Now that we’re in the middle of August — the good ol’ “Dog Day s” — I’ve found myself for the first time this season starting to think ahead to the Wild Card Series. For the second time in history, and the first time with a full regular season and full ballparks of hometown fans, we’re going to see multiple series before the divisional round.
Knowing just how exciting playoff baseball can be and how much fun those four-game playoff days in the divisional round are (that Friday was long one of my favorite days of the calendar year), we’re likely in for a treat. The potential for insanity exists.
As a reminder, the new playoff format has the top two division winners in each league getting a bye and surpassing the wild card round. The third division winner will host the third wild-card team in a three-game series while the top wild-card team hosts the second wild card in a three-gamer as well.
Here’s how things would look at present.
There’s no need just yet to focus on the individual series — though Mariners-Blue Jays would be pretty fun, given how infrequently they’ve been playoff teams for the past two decades and with the whole Canada’s team vs. Seattle aspect. Also, Robbie Ray won the Cy Young with the Blue Jays last season and would start one of the games.
The Orioles, White Sox, Twins and Red Sox remain in the mix, of course, so there are a good number of combinations. It’s too early to start ranking intriguing matchups or anything, but we can all start working through things in our heads. It’s part of the fun this time of the season.
The Brewers right now loom large in the races for both the NL Central and the wild card. We could maybe, possibly, squint our way to the Giants getting into playoff position, but that’s it. This is to say that on the NL side, it’s really more about jockeying for position than which teams get in.
We might end up with an NL East battle if the Braves and Phillies line up against each other (and, of course, it’s always possible the Braves topple the Mets in the division, even if far-fetched). If the Brewers get in and face the Padres, might we see Josh Hader trying to close down a series against his former team? The last time the Cardinals and Braves squared off in the playoffs, the Cardinals had a 10-run first in the deciding game. And hey, the Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 while the Padres haven’t hosted a playoff game with fans since 2006.
Again, just play around with the possible matchups in your head.
We’ve got about seven-and-a-half weeks of maneuvering to be done before we get there. We can enjoy the races while looking forward to the first-round playoff craziness all the same.