The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than two weeks away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.
As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.
This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.
Jump to ...
If the season ended today ...
Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team
No. 1 White Sox* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 Rays* vs. No. 7 Indians
No. 3 Athletics vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Twins vs. No. 5 Yankees
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Phillies
No. 2 Cubs vs. No. 7 Giants
No. 3 Braves vs. No. 6 Reds
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Marlins
*Clinched playoff spot
Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot
NL: Padres 5, Cubs 7, Braves 8, Marlins 10, Reds 12, Giants 12, Phillies 13
AL: A's 2, Twins 2, Yankees 4, Indians 6, Blue Jays 7, Astros 8
Who is in?
The overwhelming preseason favorite was the first team to secure a spot in the postseason tournament, clinching a berth with Wednesday's win over the Padres. L.A. took two of three from San Diego, which sits in second place in the NL West.
What's next? The Dodgers, who hold the best record in baseball, are looking for their eighth consecutive NL West championship and the top seed in the National League. Of course, the big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.'s 14th playoff appearance since they last won it all.
The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 on Thursday. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.
What's next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field. After taking three of four from the Twins, the White Sox hold a three-game lead in the Central.
White Sox must-read: Rookie Luis Robert could be baseball's next superstar
The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.
What's next? The Rays' next goal would be to win the AL East title. It would be their first division crown since 2010.
Who could clinch next?
The A's can clinch a playoff spot Friday with a win over the Giants AND a Mariners loss to the Padres.
The Twins can clinch also clinch a postseason berth Friday with a win over the Cubs AND a Tigers loss to the Indians AND a Mariners loss to the Padres. All three outcomes must occur.
About last night ...
Yankees hit 5 homers in an inning for first time in franchise history
Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit hit back-to-back-to-back home runs, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres go deep later in the inning for the Yankees.
The Yankees have awoken. Watch out, American League.
A little more than a week ago the Yankees had lost their fifth straight game and dropped to 21-21. Even with the expanded playoff format, the unthinkable suddenly seemed possible: The Yankees were actually in danger of missing the playoffs. They were just a half-game ahead of the Orioles for the final wild-card spot, a mere one game ahead of the Tigers -- two teams that combined for 222 losses in 2019. "Droppin' Like A Stone," exclaimed the headline on the back cover of the New York Post, featuring a photo of Gary Sanchez dropping a foul pop-up.
The Yankees haven't lost since. They won the series finale against the Blue Jays, swept four games from the Orioles in which they gave up only three runs, and just bludgeoned the Jays in a three-game sweep, winning 20-6, 13-2 and 10-7. Thursday's win included six more home runs, including a ridiculous five in one inning, all against Blue Jays reliever Chase Anderson. The slugging feats in this series were unprecedented:
• The Yankees became the first team to homer at least six times in three straight games.
• Their 19 home runs in the three-game series set the record not only for a three-game series, but for a series of any length. (The 1963 Twins hit 17 home runs in a four-game series.)
• The 19 home runs are the most over any stretch of three games.
• The Yankees became the seventh team to hit five home runs in one inning, and Anderson joined Michael Blazek (2017 Brewers vs. the Nationals) as the only pitchers to give up five in an inning.
• For the three games, the Yankees hit .383/.478/.957.
Yeah, welcome back Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Actually, Judge didn't play Thursday after going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in his return Wednesday. Stanton went 4 for 5 with a home run Thursday after going 0 for 4 in his return Tuesday.
The new chief Bomber is Luke Voit, who homered twice Tuesday and hit one each Wednesday and Thursday, increasing his MLB-leading total to 20. He joins two guys named Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to hit at least 20 home runs in the team's first 50 games (Ruth did it three times). DJ LeMahieu is hitting .373. Gleyber Torres has started to hit after a terrible start. Even Sanchez had two hits Thursday, raising his average all the way up to .145.
So the Yankees are getting hot and healthy at the right time. They've jumped up from the eighth seed to the fifth seed and would play the Twins in the first round based on the current standings. They even have a shot at the AL East title (although the Rays swept the Orioles in a doubleheader to increase their lead to 3½ games). Actually, the Yankees are in a good spot right where they are. They have a remarkable 13-game postseason winning streak against the Twins, and if they moved up to the second seed, where the Rays currently reside, they would have to play the Indians in the first round and you don't want anything to do with Shane Bieber in a three-game series.
Then again, Bieber might not want anything to do with Luke Voit & Co. right now.
Also of note: The Rays and White Sox both clinched playoff spots. The Rays, who swept a doubleheader with the Orioles, continue to get good production from first baseman Nate Lowe, who wasn't called up from the alternate site until Sept. 2 but has hit .278/.395/.583 in 12 games. The White Sox clinched with a 4-3 win over the Twins, taking three of four in the series. Jose Abreu continues to make his case for MVP honors, going 2-for-3 with a home run against Twins ace Kenta Maeda. It will be the first postseason appearance for the White Sox since 2008, but the celebration was subdued. "We want the bigger goal," Tim Anderson said. "It was a fun moment, but we just said we're going to save it for when we clinch our division." ... Big win for the Mets, who rallied from a 6-3 deficit against Aaron Nola and the Phillies for a 10-6 victory. The bullpen tossed 7⅓ scoreless innings after Seth Lugo struggled. Brandon Nimmo hit a tying two-run triple in the sixth and a go-ahead home run in the ninth. Things got hairy for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth when the Phillies loaded the bases against Edwin Diaz, working for the third straight night, but Andrew McCutchen grounded out to end it. Diaz threw 29 pitches, so he'll probably need a day off Friday (if not Friday and Saturday). ... Nimmo's go-ahead home run came against Brandon Workman, who hasn't exactly given the Phillies what they bargained for when they acquired him from the Red Sox. Workman has given up nine runs and has a 2.66 WHIP in 11⅔ innings with Philadelphia. With no J.T. Realmuto, no Rhys Hoskins and a struggling bullpen, the Phillies might be in trouble. By the way, the entire pitching staff has allowed a .350 average on balls in play. That would be the worst BABIP ever allowed. ... The Astros saw their lead over the Mariners fall to 1½ games a couple of days ago, but it's back up to three after Houston got another gem from Framber Valdez while the Mariners -- playing their "home" game in San Francisco due to air quality issues in Seattle because of wildfires -- lost to the Giants. Valdez fanned 11 in 6⅓ innings in a 2-1 win over the Rangers. All 11 K's came with his curveball. ... The Indians snapped their eight-game losing skid with a 10-3 win over the Tigers. Bieber got the win with 10 K's in 7⅔ innings -- although his ERA rose from 1.53 to 1.74 as he gave up three runs. -- David Schoenfield
Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?
David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven't won the World Series since 1948 and they are hardly the favorite to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner-type run from 2014 and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.
Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amidst another career season amidst a pandemic. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic offensive bat at the top of the lineup in the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.
Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn't appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch, and once more become--surprisingly, but not too surprisingly--one of the world's five best starting pitchers. He's never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn't need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series--his career is so much more than those two starts--but it'll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.
Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins' championship run was fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I'm not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-3 series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.
Key games ahead
Blue Jays-Phillies, Friday doubleheader (4:05 p.m. ET): Let's play two in the City of Brotherly Love. A doubleheader kicks off a big four-game series between two East teams on the right side of the playoff line (barely, in Philadelphia's case).
A's-Giants, Sunday (4 p.m. ET): Will the Giants' lead in a tight race for the NL's final playoff spot last through a tough three-game series with their Bay Area rivals?