It’s becoming clear that the wild-card races are shaping up to be incredibly tight this year. There’s a little bit of a gap between wild-card teams and the rest of the playoff field, but it’s a pretty large gap. The question is: how much of a gap is there? And what will this year’s final playoff field look like?
It is never too early to start thinking about the 2018-2019 campaign – or is it? All 30 NHL franchises are making their final preparations for the upcoming season, and only time will tell who will be crowned Stanley Cup Champions.
The wild-card races are nearly upon us, pitting one wild-card team against another to determine which makes the playoffs. The A’s and the Rangers already locked up the two guaranteed spots, but the rest of the wild-card field is still up in the air. We’ve re-watched the last few weeks in each league and figured out the standings in each league and in each position. And, in some cases, we’ve also forecast who will come out of the wild-card race alive.
We’re a week into September, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions in MLB’s postseason races.
Which of the two American League wild-card contenders will be able to hold on? Is the Phillies on the verge of catching up to the Braves in the National League East? Which of baseball’s two greatest teams will be forced to play in the wild-card game after the dramatic NL West fight between the Giants and Dodgers? Is the Mets’ postseason hopes still alive in the National League?
Based on what they’ve learnt so far throughout the 2021 season, the members of our eight-voter expert panel have come to the following conclusions. We also asked ESPN baseball analysts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers, and Alden Gonzalez to provide a Week 22 prediction based on what they’ve observed lately for all 30 clubs.
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88-52 is the score. 1st place previously
Despite the absence of Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers have two pitchers that might potentially win the NL Cy Young Award. Since joining the Dodgers, Max Scherzer (1.05 ERA, 63 strikeouts, five walks in 43 innings) and Walker Buehler (2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in 28 starts this season) have been two of the finest pitchers in baseball. The Dodgers have a deadly postseason rotation with these two, Julio Urias, and Clayton Kershaw, who threw three innings in a rehab start Tuesday. Who of them would be the first to start a possible wild-card game? So, it’s up to you to decide. Gonzalez’s words
90-50 is the record. Previous position: 2
The Giants’ season is summed up by their highly anticipated weekend series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were lagging behind the Dodgers, who seemed to be on the brink of seizing control of the division and establishing themselves as baseball’s greatest club. The Giants, on the other hand, won two of three to take a one-game lead in the NL West heading into Labor Day. They figured it out. They’ve done it all year by pairing up in the bullpen, platooning in the lineup, maximizing value with their starters, and squeezing excellence from their older veterans. Gonzalez’s words
88-52 is the score. 3rd place before.
Wander Franco continues to adjust to life in the big leagues, overtaking Mickey Mantle for the second-longest on-base streak by a player under the age of 20 (37 games). He is currently second only to Frank Robinson, who had 43 consecutive at-bats in 1956. Franco is hitting.285/.346/.467 with seven home runs in 60 games with the Rays, who are still in contention for the AL East title. Lee —
86-55 is the score. Previous position: 5
Milwaukee’s magic number will be in the single digits in no time. The good news is that this is the case. Now all the Brewers have to do is get starter Freddy Peralta back on track for the second half of the season. In his first start back from the IL, he just threw two innings, so there’s potential for growth. The idea, according to manager Craig Counsell, was to ease him in gradually. Given that the Brewers have been on top of the division for months, Peralta’s condition is one of the few major concerns for them as they prepare for October. After returning from his own IL stay, infielder Eduardo Escobar had a solid week at the bat (.333). Rogers’ comment
Previous ranking: 4 Previous record: 81-58
Myles Straw was the Astros’ starting centerfielder for the majority of the season. He had a good season before being dealt to Cleveland. As a result, Houston brought in Chas McCormick. He had a good year, shifted to right field for a while due to injuries, and then got injured again. So it was youngster Jake Meyers’ turn, and Meyers has performed so well that he seems to be getting a lot of playing time in October. Meyers has hit.315/.340/.511 in his first 29 games while also playing well defensively. You’re wondering whether he’s regressing since he hasn’t walked much. However, Meyers’ free-swinging has worked out nicely thus far. Doolittle’s quote
80-59 is the new record. Previous position: 7
