On final day, 2 NL spots and AL Central crown in play
By MIKE FITZPATRICK AP Baseball Writer
Four teams, two National League playoff spots.
And the AL Central champion.
Besides postseason seeding, that’s what remains to be decided on the last scheduled day of this bizarre baseball season. It could all come down to the wire at once in a wild rush, too, with every meaningful game Sunday starting just after 3 p.m. EDT.
“If you said that to me before the season started or on opening day, I would probably look right at you very honestly and say, ‘I would not be surprised if this season came down to the very last game.’ And that’s what we get,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Christian Yelich and the Brewers control their own fate. So do Yadier Molina and the Cardinals. The winner of their matchup Sunday in St. Louis punches a postseason ticket. Brett Anderson (4-3) pitches for Milwaukee against Austin Gomber (1-1).
San Francisco is still breathing, but needs help. Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies need even more.
One more chance to play in October as part of a playoff field expanded to 16 teams this year following a rocky regular season reduced to 60 games because of the coronavirus.
“It’s frustrating because you see the team that you have around you and you know we should be there — we should easily be there,” Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen said Saturday night after a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay left Philadelphia on the brink of elimination. “To be on the outside looking in right now, it can be frustrating at times.”
The Phillies (28-31) got a reprieve hours later, staying in the race when San Francisco lost to San Diego. They need a win Sunday over the Rays and losses by the Giants and Brewers to land their first playoff berth in nine years.
San Francisco (29-30) needs a victory over the visiting Padres and a Brewers loss. The Cardinals (29-28) make it with a win or a Giants loss. Milwaukee (29-30) is in with a win or losses by the Giants and Phillies.
“We just have to keep our head up and try to win,” San Francisco pitcher Johnny Cueto said.
Over in the American League, all eight teams are set. All that’s left to be determined is seeding — and first place in the Central.
Minnesota has a one-game lead and can lock up its second consecutive division crown — and the No. 2 seed in the AL — with a win at home against Cincinnati or a White Sox loss at home to the Cubs.
“I look at that 2019 banner a lot up there at the stadium, so it’d be nice to put another one up there,” Twins reliever Taylor Rogers said.
If the teams finish tied, Chicago wins the division because it holds the tiebreaker over the Twins.
“It would mean a lot for all of us that have been here for the last couple of years,” White Sox infielder Yoán Moncada said through a translator. “It would be a really good starting point for us for the next season because we would have that foundation there.”
AL East champion Tampa Bay has clinched the league’s top seed. Oakland won the AL West and will also play a best-of-three first-round series at home beginning Tuesday — possibly against rival Houston.
Even without winning the Central, Minnesota is assured of playing at home, where the Twins are a major league-best 24-6. Cleveland can earn home-field advantage with a win over last-place Pittsburgh and a White Sox loss.
The Yankees and Blue Jays are also in, but headed out on the road.
Anthony Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central crown Saturday night even while losing to the crosstown White Sox. So the third-seeded Cubs will open at home Wednesday just like the other National League division winners, top-seeded Los Angeles and No. 2 seed Atlanta.
“This one feels good,” Rizzo said.
San Diego will be the No. 4 seed. Cincinnati and surprising Miami have also secured spots, though their seeds are still to be determined.
Houston (29-30), Milwaukee (29-30) or Philadelphia (28-31) could become the first team in major league history to qualify for the postseason with a losing record.
The Astros, who close their season at Texas, have already clinched their fourth straight playoff appearance. That means first-year manager Dusty Baker will take his fifth different franchise to the postseason in that role.
And there’s also a possibility the regular season could extend to Monday.
If the Cardinals lose Sunday and San Francisco wins, St. Louis must head to Detroit for a doubleheader Monday to make up two games postponed by the Cardinals’ coronavirus outbreak this summer.
Makeup games to settle the playoff race. Certainly would be a fitting way to finish the 2020 season.
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