Seven of the 10 playoff spots look pretty secure, with only the National League Central and the second wild-card spots in both leagues up for grabs. So, let's take a look at the 10 teams who are currently holding a playoff spot and ask one pitching-related question to consider down the stretch or heading into the postseason.
The rotation is in great shape compared to last season. Miller's return from knee tendinitis -- an injury that has sidelined him for all but 1 1/3 innings since the beginning of August -- is the biggest health question on the staff. Miller threw 30 pitches in a simulated game Monday and manager Terry Francona described the lefty as "raring to go." They'll have to see how the knee responds, but he should return to game action in a low-leverage spot this week, putting him on course to resume his vital bullpen role in the postseason.
Houston Astros: How does the rotation line up?
This is really multiple questions folded into one. First off, who will be the Game 1 starter? Right now, Justin Verlander is following Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, but that seems subject to change given that Verlander has been terrific for a couple of months while Keuchel has a 5.02 ERA since returning from the disabled list in late August.
The other issue is whether All-Star Lance McCullers Jr. will be deemed rotation-worthy ahead of Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton or Collin McHugh (Mike Fiers has already been sent to the bullpen). McCullers has made only one start since returning from his own DL stint, and Peacock (150 strikeouts in 115 innings) has been the big surprise of late with a .651 OPS and 3.01 ERA since mid-June. No matter whom he chooses, manager A.J. Hinch will certainly have a quick hook with his third and fourth starters and rely on bullpen depth.
Price's availability remains uncertain as he just recently faced lived hitters for the first time since July 22, when he went on the DL because of elbow inflammation. He'll pitch another simulated game this week and go from there, but he might not be stretched out in time for the playoffs and could end up in the bullpen. Drew Pomeranz has probably earned the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Chris Sale with a strong season, although Doug Fister has been excellent since Aug. 1 (2.88 ERA over six starts). That probably leaves 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello as the No. 4 starter.
New York Yankees: Who starts the wild-card game?
The American League East title is obviously still in play, but if the Yankees end up in the wild-card game, manager Joe Girardi will have a tough decision: Do you start Luis Severino or Sonny Gray? That's an important call, because whomever doesn't start that game probably lines up to start Games 1 and 5 of the division series.
Severino has been the Yankees' ace all season, but Gray has a 2.74 ERA since coming over from the Oakland Athletics. Has he really been that good though? His FIP is 4.06 with the Yankees, so I think it's clear Severino is still the No. 1 guy. On the other hand, Gray has postseason experience and you could start him in the wild-card game but rely on that deep bullpen, freeing up Severino to start Game 1 of the division series (if you win).
Minnesota Twins: Who starts the wild-card game?
The Twins could be in a battle down to the final day of the season to secure a playoff spot or even have to play a tiebreaker game, so there's no guarantee Paul Molitor will get to line up his rotation exactly how he wants. My guess is veteran Ervin Santana would still get the call over Jose Berrios, even though Santana hasn't been as effective in the second half compared to the first half, when he spun seven scoreless starts. Berrios has flashes of brilliance with his wipeout stuff but still lacks consistency.
OK, Alex Wood's velocity is down and Yu Darvish hasn't been good his past two starts, but the rotation seems set, leaving manager Dave Roberts still mapping out his bullpen, which seems weird for a team that -- horrific slump and all -- still has the best record in the majors.
Oft-injured Brandon Morrow has emerged as the top setup guy, with a 2.37 ERA and no home runs allowed in 38 innings. He also has appeared in back-to-back games only five times all season and gone more than three outs only four times in 39 appearances. It's the rest of the pen that has issues at the moment. Pedro Baez has a 2.64 ERA, but a 4.58 FIP and has been awful of late. Josh Fields has given up 10 home runs in 52 1/3 innings. Luis Avilan can get lefties out but struggles against righties, and trade acquisition Tony Watson has been decent, but not great.
You don't have to have defined bullpen roles heading into the postseason, but it certainly helps. And in the Dodgers' case, none of their starters have been pitching deep into games. And remember that even Clayton Kershaw has a history of bombing out in the postseason in the seventh inning. So the solution might be Morrow in the seventh and some two-inning saves from Jansen.
Washington Nationals: Who is the closer?
Dusty Baker has settled on Sean Doolittle, who is a perfect 17-for-17 in save opportunities since coming over from the A's. Ryan Madson did get the save Sunday, entering with a 3-0 lead, so that seems to have been just a day off for Doolittle. There is one blip in Doolittle's usage, however: On Aug. 24 against the Astros, Doolittle pitched the eighth and Brandon Kintzler came on in the ninth for the save (which he blew). If there are a bunch of lefties due up in the eighth inning -- say Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger -- will Dusty be open to using Doolittle and then Madson or Kintzler for the save?
Chicago Cubs: Who is the Game 1 starter?
Of course, that question assumes the Cubs win the Central, which is no guarantee considering they still have seven games left against the St. Louis Cardinals and three against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jon Lester was the No. 1 guy last year and he has that sterling 2.63 career postseason ERA over 133 2/3 innings. He also hasn't been as good this year, oddly prone to some blow-up starts (a 10-run outing, a nine-run outing and three six-run games). Jake Arrieta, meanwhile, has a 1.98 ERA over his past 10 starts, although he strained a hamstring on Sept. 4 and missed his last start.
The Diamondbacks are pretty set, as they're essentially locked into hosting the wild-card game. Zack Greinke should pitch that game, meaning Ray would start the division series opener if they advance, especially if Arizona faces the Dodgers, a team he dominated in the regular season (2.27 ERA in five starts with 53 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings). If the Diamondbacks are to pull off a surprising run in the postseason, it's probably because Ray (12.3 K's per nine) has a big October.
Based on the current rotation, it's Jon Gray, German Marquez, Chad Bettis and then Tyler Chatwood or Kyle Freeland. That means it would be Gray in the wild-card game and Marquez in the division series opener. That leaves Holland as the big concern down the stretch. Coming off Tommy John surgery, he had a great first half but certainly looked tired in August when he blew three saves and lost a fourth game, giving up 14 runs and four home runs in just 9 1/3 innings. He's been better in September with only one hit (a home run) in six innings. If they do anything in October, they're going to need Holland to get back on track.