We are closing in on the end of the 2021 regular season. The playoffs are almost here and we still have three spots that I think are legitimately up for grabs. Both AL Wild Card spots and the second NL Wild Card spot are all within striking distance for multiple teams. After a unique 2020 season, I started thinking about if last season’s playoff format should be the norm for the MLB moving on.
Now if you are not familiar with last season’s format or just don’t remember, let me walk you through it. The top two teams in each division qualified as well as the next two best records in both the American and National Leagues. So eight teams made the playoffs. In the first round, it was a best of three series with the team with the best record hosting all three games in each matchup. After that, things became more conventional with a best of five series in the divisional round, followed by a best of seven for both Championship Series and the World Series.
That meant 16 total teams made the playoffs in 2020 as compared to just 10 in normal years. It made for some exciting action. More playoff baseball means more excitement. There were upsets like the Marlins knocking off the Cubs. However, the better teams ended up making it to the World Series where the Dodgers took down the Rays.
Now to my thoughts on this. I loved seeing some upstart and surprise teams make the postseason. However, I prefer a smaller group in the playoffs. I think the MLB has it right with 10 teams. That is less than one-third of the league as compared to half of the league making it last season. The Wild Card game is always exciting and sets the table for exciting baseball. The only change that I would make is to change the Divisional Series to best of seven like the rest of the postseason. The playoffs as they are right now, are about as good as it gets for postseason sports.
Now that we are all fired up for the playoffs, who will be the teams to punch their ticket. We have one team officially in and have a good idea about six others. Here is where we stand as we officially enter the final stretch of the 2021 season.
- San Francisco Giants (94-50) —
The Giants have now won eight straight games and just continue to roll this season. The Dodgers remain on their heels, but the Giants are now the first team to clinch a playoff spot in 2021. They got hot early and have just continued to ride that wave of momentum right into a playoff spot. They can’t relax now that they have clinched their spot. A one game Wild Card playoff is something no team wants to play in. The Giants need to fend off the Dodgers to avoid that.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (92-53) —
Likely the next team to clinch a playoff spot will be the Dodgers. Los Angeles split four with St. Louis last week that put some space between them and San Francisco. They also want to avoid that one game playoff. It would be a fascinating decision to see if the Dodgers start Walker Buehler or Max Scherzer in that game if they are in it. They would likely use both a little bit in that game. No team is better equipped to win the Wild Card game, but one bad day could send you home early. The Dodgers need help to avoid that possibility.
- Milwaukee Brewers (89-55) +1
The Brewers gave up 12 runs last Monday against Philadelphia. They followed that up by allowing a total of seven runs in the next five games. Milwaukee is such a scary team to face in a playoff series because they don’t have consecutive bad outings from their starters. They are the team that could throw a wrench into the thoughts of having an NL West team in the World Series. I think they have just as good of a chance to win the World Series as the Giants and Dodgers.
- Tampa Bay Rays (89-55) -1
Losing two of three to Detroit over the weekend drops the Rays a bit. Tampa Bay is still the team to beat in the American League. They will likely wrap up the division in the next couple of weeks and then turn their focus to the playoffs. Nelson Cruz has turned things around after a rough start to his time in Florida. Wander Franco has also given them a youthful spark. We will see if the pitching can hold up in October.
- Houston Astros (84-59) +1
It feels like the Astros wrapped up the AL West after taking two of three from Seattle in their final meeting with the Mariners last week. They still have a couple of series with Oakland so they can’t just phone it in. The schedule is pretty easy from here until the final week. They don’t play any teams above .500 until September 24th. Then they play Oakland for three, Tampa Bay for three, and finish with Oakland for three more. That series with Tampa Bay could determine who finishes with the best record in the American League.
- Chicago White Sox (82-61) -1
The White Sox had a pretty challenging week taking on both Oakland and Boston in three game series. They went 3-3 losing two of three to Oakland and taking two of three from Boston. They expect to have both Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito back this week. That gives them both time to get their feel back before the playoffs. The health of this team has caused major problems this season. Can they stay healthy enough for an October run?
- Toronto Blue Jays (81-63) +3
I tweeted last week that you couldn’t rank the Blue Jays higher than Seattle heading into last week. Now, there’s no way you can’t have Toronto as the best Wild Card team. They are scorching hot. We have been waiting for them to put it all together and they have now done that at the perfect time. Since August 28th the Blue Jays are 15-2 and the offense is absolutely raking. They still don’t have a big lead in the Wild Card but if they keep this up they will be a nightmare in October.