Given the consistency and durability of the White Sox’s five main starters, the issue of who would be left out of the playoff rotation arose as the second half proceeded. Dallas Keuchel, Chicago’s highest-paid pitcher with the longest playoff track record on the club, didn’t seem to be the solution. Unfortunately, Keuchel’s season has fallen apart, from from mediocre to disastrous. Keuchel has given up six runs in each of his last four outings and has a 7.44 ERA through nine games in the second half. Things have gotten so terrible that, even if Carlos Rodon’s shoulder problems persist, surging righty Reynaldo Lopez may be a better choice to round out the postseason rotation than Keuchel. To put it bluntly, the veteran lefty must turn things around quickly. Doolittle’s quote
78-61 is the score. Previous position: 6
The Yankees are presently in first place in the AL Wild Card rankings, but the defeats keep coming. The injury to setup man Jonathan Loáisiga is a major setback for this team’s bullpen, which has battled for consistency and quality in the ninth inning this season. With 2.2 fWAR, Loásiga has been the most useful reliever in the AL this season, tied for first in MLB with Brewers reliever Josh Hader. Lee —
73-65 is the score. Previous position: 8
The Braves extended two-year, $16 million contracts to Travis d’Arnaud and one-year, $20 million contracts to Charlie Morton. Both approaches are quite reasonable. After d’Arnaud’s thumb injury early in the season, the Braves failed to generate any offense from catcher, and this offseason’s crop of free-agent catchers is thin. Morton has pitched well at 37 years old (13-5, 3.47 ERA, 185 strikeouts), and his velocity has improved from previous seasons, averaging 95.5 mph with his fastball, and he’s on track for his third consecutive season of 30-plus starts (excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season). Schoenfield’s
76-62 is the score. Previous position: 11
The Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. became the youngest player in Toronto club history to hit 40 home runs, while Marcus Semien continues to have his greatest season of his career, after a difficult 2020 season. If the Red Sox go on a losing run and the Blue Jays get their stride at the appropriate moment, Toronto may find itself in postseason contention come October. Lee —
80-62 is the score. Previous position: 9
Boston is still in contention for the second wild-card spot. Alex Cora has struggled to find consistent performance from the leadoff position this season, but he moved Kyle Schwarber there at the trade deadline, and he has thrived since returning from injury. In 22 games with the Red Sox, Schwarber is hitting.325/.450/.550 with four home runs and 19 runs scored. With the Blue Jays creeping up the standings and pushing them for the wild card, the Red Sox will have to keep an eye on their backs. Lee —
74-65 is the score. Previous position: 13
The Padres are finally seeing the Blake Snell they expected as they make a run for the second NL wild-card position down the road, despite a demanding schedule. Snell, who struggled to pitch deep into games for the first four months of the season, kept the Angels hitless until the last out of the seventh inning Tuesday and didn’t allow a baserunner in the first six innings. The Padres lost that night, but Snell has a 1.85 ERA in his last seven starts, with 65 strikeouts and 14 walks in 432/3 innings. He was pulled after seven no-hit innings against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 31. Gonzalez’s words
75-64 is the score. Previous position: 10
After being swept by the Blue Jays, Oakland has a difficult path to the playoffs. In the postseason standings, the A’s are now staring up at Toronto, Boston, and division foe Seattle. Since joining Oakland in July, Starling Marte has stolen 21 bases, making him one of the greatest trade deadline acquisitions in baseball. Marte may become the first player ever to finish in the top ten in stolen bases in both leagues, according to Elias Sports Bureau data, placing fifth in the AL and fourth in the NL. Lee —
76-64 is the score. Previous position: 16
Because the Mariners had 28 victories in their last at-bat, it’s no surprise that J.P. Crawford, Kyle Seager, and Ty France placed 4-5-11 in FanGraphs’ “clutch” metric. The definition is a bit deceptive since it does not specify who the greatest hitters are in high-leverage circumstances, but rather who improves the most in comparison to their overall statistics. Regardless, all three have performed well. Crawford has a.355 high-leverage batting average and a.214 low-leverage batting average. Seager has a high-leverage OPS of.817, a medium-leverage OPS of.975, and a low-leverage OPS of.542. In high-leverage, France has a 1.023 OPS. Schoenfield’s
74-67 is the score. Previous position: 12
Cincinnati has a strong record against.500 clubs, which makes its recent losses to the Tigers and Cubs all the more noticeable. The Reds, who are in a close wild-card battle, can’t afford many setbacks. They’ll have to play without All-Star Jesse Winker, who is recuperating from an injury to his intercostal (rib cage). The Reds don’t think it’s serious, but their lineup is their strength. It’s been more uneven without Winker. Joey Votto is in a slump, hitting.200/.294/.333 over the last seven days, which doesn’t help matters. Rogers’ comment
Is it possible that games are too long? How can baseball make the most of its new crop of superstars? We go into the issues that will have a long-term impact on the game. Baseball’s Current Situation «
71-68 is the current record. 14th place before.
