The Cubs won 3-0 last night and I started thinking about their magic number. This crazy season has just about 20 days left before the postseason starts, and now is as good as time as any to start looking at playoff- and division-clinching scenarios. Because the Cardinals still have so many makeup games left, things get a tiny bit cloudy when trying to construct some sort of synopsis.
Cardinals have 5 double-headers in the final 2.5 weeks of the season. That's a very tall order. Even at 7 inning games, that's 14 innings a day. That's a lot of pitches thrown and swings taken. That stuff hurts after a while.
— Brad Robinson (@bradrobinson8) September 9, 2020
The Cardinals split a doubleheader with the Twins yesterday and still have at least seven makeup games left on their schedule. An eighth — against the Tigers — will only be played if the game has playoff implications for either team, which seems likely. Five of those makeup games will be played as twin bills, including two-game sets against Detroit tomorrow and the Reds on Sunday. With a record of 25-18, Chicago holds a three-game lead over the 18-17 Redbirds in the NL Central.
That makes the magic number for the Cubs to clinch the division 18, which seems odd considering Chicago has just 17 games left. Because St. Louis has one less loss than the Cubs, both teams could win the rest of their games and the North Siders would end up in second place. That’s unlikely considering both teams have spent the last 3-4 weeks playing subpar baseball and it’s not often that two teams in the same division go on that kind of a season-ending heater.
To put it in simpler terms, if the Cubs go 9-8 to finish the season, the Cardinals will have to win 15 of their final 25 to stake a claim as a co-division champion. The two teams finished their season series at five wins apiece and single-game playoffs will not be employed this season to determine division winners or postseason seeds. All ties will be decided mathematically, based on either head-to-head record, intradivisional record, and so on. If need be, MLB would eventually resort to teams’ divisional records in their last 20-plus games.
If the season ended today, the first round playoff matches would be as follows:
- Dodgers vs. Giants
- Cubs vs. Marlins
- Braves vs. Cardinals
- Padres vs. Phillies
It is important to note that even though the Padres (27-17) have a better record than the Cubs, they currently sit in second place in the NL West and would thus be the fourth seed. Also, winning the division means all three games in the first round will be played at the higher seed’s home ballpark, unless MLB decides on one or more neutral bubble sites for the postseason.
Following the first round, MLB will follow a more traditional playoff format:
- Division Series (best-of-five, with 2-2-1 home/road format): Winner of 1-8 vs. Winner of 4-5; Winner of 2-7 vs. Winner of 3-6. Home-field advantage goes to the higher seed.
- League Championship Series (best-of-seven, with 2-3-2 home/road format): Winner of 1-4-5-8 vs. Winner of 2-3-6-7. Home-field advantage goes to the higher seed.
- World Series (best-of-seven, with 2-3-2 home/road format): AL champion vs. NL champion. Home-field advantage goes to the team with the superior regular-season record.
Caveat Emptor: It’s September, so don’t sleep on the Brewers, even though they are in the throes of a three-game losing streak. Manager Craig Counsell always seems to get the most out of his team during the final weeks of the season. Milwaukee is 4.5 games behind the Cubs and 2.5 games out of a wild card berth.
Cubs News & Notes
- David Ross continues to trust Javier Báez will hit, and the Cubs shortstop is making his manager look good for doing so. Báez had an RBI triple last night.
- After last night’s performance, Alec Mills could find himself lined up for postseason work as part of the starting rotation. Right now he’s the team’s next-best starter behind Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks.
- It’s probably safe to assume that Jeremy Jeffress is the team’s closer after he notched his sixth save of the season. It’s worth wondering if Craig Kimbrel will make the postseason roster if he falters again. Kimbrel has pitched clean innings in each of his last two outings.
- CI writer Ryan Thomure has done excellent work with his weekly Tuesday Trends column. This week’s post focuses on the upward trajectories of Willson Contreras and Duane Underwood, Jr. while also analyzing the recent lack of confidence by starter Jon Lester.
- Contreras has been making consistent, hard contact, which should bode well going forward.
- Jason Heyward is expected to return to the lineup for tonight’s game.
- The Reds have now been shut out six times this season, and they’ll face Darvish tonight.
- Darvish throws 11 different pitches and finally has a wipeout heater.
- The Cubs ace will face Trevor Bauer in tonight’s game. Anthony Rizzo had a two-homer game against Bauer on August 29.
- The Cubs optioned José Martínez to South Bend and officially added Billy Hamilton to the 28-man roster. Hamilton will serve as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Odds & Sods
Mike Clevinger is rocking a "Slam Diego" headband. pic.twitter.com/aWfsbOhTz2
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) September 9, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
A live, unrehearsed performance of a song in front of inmates at San Quentin Prison gave Johnny Cash his biggest hit ever.
How About That!
Today is Roberto Clemente Day acoss MLB. Clemente played in 14 World Series games and got at least one hit in each, including his last World Series hit, a Game 7 home run in 1971 that gave the Pirates a lead on their way to a championship.
The Yankees are now 5-15 over the past 20 games, have lost five in a row, and are .500 on the season. The Orioles are now a half-game behind New York for the final playoff spot and the Tigers are one game back. The Yankees were a preseason favorite by many to advance to the World Series, but they’re are a very bad team right now.
Álex Rodríguez and Jennifer Lopez are making a last-ditch attempt to buy the Mets. In their latest proposal, J-Lo would actually handle the responsibilities of running the organization. I’d have to go to that offseason Fan Fest.
Give former Cubs coach and current Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde a ton of credit for getting the Orioles into playoff contention. It would be one of the greatest stories of the season if the O’s land a postseason bid.
Tuesday’s Three Stars
- Gavin Lux – The rookie second baseman had two homers with five RBI on a 3-for-5 night, including a tater in extra innings, leading the Dodgers past the Diamondbacks 10-9.
- Wil Myers – The veteran outfielder has had quite the comeback season, slashing .297/.366/.973 with 11 home runs. Last night Myers hit two long flies, including the Padres seventh grand slam of the season, on a 3-for-4, five RBI night.
- Alec Mills – The righty starter flummoxed Reds batters all night long by effectively changing speeds and locating his pitches. Mills pitched six shutout innings with six strikeouts, scattering four hits.
Vin Scully is such a masterful broadcaster that you’d think Sandy Koufax is actually pitching in the present.
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) September 9, 2020
Sliding Into Home
Today is my biopsy do-over and I will be absent from this column tomorrow if I feel as poorly as I did after the last one.
They Said It
- “We’re in September and we’re chasing, so we can say the rest of the way that these are important games. You lose a game and you decrease your margin for error. That’s where it sits. Tomorrow’s not the last game of the season, but it’s a big game, yeah.” – Craig Counsell
- “There’s times and thoughts where you want to do something different. But our success is going to be with those (core) guys if we’re (going) to get where we want to go. So, I think showing belief in your players and confidence in them and continue to teach and work is the key when there’s uncertainty.” – David Ross
Wednesday Walk Up Song
The Streak by Ray Stevens – The Cubs have won two in a row, and it seems like forever since they’ve done that, so why not have a little fun today? Hopefully Darvish keeps the streak going tonight.