The potential postseason field -- not the seeding, but the teams involved -- has been static since the conclusion of play on Labor Day. In the context of a 60-game season with a 16-team playoff pool, that’s an eternity.
Rays, A’s, White Sox, Twins, Indians, Blue Jays, Astros and Yankees in the AL, in some order.
Dodgers, Cubs, Braves, Padres, Cardinals, Phillies, Giants and Marlins in the NL, in some order.
Why do I get the feeling there might be a change or two between now and the conclusion of the regular season on Sept. 27?
Oh, right, because this is baseball, that’s why!
So here’s one person's ranking of the nine clubs who entered play Saturday on the outside looking in, but still have a shot of advancing, in order from best chance to worst.
(For the sake of added context, we’ve listed each team’s remaining schedule strength, as determined by FanGraphs, which uses each club’s projected opponents’ winning percentage the rest of the way.)
Games back: 2 ½ GB of PHI for 2nd place in NL East; 2 GB of NL Wild Card
Games left: 15
Remaining schedule strength: .519
The Phillies have 18 games in the last 16 days of the season and don’t know when or if Zack Wheeler will pitch again because he tore his fingernail on his jeans (true story). The Marlins have 19 games in that same span and are young and unproven. So you’d better believe there’s a path to second place in the NL East or a Wild Card spot for the Mets (the first-place Braves are also extremely compromised in the rotation). Seizing the opportunity would require better performance in the clutch (the Mets’ .705 OPS with runners in scoring position was 27th out of 30 teams before Friday’s offensive explosion) and better performance from the non-Jacob deGrom portion of the rotation. Pete Alonso has heated up in September, and he could be the key to the whole darn thing.
Games back: 2 ½ GB of STL for 2nd place in NL Central; 3 GB of NL Wild Card
Games left: 15
Remaining schedule strength: .503
As was the case in 2019, the Reds have wasted some of the best starting pitching in baseball with an anemic offense (second-lowest average runs scored in MLB, entering the weekend), despite the big-name acquisitions of Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. The Reds draw a ton of walks and hit their fair share of homers, but do little else. That desperately needs to change, and perhaps getting Nick Senzel back from injury next week will help. While the Reds’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk, they might benefit from the Brewers and Cardinals playing an inordinate number of games against each other (see below). So there’s a good opportunity to slide into second place -- and, ergo, into October -- and that’s why I’m listing them here.
Games back: 1 GB of STL for 2nd place in NL Central; 1 ½ GB of NL Wild Card
Games left: 18
Remaining schedule strength: .501
Winning eight of 12 one-run games (thanks in large part to the dominance of Josh Hader and Devin Williams) is how a Brew Crew club with an iffy, at best, rotation and a light lineup has hung around. It’s hard to imagine a late rise that doesn’t include Christian Yelich getting back to his MVP level after a confounding seven weeks in which he's been mostly meh (.808 OPS, 113 OPS+). Milwaukee is paying the price for the Cardinals’ COVID conundrum, as those two clubs have three doubleheaders (and 10 games overall) remaining against each other. They might just pick each other off.
Games back: 1 ½ GB of NL Wild Card
Games left: 16
Remaining schedule strength: .526