But in this star-crossed, shortened time, shortened pandemic, maybe-we-never-go-through-2020 season, Game 58 brings us to the last weekend of the schedule for most teams – an arrival that both feels premature and wonderful, given it all of the sport that endured coming here. The weather is getting cooler and signals the beginning of the off-season. In the midst of the yet to be determined playoff races, desperation has set in.
While the ad hoc playoff format introduced this year with 16 teams has as good as eliminated the drama at the top of the rankings – all eight qualifiers from each league guaranteed a three-game series in the opening round – it succeeded to spin The wildcard becomes an all-rounder, at least in the National League.
After Wednesday’s games, six teams – the St. Louis Cardinals (27-26), the San Francisco Giants (28-27), the Cincinnati Reds (29-28), the Miami Marlins (28-28) and the Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) and Milwaukee Brewers (27-28) – will be bundled within a game against each other for the four remaining places in the lower half of the NL bracket to ensure a dramatic last weekend. World Series defending champions Washington Nationals were eliminated 23:33 when the Giants beat the Rockies 7-2.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves have won their divisions while the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres have occupied playoff spots.
All that’s left in the American League apart from one miracle is – where the Tampa Bay Rays, the Minnesota Twins, the Oakland Athletics, the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians have berths, and the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays close in them – sows.
However, sowing this year is no mean feat. All eight first-round series take place on three consecutive days in the home stadium of the better seeded team. The AL first round series should start on Tuesday and the NL series the next day.
This is how sowing works this year: The three best seeds in each league go to the winners in each division in the order of their records. The fourth seed with the home advantage goes to the second-placed team with the best record. The fifth and sixth seeds go to the remaining runner-up teams, and the seventh and eighth seeds go to the teams with the next best records, regardless of division.
The quirks of the seeding system, for example, mean that in the 1: 8 series in the Netherlands, the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers, whose record of 39:16 on Wednesday means a pace of 115 wins over 162 games, will face a matchup in the first round with a dangerous Cincinnati Reds team that could start Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray (combined ERA through Wednesday: 2.66) in these three games.
Another major twist in the format this year: ties aren’t settled with a playoff with a game (or game 163 as it became known). Instead, all ties are governed mathematically, starting with head-to-head records, if applicable. Otherwise, the connections will be broken by intradivisional recordings. (Three-way relationships would be resolved in the same way, starting with head-to-head records between the three teams and, by default, with intradivisional records.)
Another potentially chaotic contingency hangs over the NL half of the bracket: According to the current schedule, the Cardinals would only play 58 games, two fewer than any other competitor – due to their two-week break after a novel coronavirus outbreak earlier this season and the decreasing number of days when the lost games have to be made up with double heads.
Should the Cardinals qualify for the postseason based on win percentage, then these two games would not be invented for sowing purposes only. However, if those two standout games mean the difference between the Cardinals securing (or losing) a playoff spot, they’d have to play one or both ends of a double header in Detroit on Monday, the day after the season is scheduled to end.
This scenario, with its potential to affect the seeding in this half of the bracket, could result in none of the NL playoff teams knowing where they will play in the first round by Monday.
That leaves the Cardinals Brewers series this weekend in St. Louis – actually a five-game series that begins Thursday and includes a double-header Friday – the linchpin for a potentially wild end to the regular season.
After everything that happened to baseball in 2020, it would only be fitting.