The good news is the Rockies are still alive for their first ever division title. The bad news is it’s complicated.
After a rather torturous loss on Saturday night at the hands of the Nationals, the Rockies fell to 90-71 on the season and into a tie for first in the NL West with the Dodgers, who defeated the Giants earlier in the day. This means that, after these two teams have played 303 games in 2018, the division will be decided by the results of the final day of the regular season—unless they remain tied and need to play another game.
There are a lot of moving parts to this last day not only for the Rockies but for the entire National League playoff picture. The Cubs and Brewers are also tied atop the NL Central and the Braves, the only team to have clinched a playoff spot before Wednesday, could begin the NLDS in Denver, Los Angeles, or Atlanta based on Sunday’s games.
Like I said: complicated.
161 games and we still don’t know pic.twitter.com/rKoXSr8JWo— Jake Shapiro (@Shapalicious) September 30, 2018
We will attempt to make sense of everything that can happen on the last day of the regular season for you.
What we know
The Braves (90-71), Cubs (94-67), Brewers (94-67), Rockies (90-71), and Dodgers (90-71) have all clinched playoff spots.
The Braves will play in the National League Division Series beginning Thursday against the National League West champion. On that day the National League Central champion will host the winner of the National League Wild Card Game, which will be played on Tuesday with whoever finishes second in the NL Central hosting whoever finishes second in the NL West.
If it seems like we don’t know a lot it’s because we don’t.
What’s happening Sunday
On Sunday, all 15 games being played will begin between 1:05 pm MT and 1:20 pm MT. I hope you didn’t have afternoon plans. The Brewers will host the Tigers, the Cubs will host the Cardinals, and the Braves will host the Phillies. More on all of them in a minute.
Firstly, the Rockies will host the Nationals at Coors FIeld starting at 1:10 pm MT. Tyler Anderson will get the start for the Rockies. He hasn’t pitched since September 14 but went six innings and gave up two runs in each of he previous two starts. Who will be starting opposite him?
At the beginning of the weekend it seemed likely that two-time-defending NL Cy Young Award winner (and likely 2018 runner-up) Max Scherzer would start the game for the Nats. But Washington manager Dave Martinez said after Saturday’s game that, because the Rockies and Dodgers both already have playoff spots, Scherzer won’t start the series finale. That means Erick Fedde, owner of a 5.24 ERA in ten starts this season, will take the mound.
This news made Dodgers fans, unsurprisingly, salty and it sent the team into deliberation mode. Rookie Walker Buehler (7-5, 2.76 ERA) was scheduled to start the regular season finale in San Francisco against Giants rookie Andrew Suarez (7-12, 4.76 ERA), but was pushed in favor of Rich Hill (10-5, 3.87 ERA) so that Buehler would be available for a potential one-game playoff on Monday. Then, when news came that Scherzer wouldn’t be starting on Sunday, the team went into further deliberations. Just before midnight pacific the Dodgers announced that Rich Hill would indeed start against the Giants on Sunday.
So it will be Anderson vs. Fedde and Suarez vs. Hill to (maybe) decide the NL West. In case you’re keeping track, that’s five games to scoreboard-watch on Sunday.
First, the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers are tied for the best record in the National League. If the Cubs win and the Brewers lose, or vise versa, the winning team will lock up the division title and home field advantage through the NLCS and the losing team will take the first Wild Card. If the Brewers and Cubs both win or both lose, they will play a Game 163 at Wrigley Field on Monday to determine the NL Central champion. The loser of that game (or whoever ends up second in the division) will host the Wild Card Game on Tuesday night on ESPN.
Who they will play depends on the Rockies and Dodgers, who are in an almost identical situation. If one team wins and one team loses on Sunday, the winner will clinch the NL West title and will host the Atlanta Braves in game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday. The loser will secure the second Wild Card and will travel to whoever is the runner-up in the NL Central for the Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. If both teams win or both lose, they will play a Game 163 in Los Angeles to determine who goes where.
There’s another wrinkle though! If both teams lose Sunday AND Atlanta wins, then Atlanta will clinch home field advantage in the NLDS. Any other result and the Braves will get the no. 3 seed, since both the Dodgers and Rockies own the seeding tiebreaker over Atlanta.
If both tiebreaker games are needed, the Brewers at Chicago game will be Monday at 11:09 am MT and the Rockies at Dodgers game will be at 2:09 pm MT. If only one is needed, it will be played at 2:09 pm MT.
If that all sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is. But with a little help from Eric Stephen, hopefully this simplifies things:
If odds are more your thing, we have been keeping this article updated throughout the week, but here’s the final table:
With Tyler Anderson getting the nod on Sunday, this leaves German Márquez available to start either the tiebreaker game or the Wild Card Game on regular rest. If the Rockies were to find themselves in a tiebreaker game and lose, Bud Black would be forced to go to Antonio Senzatela (or a straight bullpen game) or to start Kyle Freeland on three-days rest for the Wild Card Game.
Starting at 1:00 pm MT today, it all comes down to what happens on the field. Be sure to have extra antacids ready, the next 72 hours of baseball are sure to be very interesting.