White Sox clinch winning season, plus current playoff field

The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than two weeks away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

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Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: MLB standings | Predictions | Stock watch | Awards watch


If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings entering play Monday, Sept. 14.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 White Sox vs. No. 8 Indians
No. 2 Rays vs. No. 7 Yankees
No. 3 Athletics vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Twins vs. No. 5 Blue Jays

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Giants
No. 2 Cubs vs. No. 7 Phillies
No. 3 Braves vs. No. 6 Cardinals
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Marlins

Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot

NL: Dodgers 3, Padres 4, Braves 8, Cubs 8.

AL: White Sox 4, Rays 5, Twins 5, A’s 5, Indians 9, Blue Jays 9, Yankees 9.


About last night …

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The White Sox score two runs in the eighth inning as they beat the Twins 3-1 to earn their fifth straight win.

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins have pulled away a bit from Cleveland in the AL Central, so their four-game series that kicked off Monday could be the series that determines the division champion since it’s the last meeting between the two teams. Both clubs are also battling the Rays and A’s for the first seed in the postseason tournament — although that honor could be rewarded with a first-round best-of-three against the Yankees.

The White Sox won 3-1 with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to stretch their lead to two games, and while that score suggests a tight pitching duel between Jose Berrios and Dylan Cease, it was anything but as there were runners all over the place — the Twins stranded 15 runners and the White Sox stranded 12. The biggest out came in the top of the eighth when Rick Renteria brought in closer Alex Colome in a tie game with two runners on. He promptly walked Josh Donaldson to load the bases before getting Nelson Cruz to ground out on a first-pitch cutter. It was a tough game for Cruz, who has carried the Minnesota offense all season. He struck out with a runner on in the first, grounded into a double play with one out and two on in the third, and struck out with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth (thanks to Evan Marshall with a lovely 2-2 changeup).

The winning runs came with the help of Twins reliever Taylor Rogers, who walked the first two batters. Adam Engel hit a pinch-hit RBI single and Tim Anderson doubled to deep left for the 3-1 lead — his third hit of the game, raising his average to an MLB-best .369. Despite missing 10 games with a groin strain, Anderson has entered the MVP picture — alongside teammates Jose Abreu and Luis Robert.

The White Sox are now 21-5 since Aug. 16, the best record in baseball in that span. You have to consider them the best team in the American League, right? They have the best overall record, the biggest run differential and are blazing hot and confident right now. Over those 26 games they’re hitting .292/.356/.517 while averaging 6.4 runs per game. It’s an offense that resembles … well, the Twins’ offense of last season. The Twins, however, do not possess that same record-breaking firepower, with only Cruz matching or exceeding last year’s numbers. The Twins scored a whopping 231 more runs than the White Sox in 2019; the White Sox have outscored the Twins by 33 runs so far in 2020.

The White Sox are World Series contenders for more than the offense though. They have a legit ace in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel is 6-2 with a 2.19 ERA with just two home runs allowed (he missed his last start with back spasms but is scheduled to start the series finale on Thursday against Twins ace Kenta Maeda). Renteria has also cobbled together an effective, if no-name bullpen. Colome has been around, of course, and while he doesn’t have the flashiest stuff or strikeout rate, he gets the job done and is 11-for-12 in save chances. Marshall and Matt Foster have been excellent, Codi Heuer has allowed nine hits in 17.2 innings, veteran Ross Detwiler has a 1.56 ERA and now Gio Gonzalez is pitching out of the pen to give them another lefty. The White Sox are not just exciting — they’re also really good. — David Schoenfield

Also of note: The Cardinals and Brewers split a doubleheader (they have another on Wednesday), with both games going “extra” — the Brewers winning 2-1 in eight innings and then the Cardinals winning 3-2 in nine innings. If you like offense, stay away from the NL Central. The Cardinals are hitting .245 (17th in the majors), the Cubs .227 (26th), the Pirates .222 (27th), the Brewers .220 (28th) and the Reds .212 (30th). … The Reds, however, took both games of their doubleheader, sweeping the Pirates 3-1 and 9-4, a much-needed sweep over the lowly Pirates. Trevor Bauer didn’t get the win in the opener as the Reds won on Tyler Stephenson’s pinch-hit two-run homer, but he fanned 12 in 6 1/3 innings and lowered his ERA down to 1.71.

The Mariners and A’s played in a smoky wildfire haze in Seattle that left the games in doubt due to the poor air quality, but they went ahead with the doubleheader. The Mariners rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the first game to win 6-5 and momentarily draw one game back of the Astros for second place — and a playoff berth — in the AL West, before the A’s won the second game 9-0 behind Mike Minor’s seven-inning shutout. Seattle has a tough remaining schedule — two against the Giants, three against the Padres, three against the Astros and then a road trip to Oakland to finish the year, but that Houston series could be the biggest series the M’s have played in nearly two decades.

