The Reds are soaking in some relaxation today before traveling to Minnesota to finish the 2020 regular season with a three-game series against the Twins. The Twins just took a half game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central and have locked in a playoff spot. However, they are obviously still in a battle for the division crown with the Sox.
The playoff picture will change throughout the night as Reds fans will be able to fully dedicate their time to scoreboard watching. No matter how things shake out today though the Reds will still be in one of the two National League Wild Card slots.
I have spent quite a bit of time deep-diving into different playoff scenarios, but since that is all theoretical still with teams playing between three and five (or potentially seven) more games we will leave that out of this discussion. If delving into the potential scenarios is your thing you can jump over to my Twitter account where I have been, and will continue to, break down a handful of different ways things can play out.
So, without diving into the hypothetical, here are five key storylines to follow and facts to know about the National League Playoff Picture.
Tiebreakers Will Almost Certainly Play a Role
As the afternoon slate of games begins there are currently six teams fighting for four playoff spots. Those six teams are separated by just one game right now. So, there can and most likely will be a lot of moving around between now and when we go to bed Sunday night.
In the case that two teams are tied with each other the first tiebreaker will be head-to-head record. Since the schedule was made up solely of divisional opponents from each league this season that would only apply if you are tied with a team within your own division. For example, if the Cardinals and Reds finish the season in a tie, the Cardinals would have the tiebreaker because they won the season series 6-4. However, the Reds own the tiebreaker over the Brewers by beating them 6-4 this season.
If you are tied with a team NOT in your division, or if you have the same head-to-head record, the next tiebreaker is interdivisional record. So, for example, the Reds went 21-19 this season versus the NL Central while the Giants (at this time) are 17-18 against the NL West. Barring the Giants winning their last five games (all divisional opponents), the Reds would hold the tiebreaker.
The final level of tiebreaker is interdivisional record in the last twenty games. This would come into effect if the Reds and Phillies end the season tied with one another. Each team has a divisional record of 21-19. However, the Reds own the tiebreaker thanks to going 12-8 in the last twenty divisional games compared the Phillies 8-12 mark.
How Playoff Seeding Works
Figuring out the National League standings and translating that information to a playoff bracket requires you to know the following. The three divisional winners from the East, Central, and West will make up the #1, #2, and #3 seeds. The second place finishers in each of those divisions will be the #4, #5, and #6 seeds. Then, the #7 and #8 seeds will be the two remaining teams with the best records.
This may seem like common sense, but here is why it is important to note. Right now, the Chicago Cubs have the fourth best record in the NL behind the Dodgers, Braves, and Padres. However, they would be the #3 seed in the playoffs because the San Diego Padres are the second place team in the NL West. Likewise, despite being the eighth team in the current standings, the Miami Marlins would be the #6 seed thanks to being second place in the NL East.
Five Games Between the Cardinals and Brewers
The Reds did their part by taking two out of the three from the Milwaukee Brewers this week, but the Brew Crew can make a lot of noise between now and Sunday by playing five with the Cardinals. The Reds do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker which means the Brewers would need to beat them outright in the standings in order to pass the Reds.
St. Louis currently is tied with the Reds in the standings, but, as mentioned above, hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Cincy. For those of you who are hoping the Reds can not even mess with the Wild Card and can capture the second NL Central spot you will want to follow this series closely. The best bet is for Milwaukee to win three out of the five games. Since the Reds have the tiebreaker with the Brewers more success for them is good for us. However, too much success puts pressure on more wins against the Twins for the Reds.
This series going 3-2 in either direction will most likely force two more games by the Cardinals to be played (more on that in a minute). The path of least resistance as it comes to the Reds though is a 3-2 series win for Milwaukee.
What About the Fact the Cardinals Only Play 58 Games?
I’m glad you asked. Here is where things really get weird (if they weren’t already). It is true that there are two mysterious games against the Detroit Tigers floating out in the scheduling abyss for the Cardinals. Those games would still get played if they could potentially determine the fate of any National League team making or missing the playoffs.
However, they will NOT be played simply for seeding purposes. So, if the Cardinals are squarely in the playoffs and two additional losses wouldn’t knock them out, the games will not be played regardless of who they could pass with one or two wins. Without the Cardinals really beating up on the Brewers, and or other teams like the Giants and Phillies losing out, it is unlikely that one or both of those games couldn’t potentially have an impact on the playoff picture.
Tonight’s Scoreboard Watching
3:45 p.m. Colorado Rockies @ San Francisco Giants (tied with the Reds)
7:10 p.m. Miami Marlins (0.5 game behind the Reds) @ Atlanta Braves
8:15 p.m. Milwaukee Brewers (1 game behind the Reds) @ St. Louis Cardinals (tied with the Reds)