Like everyone predicted back in spring training, the Boston Red Sox transformed back into a baseball powerhouse, the Seattle Mariners ended a 13-year playoff drought and the Washington Nationals decimated everyone in sight during a historically dominant season.
Wait, none of those things happened. Boston's patchwork rotation imploded. Seattle fell apart despite huge power gains from free-agent signing Nelson Cruz. Bryce Harper announced his arrival as a first-tier superstar during a campaign which should net him MVP honors, but the rest of Washington's roster unraveled.
Little went according to plan this MLB season. As expected favorites faltered, the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros all completed their franchise reconstructions a year early. Yet 2015's script is far from finished. While the National League's playoff participants are all but settled, chaos rules the American League wild-card picture.
Entering the last week of the 162-game marathon, let's take a look at the updated playoff picture and standings.
|MLB Postseason Picture: Monday, Sept. 28|
|Wild Card||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|ALDS||Astros/Yankees (No. 4 Seed)||Toronto Blue Jays (No. 1 Seed)|
|ALDS||Texas Rangers (No. 3 Seed)||Kansas City Royals (No. 2 Seed)|
|Wild Card||Chicago Cubs||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|NLDS||Cubs/Pirates (No. 4 Seed)||St. Louis Cardinals (No. 1 Seed)|
|NLDS||Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 3 Seed)||New York Mets (No. 2 Seed)|
American League Playoff Picture
|Toronto Blue Jays - X||90-65||--|
|New York Yankees||86-69||4|
|Kansas City Royals - Y||90-65||--|
|New York Yankees||86-69||--|
|Los Angeles Angels||81-74||0.5|
|MLB.com; X=playoff berth clinched; Y=division clinched|
Back in the spring, any Astros fans would have been ecstatic to hear that their team had achieved a winning record. Two years removed from losing 111 games, Houston expedited its rebuilding process with huge seasons from Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve and rookie sensation Carlos Correa.
Rather than celebrating a wildly successful season, fans are fretting a collapse. After spending months leading the American League West, the Astros have tumbled down the stretch with a 9-15 September record. Meanwhile, the rejuvenated Texas Rangers have stormed back to take first place, going 16-9 this month.
Despite sporting a sub-.500 record at the trade deadline, Texas acquired Cole Hamels in hopes of restocking for 2016. The Rangers have won all of the lefty's last eight starts, during which he has posted a 2.78 ERA.
Houston's deadline deal hasn't gone as well. After nearly getting dealt to the Mets, Carlos Gomez instead went to the Astros. Safe to say the Mets are happy to have instead acquired Yoenis Cespedes. Since getting dealt from the Milwaukee Brewers, Gomez is hitting .234/.282/.379 in 38 games.
On Sunday, the center fielder made his first appearance since Sept. 12 in pinch-running duties. Per MLB.com's Richard Justice, Astros manager A.J. Hinch discussed the significance of Gomez's return from a back injury:
Adding insult to injury, Milwaukee is receiving immediate dividends from the long-term swap. Domingo Santana is raking for his new club, batting .255/.349/.469 with six homers. The Astros need all the help they can get for the final week with the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins breathing down their neck.
On the bright side, their final two series come against the Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams out of the playoff picture. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, however, pointed out the roadblock Houston must overcome to punch a playoff ticket:
Recent struggles aside, Houston's plus-93 run differential rates second in the AL behind the raking Toronto Blue Jays, who should be considered a formidable favorite at plus-222. The Angels (-14) or Twins (+5), meanwhile, could make the cut with an uninspiring run margin.
On paper, the New York Yankees should, as a result, want to avoid the Astros in a one-game playoff, especially with Cy Young candidate Keuchel likely to take the hill. Then again, the burgeoning ace holds a 3.83 ERA on the road, inflated by a nine-run shellacking against Texas on Sept. 16. He redeemed that performance on Sunday, besting the Rangers with two hits, one run and 10 strikeouts through seven frames.
National League Playoff Picture
|New York Mets - Y||89-67||--|
|St. Louis Cardinals - X||98-58|
|Pittsburgh Pirates - X||95-61||3|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||87-68||--|
|San Francisco Giants||81-74||6|
|Pittsburgh Pirates - X||95-61||--|
|Chicago Cubs - X||90-65||--|
|MLB.com; X=playoff berth clinched; Y=division clinched|
Unless the Los Angeles Dodgers squander a six-game lead in seven days, the National League's five participants are just about set. It's just a matter of seeding.
In a stunning turn of events, the Mets cruised past the Nationals, sweeping their last six head-to-head bouts to clinch their first NL East crown since 2006. David Wright, the only remnant of their last playoff squad, expressed his pride after cementing a spot on Saturday, per MLB.com's Anthony DiComo:
For months, New York stayed afloat with tremendous young pitching despite measly offensive output. Only the Chicago White Sox entered the All-Star with a worse OPS than New York's .660. In the second half, the Amazins went from second worst to second best, trailing only the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cespedes has led the offensive turnaround with 17 dingers, but it's far from a one-man show. Rookie outfielder Michael Conforto is hitting .280/.350/.516 since arriving in late July. During a season interrupted by two separate injuries, catcher Travis d'Arnaud is sporting a .498 slugging percentage.
Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard lead an electric pitching staff ranked No. 4 in team ERA, but they don't sport an competitive advantage over the other NL postseason representatives:
|NL Playoff Teams' Staff ERA|
|St. Louis Cardinals||2.87||1|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||3.45||3|
|New York Mets||3.48||4|
|ESPN.com, as of Sunday|
They'll slated for a division-round tilt with the Dodgers, who have two fairly good aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. While Greinke's 1.65 ERA leads all starters, his teammate's 2.11 fielding independent pitching (FIP) and 7.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, trump everyone.
The Mets and Dodgers can't nap down the stretch, as home-field advantage remains up for grabs. (The San Francisco Giants are still mathematically alive, but the Dodgers can clinch on Monday night with Greinke on the mound.)
The league's three premier teams all reside in the NL Central, forcing two into a winner-take-all game. For a while, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs appeared locked into a wild-card date, likely providing an epic showdown between young aces Gerrit Cole and Jake Arrieta.
Maybe not. An eight-game winning streak, snapped on Sunday night, has lessened the Pirates' deficit to three games. Opening a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, they can erase that debt entirely with a sweep.
Chicago shouldn't feel too bad about dropping two of three games to Pittsburgh. At this point, it'd behoove Joe Maddon's club to avoid Cole and Co. and instead face St. Louis, which isn't the same without Yadier Molina. Fox Sports: MLB examined the Cardinals' play with and without their starting catcher, who is currently sidelined with a thumb injury:
Either way, a team with 95 or more wins will get relegated to a wild-card spot, putting it in danger of succumbing to an unpredictable one-game frenzy. The Cubs face a difficult path to snapping an 106-year title drought and making Marty McFly rich.