There is just one week to go in the 2017 MLB season, and the playoff stage is almost set with eight of the 10 postseason teams more or less locked in. It’s the second Wild Card spot in each league that holds all of the intrigue. And that is exactly what MLB was hoping for a few years ago when it added the extra playoff squad.
While some of the big boys will be jostling for home-field advantage, most attention will be on teams like the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. The Rockies and Twins are the favorites, but there’s certainly time—and space—for another team to grab one of the two spots.
The Chicago Cubs haven’t clinched anything quite yet, but it’s just a matter of time. They’re playing some of their best baseball right now and will try to keep the roll going into October. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who’ve had a rough month, will need to use this last week to get back on track. The Houston Astros were never in as dire of a position as the Dodgers, but they had struggled through August. However, they have turned their season around thanks to better health and the acquisition of Justin Verlander.
The last week of the season provides a ton of opportunities for fans across baseball to see the best teams positioning themselves for the playoffs, the fringe teams playing focused, hard-nosed baseball and the eliminated teams introducing good, young talent to The Show.
There are still some good picks to be made in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests this week as teams make their final postseason push and others fight to be spoilers for their hated rivals.
MLB Pick for Tuesday, September 26: Chicago Cubs over St. Louis Cardinals
The Cubs are going to win the NL Central, but the St. Louis Cardinals are not out of the postseason picture yet. Despite more ups-and-downs than any ride, the Cards are within shouting distance of the Wild Card. So, not only is this going to be a rivalry game with aces on the mound, but it’s also one with plenty of postseason implications.
Speaking of the aces, the Cubs will send Jake Arrieta on Tuesday opposite Carlos Martinez.
Arrieta looked good coming off the DL on Thursday night, pitching five strong innings and getting the win against the Brewers. He only lasted 71 pitches as he’s working back into full strength. He’ll go longer on Tuesday.
The right-hander missed a couple weeks but insists that’ll make him stronger for the postseason, keeping his arm rested. We’ll see how it does for the end of the regular season. Before going on the DL, he was throwing really well. He did give up three runs in 2.1 innings against the Pirates on September 4, but that was the game he hurt himself. Before that, he had four straight outings with one run or less and nine in a row allowing two earned runs or fewer. In that time, he dropped his ERA from 4.35 to 3.36. It’s at 3.43 right now.
Against the Cards this year, Arrieta has allowed six earned runs in 18 innings spread over three starts. That trumps Martinez, who is 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA against Chicago this year.
Those starting pitching numbers are indicative of the overall relationship between the Cubs and Cardinals here in 2017. These hated rivals have already met head-to-head 15 times. The Cubs swept the Cardinals last time and hold an 11-4 advantage. St. Louis won two of three in the opening series. Since then, Chicago is 10-2 head-to-head.
Of course, if anyone has a chance to turn the tide, it’s Martinez. The ace right-hander is only 12-11, but he has a 3.63 ERA in 31 starts—his third straight year of at least 31 games and an ERA that low.
MLB Pick for Wednesday, September 27: Houston Astros over Texas Rangers
Verlander will be on the mound for the Astros in a showdown between Texas teams. Both will likely still be in the postseason hunt by the time this game rolls around, but one could very well be on the brink of elimination.
The fact the Texas Rangers have held on in contention this long is amazing. They could even steal a game or two in this series, but it’s much more likely to happen on Monday or Tuesday with Andrew Cashner and Cole Hamels pitching.
Instead of one of those two, the Rangers have Nick Martinez lined up to make the start opposite of Verlander.
Martinez has a 5.47 ERA and 5.92 FIP. He’s allowed 24 homers in 100.1 innings and has a strikeout rate of just 5.3 per nine. He won’t get the big strikeout with runners on and will give up the long ball. That’s a bad formula against a Houston lineup ranked first in baseball in runs and OPS.
The Astros are rolling right now, too. They’re beaming with confidence and a lot of that is tied to the Verlander trade. The veteran right-hander has been Cy Young since heading to the Astros. He’s 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and 0.62 WHIP in his first three starts with Houston. He’s been nearly unhittable.
With a more dependable bullpen and less streaky offense than Texas, the Astros have all the boxes ticked in this matchup.
Look for Verlander to exploit the heavy swing-and-miss lineup of the Rangers. He’ll keep them in the ballpark and, thus, off the scoreboard. On the other side, look for the Astros to go yard a few times. This lineup is stacked top-to-bottom and has plenty more talent sitting on the bench.
MLB Pick for Friday, September 29: Milwaukee Brewers over St. Louis Cardinals
This is the kickoff game to the final series of the year for these teams, and how appropriate that they’re facing off with each still holding out hope in a tight NL Wild Card race.
Head-to-head, the Brewers have a two-game lead on the Cardinals in the season series, 9-7. Despite that, it’s St. Louis that’s outscored Milwaukee by 10 runs. Given those numbers, neither team has dominated the other, making this series—and this game—one to watch.
John Gant made his first big-league start on Sunday and would line up for Friday, but will he get another start? That’s an even bigger uncertainty if the Cardinals are still in the race by this final series.
On the other side, Chase Anderson would be on turn for the Brewers on Friday. Anderson is 11-3 with a 2.74 ERA. He lost some time on the DL, but has had a phenomenal season. Behind him, the Brewers have a lockdown bullpen with Anthony Swarzak and Corey Knebel in the back end. It’s a far more predictable late-game tandem than the Cardinals.
Offensively, St. Louis has been swinging the bats better than Milwaukee this month. The Brewers are a team that has been really streaky at the plate. Then again, so have the Cardinals. Milwaukee has the more reliable power with a pair of 30-homer bats and a couple others with 20. All in all, it should be a great series if both teams remain in the race.