We made it! What once looked improbable is a reality. While there remains a strong possibility the Cardinals and Tigers get together for a game or two on Monday, the other 28 clubs will play their 60th and final regular-season game on Sunday. As has been the recent tradition, all 15 contests will start in the 3 p.m. ET time block so no one has an advantage knowing whether it's necessary to start a pitcher they'd prefer to save to open the playoffs. Along those lines, the eight American League teams headed to the postseason are established, though seeding for a few spots is up in the air. Heading into Saturday's action, three teams are vying for at least one National League playoff berth with St. Louis in control of its own destiny for the other -- though they may to play two extra games to get there. Philadelphia and Milwaukee hope to win out with the Cardinals losing at least three to sneak in. The exact scenario will be clarified at the conclusion of Saturday's slate and will be part of the Sunday morning update.
The best approach for picking players on the final day of the season is focusing on teams battling for a playoff berth or those completely out of it. Playoff-bound teams may start their regulars but pull them after an at-bat or two. Pitchers slated to work in the postseason's first round could get 50 pitches to keep them sharp, but not enough to qualify for a win.
With that in mind, here is the final set of picks to click, all available in at least half of ESPN leagues. On behalf of my Daily Notes colleagues Mike Sheets and Paul Sporer, good luck taking down your league, it has been a pleasure and we'll see you on March 31.
Brady Singer (R), rostered in 28% of ESPN leagues, Kansas City Royals vs. Detroit Tigers: After a rare stumble last time out, Singer will try to end his season on a high note. Before surrendering three runs with five walks allowed to the Cardinals earlier in the week, Singer hurled a melodious 14 frames with 16 strikeouts. The rookie faces a tame Tigers lineup just waiting for the chorus to end, though they may be called out for an encore on Monday.
Brett Anderson (L), 12%, Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals: Assuming the Brewers aren't mathematically eliminated, the veteran southpaw will be taxed with defeating another club embroiled in the postseason hunt. Anderson has been solid lately with consecutive six-inning outings, allowing a total of three runs with ten strikeouts.
Austin Gomber (L), 3%, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers: Gomber is coming off an impressive six-inning effort against the Royals, holding Kansas City scoreless though only fanning three. For the season, Gomber has 24 whiffs in 25 innings, mostly in relief. On another day, Gomber could be too risky to deploy, but since he's pitching with something on the line, he makes the cut.
Clarke Schmidt (R), 2%, New York Yankees vs. Miami Marlins: The Yankees are headed on to the playoffs but since Schmidt isn't likely to start in the first round, there shouldn't be any restriction on his workload. This will be the rookie's first start after throwing a pair of innings as a reliever. Ranked 82nd on Kiley McDaniel's Top 100 Prospect list, Clarke relies on a mid-90s fastball and slider. While this outing could be an audition for the playoff roster, it's more likely a means to acclimate the 24-year-old right-hander to the bigs in advance of a spring tryout for the Yankees rotation.
JT Brubaker (R), 2%, Pittsburgh Pirates at Cleveland Indians: Brubaker has fanned 29 with just eight walks over has previous five starts, spanning 27 ⅓ innings. His 4.28 ERA over that stretch is bloated by giving up seven runs to the White Sox in 5 ⅓ innings. In the other four efforts, Brubaker allowed two or fewer runs.
Bullpen: Now is the time to prepare for the likelihood of Monday games and beat the rush by dropping all your starters not scheduled to work Sunday and grabbing St. Louis and Detroit bullpen arms, hoping for a save or to vulture a victory. The Cardinals don't have a set closer, with Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley all in the mix; Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera are also options. The Tigers' closer is Bryan Garcia with Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, Buck Farmer and deposed closer Joe Jimenez other candidates to acquire.
For the latest team-by-team closer situations, please consult our Closer Chart.
Catcher -- Alejandro Kirk (R), 3%, Toronto Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles (LHP Keegan Akin): Ignore Kirk's unsustainable .381/.409/.619 start to his career and focus on a favorable matchup, enjoying the platoon edge on a fellow rookie.
First Base -- Brandon Belt (L), 30%, San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres (Undecided): Belt is an example of entrusting a veteran with something to play for to help seal your own championship. It's likely to be a bullen game for the playoff bound Padres, and after losing Dinelson Lamet Friday night, they're not going to endanger any of their better arms.
Second Base -- Joey Wendle (L), 17%, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Philadelphia Phillies (RHP Aaron Nola): Neither Wendle nor Nola are likely to finish the game, but as locked in as Wendle has been, he can do sufficient damage. The versatile infielder carried a seven-game hitting streak into Saturday's action, going 12-for-27 with a pair homers in that stretch.
Third Base -- Maikel Franco (R), 14%, Kansas City Royals vs. Detroit Tigers (LHP Tarik Skubal): While Franco has hit well in general, as expected he's been better with the platoon advantage. Skubal is wrapping up a bumpy rookie campaign in which he's allowed seven homers in only 27 IP.
Shortstop -- Willi Castro (S), 14%, Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals (RHP Brady Singer): Castro's rookie season has been like the tree falling in the forest -- for many it hasn't made a sound. But a .346/.380/.551 rookie campaign should be music to Motown's ears.
Corner Infield -- Josh Fuentes (R), 5%, Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks (LHP Madison Bumgarner): Next season, many will warn of Fuentes' poor plate skills and high ground ball rate, not conducive to Coors Field. There will be time to worry about that. On the final Sunday, take advantage of a righty batter facing a southpaw sporting the worst wOBA (weighted on base average) in the league against right-handed hitters.
Middle Infield -- Luis Garcia (L), 6%, Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets (RHP Seth Lugo): Garcia is in a tailspin, in part due to needing to work on plate discipline as evidenced by just three walks and 26 strikeouts in 128 plate appearances. Still, considering he's just 20 years old, Garcia as turned in an impressive rookie campaign by batting .280.
Outfield -- Ryan Braun (R), 38%, Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals (LHP Austin Gomber): Braun is slumping but he's still in play having played in pressure situations throughout his career. Curiously, Braun is handling righties better than southpaws, but the more trustworthy career number points to an advantage stepping in the box with a lefty on the hill.
Outfield -- Dylan Carlson (S), 15%, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers (LHP Brett Anderson): There was a lot of buzz surrounding Carlson back in the spring and through summer camp. It took a little while, but he finally showed why with a .357/.406/.786 stretch over nine games heading into Saturday.
Outfield -- Austin Hays (R), 14%, Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays (RHP Tanner Roark): Since September 18, Hays has slashed .414/.452/.759 with three long balls. If Roark makes the playoff roster, it will be as a long reliever as his recent performances have knocked him from rotation consideration. Homers have been the main issue with 10 of his 14 long balls in just 43 ⅔ innings issued to right-handed batters.
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LH" and "RH" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is the primary statistic used in the calculation. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. So, for example, a 10 is a must-start rating, while a 1 should be avoided (if possible); a 1-2 is poor, 3-4 is fair, 5-6 is average, 7-8 is very good and 9-10 is excellent. A "*" means that the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate hitter rating; these are the author's ratings.