- Boston Red Sox (81-65) —
It was not a good week for Boston after going 2-4 against Tampa Bay and Chicago. The good news is that they still hold a Wild Card spot for now. The Yankees, Mariners, and A’s are all right behind them and are waiting for a mistake from Boston. Some guys are now returning from the COVID IL at the right time as they prepare for a massive series in Seattle this week. There is no more margin for error for Boston.
- New York Yankees (80-64) -2
The team who had the worst week in all of baseball was the Yankees. They went 1-6 against the Blue Jays and Mets and dropped below Boston in the Wild Card chase. It seemed like the Yankees were going to slug their way right into the postseason but the offense has gone fairly cold. They better find that groove against Baltimore and Cleveland this week. After that, the schedule gets very tough down the stretch.
- Atlanta Braves (76-66) +1
The Braves are pulling away with the NL East. A 4-2 week against Washington and Miami grew the division lead to 4.5 games over Philadelphia. With only three games remaining with the Phillies the Braves have a chance to put this division away before that series starts on September 28th. It is a shame Ronald Acuna Jr. will miss the playoff run but this team is still capable of pulling off a surprise in October.
- Seattle Mariners (78-66) -2
The Mariners got punched in the gut by losing two of three to Houston to start the week. Then they lost two of three to Arizona to make it even worse. You have to win those games against bottom tier teams if you want to get into the postseason. They have a chance to make up some ground with three games at home with Boston this week. If they aren’t within three games of the Wild Card at the end of the week, it will be another year without the playoffs for Seattle.
- Oakland A’s (77-66) —
The Athletics are just stuck spinning their tires. They took two of three from the White Sox but then dropped two of three to the Rangers. Matt Olson has been an absolute monster and yet nobody is talking about him. Olson has 34 home runs and 98 RBIs in 2021. In most seasons, that wins you the MVP. In 2021, it gets you a third place finish and likely misses the playoffs. Games with the Royals and Angels this week will be important before Seattle comes to town next week.
- Cincinnati Reds (75-69) +1
The Reds lost two out of three to the Cardinals and that adds a third team to the mix for the second Wild Card in the National League. The Reds have the inside track to take that spot, but they are letting both St. Louis and San Diego hang around. They need to beat the bad teams they have left on their schedule and put this thing away. It starts with the Pirates for three before they take on the Dodgers over the weekend.
- St. Louis Cardinals (74-69) +2
It feels like the Cardinals are going to pull a Toronto and get hot to sneak into the playoffs. They have seven games left against Milwaukee and that is why I still give the edge to Cincinnati. However, St. Louis has the momentum. It feels like none of these teams wants the second Wild Card. There have been two World Series champions to win the Wild Card game and get hot enough to go win the World Series. St. Louis has the bats to do that. Can the pitching keep up?
- San Diego Padres (74-69) -2
The Padres were swept by the Dodgers over the weekend and that knocks them out of the Wild Card for now. The schedule is also miserable down the stretch. They don’t play a team below .500 for the rest of the season as they try to pass the Reds for the final playoff spot. They have been bad in the past month and it is costing them. Unless they do a complete 180, the Padres are likely going to miss the playoffs after having World Series aspirations coming into the season.
- New York Mets (72-73) +1
The Mets had a nice feel good series over the weekend when they took two of three from the Yankees. Other than that, it has been a nightmare since the trade deadline. They are 5.5 games back of Atlanta so there is still a chance. However, they only play Atlanta three more times and those games will be the final games of the season. They will need Atlanta to slip up and they need to catch fire. I don’t see either of those things happening.
- Philadelphia Phillies (72-71) -2
The Phillies lost two of three to Milwaukee and then three of four to Colorado. That really crushes their playoff hopes. They had an opening in August and after getting swept in Arizona, things just spiraled out of control. Some decisions will have to be made this offseason. This team is a step behind Atlanta and needs to figure out how to close that gap.
- Cleveland Indians (69-72) —
I feel confident saying Cleveland is the second best team in the AL Central. I am also confident in saying that there is a large gap between them and the White Sox. Health has killed the pitching this season and that is a factor in how far back they are of Chicago. However, the offense has been terrible. Jose Ramirez is great but after that they don’t really have anybody. They do go to the Bronx this weekend, so the teams in the AL Wild Card race will all be pulling for them.