The Marlins and Phillies finally finished their seven-game series with Pablo Lopez pitching the Marlins to a 6-2 victory with just one run over seven innings. The Marlins took five of the seven games to move into second place, 1.5 games ahead of Philadelphia. The Phillies scored 11 and 12 runs in their two victories, but scored just four runs in dropping the final three games. Bryce Harper went 1-for-4 and after his hot start is hitting just .178/.351/.274 over his past 22 games. The Phillies also got the bad news Rhys Hoskins will be on the IL with with a UCL injury. … The Padres beat the Dodgers 7-2 as Clayton Kershaw tired after five scoreless innings.


Pennant race debate: Which unexpected contender is the biggest surprise and which one is the best bet to get past the first round?

Joon Lee: The emergence of the Orioles as a playoff contender definitely surprised me most, as I expected them to finish in last place in the AL East. Between Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino, the team has had some bright spots this season in terms of team continuity carrying over from last year. But among the surprise playoff contenders, I expect the San Francisco Giants to have the strongest chance to make it to the second round. This team has had its share of surprises this year between Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano emerging as key offensive cogs, but the relatively young Giants still have a bevy of veterans with postseason experience, including Johnny Cueto, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, who could help San Francisco pull off a first-round upset in what has already been a chaotic season.

David Schoenfield: I’ll go with the Orioles as the biggest surprise. Coming off a 108-loss season that featured one of the worst pitching staffs of all time and a record number of home runs allowed, Baltimore basically did nothing in the offseason to supplement the roster. In fact, the Orioles’ biggest move was trading away their best position player, Jonathan Villar, just to dump his salary. But the O’s have played respectable baseball and somehow hung close to the eighth playoff seed. The Giants are the best bet to advance, however, thanks to a very good offense. There’s a little bit of 2010 in this team. That year, Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres were their two best players (by WAR). This year, it’s Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano.

Bradford Doolittle: The Giants seem like the best bet just to get into the playoffs, which makes them the most likely to win two games in a first-round best-of-three. If the Marlins can sneak in, however, they seem like the best bet to pull off an upset (if there is such a thing in a best-of-three). That’s especially true if they don’t match up against another team from the NL East, as they’d be able to throw out some dynamic young arms that the opponent will not have seen much, if at all. The Orioles rate as the biggest surprise. I actually thought the Tigers would be a bit worse but also thought Detroit’s Central-only schedule would be considerably weaker, boosting them over the O’s in the standings. Baltimore might be in the process of getting knocked down by its slate right now, but they’ve done a great job of hanging in so far.

Dan Mullen: The Orioles and Tigers aren’t going to catch the Yankees now so we can rule them out, leaving this a choice between the Giants and the Marlins. Here’s why I’m taking Miami – even year or not: If the Giants beat the Rockies for that final spot (San Francisco and Colorado still have four games left against each other), they’re looking at a No. 8 seed and a first-round date with the Dodgers. I know this is a short series and anything can happen, but L.A. is the best team in baseball by a pretty large margin and beating the Dodgers in any series is still unlikely.

Miami, on the other hand, is currently the No. 5 seed and could finish anywhere between there and the No. 7 spot based on how the Marlins, Phillies and Cardinals end the season. In a very only-in-2020 thing, finishing No. 5 spot would be the worst-case scenario here as it means playing the Padres while getting in as the No. 6 or No. 7 could set up a very winnable chance at a Braves team with major starting pitching issues.


Key games ahead

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Twins-White Sox, Monday (8:10 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The AL Central race is tight enough, and neither the Sox nor Twins want to risk falling into third place and missing out on an automatic invitation to the postseason tournament.

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Blue Jays-Yankees, Tuesday (7 p.m. ET):The battle for second place in the AL East continues. Can rookie starter Deivi Garcia continue to impress for the Yankees?

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Dodgers-Padres, Wednesday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN): Both teams in this growing rivalry will be in the playoff field, so this could this be an NLCS preview. Too bad the San Diego fans can’t see this one in person.

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Cardinals-Brewers, Wednesday doubleheader (5:10 p.m. ET): The teams, both in the hunt for second place in the NL Central and/or a wild-card spot, play their second doubleheader in five days.

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Mets-Phillies, Wednesday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN): The Mets are trying to stay in the playoff hunt, while the Phillies look to secure their spot in the tournament.