The end of the 2018 regular season is just a few days away as October and postseason baseball rapidly approaches. Heading into the final weekend, there are only a few teams that can rest on their laurels. The Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves have all clinched their divisions, thus allowing them to take the next few days to rest players and prepare their playoff rosters for October.
For many others, however, these last several games will make or break their season. The National League West, for example, is anything but settled as the Colorado Rockies attempt to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division lead. The National League Central is no different, with the Chicago Cubs clinging to just a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals hope that their second-half surge culminates in a wild card berth.
There is a lot to keep an eye on this weekend, so let’s break everything down so that you know exactly what to watch for.
Current standing: 1.0-game back of NL Central lead. In possession of first wild card spot with a 4.0-game lead on the Dodgers
Weekend opponent: Detroit Tigers (64-94)
The Brewers have, arguably, the most favorable situation heading into the final weekend of the season. They have a vice grip on the top wild card spot while remaining just a game back of the Chicago Cubs for the division lead. On top of all of that, the Brewers have an extremely weak opponent this weekend in the Detroit Tigers, who are just shy of 100 losses on the season.
The Brewers will also be keeping an eye on the Cubs, who have the unfortunate task of trying to hold off the desperate St. Louis Cardinals this weekend. The formula for the Brewers is simple: win these final games, as they should, and at the very least they will be hosting the Wild Card Game at home. The best case scenario is that the Cubs struggle against the Cardinals, thus opening the door for Milwaukee to swoop in and claim the National League Central division for the first time since 2011.
Current standing: 1.0-game lead in the National League Central
Weekend opponent: St. Louis Cardinals (87-72)
Thanks to the efforts of their National League Central counterparts, the Cubs get absolutely zero opportunity to rest this weekend. Not only are the Brewers climbing up their backs in the division, but they are also saddled with having to face a Cardinals team that refuses to take its foot off the pedal with a wild card berth in sight.
With the Brewers squaring off against a bad Detroit team this weekend, it is unlikely that the Cubs will receive any help in maintaining their division lead. Thus, it would behoove the Cubs to treat this weekend series against the Cardinals as a playoff series. It may sound like an overstatement, but the Cubs cannot afford to take it easy as they head towards October. This series against the Cardinals, while stressful, is the perfect opportunity for Chicago’s manager, Joe Maddon, to find out who he can trust going into the postseason.
The Chicago Cubs’ players, to a man, must treat this weekend as an audition to make it onto the playoff roster. The team as a whole must treat it as if the playoffs have already started and raise its level of play accordingly.
Current Standing: 1.0-game lead in National League West.
Weekend opponent: Washington Nationals (81-78)
There are some around baseball that are labeling the Colorado Rockies as a “team of destiny,” and they might be correct. The Rockies, led by perennial slugger Nolan Arenado and MVP candidate Trevor Story, are on their way to winning the National League West for the first time in franchise history.
The Rockies, much like the Chicago Cubs, will not be afforded a chance to rest this weekend with the Dodgers looming just one game behind them in the division.
They will have to contend with a Nationals team that has been playing surprisingly well through the month of September. The Nationals are 14-10 this month, though they are 1-3 in the season series against Colorado. The Rockies will have two of their best pitchers, Kyle Freeland and Jon Gray, pitching the first two games of the series this weekend for their final tune-up before the playoffs.
The Rockies will have a chance to exploit the match-up against Washington and secure their division, which would grant them home field advantage at the start of the National League Division Series against Atlanta. The Rockies are 45-33 at home this year and have scored almost 100 more runs at home than on the road this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Current standing: 1.0 game back of the Colorado Rockies in the National League West. Currently in possession of second Wild Card spot.
Weekend opponent: San Francisco Giants (73-86)
The Dodgers are another team that must not only take care of business on the field but must also keep an eye on another team that is right behind them in the Wild Card race. The Cubs-Cardinals series will have the attention of the entire baseball world this weekend, but it is especially important to the Dodgers. The Cardinals are just one game back of Los Angeles for the second Wild Card spot.
The Dodgers have had a strong September, going 15-9 throughout the month and a collective 35-28 in the second half of the season. However, they do not have a favorable match-up heading into the final weekend as they have to face their division rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers are 7-9 in the season series against the Giants and, to make matters worse, they will be facing Madison Bumgarner in game one of that series on Friday night.
The Giants will certainly be looking to play spoiler for their division rivals, so the Dodgers must bring their A-game this weekend or risk falling out of the playoff picture entirely.
St. Louis Cardinals
Current standing: 1.0 game back of second wild card spot
Weekend opponent: Chicago Cubs (93-66)
As mentioned earlier, the Cardinals and the Cubs have, without question, the most exciting match-up in the final weekend of the season. The Cubs are hanging onto their division lead by a thread, all the while they must contend with a surging Cardinals team that has the second Wild Card spot in their sights.
After a monstrous August in which they went 22-6, the Cardinals have struggled to follow up that effort in Septemeber. They have gone 11-13 so far this month and now must fight for their playoff lives this weekend against the strongest team in the National League.
The Cardinals will be leaning on their best pitchers this weekend, as they will be sending Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, and Jack Flaherty to the mound to combat the Cubs’ potent offense.
The Cardinals do not control their own destiny, however. They will have to hope for the Giants to win against the Dodgers this weekend, thus opening the door for St. Louis to jump into that second Wild Card spot.
A season that got off to a tumultuous start, and eventually led to a midseason managerial change, could all culminate in a playoff berth this weekend if things break the right way for the Red Birds.
New York Yankees
Current standing: In possession of first Wild Card spot
Weekend opponent: Boston Red Sox (107-52)
The Yankees might actually be breathing a sigh of relief at the fact that Boston clinched the American League East as soon as they did. The Red Sox are currently preparing their playoff roster for what they hope is a long journey through the playoffs, which means that they are resting a lot of their regular starters.
The Yankees only need one win and one Oakland loss to secure that top Wild Card spot and guarantee that the play-in game takes place at Yankee Stadium, where the team holds an impressive 53-28 record this season.
While the Red Sox may be resting some players this final weekend, they will not take their foot completely off the pedal either. Red Sox manager Alex Cora knows that the Yankees could be a potential playoff opponent, so there is a chance that he will treat this weekend like it is a playoff series. Boston has played well against the Yankees this season, particularly at Fenway Park. A disastrous weekend in Boston could lead to the Yankees having fly out West to play the Wild Card game at the Oakland Coliseum, which is absolutely a situation they would like to avoid.
Current standing: In possession of second Wild Card spot, 2.0 games back of top spot
Weekend opponent: Los Angeles Angels (78-81)
The Athletics are guaranteed to be in the Wild Card game against the Yankees; the only current problem for them is that the game is set to take place in New York. The Athletics can potentially usurp the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot, but it will essentially take a series sweep against the Angels to achieve that.
The Athletics are 8-8 against the Angels this season, and they will be on the road for the weekend series against them. Oakland failed to seize upon opportunities earlier this month to close in on the Wild Card, and the team may come to regret that should they fall short this weekend. Barring simultaneous sweeps by Oakland and Boston, the Athletics will likely be flying to the Bronx for the Wild Card Game against the Yankees.