- Los Angeles Angels (70-73) —
Once again the Angels will have the MVP of the American League on their roster in Shohei Ohtani. Once again they will miss the playoffs. They are clearly the #4 team in the AL West behind Houston, Seattle and Oakland. Injuries to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon hurt them in 2021, but the pitching isn’t where it needs to be to compete for the division. Jo Adell is figuring it out which could be massive in 2022. It won’t matter though if they don’t address the pitching.
- Detroit Tigers (68-76) —
The Tigers continue to knock off contender after contender. Detroit took two of three from Tampa Bay over the weekend to move to 32-31 against teams with a winning record. That is the 10th best record in baseball against winning teams. Bad news is they have two winning teams this week as they host Milwaukee for two before going to Tampa Bay for four. Again this has been a good season for Detroit. They have a bright future with this team.
- Colorado Rockies (66-78) —
The Rockies got swept at home by the Giants and went on the road and took three out of four from the Phillies. There’s a nice little change of pace for the Colorado faithful. They still haven’t been let off the hook for doing almost nothing at the trade deadline. If anyone like Trevor Story leaves for free, then this season was a failure for the Rockies.
- Kansas City Royals (65-78) —
I am sure you’re asking yourself if I am about to talk about Salvador Perez again. The answer is yes. The days of seeing every day catchers are almost gone and Perez is one of the last of a dying breed. And yet he continues to produce offensively. He has 42 home runs and counting and it is incredible. The Royals are not very good. But they do have some fun players that keep the fans coming out to Kauffman Stadium.
- Miami Marlins (61-83) —
Miami just took two of three from the Mets before losing two of three to Atlanta. I really do think this team isn’t that far away from contention. They are in a division where nobody really took control and dominated. The offense needs to be revamped in the offseason. Holding opponents’ offenses in check will not be an issue in the near future. Scoring runs however continues to be a struggle.
- Minnesota Twins (63-81) +1
I think the most disappointing team in 2021 has been the Twins. This team was built to contend for the AL pennant but never got off the ground. There are some decisions to be made with Byron Buxton and Max Kepler this offseason. The pitching is not good enough for the front office to go for it. It looks like a rebuild and sounds like a rebuild, but the front office is yet to commit to a rebuild.
- Chicago Cubs (65-79) -1
The Cubs might have had the most heartbreaking season in 2021. This team looks nothing like the Cubs teams that were in the playoffs every season. The heroes that Chicago adored during that 2016 World Series run are all gone. The future looks to have some potential though. These young guys look good for Chicago so far. The pitching is rough, but they can fix that in the next couple of seasons.
- Washington Nationals (59-85) —
With all the losing and negativity surrounding the Nationals, it is easy to forget that they have Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. I do not like very much of what I have seen from the young guys, but that could all change with some real preparation in the spring. Joe Ross will also hopefully be back so this team shouldn’t be among the worst in baseball next season.
- Texas Rangers (53-90) —
This week was maybe the best week for the Rangers all season. They swept the Diamondbacks in a two game set and then took two of three from Oakland. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa will likely win a Gold Glove this season and it is very much deserved. Adolis Garcia dipped big time after an incredible first few months of the season. The tools are there for him to be an impact player for the Rangers for a few years.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (52-91) —
The Pirates pulled off a winning week as they went 4-2 against Detroit and Washington. They have had a few nice surprises along the season but they weren’t supposed to compete this year. They are building something in Pittsburgh. It will take time. Until then, they have to bring in some exciting players for the fans to get excited about.
- Baltimore Orioles (46-97) —
I am officially crowning the 2021 Baltimore Orioles as the most fun bad team ever. These guys show up to play every single day and many have had good seasons. It isn’t translating to many wins, but they are exciting. Trey Mancini just being on the field again is amazing to see and he along with Cedric Mullins and John Means are having career years. Ryan Mountcastle has also earned himself a spot on this team in the future with a great rookie year. All in all, not the worst 100 loss season we have ever seen.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (47-97) —
The Diamondbacks got to play spoiler by taking two of three in Seattle over the weekend. That is about the biggest impact Arizona has had on the playoff picture in 2021. They know they are rebuilding, but there isn’t much to rebuild with. A long rebuild will be taking place and that will make for some very rough years in Arizona.
Matthew graduated in 2019 from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with a specialization in Media and Journalism Production. He currently is a broadcaster and writer at Eli Sports Network. Baseball and football are his specialties but Matt covers anything he can. Follow him on Twitter @matt_king19