Andrew McCutchen and the playoff-bound Pirates wrap up with a huge series against the Reds.
Three days. American League Wild Card still up for grabs. One division still up for grabs. Seeding still a mystery.
Welcome to the final weekend of Major League Baseball's regular season, where there is much work left to be done and the baseball gods are sure to be up to some mischief.
For now, what the baseball gods desire are predictions to laugh and poke fun at. They're a contemptible bunch, but they must be appeased.
Since there are 11 teams in the postseason mix and only two of them will be going head-to-head in the season's final weekend, we're looking at 10 individual series (some of which got underway on Thursday night) that will determine the structure of the MLB playoffs. The name of the game is to go through them one by one and take a whack at projecting how they'll turn out.
Let's fire it up.
Red Sox Record: 96-63
Playoff Race Status: Chasing No. 1 seed (two games up on Oakland)
- Friday: Clay Buchholz vs. Scott Feldman
- Saturday: Jon Lester vs. Wei-Yin Chen
- Sunday: John Lackey vs. Chris Tillman
The Red Sox are in control of their own destiny in the race for the best record in the American League, and they're enjoying another fine month with a record of 15-7 in September.
But don't think for a second they're about to sleep on the Orioles. The O's have a 9-7 record against Boston in 2013 and were last seen taking two of three from the Red Sox at Fenway Park. They've been pesky.
Here's the good news for the Red Sox, however: They won't have to deal with Manny Machado, as he's done for the year with that scary knee injury. He was a thorn in Boston's side, posting a .915 OPS against the Red Sox with three homers and 12 RBI, easily his most against any team.
Not having to go up against Machado will make things easier for Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Lackey's worth being skeptical over, though, as he's allowed at least four earned runs in three of his last four starts, and he'll be going up against a guy in Chris Tillman who has owned the Red Sox in 2013. In five starts against Boston, Tillman sports a 1.95 ERA.
I'll take the O's to win that one, but all they'll be doing is avoiding a sweep.
Prediction: Red Sox win two of three to finish 98-64.
A's Record: 94-65
Playoff Race Status: Chasing No. 1 seed (two games back of Boston)
- Friday: Bartolo Colon vs. Felix Hernandez
- Saturday: Jarrod Parker vs. Brandon Maurer
- Sunday: Sonny Gray vs. Erasmo Ramirez
"We're playing to win, because home-field advantage is very important," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the final weekend to MLB.com. "I really don't see a letdown, and I wouldn't expect one with kind of the carrot that's still out there."
Darn right...but that doesn't mean the Mariners have to play nice.
The A's only have a 6-10 record against the M's this season, and leave it to them to run into Felix Hernandez at a time they'd rather not see him. They seem to have a bad habit of doing that, and the meetings don't tend to go well.
Oakland's next run off King Felix this season will be its first. He's pitched 14.2 clean innings against the A's, and he owns a 2.60 ERA against Oakland in his career. He may still be relatively fresh off an injury absence, but he's still not a guy the A's are in a hurry to face.
This series feels like one in which Oakland's bats are going to have to take charge. I don't know about that happening against Hernandez, but it does bode well that the A's have scored more runs than any other team in September. Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes have both been hot, so now's the time for them to fix some unspectacular numbers against the M's.
This isn't going to be an easy series for the A's, but I'm done betting against them.
Prediction: A's win two of three to finish 96-66.
Tigers Record: 93-66
Playoff Race Status: Chasing No. 1 seed (three games back of Boston)
- Friday: Jose Alvarez vs. Tom Koehler
- Saturday: Anibal Sanchez vs. Nathan Eovaldi
- Sunday: Justin Verlander vs. Henderson Alvarez
Here's a series that will feature the the American League's best starting pitching staff going up against Major League Baseball's least productive offense at one of the most pitching-friendly parks around.
What could go wrong for the Tigers?
Not much, in all likelihood. At the very least, it bodes well that they have the latter two pitching matchups in their favor. Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander could have a field day with Miami's lineup.
