It took to the final outs of the season, but the 2015 MLB playoff field is set. Sunday's regular-season finales settled the remaining dust of the AL West and decided home-field advantage for the NL Wild Card Game, which were the two lingering questions heading into Game 162.
The AL West was by far the most interesting storyline, with the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels all unsure about where they would be heading.
In the end, Texas was the only AL team who could come through. The Rangers earned a 9-2 win over the Angels to capture the West Division, clinching a wild-card spot for a Houston team that needed the help. The Astros would have been in danger of missing the playoffs had Los Angeles won.
In the National League, meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs showed why they're among baseball's best teams. Both earned victories in their regular-season finales, again being carried by their ace pitching staffs. The Pirates' 4-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds clinched their hosting duties; they'll be playing in the Wild Card Game for the third straight year.
With that in mind, here is a look at what we know about the MLB postseason schedule and a look at the two Wild Card Games coming this week.
|Wild-Card Games||Time (ET)||Matchup||TV|
|Tues., Oct. 6||8 p.m.||Houston Astros at New York Yankees||ESPN|
|Wednesday, Oct. 7||8 p.m.||Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates||TBS|
|Thurs., Oct. 8||3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m.||Rangers at Blue Jays: Game 1||FS1|
|Thurs., Oct. 8||7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.||AL Wild Card at Royals: Game 1||FS1|
|Fri., Oct. 9||12:45 p.m.||Rangers at Blue Jays: Game 2||MLBN|
|Fri., Oct. 9||3:45 p.m.||AL Wild Card at Royals: Game 2||FS1|
|Sun., Oct. 11||4 p.m.||Royals at AL Wild Card: Game 3||MLBN|
|Sun., Oct. 11||8 p.m.||Blue Jays at Rangers: Game 3||FS1|
|Mon., Oct. 12||TBD||Royals at AL Wild Card: Game 4*||Fox or FS1|
|Mon., Oct. 12||TBD||Blue Jays at Rangers: Game 4*||Fox or FS1|
|Wed., Oct. 14||TBD||AL Wild Card at Royals: Game 5*||Fox or FS1|
|Wed., Oct. 14||TBD||Rangers at Blue Jays: Game 5*||Fox or FS1|
|Fri., Oct. 9||6:45 p.m.||Dodgers vs. Mets: Game 1||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 9||9:45 p.m.||NL Wild Card at Cardinals: Game 1||TBS|
|Sat., Oct. 10||5:30 p.m.||NL Wild Card at Cardinals: Game 2||TBS|
|Sat., Oct. 10||9 p.m.||Dodgers vs. Mets: Game 2||TBS|
|Mon., Oct. 12||TBD||Dodgers vs. Mets: Game 3||TBS|
|Mon., Oct. 12||TBD||Cardinals at NL Wild Card: Game 3||TBS|
|Tues., Oct. 13||TBD||Cardinals at NL Wild Card: Game 4*||TBS|
|Tues., Oct. 13||TBD||Dodgers vs. Mets: Game 4*||TBS|
|Thurs., Oct. 15||TBD||NL Wild Card at Cardinals: Game 5*||TBS|
|Thurs., Oct. 15||TBD||Dodgers vs. Mets: Game 5*||TBS|
|Source: MLB.com; *—if necessary|
AL Wild Card: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Date: Tuesday, Oct. 6
Time: 8 p.m. ET
It's safe to say things could be better for the Yankees. They've spent the better part of two weeks trying to clinch a playoff spot and then slowly inching their way to home-field advantage that looked like a foregone conclusion. A pair of ugly series against the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles closed their season, as they dropped a number of key games.
Things were so bad players took to the tried and true cliche of saying it's better to be playing for something down the stretch.
"I think it's a really, really good thing that's happening to us," Alex Rodriguez said, per Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. "I think it's something we're going to be able to build on. I've been on teams where we've clinched in mid-September and it's been a little anticlimactic going into the playoffs. I think it's a great thing that's happening to us. We haven't played an insignificant pitch in a long time. I think that's helpful."
If A-Rod is correct, the Yankees will be going against a team that's as prepared if not more so. Houston has been in a three-way battle atop the AL West for most of the second half, with each of the three teams seemingly taking control at one time or another. Houston is by far the best of the three teams on paper, posting a plus-111 run differential, while Texas and Los Angeles were right around even.
The Yankees have strangely become a $200 million underdog. Their best everyday player is arguably Rodriguez, a 40-year-old designated hitter who was a pariah before the season. Their best pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka, a $175 million investment who is literally limping to the finish line; it's hard to remember a time when Tanaka went into a start looking fully healthy.
The remainder of the roster is a strange mix of young and old, as unprovens attempt to create their October reputation while overpaid stars attempt to find their former magic. It's a weird, quirky, almost fun roster. As strange as it sounds in a matchup of the Yankees and Astros, it might actually be more fun to see the Bronx Bombers move on.
NL Wild Card: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Date: Wednesday, Oct. 7
Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Pirates and Cubs are nothing if not victims of geography. Pittsburgh ended the regular season with MLB's second-best record and Chicago with the game's third-best. Yet both head into Wednesday night in danger of bowing out after one playoff game simply because they're in the same division as the St. Louis Cardinals.
“This season is an outlier,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, per John Perrotto of the Times. “How many times are the three best teams in the league going to be in the same division? Not often. This just happens to be one of those years.”
The unfortunate thing for the Pirates especially is that a one-game playoff—no matter where it's held—heavily favors their opponent. Chicago will tab ace Jake Arrieta for the matchup. Arrieta just so happens to be coming off the best second-half performance in MLB history. No, really, in the history of the sport. Arrieta posted a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break, all but clinching a Cy Young Award and setting a number of records along the way.
"He's unbelievable," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Arrieta, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "You get guys on base all the time and they say they've never seen anything like it. It's a credit to him. He works hard, and deserves everything he gets and is about to get. Now we've got the biggest games of our lives coming up. We'll be ready."
The Pirates will go with Gerrit Cole, who is somehow being overshadowed despite nearly being a 20-game winner. Cole went 19-8 during the regular season, going past the 30-star mark for the first time in his career and coming into his own as a foundational ace. The righty walked only four more batters in 2015 than 2014 despite throwing 70 more innings—throwing more accurately without a marked drop-off in strikeout rate.
Focus on the pitching matchup is apt given the minimal separation between the teams. The Pirates have a slightly better run differential, but Chicago is the rare team with nearly an identical record on the road as home. The Cubs' regular-season mark was the best in baseball, and their late-season road run nearly put them in a position to host the Wild Card Game.
As it stands, it's tough to go against Arrieta in any setting. His run is among the most impressive feats we've seen since the turn of the century; it'd almost be masochistic to pick against the Cubs just to go against the grain.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.