Aaron Nola’s odd, disappointing season continued in a 10-0 defeat to the Brewers on Tuesday, when he gave up three runs in five innings, raising his ERA to 4.57. Nola has averaged 10.96 strikeouts per nine innings, making him one of 102 pitchers to reach the ERA championship and average at least 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Only seven of the pitchers had an ERA of more than 4.00. (including Robbie Ray twice). Nola’s is ranked third worst on the list, behind Ray (4.90) and Michael Pineda (4.90) from 2016. (4.82). The major issue: with runners in scoring position, Nola has a.291 average and.500 slugging percentage. Schoenfield’s
70-70 is the record. Previous position: 18
Sandy Alderson’s assertion that Jacob deGrom’s injured elbow had “resolved itself” was odd, especially because the “elbow is completely intact based on MRIs and clinical assessments from our physicians,” according to MRIs and clinical evaluations from our doctors. Meanwhile, deGrom isn’t expected to pitch again until mid-September, so his comeback this season is still uncertain. Despite all of this, the Mets have won eight of their last ten games going into Wednesday, keeping them in the postseason chase. Schoenfield’s
70-68 is the score. 15th place before.
The Cardinals keep falling behind every time they make a run for the wild card. On Sunday, Brewers pinch hitter Daniel Vogelbach blasted a walk-off grand slam to seal the team’s fate. After a 15-4 victory over Milwaukee on Friday, St. Louis went on to lose to the Dodgers on Monday and Tuesday, making it four defeats in a row. Aside from injuries to their starting pitching staff, the Cardinals’ bullpen has been the story of the season. It continues reappearing and will most certainly prevent them from playing in October. Rogers’ comment
68-69 is the current record. Previous position: 17
Even after falling to the fringes of the wild-card chase, Cleveland has stayed in there, but its most recent slump puts an end to any hopes of a miraculous finish. One idea to keep in mind is to begin documenting the club’s last accomplishments as it prepares to change its name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians. For the fact, Cleveland was originally known as the Indians in the 1915 season, but club names back then didn’t create the same degree of excitement as they do today. Still, the first Cleveland Indian to win a game that long-ago season was Willie Mitchell, who did it against Detroit in the season opener. Shoeless Joe Jackson had the first hit and RBI, while the first run scored (also driven in by Jackson) went to the doomed Ray Chapman, who reached base on a Ty Cobb dropped fly ball. The first home run of the 1915 season didn’t arrive until the fifth game, but it was also hit by Shoeless Joe. So, who will be the final Cleveland Indian to fall into any of those categories? We’ll find out as soon as possible. Doolittle’s quote
69-71 is the current record. Previous position: 19
The Angels’ pitching shortage has been a narrative for at least the past half-decade, but there may be reason to be optimistic. The Angels have as many as six starting pitchers on the roster who made their big league debut this season and may play a key role in 2021. Patrick Sandoval, Griffin Canning, Chris Rodriguez, Reid Detmers, Jose Suarez, and Jaime Barria all on the list, with the latter coming off a strong seven-inning performance against the Rangers. Half of them, say, must step up for the Angels. That, along with Shohei Ohtani and at least a couple of experienced arms acquired through free agency or trade, may make the Angels a dangerous team next season. Gonzalez’s words
The MLB season of 2021 will be broadcast on ESPN and the ESPN App.
All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.
