Assessing the 2016 MLB Playoff Picture: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

I consider the 2011 MLB Playoff push to be one of the greatest in my lifetime, coming down to the final day of the regular season. September 28, 2011 was a night where Chris Carpenter dazzled, the unhittable Craig Kimbrel blew a save, Robert Andino cemented his name in Orioles history, and Evan Longoria flexed his muscles. That night, and that race, was probably the best that much of the baseball world had ever seen. However, as we near the final week of the 2016 regular-season, we have six teams competing for two spots in the AL, and three teams competing for two spots in the NL. Of these eight teams, the Yankees are the farthest team out of a playoff spot, trailing the Detroit Tigers for the final Wild Card spot by 3 games. This is unreal. This is intense. This is nerve-wracking. This is everything that I want Major League Baseball to be.

The Atlanta Braves dugout following their loss on September 28th, 2011 that ended their season.

Below I will assess who will sneak into the 2016 MLB Playoffs and why. I will assume that the six division leaders will hold onto their leads, leaving four Wild Card spots up for grabs. So congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers on their division titles and playoff berths. Who will be joining them?

The American League Wildcard Standings

Toronto Blue Jays 83–69 (+1.0)

Detroit Tigers 82–70 — —

Baltimore Orioles 82–71 (0.5)

Houston Astros 81–72 (1.5)

Seattle Mariners 80–72 (2.0)

New York Yankees 79–73 (3.0)

Toronto Blue Jays

Will Blue Jays fans get to experience a moment like this in 2016?

Remaining Schedule: 10 games

vs. New York Yankees (4), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3), @ Boston Red Sox (3)

The Case for the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays have a tough road ahead, squaring off with three divisional opponents who all happen to be in the playoff picture. The Yankees, Orioles, and Red Sox have all been productive offensively throughout the season. The Jays, as we all know, can also mash like taters, so I think it will come down to their pitching in these final ten games. Francisco Liriano and Marcus Stroman, who are pitching tonight and Saturday afternoon respectively, specifically need to step up in order for the Jays to maintain their playoff position.

X-Factor: Josh Donaldson

In his last fifteen games, Donaldson is hitting a measly .154 with 17 strikeouts in 52 at-bats. The Blue Jays would love for him to heat up again down the stretch.

Detroit Tigers

Remaining Schedule: 10 games

vs. Kansas City Royals (3), vs. Cleveland Indians (4), @ Atlanta Braves (3)

The Case for the Tigers:

The Detroit Tigers have Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, as well as a loaded offense with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez, Ian Kinsler, etc. It is even more frightening considering that Justin Upton is beginning to heat up…

X-Factor: Justin Verlander

The Tigers will lean heavily on Verlander as they make their playoff push.

Justin Verlander is the veteran pitcher of this Tigers’ staff who has been in these kinds of situations before. He must be “the man” over his final starts for the Tigers.

Baltimore Orioles

Remaining Schedule: 9 games

vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (3), @ Toronto Blue Jays (3), @ New York Yankees (3)

Buck Showalter hopes to get the O’s into the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.

The Case for the Orioles:

As an Orioles fan, here is what I want to see first and foremost from this team: a sweep of the Diamondbacks. Other than that, the pitching staff needs to find a way to avoid giving up the big hit, which plagued them in their heart-breaking series against the Red Sox. Offensively, the big boys, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Manny Machado need to get going again. Trey Mancini cannot provide the O’s only offense if they expect to be playing in a Wild Card game on October 4th.

X-Factor: Zach Britton

I am not just saying this because I am an Orioles fan, but Zach Britton is hands-down the best closer in the game. He is 45-for-45 in save opportunities with a 0.58 era. Oh yeah, and opponents are only hitting .161 off of him. If the Orioles can find a way to get him the ball with a lead, they should be alright.

Houston Astros

Remaining Schedule: 9 games

vs. Los Angeles Angels (3), vs. Seattle Mariners (3), @ Los Angeles Angels (3)

The Case for the Astros:

Houston’s final nine games are against AL West opponents, whom they have owned all season as long as they were not named the Texas Rangers. They also have one of the best players in baseball in Jose Altuve, who owns a .333 batting average over his last seven games.

The Astros hope that Altuve stays hot over their final 9 games.

X-Factor: George Springer

Springer has drastically cooled off over his last thirty games, posting only 3 home runs, 6 RBIs, and a batting average of .188. Simply put, that will not cut it for the Astros.

Seattle Mariners

Remaining Schedule: 10 games

@ Minnesota Twins (3), @ Houston Astros (3), vs. Oakland Athletics (4)

The Case for the Mariners:

Seattle has a very favorable schedule over their final ten games; the biggest series will be with the Houston Astros. The Mariners have struggled against the ‘Stros all season, posting a dismal 5–10 record. However, a lineup anchored by Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager is always threatening. Furthermore, King Felix should make an appearance during that series and be thirsty for revenge after getting shelled by the Astros on September 16. Seattle is a dark horse that I expect to make a serious run at the second Wild Card spot down the home stretch.