The bigger concerns are on the offensive side. If the Tigers are smart, they'll be resting Miguel Cabrera as much as possible this weekend so he can be healthy for October. And per the Detroit Free Press, it sounds like the Tigers will indeed be using Jhonny Peralta in left field.
“I don’t know for sure what they want me to do when I get there, but I know they want to see me in left field in Miami,” he said. “In the two games I’ve played [with Detroit's instructional league team], I didn’t get a fly ball.”
Peralta has yet to play the outfield in a major league game, and Marlins Park offers one hell of a left field for him to get his feet wet in. Things could get, ahem, interesting.
The Tigers should sweep this series...but I can see them losing one game in it. The Cabrera and Peralta factors could bite the team, and swapping out Rick Porcello for Jose Alvarez is a downgrade.
Not that it would matter in this scenario, mind you. If the A's win two of three from the Mariners, they'd top the Tigers for the No. 2 seed even if they did sweep the Marlins. Oakland won the season series.
Prediction: Tigers win two of three to finish 95-67.
Rangers Record: 88-71
Playoff Race Status: Chasing wild-card berth (one game back of Cleveland for second spot)
- Friday: C.J. Wilson vs. Alexi Ogando
- Saturday: Garrett Richards vs. Derek Holland
- Sunday: Jason Vargas vs. Yu Darvish
Thanks to Jurickson Profar's pinch-hit walk-off homer on Thursday night, the Rangers made it four wins in a row with a 6-5 victory over the Angels. In doing so, they did what they absolutely had to do: win the game started by Jerome Williams.
From here, however, it won't be a walk in the park.
The Rangers can handle C.J. Wilson, who has proved to be hittable in his two starts against his former club. But Garrett Richards allowed one earned run in seven the last time he faced Texas, and Jason Vargas is fresh off a complete-game shutout against the A's. Texas' offense, which has been up and down this month outside of its beatdown of the Astros, could be in for a rough weekend.
It also doesn't bode well that the Angels have had Derek Holland's number, as he owns a 6.66 ERA against the Angels in four starts this season and has had issues against the mighty Mike Trout. Yu Darvish has had issues of his own against Trout, and he could be in for a rough one if he has problems with walks again. He's walked at least four in three of his last five starts.
The Rangers scored a crucial victory on Thursday night, but they need a couple more. I don't see that happening for them, so they're going to need some help from the Rays and/or Indians.
Prediction: Rangers lose two of three to finish 89-73.
Rays Record: 90-69
Playoff Race Status: Chasing wild-card berth (one up on Cleveland for top spot)
- Friday: Jeremy Hellickson vs. R.A. Dickey
- Saturday: Chris Archer vs. J.A. Happ
- Sunday: Matt Moore vs. Todd Redmond
After taking it to a depleted Yankees team in a three-game sweep in the Bronx, the Rays now get to finish their season by taking on a depleted Blue Jays team.
If you haven't been keeping up with the Blue Jays, they're missing some sluggers these days. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus have all been shut down, rendering the club's normally good offense mediocre.
But even this depleted Jays offense might be able to get to Jeremy Hellickson. He's one of Tampa Bay's weaker links with an ERA over 7.00 since late July, and on Friday he'll be going up against an opponent in R.A. Dickey who has a solid 3.00 ERA in five starts against the Rays.
J.A. Happ and Todd Redmond, meanwhile, have been pitching well in September. But Happ's poor control could be a major issue against a Rays lineup that's drawing more walks than any other team this month, and Redmond's ability to miss bats has had a tendency to come and go.
I can see the Blue Jays winning Friday night's game, but that'll be all for them in this series.
Prediction: Rays win two of three to finish 92-70.
Indians Record: 89-70
Playoff Race Status: Chasing wild-card berth (one up on Texas for second spot)
- Friday: Corey Kluber vs. Pedro Hernandez
- Saturday: Scott Kazmir vs. Cole De Vries
- Sunday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Scott Diamond
The Indians entered their four-game series against the Twins having won six in a row and with an AL-best 17-6 record in September. Chris Perez did his best to ruin everything on Thursday night, but he was pulled from the ninth before he could give away all of Cleveland's 6-1 lead. The Tribe held on to make it seven in a row and 18-6 in September.
