All six division titles have already been celebrated around baseball, which leaves just the two wild-card spots in both leagues up for grabs during the final days of the regular season. There are a total of seven teams still battling for those remaining postseason berths.

The close race should lead to ample drama on Sunday afternoon. The league has scheduled every game to start shortly after 3 p.m. ET in order to create a level playing field for all of the teams still in contention, and that increases the entertainment value tenfold.

Let’s check out all of the important dates for the upcoming playoff slate. That’s followed by a look at how the standings shape up with just a few days for those final spots to get claimed.


2016 MLB Postseason Schedule

All playoff games on Fox, Fox Sports 1, MLB Network, ESPN or TBS. Exact TV schedule TBA.


Current Playoff Picture

The Chicago Cubs are going to enter the playoffs as the clear favorite (+220 moneyline, via Odds Shark), regardless of which teams earn the remaining berths over the next couple of days. The NL Central champions are the only team to reach 100 wins and own a ridiculous plus-252 run differential.

As always, however, the age-old debate about rest vs. rust has come into play once again. Managers are tasked with doing their best to ensure no major injuries occur after clinching the division, but too many days of rest can hurt a rhythm that’s allowed the team to have success all season.

Cubs skipper Joe Maddon explained his thought process to Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago when asked about starters like Jake Arrieta and John Lackey going almost two weeks between outings by the time the postseason arrives:

That’s always been the major complaint I’ve heard. It’s just up to us to handle it properly. Now, of course, it may be difficult or rusty or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know. And then again, the rest might just do somebody really good. It just depends on the individual. These are the kind of things that are kind of outside of your control.

It’s one of those intangible factors all of the division winners are dealing with over the final days, and it could play a major role early in the postseason.

That said, the main focus right now is on the wild-card chase.

In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners are all riding three-game winning streaks (as of Friday) while the Toronto Blue Jays are on a three-game skid. It’s pushed Toronto to the brink after looking pretty safe coming into the final week.

The schedule is favorable to Detroit, which may be forced to play an additional make-up game Monday against the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers are facing the Atlanta Braves, who have played better lately but still own the league’s third-worst record and are now focused on getting young players some at-bats.

Baltimore is also in promising shape. It owns a one-game advantage for the top wild-card spot, meaning a 1-1 finish should be enough to get in. The Orioles have Kevin Gausman on the mound against the New York Yankees’ Luis Cessa on Sunday, a clear edge just in case they lose Saturday.

The biggest question really surrounds the Blue Jays. They still control their own destiny despite the struggles over the past few days, but it can be tough to break out of a funk as the pressure continues to mount, particularly when playing on the road against the division-winning Boston Red Sox.

Seattle is still a threat, too. It owns a clear pitching advantage in both weekend games against the Oakland Athletics. Winning both would force either Toronto or Detroit to win out to finish above the Mariners’ potential 88 victories.

All told, the Orioles and Tigers feel like the teams in the best position, but there will probably be some chaos before the dust settles Sunday and possibly beyond. Lisa Kerney of ESPN summed it up well:

The National League race is a bit less crowded with just three teams battling for the two spots, but all of them are legitimate World Series threats if they do sneak in.

It’s hard to see the reigning NL champion New York Mets missing out. They need one win over the final two days with Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard slated to start against a Philadelphia Phillies squad that’s lost five straight.

Assuming New York gets in, that leaves the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to fight for one berth with the Giants currently holding a one-game edge.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision not to rest their starting pitchers quite as aggressively as the aforementioned Cubs could hurt San Francisco, though. Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda are slated to start the final two games against the Giants’ 19th-ranked offense.

That leaves the door open for St. Louis. The Cardinals have been a model of consistency for almost two decades, highlighted by a pair of World Series titles. Two wins should at least force a playoff, and they hold a pitching edge in both remaining games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ultimately, the close races paired with the Tigers’ potential need for a make-up game Monday could make for a scheduling nightmare for MLB. It’s still possible there could be a four-way tie in the AL and a three-way tie in the NL to get sorted out next week.

These races tend to figure themselves out before those types of extreme scenarios come into play, though. That said, it’s a good thing the wild-card fight is as close as it is, because the competition within the divisions this season was over early.


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