The biggest roadblocks facing every MLB playoff contender down the stretch

With three weeks left in the season, the wild card races seem destined to come down to the final few games. The American League has three teams neck and neck for two spots with the defending champion Boston Red Sox hoping for a late surge.

The National League features seven teams competing for three spots, and the National League Central crown could be decided in the last week.

With so many teams in the race, here’s a peek into what could be the biggest roadblock for the teams that are hoping to play in October:

Minnesota Twins

(Record: 88-55, lead AL Central by 5.5 games)

The Twins still hold a sizable lead in the American League Central and seem on their way to the playoffs, but they still have three games left against the Cleveland Indians, whom they are 7-9 against after dropping two of three this weekend at home.

Minnesota’s remaining schedule is rather easy, but those three home games against Cleveland this upcoming week will decide whether or not the AL Central comes down to the wire. A sweep by Cleveland could make things interesting.

Cleveland Indians playoffs.
Cleveland will have to figure out the NL East if it hopes to make the playoffs. (Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)

Cleveland Indians

(Record: 83-61, trail AL wild card by 1.5 games)

The Indians are on the outside looking in, trailing the Oakland Athletics by two games in the loss column. They are 2.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays, the wild card leader.

Of Cleveland’s remaining 18 games, one-third are against NL East foes, including a season-ending set in Washington D.C. against the Nationals.

The Indians are just 3-7 against the NL East this year, including a series loss at home against Atlanta and a sweep in New York at the hands of the Mets.

Tampa Bay Rays

(Record: 85-69, lead AL wild-card race)

The AL East is a long shot with just 18 games left, but the Rays have a shot to claim one of the wild-card spots after failing to do so last year despite winning 90 games.

While the Rays have handled western-division teams fine this year, owning a 24-17 record against such foes, they have an upcoming eight-game road trip against the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers that has the potential to derail the season.

The Rays visit the Rangers on Tuesday, head to Anaheim on Friday, and then play two at Dodger Stadium. If the Rays can survive that slate, they should be fine.

Red Sox playoffs.
The Red Sox are a long way back, but have plenty of big games ahead. (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston Red Sox

(Record: 76-67, trail AL wild card by 8.0 games)

The defending champions’ tragic number is 12, and the odds are not in their favor as they try to defend their crown. Team president Dave Dombrowski has already been sent packing thanks to the team’s struggles.

It doesn’t help that five of Boston’s final 19 games are against the Rays and New York Yankees, whom the Red Sox are 11-22 against. The Red Sox play their final game against the Yankees on Monday, and then visit Tampa for a four-game set from Sept. 20-24.

Oakland Athletics

(Record: 84-59, hold 1.5-game lead on final AL wild-card spot)

If the Athletics are going to play in their second-straight wild-card game, they’re going to have to win some divisional road games.

Oakland has 13 road games left against divisional foes, and the A’s are just 11-13 this year when visiting their rivals. The A’s begin a four-game set in Houston on Monday before heading to Texas, and end the year in Anaheim and Seattle.

It does help that after this series with Houston, Oakland will not face another team that has a winning record as of Monday morning.

Nationals postseason.
The Nationals are in good shape, but their schedule is brutal down the stretch. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Washington Nationals

(Record: 79-63, lead NL wild-card race)

Fangraphs likes the Nationals’ chances to make the playoffs, but the Nationals are certainly going to have to earn it.

The Nationals have 17 games left against teams with winning records, and only three against non-contenders. They still have five with the Philadelphia Phillies and three with each of the Twins, Indians and Atlanta Braves. That kind of stretch can lead to an extended losing streak, and the Nationals currently have lost five of seven.

Philadelphia Phillies

(Record 74-68, trail NL wild card by 2.0 games)

The Phillies are already playing the “nobody believes in us” card, and they won an important series in Flushing this past weekend against the Mets.

But they can’t stop there if they want to return to October.

They still have 11 games left on the road, and even after a nice weekend in New York, they’re just 33-37 in away games. The key series will likely be the five-game set over four days in the final week at Nationals Park.

Mets playoffs.
The Mets need to get it together out West if they hope to make a charge to the postseason. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

New York Mets

(Record: 72-70, trail NL wild card by 4.0 games)

The Mets have alternated between an unstoppable juggernaut and pretenders, and this past series loss to the Phillies has them back in pretender mode.

Beginning Monday, the Mets will play 10 straight games against the NL West, a division the Mets are just 10-13 against this year.

They host Arizona for four games before the Dodgers visit for three games, and then head to Colorado to face the lowly Rockies.

The Mets probably need to go at least 7-3 to have a shot at October.

Chicago Cubs

(Record: 76-66, hold 1.5-game lead on final NL wild-card spot)

The Cubs, losers of three of four to the Brewers this past weekend, are not leaving themselves much wiggle room in the wild-card race.

The team’s road woes are well-documented, including their struggles in road night games, a setting in which the Cubs are just 19-34 this year.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, they still have eight road games left that will be played at night, including four this week out in San Diego.

St. Louis Cardinals

(Record: 81-62, lead NL Central by 4.5 games)

The Cardinals seem on their way to ending their three-year postseason drought, but they’ll have to vanquish their biggest rivals if they want to do so.

St. Louis still has seven games left against the Cubs, including four at Wrigley Field, where the Cardinals have gone winless in six tries this season.

The Cardinals visit Chicago from Sept. 19-22, and should they finally have some success inside the friendly confines, they may claim the division crown.

Brewers playoffs.
Milwaukee may be on the outside looking in, but the Brewers have an easy schedule moving forward. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Milwaukee Brewers

(Record:74-68, trail NL wild card by 2.0 games)

The Brewers have an advantageous schedule with just three games left against winning teams, the fewest of any team in the NL wild-card hunt.

However, they have 13 road games remaining, and they are 31-37 away from Miller Park. There is a noticeable difference in Milwaukee’s home-road pitching splits with batters posting nearly an .800 OPS against the Brewers’ pitchers when Milwaukee is the visitor. Their season ends with six games in Cincinnati and Colorado.

Arizona Diamondbacks

(Record: 75-68, trail NL wild card by 1.5 games)

The D-backs have somehow emerged as a true playoff contender despite trading ace Zack Greinke, and have a fortuitous schedule remaining.

The thorn in Arizona’s side could be two series with the San Diego Padres, whom the D-backs are just 6-7 against this year although the D-Backs did sweep the Padres recently.

If Arizona struggles again against the Padres, it could end their chances.


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