Look for them to make it 10 in a row and 21-6 over the next three days.
It's not just that the Indians are hot. It's that the Twins are that bad. They were low on talent at the start of the season, and then they ditched Justin Morneau in a waiver trade and lost Joe Mauer to a concussion. The lineups Ron Gardenhire is trotting out these days are downright depressing.
Minnesota's pitching is even worse. Twins hurlers have one of MLB's worst ERAs in the month of September, and that's not a good matchup for an Indians offense that is in the top 10 in runs scored on the season and in the top five in September.
Also, the Twins will see two of Cleveland's best this weekend in Corey Kluber and Ubaldo Jimenez. They don't make 'em much more underrated than Kluber, and Jimenez has a nifty 1.86 ERA in the second half. Scott Kazmir is an up-and-down guy, but he has a 1.44 ERA in four starts against the Twins.
This weekend ought to be a rout for the Tribe, but all it will earn them is a trip to Tampa Bay. The Rays won the season series, so MLB's tiebreaker rules say they would host the Wild Card Game.
Prediction: Indians sweep to finish 92-70.
Braves Record: 94-65
Playoff Race Status: Chasing No. 1 seed (tied with St. Louis)
- Friday: Cliff Lee vs. Kris Medlen
- Saturday: TBA vs. Mike Minor
- Sunday: Zach Miner vs. Julio Teheran
As recently as September 14, the Braves held a three-game lead in the race for home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. Then they decided to become mediocre and will need a strong finish against the Phillies to avoid missing out.
So far, so good. The Braves clobbered Tyler Cloyd en route to an easy win on Thursday night to pull into a tie with the Cardinals in the chase for the NL's best record.
But then, everyone clobbers Cloyd. His outing on Thursday was the fourth in a row in which he had surrendered at least five earned runs in five or fewer innings. The next three games won't be as easy.
Friday night's tilt will be the big one, as Cliff Lee will be on the mound for the Phillies. The bright side for the Braves is that they have the right guy lined up to oppose him in Kris Medlen. Over his last nine appearances, Medlen has turned back into his late-season self from 2012 to post an ERA of 1.86.
Taking Friday's matchup against Lee is going to be key, as Mike Minor has had a rocky go of things lately with a 4.62 ERA over his last eight starts, and Julio Teheran has been hit-or-miss over his last seven. And while Philly's offense has struggled in September, Atlanta's has struggled even more. Before Thursday night's romp, only the Mets had scored fewer runs than the Braves in September.
The Braves will get it done, but I don't see a clean sweep in their immediate future.
Prediction: Braves win two of three to finish 96-66.
Cardinals Record: 94-65
Playoff Race Status: Chasing NL Central (three up on Pittsburgh) and No. 1 seed (tied with Atlanta)
- Friday: Travis Wood vs. Lance Lynn
- Saturday: Edwin Jackson vs. Joe Kelly
- Sunday: Jeff Samardzija vs. Adam Wainwright
All the Cardinals need is one win, and they clinch the NL Central.
Time for me to bust out my powers of deduction. The Cardinals are playing the Cubs. The Cubs are 66-93 on the season and 9-15 in September. They're also 7-9 against the Cardinals. So...
Yeah, the Cardinals should be able to win one.
But they're going to be on the lookout for more than one win, as a good showing against the Cubs could lead to them clinching home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. A sweep would be great, but Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson could have other ideas.
Wood has allowed only three earned runs in his last three starts, each against a contender. Jackson owns a solid 3.71 ERA dating back to July and has allowed only nine earned runs in four starts against the Cardinals this year.
But meh, let's not kid ourselves. The Cardinals offense has been the National League's best in September, and they could ask for worse pitching matchups in this series. Lance Lynn has righted some wrongs in his last three starts, Joe Kelly is working on a 2.06 ERA since the break and Adam Wainwright is Adam Wainwright.
Look for a sweep.