Sunday, September 12th, 8 p.m. on ESPN, Yankees vs. Mets
Diamondbacks at. Dodgers, Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 10 p.m. on ESPN
66-75 is the current record. Previous position: 20
At times, Detroit closer Gregory Soto seems to be untouchable. You wonder whether he has any clue where the ball is heading at other times. Despite this, Soto has had a good season in AJ Hinch’s bullpen. His slider’s stats are off the charts:.398 OPS allowed, 37 percent strikeout rate, and 8% walk rate. However, Soto’s command of the fastball remains an impediment to his being a top reliever. Soto’s sinker has an.849 OPS this season, with an 18 percent strikeout rate and a 19 percent walk rate. Soto may really take off in 2022 if he can get a couple more strikes on his fastball, or if he switches to using his four-seamer more often. Doolittle’s quote
63-77 is the score. Previous position: 21
The Rockies have been a.500 team since the beginning of June, while playing in a division with three top-tier teams. They’re a force to be reckoned with at home. They’re a bottom-feeder on the road. They have a solid starting pitching staff and a few good hitters in their lineup, but they aren’t a player or two away from contending, especially with the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres in the mix. The new front office, which has yet to be selected, must assess how long a rebuild in Denver will be needed. And in a hurry. Gonzalez’s words
62-77 is the score. 22nd in the previous ranking
The Royals were looking for Carlos Santana’s plate discipline, something he has always had at the bat and which their lineup desperately needed. With a team-high 74 walks, Santana has done just that. Santana’s sub-.400 slugging percentage and sub-.700 OPS, on the other hand, must be considered disappointments. Santana has a.217/.335/.367 batting line since the start of last season. He’s 35 years old, and this may be exactly what he is at this point, making him a liability rather than a strength in the Royals’ lineup moving ahead. Doolittle’s quote
65-76 is the current record. Previous position: 26
Do you like Frank the Tank or the Schwindy city? During the Cubs’ seven-game winning run, new first baseman Frank Schwindel has been lighting up the box score with clutch hit after clutch hit. In fact, he became just the second player in modern history to drive in the game-winning run four times in a row in the sixth or later inning. The 29-year-old is vying for a roster place and playing time for next season. In August, he was named rookie of the month, and now in September, he is named player of the week. Rogers’ comment
62-77 is the score. Previous position: 23
We now know that Byron Buxton remaining healthy would not have been enough to salvage Minnesota’s season, given how far off the rails the Twins’ season had gone. Buxton has struggled since returning after looking like an MVP contender before getting injured. Buxton batted just.133 in his first 11 games after returning from the IL, with one home run, one RBI, and no stolen bases. It’s just the latest setback in a season that’s been littered with them for the Twins. Doolittle’s quote
58-81 is the score. Previous position: 24
It’s a little detail, but Marlins pitchers are hitting.072, which is the lowest in the National League. They’ve only managed to score three runs and drove in two (the NL averages are 9.9 and 9.0). Without counting AL clubs during the DH era, it would be the lowest batting average ever for a pitching staff (the Reds hit .079 in 2016). The fewest RBIs for a pitching staff in a complete season is five, which has happened a few times (the Cubs and Pirates both have four RBIs right now, so they’re not far behind). Let’s go to the universal DH, please. Schoenfield’s
58-81 is the score. Previous position: 25
The promotion of Victor Robles to the minors sends a strong message: In 2022, the Nationals will be on the lookout for a new center fielder. With a.203/.310/.295 hitting line, he’s just overwhelmed at the plate far too frequently. His exit velocity is in the first percentile of all big league batters, which means he’s among the worst. He just does not strike the ball hard enough. His center defense is adequate, but not as good as it was in 2019, but it isn’t enough to keep him in the lineup. Except for Starling Marte, the free-agent market for center fielders is poor, thus a replacement center fielder may have to be acquired via trade. Schoenfield’s
51-88 is the score. Previous position: 28
The Rangers showed up on the field last week, giving up only 11 runs in five games after a year of inconsistency on the mound. Jordan Lyles pitched a strong seven innings, tying for his longest start of the season, and the staff had a 2.09 ERA, which was second best in the AL. The efforts of 11th-round pick A.J. Alexy, though, has gotten a lot of attention. He has thrown 11 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits in two starts, including a six-inning shutout against the Angels on Monday. In the game, he struck out seven batters and had 11 strikeouts in 11 innings. Alexy is gaining a lot of attention as a late-season fantasy baseball option, but he’s also giving Rangers fans optimism for the future. Texas is in desperate need of starting pitching, and Alexy may be the solution.
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The score is 50-90. Previous position: 27
Right now, Pittsburgh’s pitching staff is severely depleted. It was swept in a four-game series by the new-look Cubs last week, giving up a staggering 30 runs. However, there are a few bright spots. In a victory against the Tigers on Tuesday, reliever David Bednar, 26, hasn’t given up a run in ten outings, and rookie Dillon Peters performed effectively. Perhaps returning home helped the Pirates, as they won the opening two games of their series against Detroit, allowing just five runs in total. Because their series on the mound at Wrigley Field was nasty, something had to give. Rogers’ comment
45-95 is the score. Previous position: 29
Josh Rojas, a 26th-round selection who didn’t receive extended playing time until his age-27 season in 2021, has been one of the brighter stories in what has otherwise been a dismal Diamondbacks season. Rojas has taken full advantage of the situation. He was batting.269/.346/.435 and worth 1.4 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement heading into Wednesday, providing coverage in both the middle infield and outfield corners. More of those kinds of discoveries would be beneficial to the D-backs. Gonzalez’s words
45-93 is the score. 30th in the previous ranking
Baltimore won two of three games in New York against the Yankees, and Cedric Mullins continues to have a breakthrough season, with a top-10 WAR among position players this season. Since being acquired off waivers by Baltimore, former Angels top prospect Chris Ellis has thrown well, with a 2.84 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 1223 innings worked in three starts. Lee —