Analysis: MLB’s expanded playoff field provides great races

PHOENIX (AP) — Rookie sensation Corbin Carroll was all smiles Wednesday, a few minutes after stealing his 50th base of the season, cracking his 25th homer and leading the streaking Arizona Diamondbacks to their fifth straight win.

If the 22-year-old is fazed by September playoff-chase baseball, he certainly hasn’t shown it. Ten days remain in MLB’s regular season, and the playoff races are hot, particulary in a crowded National League.

“This is the fun part,” Carroll said.

Of course, that depends on which way you’re trending.

For every team rising this time of the year, there’s almost always another team going in the opposite direction. During their five-game winning streak, the D-backs took three straight from the Chicago Cubs and two more from the San Francisco Giants, two teams backsliding in the NL wild-card picture.

The Giants fell to 76-76 after Wednesday’s games and need a minor miracle to get into the postseason.

“These were must-win games and, going back several games, those were also must-win games,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “Now, the math is not on our side. Every game is one we have to win.”

The NL wild-card race has been tight for the better part of a month, with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Marlins, Reds and Giants scrambling to claim three playoff positions. It’s exactly the kind of drama MLB hoped for when it expanded the playoff field from 10 to 12 teams before the 2022 season.

Here are some of the other storylines as the long 162-game regular season reaches its end.


The American League playoff race isn’t quite as crowded, but it’s still a good one.

The Houston Astros, Texas Rangers and surprising Seattle Mariners are in a close fight for the AL West — the three teams were separated by just a half-game in the standings after Wednesday. Simultaneously, all three are contending with the Toronto Blue Jays for a potential AL wild-card spot.

When the dust finally settles, three of the four teams will be in the playoffs. One will not.

“It’s just fun to be playing meaningful games,” Blue Jays pitcher Kevin Gausman said on Wednesday. “Every game matters right now and every win is one step closer to our goal.”


The NL MVP race continues to be an epic showdown between Ronald Acuna and Mookie Betts.

The two have remarkably similar numbers in many respects: Acuna was batting .337 with 39 homers and 100 RBIs while Betts has a .310 batting average, 39 homers and 103 RBIs. Acuna’s prowess on the basepaths could push him over the top. The Braves speedster leads all of baseball with 67 stolen bases. Betts has done all of his hitting while providing defensive help in right field, second base and even shortstop.

The two have been so good that poor Matt Olson — who has slugged 52 homers in the middle of the Braves order — probably doesn’t have a chance, but he’s having a career year nonetheless.

The NL Cy Young race is also close, though San Diego’s Blake Snell made a statement with seven hitless innings against the Rockies earlier this week. Snell appears to be the favorite, but Arizona’s Zac Gallen, Atlanta’s Spencer Strider and Chicago’s Justin Steele are among those who could make a case in their final start or two.


Shohei Ohtani is likely a lock for the AL MVP after arguably the best five-month stretch in MLB history.

But Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez has at least entered the periphary of the race after a mammoth second half.

The 22-year-old, two-time All-Star, hit .429 with a 1.197 OPS in August, almost single-handedly willing the Mariners into the playoff race. He’s cooled off slightly in September, but has still hit 10 homers over the past 30 days.

The Mariners have been one of the best stories in the sport over the past few months. They were sellers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline — sending star closer Paul Sewald to the Diamondbacks — but defied expectations with a great run of baseball over the next 1 1/2 months.


San Francisco’s Logan Webb has thrown 207 innings this season after a six-inning outing against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday. He’s the only pitcher in baseball who has thrown at least 200 innings through Wednesday.

There are a handful of other pitchers who will probably reach the mark — including Arizona’s Zac Gallen (197 innings) and New York’s Gerrit Cole (192) — but it’s still remarkable how the starting pitcher workhorse has quickly disappeared from baseball’s landscape.

Just ten years ago, 34 pitchers reached the 200-inning mark.


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