Fewer than two weeks remain in the 2021 MLB regular season. Two weeks from Tuesday we’ll know who is playing who in the postseason, even if a Game 163 tiebreaker is needed to decide a race(s) the Monday following the end of the season. Given how tightly bunched several races are at the moment, the chances we see a Game 163 are pretty good. That would be fun.
Here, for posterity, are the wild card standings going into Tuesday’s action:
The only thing we know with certainty right now is an NL West team will host the Wild Card Game. It’ll be either the Dodgers or Giants. They have the two best records in baseball and are currently fighting for the NL West title. Whichever team doesn’t win the division will host the Wild Card Game. At the moment, the Giants are one game up on the Dodgers in the NL West.
Aside from that, the wild card races remain wide open. There have been a few instances over the years where there was no real mystery, and the Wild Card Game matchup was fait accompli for weeks. That is not the case this year. The races are still tight and should come down to the final few days of the season, if not the final day of the season.
With that in mind, let’s rank the best possible Wild Card Game matchups, some of which are obviously more likely than others. We’ll base these highly unscientific rankings on team quality, history, the potential pitching matchup, and general watchability. This is Year 9 of the Wild Card Game and we’ve seen a few stinkers and few thrillers. We’re all pulling for the latter for the AL game on Oct. 5 and the NL game on Oct. 6. Let’s get to the rankings.
1. Dodgers vs. Padres
The Padres have faded badly these last few weeks, though they’re not completely out of the race yet, and these two clubs played some of the most exciting and high-energy games we saw all season. Combine that with the urgency of a win-or-go-home scenario and it’s must-see television. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and, uh, I guess Yu Darvish? Not sure who San Diego would start (if they’re even able to line up their rotation), but sign me up for Dodgers vs. Padres in October. Now San Diego just has to get its act together.
2. Red Sox vs. Yankees
Nationwide Red Sox vs. Yankees fatigue set in around 2006 or so, so I understand why most of you are rolling your eyes. Ultimately, we can’t ignore the rivalry — sorry, The Rivalry™ — and the fact this game could give us a Gerrit Cole vs. Chris Sale pitching matchup. With all due respect to all the other aces on other wild card teams, I don’t think it gets better than Cole vs. Sale. This would probably be a five-hour game knowing these two teams, but it would be five entertaining hours.
3. Cardinals vs. Dodgers
Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have combined to hit about 600 home runs against the Dodgers in their careers (61, to be exact), so I imagine those two plus 40-year-old Adam Wainwright is nightmare fuel for the Dodgers faithful. These two teams have met in the postseason three times since 2009 (the Dodgers won the 2009 NLDS but the Cardinals won the 2013 NLCS and 2014 NLDS) and so many of the main characters remain. Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw, Yadier Molina, Justin Turner, etc. It would be a blast from the past Wild Card Game.
4. Blue Jays vs. Red Sox
Considering how long these teams have been division rivals, they’ve had shockingly few “rivalry moments.” The closest is probably Roger Clemens leaving Boston after former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette said he was in the “twilight” of his career, then signing with Toronto, striking out 16 (and staring down the owner’s box) in his return to Fenway Park, and winning back-to-back Cy Youngs. Anyway, the Blue Jays are crazy fun and the Red Sox can go toe-to-toe with anyone in a single game. Robbie Ray vs. Chris Sale would make for good baseball watchin’.
5. Giants vs. Padres
The Padres and Giants played each other last week and they still have two more regular season series remaining (including the final series of the year), so maybe fatigue will set in should this Wild Card Game matchup become a reality. I don’t think so though. The Giants are good and fun, the Padres are less good and fun, and put fun teams together and you have a recipe for an exciting winner-take-all contest. My only concern is this matchup could devolve into two bullpen games given the state of San Diego’s pitching staff and San Francisco likely having to keep their foot on the gas to pursue an NL West title. Bullpen games are such an eyesore.
6. Blue Jays vs. Yankees
A young upstart Blue Jays team against the hated Yankees? Hmmm, I wonder who non-Yankees fans would root for in this Wild Card Game. Toronto recently swept a four-game series in Yankee Stadium in which they didn’t allow the Yankees to hold a single lead (first time a team has done that since 1926), though in one single game, anything can happen. Plus we’re looking at a potential Gerrit Cole vs. Robbie Ray pitching matchup. Cy Young votes will already be in by then (they’re due before the postseason), though it makes for a fun narrative.
7. Cardinals vs. Giants
Similar to the Cardinals vs. Dodgers matchup, the Cardinals and Giants have recent postseason history (San Francisco beat St. Louis in the 2012 NLCS and 2014 NLCS) and there are still so many holdovers from those teams. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Adam Wainwright, etc. This Wild Card Game matchup would be like stepping into a time machine and going back seven years, when starters completed six innings and they didn’t put a runner on second base in extra innings for some reason.
8. Cardinals vs. Reds
This NL Central rivalry has had a little of everything the last few years. There’s been some trash talk (“I hate the Cardinals. Let me make this clear, I hate the Cardinals,” former Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said in 2010), some extreme pettiness (former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa left former Reds ace Johnny Cueto off the 2012 All-Star Game roster), and some downright ugliness (several benches clearing incidents). I don’t want brawls, but give me all the trash talk and pettiness.
9. Blue Jays vs Mariners
Squint your eyes and you can see the Mariners as the next Blue Jays, that ascendant team built around exciting young hitters. The Blue Jays have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, then splurged for George Springer and Hyun-Jin Ryu. In theory, the Mariners are where the Blue Jays were in 2019, when Vlad Jr. and Bichette first arrived, and the team had not yet opened its wallet. Will Seattle spend the way Toronto has now that Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert have been called up (and Julio Rodríguez isn’t too far away)? Unclear, but this matchup makes for a fun narrative.
10. Athletics vs Yankees
This would be a rematch of the 2018 Wild Card Game, which had the highest combined winning percentage in the relatively brief history of the Wild Card Game (the 100-62 Yankees beat the 97-65 A’s in that game). These teams have a postseason history going back far beyond 2018 as well (most notably the Derek Jeter flip play), and they always seem to play games that are anything but normal. Recent A’s vs. Yankees meetings tend to feature lots of lead changes and late-inning weirdness.