The expanded, 16-team playoff field for 2020 has looped in a number of surprise contenders, and that remains the case even with less than three weeks of regular season remaining. For instance, peruse our daily playoff picture and you’ll find the Marlins, Giants, and Blue Jays in playoff position and the Orioles, Tigers, and Mariners all within hailing distance of a spot. Given that the majority of the league will make the postseason in 2020, some upstarts will no doubt make it. 

However, the remaining schedule figures to work against two of these clubs. 

The first team with a difficult path to the postseason is the Orioles in the American League. At this writing, they’re just a half-game game behind the Yankees for the final playoff spot in the AL, but their remaining opponents have an average winning percentage of .537, which is “topped” only by the Twins in the American League. 

Here are Baltimore’s remaining games going into Wednesday’s slate: 

  • @Mets, 1 game
  • @Yankees, 4 games
  • Braves, 3 games
  • Rays, 5 games
  • @Red Sox, 3 games
  • @Blue Jays, 3 games

The Yankees have slipped to .500 despite heavy expectations, so they somehow lower the Orioles’ opponents’ average winning percentage at the moment. On the one hand, it’s good for the O’s to get four head-to-head cracks at the team just ahead of them in the playoff queue. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Yankees to find their level at any moment — their level being that of a World Series contender.

Then comes a challenging eight game stretch versus the Rays, perhaps the AL’s best team, and the Braves, the NL East leaders who just got Ozzie Albies back. It ends with a series against the surprisingly strong Blue Jays, who even at that late hour may be playing their hardest to secure a postseason berth. That adds up to an exacting stretch drive for Baltimore, who, you’ll recall, is coming off a 108-loss season. 

As for the Giants, they’re pinning down the eighth and final National League playoff spot, which would put them in line to face the blood-rival Dodgers in the Wild Card round. The more pressing concern is fending off the Rockies, Brewers, Mets, and Reds for that final spot. 

San Fran has a 1.5-game lead over the Rockies right now, so there’s a slight cushion. However, the Giants’ opponents the rest of the way have an average winning percentage of .561, and that’s the highest such figure in the NL right now. Here are their games left to play: 

  • Mariners, 1 game
  • @Padres, 4 games
  • @Mariners, 2 games
  • @Athletics, 3 games
  • Rockies, 4 games
  • Padres, 3 games

Of their 17 games left to play, 10 come against two of the best teams in baseball — the Padres and A’s. Perhaps the Pads will be locked into their seed by the final series of the season and resting regulars, but that’s not a safe assumption. Otherwise, there’s no real letup here, especially with the Mariners having an outside shot at the postseason and the Rockies chasing the Giants themselves right now. 

All of this is no reason to dismiss the hopes of the Orioles and Giants, but, given the tight margins in place, the remaining schedule could play a major role in sorting out the back end of the playoff field. It figures to work against them, but the fact that we’re even talking about the Giants and Orioles in September of 2020 shows they’re not beholden to our expectations. 

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