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MLB playoff push: Blue Jays punch their ticket, plus present postseason bracket

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The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than a week away, even though it seems like the regular season has barely kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is down to the final weekend, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

Jump to …

Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: Standings | Guide to the final week | Passan: Inside final week | Playoff schedule

If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings after the most recent day’s games.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays*
No. 2 Twins* vs. No. 7 Indians*
No. 3 Athletics* vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 White Sox* vs. No. 5 Yankees*

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Giants
No. 2 Braves* vs. No. 7 Reds
No. 3 Cubs* vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres* vs. No. 5 Cardinals

*Clinched playoff spot

Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot

NL: Marlins 2, Reds 3, Giants 4, Cardinals 4 (due to St. Louis having played fewer games).

AL: Astros 1

Who can clinch Friday?

• The Astros can wrap up the final playoff spot in the American League on Friday with a win over the Rangers OR an Angels loss to the Dodgers.

• The Marlins can clinch second place in the NL East and the playoff spot that goes with it Friday with a win over the Yankees AND a Phillies loss to the Rays.

Who is already in?

Los Angeles Dodgers

The overwhelming preseason favorite clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth consecutive division title.

2 Related

What’s next? The big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since the Dodgers previously won it all.

Dodgers must-read: How A.J. and Kate Pollock faced their daughter’s premature birth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.

What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title but still could slip down to the No. 7 seed.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row, as well as their first AL East title since 2010. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.

What’s next? Securing the No. 1 seed in the AL.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s punched their third straight postseason ticket with a win over the Giants, then clinched the AL West three days later.

What’s next? After securing their first AL West crown since 2013, the A’s are still in the mix for one of the AL’s top two seeds.

A’s must-read: Inside the A’s dominance and how they plan to make it last

Minnesota Twins

The Twins clinched their third postseason appearance in the past four seasons. Last year, they were swept by the Yankees in the division series, extending their postseason losing streak to 16 straight since their most recent win, in Game 1 of the 2004 AL Division Series.

What’s next? The Twins are still in the mix for the AL Central title and a top-three seed.

San Diego Padres

The Padres clinched their first postseason appearance since 2006 when they came back to beat the Mariners in extra innings 7-4 after fending off a no-hit bid.

What’s next? With a tight grasp on the No. 4 seed in the NL, they can focus on getting ready to make good on their 2020 breakthrough.

Padres must-read:How Padres GM A.J. Preller decided to go for it

New York Yankees

Although they took a beating in Boston on Sunday, the Yankees clinched a playoff spot when the Padres beat the Mariners.

What’s next? The big question for the Yankees is if they can grab the AL’s No. 4 seed to start the postseason in their ballpark.

Yankees must-read: Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a HR problem

Atlanta Braves

Even before they finished their game against the Marlins on Tuesday, the Braves clinched their third straight NL East title when the Phillies were swept in both ends of their doubleheader against the Nationals. In both of the previous two seasons, the Braves failed to advance beyond the division series.

What’s next? Lining up their shallow rotation for next week’s playoff assignments and keeping everyone healthy seem like the immediate goals for Atlanta.

Braves must-read: Why a Braves-White Sox World Series would be extra special

Cleveland Indians

Powered by Jose Ramirez’s three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the White Sox, Cleveland clinched its return to the postseason after missing out on October in 2019, which snapped a streak of three consecutive playoff appearances.

What’s next? Cleveland is still in the hunt for either first or second place in the AL Central, so their seeding is very much up in the air.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs snapped a one-season hiatus from the postseason and got rookie manager David Ross’ team to October in his first year in the dugout.

What’s next? Beyond clinching the NL Central title, getting Jose Quintana and Kris Bryant healthy and ready for the postseason are the Cubs’ two biggest priorities in the time remaining.

Cubs must-read: Inside Yu Darvish’s return to elite status as the Cubs’ ace

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays earned their first postseason berth since 2016 with Thursday’s win over the Yankees behind their top starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

What’s next? The Blue Jays are likely to end up as the No. 8 seed, so they’ll be able to keep Ryu lined up for their playoff opener Tuesday.

About last night …

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. belts a solo shot in the Blue Jays’ 4-1 win vs. the Yankees to clinch a playoff berth.

Other than maybe the Marlins and Cardinals, no team has had to deal with as many obstacles in 2020 as the Blue Jays. Denied the ability to play in Toronto by the Canadian government, they instead played their home games at their Triple-A stadium in Buffalo, New York. Since some improvements had to be made to the park, however, they started the season with 13 games on the road.

Then there were the on-field obstacles. Bo Bichette missed 30 games. Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, new additions to the rotation, both posted ERAs over 7.00. Closer Ken Giles saved only one game before suffering a season-ending injury. Top prospect Nate Pearson looked great for a couple of games, scuffled, then landed on the injured list after four starts. Then there’s this stat, which is amazing even for the style of game in 2020: Hyun-Jin Ryu, in Thursday’s playoff-clinching 4-1 victory over the Yankees, became the first Toronto starter to pitch more than six innings.

