On Sunday afternoon, while wearing shirts, red shorts and goggles, the Washington Nationals clinched their fourth National League East title, and their second in a row. As someone who watches a lot of sports on television, I enjoy a highlight that features a bunch of professional athletes doing the same thing. They're just like us!
The victory of course punched the Nationals' postseason ticket, becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to do so. On Tuesday night, the Dodgers proved that they were physically capable of winning another baseball game, ending their 11-game losing streak and clinching at least a Wild Card spot in the process. They still have to nail down the NL West -- and they surely will, barring another 11-game skid -- but no matter what, their season will not end on Oct. 1.
Counting today, Sept. 13, there are only 19 days left in the MLB season. There will be plenty of highlights during that time, from Giancarlo Stanton home runs to crazy Byron Buxton catches to teams putting together a deep enough rally that they come within four runs of the Indians. But the real fun over the next 19 days will be the clubhouse celebrations. There is much bubbly to be sprayed over the next 19 days.
And there's nothing like being there in person to watch your team clinch. It's not just their division title: It's yours. Thus, today, I'll use my powers of perception and prognostication to try to predict when each of the nine final postseason spots -- counting the NL West as a playoff spot -- will be clinched, day by day. When does everybody get to pop the corks? Let's call it a Champagne Countdown.
Saturday, Sept. 16: Indians win the AL Central
The Indians are of course never losing another game, so with a magic number of five, this should happen quickly. The problem, such as it is, is that the Twins have a Wild Card lead to hang onto themselves and thus need wins even more than Cleveland does. (Plus, they're playing San Diego this week.) Thus, here's guessing the Indians' celebration will bleed into Saturday, an afternoon tilt against the Royals. It'd be even more fun if the Indians could clinch while still riding that winning streak, though the next-day hangover might make keeping it alive that Sunday a little tougher. Hey, if you gotta end a winning streak, might as well make it for a good reason.
Sunday, Sept. 17: Astros win the AL West
The Astros have the perfect scenario to clinch, and it's possible they even beat the Indians to it. Houston, like Cleveland, has a magic number of five, and they also have two more games against the Angels, the team chasing them, this week. If they win these next two in Anaheim, they could potentially clinch Friday night at home against Seattle, but here's guessing they split and need a couple more days. No matter what, they're going to clinch this thing in front of their home fans: They begin a nine-game homestand on Friday. After the fortnight Houston has had, a little party at Minute Maid Park wouldn't be the worst thing.
Friday, Sept. 22: Dodgers win the NL West
At this point, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Dodgers take off and win 10 in a row, but assuming they don't do that, and assuming that the D-backs can take a few from the Giants and Padres on the road this week, the Dodgers might have to wait until they return home from this current 10-game road trip. That Friday night could be the perfect evening. They play the Giants, it's their first game back at home in nearly two weeks and it's Tommy Lasorda's 90th birthday.
Sunday, Sept. 24: D-backs clinch first NL Wild Card
The D-backs' Wild Card lead and hold on that home-game spot in the NL Wild Card Game isn't quite as secure as you might think: They're only three games up on the Rockies right now, which is actually less of a lead than Colorado has on St. Louis, the team chasing them. (The Rockies have picked a terrific time to go on a six-game winning streak.) Like everybody else so far, the D-backs will likely clinch at home: A six-game homestand against Miami and San Francisco should get the job done.
Monday, Sept. 25: Yankees clinch first AL Wild Card spot
With Hurricane Irma displacing the Rays, the Yankees are in New York City for 11 straight days, and all but three until the end of the season. That should allow them to keep pace with the Red Sox most of way, and grab that first Wild Card spot when they return to Yankee Stadium after a three-day sojourn in Toronto. The bummer is that the Yanks might not celebrate that hard: They'll still be chasing the Red Sox, and traditionally, teams don't go too nuts about Wild Card wins when they're still in a chase for the division title.
Wednesday, Sept. 27: Red Sox clinch AL East
The Red Sox have the weirdest road trip coming up: After these two home games against the A's, they travel to Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati. (It seems odd to think of the Red Sox playing in Cincinnati the last week of the season.) There are plenty of wins to be had in the next fortnight, but the Yankees are still on their tails. I'm sure they'd love to get it done before they finish with a four-game series against the Astros, the team they very well might play in the ALDS.
Thursday, Sept. 28: Rockies clinch second NL Wild Card
The Rockies looked to be in deep trouble one week ago, heading into an eight-game road trip with the Dodgers and D-backs, two of the best teams in baseball. Instead, they've won six in a row and put 3 1/2 games between them and the Cardinals and four games between them and the Brewers. Even if they falter a bit between now and then, that should be enough cushion. They'll still play the Wild Card Game on the road, though.
Saturday, Sept. 30: Cubs win the NL Central
The Cardinals' hot streak, the Brewers' persistence and the Cubs' struggles have made the NL Central the closest division race in the game, and it's particularly exciting because the Cubs have four games left with the Brewers and seven left with the Cardinals. The Cubs have had the Cards' number for a few years now, though, and that might be enough: If they can just go 4-3 against St. Louis in those seven games, that would give St. Louis three games to catch up in the other 12 games … a very tough task. If the Cubs can just hang onto a lead heading into that final weekend's series, they get the Happy To Give Up 15 Runs When You Need Them Cincinnati Reds, which should give them just enough cushion.
Sunday, Oct. 1: Twins win the AL Wild Card
This is a tough one, and you can see the three-game series coming up in the Bronx as a scary moment for Minnesota … but of all the teams left in the AL Wild Card race, the Twins look like the one most likely to stay on the ascent. If they can keep within a game or two either direction after that 10-game road trip, the Tigers should be a willing Washington Generals on the final weekend at Target Field.
So, buy your tickets now. These races are going down to the final week, and the final weekend, and maybe even the final day. Plan accordingly.
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