MLB playoff race: Five series with huge postseason implications, including rivalries and an interleague matchup


The 2019 MLB regular season ends Sunday, Sept. 29, meaning the postseason is now only two weeks away. There are still plenty of postseason races that have to be decided between now and then. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at five upcoming series with playoff implications.

Rays at Dodgers, Sept. 17-Sept. 18

The Rays have a tough stretch to close out the regular season. After facing the Dodgers for a quick two-game series, they’ll host their AL East rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees, for series in Tampa. While Tampa will look to lock in an AL wild card spot, the Dodgers have already clinched their seventh straight NL West title. For the Dodgers in this series, they’ll continue chasing the Yankees and Astros for the best record in MLB, and the home-field advantages in the postseason that come with that. Of note for the Rays in this series is that reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell will make his return from arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow. The lefty has been out since late July, and he’ll face the Dodgers for the first time in his career.

What could happen: Dodgers overtake Yankees and Astros in the fight for best record overall
Players to watch: Rays’ Ji-Man Choi (8 walks in last week), Dodgers’ Gavin Lux (.400/.400/.800 in last 6 games)

Phillies at Braves, Sept. 17-Sept. 19

The Braves will look to continue their dominance against NL East opponents this year as they host the Phillies for a three-game series in Atlanta. While the Braves have already clinched a postseason berth for the second straight season, the Phillies are barely managing to stay alive in the NL wild card race. The Phillies are arriving to Atlanta after a 2-4 homestand, and five games out from the final wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Braves enter this series with a 17-3 record in their last 20 games. In the series opener, the Braves will send left-hander Dallas Keuchel to the mound to face Philadelphia right-hander Vince Velasquez. Velasquez has never beaten the Braves, he’s 0-1 this season and 0-6 against the Braves in his career.

What could happen: Braves clinch the NL East
Players to watch: Phillies’ Aaron Nola (looks to end 5-game losing streak), Braves’ Ronald Acuna (1 HR, 4 SB from 40/40)

Cardinals at Cubs, Sept. 19-Sept. 22

Postseason implications aside, the NL Central rivalry of the Cardinals and Cubs is always a fun one to watch. The series kicks off with a primetime game at Wrigley Field, and the stakes will be high for both these teams. The Cubs took a tough blow in losing first baseman Anthony Rizzo likely for the remainder of the regular season, but they’ll have to keep fighting if they want to hang onto to the final NL wild card spot. If everything goes right for the Cubs, they may even have a chance at dethroning the Cardinals for the division lead. Chicago will have home field advantage for this first matchup, but the two clubs will face off again, in St. Louis, for their final regular season series.

What could happen: Cubs jump into first place
Players to watch: Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler (10 walks in last seven games), Cubs’ Kris Bryant (.480/.548/1.080 with five HR, 13 RBI in last seven games)

Yankees at Rays, Sept. 24-Sept. 25

Possibly a preview of this year’s ALDS. The AL East rivals have never faced off against each other in the playoffs. This season, the Yankees are 12-5 against Tampa Bay, and averaged 5.58 runs against them. New York has the more powerful offense, but the Rays could still pose a challenge in this quick, two-game series.

What could happen: We get a glimpse of the Yankees’ untraditional pitching strategy for the postseason
Players to watch: Yankees’ Dellin Betances (trying to regain fastball velocity), Rays’ Austin Meadows (7 HR in last 14 games)

Indians at Nationals, Sept. 27-Sept. 29

This will be the final regular season series for both the Indians and Nationals. Not a usual matchup, but this interleague series could obviously change the wild card picture in both leagues. The Indians have lost out on their division-title chances, so they’ll need to salvage an AL wild card spot (with help from the A’s or Rays) in order to make it the postseason. The Nationals will try to shake off an inconsistent September start, and fend off NL teams competing in a tight wild card race.

What could happen: Indians become just the second MLB team to win 94 games, but miss the playoffs
Players to watch: Indians’ Carlos Santana (.398 OBP ranks third-best in AL), Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (NL MVP candidate)

For an up-to-date look at who’s in and who’s out as we near October baseball, check out our daily postseason reset. You’ll find where each and every race stands as the day’s MLB slate begins.