playoffs via the wild card are forced into a one game wild card round, where the winner will play in the divisional round and the loser goes home. So while Dodgers and Giants have clinched the Playoffs, it will be a race to see who can win the division over the last weeks of the season.
These teams have not mathematically clinched a Playoff berth, but unseating one of these divisional leaders would require an unprecedented combination of these teams collapsing and the teams behind them catching fire. Therefore, these teams are in a great position to rest star players and set up their starting rotation for the Playoffs. The American league’s divisional races are all but wrapped up with the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros leading their respective divisions by an average of nine games. In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers lead their division by twelve and a half games.
In the National League, the one division up for grabs is the East. While the Atlanta Braves are leading this division, the lead is only three and a half games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies and five and a half games ahead of the New York Mets. The Phillies and Mets could go on a run and win the division, but it would require help from the Braves. If Atlanta ends up going on a tear to end the year, the Phillies and Mets could make the Wildcard game but would face more competition. Currently held by the St. Louis Cardinals, there are also two other teams fighting for the wild card spot in the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. Altogether, the second wild card race in the National League should be interesting to watch as the season comes to a close, with all five of these teams separated by only five games.
Although only one wild card spot is attainable in the National League, the American League wild card race is wide open. If rooting for chaos is appealing, then the AL wild card race is the race to watch this year. Three teams are currently tied for the two wild card spots: the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox. The Oakland Athletics are three and a half games back, while the Seattle Mariners are four games back. There are 10 different unique possibilities in which this race could end, and the teams holding the wild card spots could look completely different after five games.
As there are about 20 games left in the MLB season, not many teams have clinched yet. Even the two teams that have clinched will be forced to try and win every game for the rest of the year though. While there is not much intrigue in the divisional winners this year, both wild card races are set up for entertaining finishes, with the American League wild card race being the most chaotic race of the 2021 regular season.