Prediction: Cardinals sweep to finish 97-65.
Dodgers Record: 91-68
Playoff Race Status: Chasing No. 2 seed (three games back of St. Louis)
- Friday: Collin McHugh vs. Clayton Kershaw
- Saturday: Juan Nicasio vs. Zack Greinke
- Sunday: Tyler Chatwood vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu
I say chasing the No. 2 seed because that's the best the Dodgers can do now after losing to the Giants on Thursday night. If they, the Braves and the Cardinals all finish with the same 94-68 record, the Braves would get the top spot by virtue of their winning records. The Dodgers would get the No. 2 seed by virtue of their winning record against the Cardinals.
But that only happens if the Cardinals get swept, and I have the opposite happening. Some analysis is coming anyway, but just know that it's academic in my scenario.
The Rockies are a lousy team that's in the middle of a lousy finish to the season, but the Dodgers would probably rather be wrapping up their season against somebody else.
The Rockies have played the Dodgers well this season, going 8-8 against them in 16 games. They've even handled Clayton Kershaw, as three of the seven starts in which he's allowed at least three earned runs have come against Colorado. The Rockies have also beaten up on Zack Greinke in two of the three starts he's made against them.
It could be worse for the Dodgers, however. Carlos Gonzalez has crushed Dodger pitching to the tune of a 1.203 OPS this season, but he's too hurt to play. Also, the Rockies have hurt the Dodgers far more at Coors Field this season than they have at Dodger Stadium (wearing my surprised face right now, you guys).
Also, it's important to note that Kershaw and Greinke won't be done after, say, 60 or 70 pitches in their final regular season starts.
"It will be normal, within reason," manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com. "Not 115 or 120 pitches."
It may not be a rout, but the Dodgers should take care of business.
Prediction: Dodgers sweep to finish 94-68.
Pirates Record: 91-68
Reds Record: 90-69
Playoff Race Status: Both clubs chasing home-field advantage in NL Wild Card Game (Pirates up one)
- Friday: A.J. Burnett vs. Homer Bailey
- Saturday: Charlie Morton vs. Bronson Arroyo
- Sunday: Gerrit Cole vs. Johnny Cueto
This is it. The big one.
This three-game tilt is going to decide the season series between the Pirates and Reds, which is tied at eight games apiece. Oh, it will also decide who gets to host the National League Wild Card Game.
The matchup in the first game favors the Reds. Homer Bailey has a 2.06 ERA in his last seven starts, while A.J. Burnett has a 4.97 ERA in his last nine and has had his issues with the Reds in 2013.
In Charlie Morton vs. Bronson Arroyo, the edge once again goes to the Reds. Arroyo has pitched well over his last nine starts. Morton has pitched well in three recent spot starts, but they've been against the Cubs and Padres, two of September's lowest-scoring teams.
But Gerrit Cole vs. Johnny Cueto? Give me Cole in that one. Cueto's looked good in two starts since returning from injury, but nobody wants to face Cole right now. He has a 1.69 ERA in September and has struck out over 30 percent of the batters he's faced along the way.
Home-field advantage and the good pitching matchups in the first two games make me inclined to take the Reds to win two of three. That would put both clubs at 92-70 and, more importantly, give the Reds the season series.
Per MLB's tiebreaker rules, the two clubs would then be sticking around in Cincinnati for one more game.
Prediction: Reds win two of three, both teams finish 92-70.
No. 1 Seed: Red Sox (98-64)
No. 2 Seed: A's (96-66)
No. 3 Seed: Tigers (95-67)
Wild Card Game: Indians (92-70) at Rays (92-70)
ALDS Matchup: Indians/Rays at Red Sox
ALDS Matchup: Tigers at A's
No. 1 Seed: Cardinals (97-65)
No. 2 Seed: Braves (96-66)
No. 3 Seed: Dodgers (94-68)
Wild Card Game: Pirates (92-70) at Reds (92-70)
NLDS Matchup: Pirates/Reds at Cardinals
NLDS Matchup: Dodgers at Braves