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Given the soft nature of the bottom of the American League, it’s not a surprise the Blue Jays clinched that second wild card, but this probably isn’t how they drew things up as they broke summer camp in July. Needing three-plus innings a night from the bullpen is not the best way to run a pitching staff, but give Charlie Montoyo credit for figuring out a way through the season given the problems of some of his starters and a largely no-name relief corps. His two best relievers ended up being Rafael Dolis, who had last pitched in the majors in 2013 (he has been in Japan the past several years) and Anthony Bass, whom the Jays claimed on waivers last October. Dolis earned the save against the Yankees.

Ryu has been the one constant on the staff. He tossed seven scoreless innings against the Yankees and improved to 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA. Signed to a four-year, $80 million deal in the offseason after leading the NL in ERA with the Dodgers in 2019, he has left a lot of teams wishing they had made that investment. He’ll start Game 1 of the wild-card series, with the Rays being Toronto’s likely opponent. (Ryu faced Tampa Bay once and gave up one run in five innings.) The Blue Jays still have a small chance of catching the Yankees for second place in the AL East, which would bump them up in the seedings. If they win their final three against Baltimore and the Yankees lose their final three to the Marlins, the Blue Jays finish 33-27 and the Yankees finish 32-28. (The Yankees would win the tiebreaker if both teams finished 33-27.)

The Jays might be heating up at the right time. Bichette is back in the lineup. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had nine hits in the four-game series against the Yankees, including a home run Thursday. Then we have the 5-foot-7, 265-pound superhero Alejandro Kirk, the 21-year-old rookie who had four hits the other night and a two-run double Thursday.

Also of note: The Indians completed an impressive four-game sweep of the White Sox with a 5-4 victory, scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh against the Chicago bullpen after Dallas Keuchel departed. The Indians are suddenly just one game behind the White Sox for second place in the AL Central, with the first-place Twins a game ahead of Chicago. The Indians own the tiebreaker since they won the season series with the White Sox 8-2. For what it’s worth; the White Sox are 7-13 against the Indians and Twins, and 18-2 against the Royals and Tigers. They finish with three against the Cubs. … Speaking of the Cubs, the Pirates blanked them 7-0. You might remember the Chicago offense stumbling in September last season and it’s happening again. The Cubs are last in the majors in September in home runs (14), OPS (.617) and slugging (.321). … The Cardinals beat the Brewers 4-2 in the opener of their big five-game series to strengthen their hold on second place in the NL Central and the playoff spot that goes with it. Yadier Molina got his 2,000th career hit (just the 12th catcher to reach the milestone), but the bigger news was Cy Young contender Corbin Burnes getting knocked out early after a couple of visits from the trainer as he tried to pitch through lower back discomfort. He ended up falling one-third of an inning short of qualifying for the ERA title, but his ERA rose from 1.77 to 2.11 anyway. Trevor Bauer sits at 1.73. … The Marlins hung on to beat the Braves 4-2 and hold a one-game lead over the Phillies for second place in the NL East. Miami, which closes with three at Yankee Stadium, holds the tiebreaker over Philly, which plays three at Tampa Bay this weekend. … DJ LeMahieu’s lead in the AL batting race is now 17 points over Tim Anderson, who is 2-for-20 in his past five games. LeMahieu won a batting title with the Rockies in 2016. No modern player has won a batting title in each league. Ed Delahanty won the 1899 NL title and a disputed 1902 title in the AL. … The Mets remained alive with a 3-2 win over the Nationals. They have to win their final three and hope for a whole bunch of losses from the teams ahead of them. Hey, it’s 2020 … you never know. — David Schoenfield

Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?

David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and they are hardly the favorites to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner-in-2014 type of run and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.

MLB’s 60-game regular-season sprint is coming down to the wire. Catch the excitement on ESPN.

Friday, Sept. 25
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Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amid another career season. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox, and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic bat at the top of the lineup on the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.

Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn’t appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch and once more become — surprisingly, but not too surprisingly — one of the world’s five best starting pitchers. He has never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn’t need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series — his career is so much more than those two starts — but it’ll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.

Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins’ championship runs were fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I’m not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-three series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.

Alden Gonzalez: Sixto Sanchez — because I don’t think anybody has an answer for him at the moment.

Key games ahead

Brewers-Cardinals, Friday doubleheader (5:15 p.m. ET): Milwaukee and St. Louis continue their huge season-ending five-game series with the Cardinals trying to hang on to a playoff spot and the Brewers trying to sneak in.

Phillies-Rays, Friday (6:40 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Phillies enter this final series of the weekend on the wrong side of the line for the final playoff spots while the Rays are closing in on the AL’s No. 1 overall seed.

Padres-Giants, Saturday (9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Padres’ playoff spot is secure, but the Giants are still fighting for their October ticket.

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