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What this weekend means for magic numbers, Wild Card races ahead of 2023 MLB playoffs

We’re going over everything you need to know for magic numbers and the playoff race for the weekend of Sept. 29.

J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his walk-off double against the Texas Rangers to win 3-2 at T-Mobile Park on September 28, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Hard as it is to believe, we’ve reached the final weekend of the 2023 MLB season. Five of the league’s six division races have officially been put to bed, but there is still a lot to sort out over the next few days — from the wild, wild AL West to the Wild Card picture in both leagues. With several huge series on tap over the next couple of days, here’s a primer of what’s at stake this weekend around the Majors.

AL East

Weekend series

Rays at Blue Jays

What it means

Baltimore’s win over the Red Sox on Thursday night gave the O’s both the AL East crown and the top seed in the American League playoffs — the road to the pennant officially runs through Camden Yards. That also means the Rays are locked into the top Wild Card spot, giving Tampa nothing to play for this weekend.

The Jays, however, very much do have something to play for. Toronto enters their three-game set against the Rays at Rogers Centre with a one-game lead on the Astros for the second Wild Card spot (and a date with Tampa in the Wild Card Round) and a two-game lead over the Mariners, who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Win two of three against the Rays, and the Blue Jays are October-bound. Win only won — or, god forbid, get swept — and that’s where things get dicey.

Toronto would lose a tiebreaker with the Mariners or Texas (who still lead the division by two over Houston and three over Seattle despite last night’s walk-off loss to the Mariners), but they would win a tiebreaker with Houston. As for three-way ties: If the Astros overtake the Rangers for the AL West title and the Blue Jays, Mariners and Texas finish with the same number of wins, Toronto is out. But if the Rangers win the AL West and the Blue Jays, Mariners and Houston end up tied, Toronto is in and Houston is out.

AL Central

Weekend series schedule


What it means

The Twins are locked into the third seed in the AL playoffs, and the rest of this division stopped playing competitive baseball in August (or earlier).

AL West

Weekend series schedule

Rangers at Mariners
Astros at Diamondbacks

What it means

Arguably the two biggest series of the weekend — for both the AL and NL playoff picture — involve the AL West. Seattle kept its season alive with a remarkable ninth-inning rally late on Thursday night; the win kept the Mariners three games back of Texas in the West and a game back of the Astros for the final AL Wild Card spot. Seattle would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Rangers, meaning their only path to winning the division is sweeping the next three games and then hoping the Astros win two of three in Arizona, thereby forcing a three-way tie atop the standings. The Wild Card math is much simpler: The Mariners do hold the head-to-head tiebreak over Houston, so if Seattle picks up a game on the Astros over the next three days, the final playoff spot is theirs. (More on Arizona in just a moment.)

NL East

Weekend series schedule

Marlins at Pirates

What it means

The Braves are locked into the top seed in the NL playoffs, while the Phillies are locked into the top NL Wild Card spot. The Mets and Nationals have long been out of contention, meaning the only playoff-relevant series this weekend belongs to ... the Marlins, just as we all suspected back in March. A torrential downpour in New York City has thrown a wrench into the works here: Rain suspended Miami’s game with the Mets on Thursday night right after the Fish took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Marlins need to be in Pittsburgh this weekend, so as of this writing the plan is to have Miami finish up the season against the Pirates and then wrap up that final inning on Monday afternoon if it’s still necessary — which it may well might be, considering the team is currently a half-game up on the Cubs for the final NL Wild Card spot. Speaking of Chicago ...

NL Central

Weekend series schedule

Cubs at Brewers
Reds at Cardinals

What it means

Oh boy. Chicago’s September meltdown continued in Atlanta this week with not one, not two but three gut-punch losses in games they very well could have (or should have) won. The Cubs are now on the outside looking in, needing some help from either Arizona (two games up on Chicago) or the aforementioned Marlins (one up in the loss column) to reach October. Milwaukee has nothing left to play for and likely won’t throw its big starting pitchers much at all this weekend, but still, it’s obviously not a great position to be in. Unless they win all three against the Brew Crew, it’s hard to see them getting in, especially since they lost the season series to Miami.

Everyone’s forgotten about the Reds, but Cincy is still mathematically alive, sitting 1.5 games back of Miami and a game back of the Cubs (with the head-to-head tiebreak over Chicago to boot). A single loss will more or less eliminate them, but if they sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis, suddenly there’s a very real path here if Chicago stumbles in Milwaukee.

NL West

Weekend series schedule

Diamondbacks vs. Astros

What it means

Now let’s look at this series from Arizona’s side of things. The D-backs had a chance to really put their stamp on the second Wild Card but dropped the final game of their set against the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon. Arizona is still in good shape, though, a game up in the loss column on the Marlins, two games up on the Cubs and three games up on the Reds. They also have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago, so if the Snakes win even just one game this weekend against the Astros, they’ll be in good shape — that would put them at 77 losses, which means they would at worst finish in a tie for the final Wild Card spot with the Cubs and advance based on winning the season series with Chicago. Get swept, though, and suddenly things get dicey, keeping both the Cubs and Reds (who are at 78 losses right now and hold the season-series tiebreaker over Arizona) in play.