Predicting How Final 2016 MLB Playoff Race Weekend Will Play Out

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2016

San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

This thing isn't over yet.

Yes, with a scant four days remaining in the 2016 MLB regular season, many races have been decided.

The Chicago Cubs have wrapped up the National League Central and the NL's best record. Likewise, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals have locked down the NL West and East, respectively.

Over in the American League, the Texas Rangers have clinched the AL West, the Cleveland Indians own the AL Central and the Boston Red Sox won the AL East on Wednesday night when the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.

That leaves plenty swirling in the air.

Both wild-card races are undecided, as is home-field advantage in two of the four division-series matchups.

Multiple clubs are vying for position with the outcome of every game magnified. Let's parse the relevant races and offer some predictions about how this crucial, playoff-sealing weekend will shake down.

     

NL Wild-Card Race

Entering play Thursday, this is a three-team scrum between the New York Mets (85-74), San Francisco Giants (83-75) and St. Louis Cardinals (82-76).

If the season ended now, the NL Wild Card Game would feature the Mets and the Giants at Citi Field. There's ample opportunity for movement, however.

After an off day Thursday, the Mets play three games on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies. New York is 10-6 against the Phils this season, and Philadelphia has dropped five of its last six.

Plus, New York boasts a winning record (41-37) on the road, and it has Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon lined up to pitch despite an injury-depleted starting rotation.

Noah Syndergaard anchors a depleted Mets rotation.
Noah Syndergaard anchors a depleted Mets rotation.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Giants get one more game against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday at AT&T Park, followed by a three-game set at home with Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have already wrapped up the division, but they're battling for home-field advantage in the division series (more on that shortly).

Despite their abysmal 26-42 record since the All-Star break, the Giants are clinging to even-year life. They've got co-aces Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto chambered to start two of their remaining four games.

The Dodgers won't roll over, but the fact that L.A. has won the West could play into San Francisco's hands.

The Cards have a soft(ish) schedule with a game Thursday against the last-place Cincinnati Reds and three versus the also-ran Pittsburgh Pirates.

St. Louis, however, has dropped two of its last three games to the Reds and has a starting rotation with an eyebrow-raising 4.36 ERA.

Prediction: Mets win the No. 1 NL wild card, Giants win the No. 2 slot.

    

AL Wild-Card Race

The wild-card pool is deeper and murkier in the Junior Circuit.

The Blue Jays (87-71) hold the top slot, followed by the Orioles (86-72), Detroit Tigers (85-73) and Seattle Mariners (84-74).

The Jays play one more pivotal game at home against the Orioles on Thursday before traveling to Beantown for three against the Red Sox.

The game against the O's should favor the Blue Jays. Toronto will toss out Marcus Stroman, who has pitched into the sixth inning or later in seven of his last eight starts.

On the other hand, Baltimore starter Ubaldo Jimenez has won two of his last three decisions.

Let's give that game to the Blue Jays on home-field advantage. After that, they flutter to Fenway Park for three games, though they'll be playing a Red Sox team with less to fight for.

The Orioles, meanwhile, will travel to the Bronx for three games against a scrappy New York Yankees squad that sold at the trade deadline yet stayed in the hunt.

Interestingly, Toronto has an 8-8 record against Boston this season, and the Orioles are 8-8 against the Yanks, exemplifying the parity that has defined this noisy division race.

Enter the Tigers, who get the Indians on Thursday followed by three away games against the Atlanta Braves.

Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers have a favorable schedule.
Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers have a favorable schedule.Duane Burleson/Getty Images

That seems like a boon for the Tigers. The Braves are bottom-feeders in the NL East, after all. But Atlanta has won nine of its last 10 games and may relish the role of spoiler against an unusual AL opponent.

The clubs haven't met in the regular season since 2013, so we don't have much to draw on.

In theory, though, the Tigers are playing a soft opponent.

"We gotta win baseball games," Detroit skipper Brad Ausmus said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

Speaking of which, after winning two of three from the Astros and burying Houston, the Mariners get four games at home against the Oakland A's.

Seattle has won five of its last seven and is 10-5 against Oakland this season.

That sounds good, but the M's have to make up too much ground and leapfrog too many teams in too small a window.

Instead, we'll bet on the Jays' holding serve while the Tigers sink their claws into the Braves.

Prediction: Blue Jays win the No. 1 AL wild card, Tigers win the No. 2 slot.

    

Home-Field Advantage Battles

It's not as life-or-death as the wild-card scrums, but the fight for home-field advantage in the division series matters.

As mentioned, the Cubs have the NL's top perch secured. The World Series will open in the AL park thanks to its win in the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.

The Rangers (94-65) get a day off Thursday before closing out with three at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, the last-place team in the AL East.

Boston (92-66) will tango with the aforementioned Blue Jays, who will be intent on securing a postseason berth. The Indians (91-67) get a game against the Tigers on Thursday, followed by three against the prideful, defending champion Royals in Kansas City.

It's worth noting that Cleveland has a severely depleted rotation. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are out, and ace Corey Kluber is battling a quadriceps strain and won't take the hill until the postseason, as WTAM 1100's Nick Camino noted:

Over in the NL, the limping Nationals play one at home against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks and three in D.C. with the Miami Marlins.

The Dodgers face the Padres once more in San Diego before heading north for three with the Giants.

The Dodgers and Giants will meet three more times with wild-card and home-field advantage considerations in the balance.
The Dodgers and Giants will meet three more times with wild-card and home-field advantage considerations in the balance.Harry How/Getty Images

With the Nats decimated by injuries, the Dodgers have a distinct advantage in the division series. But Washington (92-66) holds a two-game lead over L.A. (90-68), so the NLDS is likely to open in the nation's capital.

Prediction: Rangers win the AL's No. 1 seed, Indians win the No. 2 seed, Red Sox win the No. 3 seed; Nationals win the NL's No. 2 seed, Dodgers win the NL's No. 3 seed.

    

All standings and statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.