Seattle is hoping to make their first playoff appearance since 2001.

X-Factor: Robinson Cano

Mariners’ fans have been waiting for Cano to deliver a playoff appearance since he moved from New York following the 2013 season. This is the closest the M’s have come, and they need their best player to turn it on in order for them to make a run.

New York Yankees

Remaining Schedule: 10 games

@ Toronto Blue Jays (4), vs. Boston Red Sox (3), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)

The Case for the Yankees:

The Yankees must rely on their youth over their final 10 games. This is not a theme we often hear in the world of sports, usually the veteran players are the ones to lean on in big situations. However, these young Yanks have energy, swagger, and they can play man. I have counted them out many times this year, and like a pesky cockroach (great way to describe the Yankees), they will not die. I refuse to count them out yet.

X-Factor: Gary Sanchez

Maybe Gary Sanchez does deserve a book to be written about him after his historic stretch. Will it be enough to get the Yanks into the playoffs though?

This cat will not stop hitting homers. He has 19 homers in 44 games this season, or to look at it another way, 19 of his 56 hits are home runs. I am not very good at math, but that would mean that roughly 1 out of his every 3 hits is a home run. That is not human.

The National League Wildcard Standings

New York Mets 81–72 — —

San Francisco Giants 81–72 — —

St. Louis Cardinals 80–73 (1.0)

New York Mets

Remaining Schedule: 9 games

vs. Philadelphia Phillies (3), @ Miami Marlins (3), @ Philadelphia Phillies (3)

The Case for the Mets:

Of the three teams competing for the two Wild Card spots in the NL, the Mets appear to have the easiest schedule on paper. The concerns I have with the Mets lie in their depleted pitching and reliance on the long ball. However, I admire them for their resiliency (I mean did you watch that game last night?! It was crazy!) and I like the fact that they have a strong veteran presence within their clubhouse.

Can Cespedes lead the Mets to a second consecutive playoff appearance?

X-Factor: Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is without a doubt the Mets most important player over their final nine games. Last year during the Mets’ playoff push he put on a show. Mets fans would love an encore performance.

San Francisco Giants

Remaining Schedule: 9 games

@ San Diego Padres (3), vs. Colorado Rockies (3), @ Los Angeles Dodgers (3)

Can Bumgarner carry the Giants into the postseason?

The Case for the Giants:

One thing the Giants have going for them is the fact that it is an even year. They seem to manage to bring home the World Series trophy during those kinds of years (see 2010, 2012, 2014). In order for them to have a chance to do so this year, they need strong stretches from Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Hunter Pence. The Giants have a tall task ahead of them, with a Colorado Rockies team who can score runs in a hurry and their arch-nemesis the Los Angeles Dodgers. I like the idea that the Dodgers vs. Giants game on October 2nd could potentially determine the Giants fate.

X-Factor: Madison Bumgarner

Realistically speaking, Bumgarner probably has two starts left his season, one on Saturday against the Padres and the other TBD. I think he will have to be dominant and that the Giants must win in his final appearances of the season.

St. Louis Cardinals

Remaining Schedule: 10 games

@ Chicago Cubs (3), vs. Cincinnati Reds (4), vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (3)

The Case for the Cardinals:

If I were the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, I would glance at the standings in the morning paper, see St. Louis’ name and say, “oh s*@t here we go again.” It’s the Cardinal way, they always seem to find a way to get the job done and make it into the postseason. The path has a few roadblocks this year with the likes of the Cubs and Pirates. The Cards need to manage to take at least one from the Cubs and either sweep or take 3 of 4 from Cincinnati before taking on the surging Bucs in St. Louis. I think their final series against Pittsburgh will determine their fate.

X-Factor: Yadier Molina

The Cards need Yadier Molina now more than ever.

Honestly, who else would it be? He has been the Cardinals most important player since the departure of Albert Pujols. Molina has to be a force, both behind the plate and offensively. He has been as of late, hitting .409 in his last seven games.

The Final Say

So with all of that being said, I guess I should be bold and make my final predictions for who will be playing baseball beyond the first two days of October. In the American League, I like the Baltimore Orioles to lock-up the top Wild Card spot (I never said that these predictions would be unbiased). Despite the bias, if the Orioles offense heats up over their final nine games and they can avoid the big hit, they have a legitimate shot to lock up that spot. As for the second Wild Card spot in the AL, I think the Detroit Tigers will secure it, with the Seattle Mariners giving them a serious push along with the Toronto Blue Jays. In the National League, I believe that the New York Mets will take the top Wild Card spot. The second one will come down to the Cardinal Way against Even-Year Magic, and I will lean ever so slightly towards the Cardinal Way. I think having four games against the Cincinnati Reds, and a Giants loss to the Dodgers on the final day of the regular season, will be just enough for the Red Birds.

Sorry Giants fans!

Either way, these next ten days will be some of the most exciting baseball any of us have experienced since 2011. I cannot wait to see how it all pans out and watch as all of my predictions get torn to pieces.

Go Orioles!

  • ZS
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