Three games left and we still have two divisions at stake, one wild card in the National League, plus the entire seeding in the NL.
The American League is easy. The only thing to decide is home-field advantage for the wild-card game. The New York Yankees are one win or one Oakland Athletics' loss from clinching that. The wild-card game winner will travel to Boston while the Houston Astros will play the Cleveland Indians in the division series matchups.
So let's preview the final three days, focusing on the National League and all the matchups. Here's how everything stands heading into Friday:
Here's what we know:
-- The Atlanta Braves have clinched the NL East and can win the No. 2 seed. They lost both season series to the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, so they have to finish with the better record than either team to secure the second seed.
-- If the Cubs and Brewers tie for the NL Central title, there would be a tiebreaker game Monday at Wrigley Field (the Cubs won the season series 11-8).
-- If the Rockies and Dodgers tie for the NL West title, there would be a tiebreaker game Monday at Dodger Stadium (the Dodgers won the season series 12-7).
-- The Rockies, Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals all could end up with 89 or 90 wins, tying for a division title plus the second wild card. If that happens, the Rockies and Dodgers would play for the NL West title on Monday, with the loser playing at St. Louis on Tuesday to get into the wild-card game against the Brewers or Cubs (which would be pushed back to Wednesday).
Got all that? That's not too confusing. A few days ago, a five-way tie for two division titles and a wild card seemed possible.
The Cardinals are reeling after the Brewers just swept them in St. Louis, an awful series in which the Cardinals hit poorly, pitched poorly, fielded poorly and ran the bases poorly. Now they turn to 37-year-old Wainwright, who will be making his fourth start after missing more than three months. One of those was a good one with six scoreless innings against the Dodgers. Hendricks has been the Cubs' best starter of late, with a 2.68 ERA over his past 15 starts. He has allowed one run in three of his five September starts. MVP candidate Javier Baez has hit .345 with five home runs against the Cardinals.
The Brewers get a break, playing one of those bad AL teams. The Detroit Tigers also have been terrible on the road (26-52). The Brewers have been great in September, going 16-7 and outscoring their opponents 121-67. The bullpen, after a little burp in August, has been terrific with a 1.98 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 100 innings (plus a 10-1 record). Likely MVP Christian Yelich has hit .359/.435/.743 in the second half. The Cardinals simply walked him five times on Wednesday rather than give him a chance to hit.
With shades of the Rocktober run of 2007, the Rockies have won seven in a row to leap over the Dodgers. The Rockies are going for their first division title in franchise history as well as seeking the first back-to-back playoff trips in franchise history. The Washington Nationals, however, are unlikely to roll over like the Phillies just did. Freeland, the local kid from Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, has a 2.84 ERA -- and even more remarkable 2.36 ERA at Coors Field.
It has been a miserable second half for the San Francisco Giants, but you know they'd love to spoil the Dodgers' season and knock them out of the playoffs (or at least the division title). Ryu came off the DL in August and has been a strike-throwing machine with 50 strikeouts and three walks in 46⅔ innings. He has thrown 13 scoreless innings his past two outings. Bumgarner will probably want to throw a complete game in this one, then come back on Sunday in relief. The Dodgers are going for their sixth straight division title. The only teams with more are the 1991-2005 Braves (14, not counting the 1994 strike season) and the 1998-2006 Yankees (nine).
Mikolas proved to be one of the best pickups of the offseason as he has gone 17-4 with a 2.94 ERA. He does it by changing speeds and painting the corners -- he has one of the highest chase rates in the majors on pitches outside the zone. Hamels didn't allow a home run his first seven starts with the Cubs, but has allowed six over his past four outings. Keep an eye on Kris Bryant, who didn't play Wednesday or Thursday after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist on Tuesday and has just one home run in 73 at-bats since returning from the DL on Sept. 1 because of a sore shoulder.
Well, hello, Mr. Kershaw. The Dodgers obviously set up their rotation in anticipation of winning the division title. With Kershaw going Saturday, that means he wouldn't pitch in a potential tiebreaker game on Monday or a potential wild-card game on Tuesday. In fact, the Dodgers have their top three starters going their final three games, which leaves Rich Hill for the tiebreaker or wild-card game. (If Hill is needed on Monday ... Ross Stripling for the wild-card game?)
Miley had a 5.37 ERA in 2016 and 5.61 in 2017. But you know the drill -- you can't predict baseball! So he has a 2.32 ERA in 15 starts with the Brewers. He has somehow avoided the long ball, giving up only three home runs in 77⅔ innings. The Brewers just need this little miracle to continue for one more regular-season start -- oh and then maybe four or five more in the playoffs.
An intriguing matchup between two of 2018's most frustrating pitchers. Strasburg once again missed some time with injuries, making just three starts in June and July -- not coincidentally, the Nationals went 20-30 those two months. Gray had some big strikeout numbers early on, but struggled with runners on base and a bloated ERA eventually led to a short stint back in the minors, an interesting move for a pitcher of Gray's caliber. He was better after his return, but in three of his five September starts he hasn't made it past four innings.
Buehler has actually flown under the radar a little with all attention rightfully going to fellow rookies Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, but he has had a terrific first season with a 2.76 ERA and 2.98 FIP. The Dodgers limited his innings in the first half, but he's been all-out the past two months and has allowed two runs or fewer in 10 his past 11 starts (1.70 ERA, 84 K's in 68⅔ innings).
Tigers at Brewers, Spencer Turnbull vs. undecided (3:10 p.m. ET)
The Brewers could go with Gio Gonzalez here on four days' rest, but they may be waiting to see where they're at in the division. The Cubs could have it clinched by this point, in which case they'd be unlikely to use Gonzalez (although Jhoulys Chacin would be lined up for the wild-card game). They also could be waiting to hold Gonzalez back for the potential division tiebreaker game on Monday. Craig Counsell has a tough call here if the Brewers are down a game entering Sunday. Do you go all-out hoping for a tie, even if it means burning through Josh Hader and the rest of the bullpen?
Nationals at Rockies, Erick Fedde vs. undecided (3:10 p.m. ET)
The Rockies catch another break as this would have been Max Scherzer's start, but after reaching 300 strikeouts earlier this week -- and then seeing Jacob deGrom basically lock up the Cy Young Award -- it looks like Scherzer won't pitch. The Rockies can go with a combination of Antonio Senzatela or Chad Bettis plus a bunch of relievers. German Marquez would be on full rest to start on Monday or Tuesday, with Kyle Freeland lined up to start Game 1 of the division series.
This would be a lot of fun if both teams are still fighting for something. Flaherty also has had a terrific rookie season, with a 3.16 ERA, 179 strikeouts in 148⅓ innings and a .196 average allowed. He already has earned that bulldog reputation, has a wipeout slider and curveball, a changeup he's starting to mix in more and a four-seamer that batters have hit .197 against. As for Joe Maddon, if the Cubs have to win on Sunday, he may churn through his entire pitching staff trying to match up with the Cardinals. If a Monday game is needed, Jose Quintana would be in line for the start (with Jon Lester ready for the wild-card game).