How will MLB’s wild-card races play out? Contenders face radically different schedules

CLOSEAutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideThe final push has arrived in Major League Baseball, about a dozen games remaining and about a dozen teams aiming for just 10 playoff spots.Ostensibly, it’s time to take control. In reality, it’s wiser learning how to cede it.“I’d like to see them have a good off day tomorrow because they deserve it,” Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said after a 7-6 win over Minnesota that, he admitted, put “my stomach in my throat” during a stressful ninth inning. “And then we’ll see if we can beat Detroit on Tuesday. That’s the best way to go about it.“In the meantime, we’ll hope some teams lose. But I haven’t figured out how to control that yet.”POWER RANKINGS: Astros maintain No. 1 spotTROUT: Angel’s season ends, but MVP is still in playThe Indians (87-63) are one of nine teams likely to win at least 90 games, traditionally a safe zone for playoff participation. Yet, just five of those teams are for now assured of getting in, leaving everyone else to scramble for spots in taut races for both leagues’ wild-card berths and the NL Central crown.Francona’s Indians all but conceded the AL Central race to the Minnesota Twins (91-58) after losing two of three at home. They remain three games behind wild-card leader Oakland but did move within 1.5 games of Tampa Bay for the No. 2 wild card.And they also have a bird in hand, of sorts: Six games left against the objectively bad Tigers and Chicago White Sox.It’s easy to enough for a team to say they must take care of their own business in this daily fight. Here’s who’s best-equipped to do just that in this sprint to the finish:Athletics ( 0.5 for top spot)3 vs. Royals, 3 vs. Rangers, 2 at Angels, 4 at MarinersWith this schedule, Oakland really should be able see things out atop the standings and host the wild-card game. Since returning from injury to make his 2019 debut, Sean Manaea has been dominant (one run in three starts) and lines up to start two more regular-season games, though he may be the favorite to start the wild-card game.Rays ( 1.5 for second spot)2 at Dodgers, 4 vs. Red Sox, 2 vs. Yankees, 3 at Blue JaysWe can have a long talk about Tampa Bay playing a two-game set in Los Angeles, but that’s what the schedule says and it’s a tough start to stretch for the Rays. Blake Snell is on track to start Tuesday after nearly two months on the shelf, and Tampa’s fortunes will be directly tied to how the reining Cy Young winner responds in these big games.Indians 3 vs. Tigers, 3 vs. Phillies, 3 at White Sox, 3 at NationalsAfter a rainout and a doubleheader over the weekend, Terry Francona might want to manipulate the staff a bit this week. Mike Clevinger isn’t currently scheduled to pitch in the Phillies series, so pushing him back a day would mean that he and Shane Bieber both get starts against a tough opponent. Cardinals ( 2 in NL Central)3 vs. Nationals, 4 at Cubs, 3 at D-backs, 3 vs. CubsThey’ve got the toughest schedule of any contender, but Jack Flaherty (1.07 ERA in last 13 starts) could pitch three times, including two of those crucial seven games against the Cubs. The bullpen is coming off an ugly weekend, but should still have the edge in the late innings against their remaining opponents.Nationals ( 1.5 for top spot)3 at Cardinals, 3 at Marlins, 5 vs. Phillies, 3 vs. IndiansWashington has seen a few games slip off their lead for the No. 1 wild-card over the past few weeks and suddenly find themselves not even assured a wild-card spot at all, just 2.5 games ahead of the third-place Brewers. The three game set in St. Louis is going to set the tone, but they’re going to three starts each from Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.Cubs ( 1 for second spot)3 vs. Reds, 4 vs. Cardinals, 3 at Pirates, 3 at CardinalsChicago is 31-44 on the road, so it’s not ideal that the last seven are away from the Friendly Confines. The two series against St. Louis obviously get your attention, but with so little wiggle room in the wild-card race, the Cubs’ fate will hinge on how they fare against the Reds and Pirates over the final weeks. Brewers (-1)4 vs. Padres, 3 vs. Pirates, 3 at Reds, 3 at RockiesThe hottest team in baseball may be without its best player, but Milwaukee doesn’t have to face the Cardinals or Cubs the rest of the way and has the easiest remaining schedule among the NL contenders. The Brewers should be able to capitalize on the division front-runners cannibalizing each other across those seven games.Mets (-4)3 at Rockies, 3 at Reds, 4 vs. Marlins, 3 vs. BravesOn first glance, it looks easy until the final weekend against Atlanta. But the trip west to Colorado could be tough – especially after playing a Sunday night game. Toss in three more in Cincinnati’s bandbox and suddenly their superior pitching doesn’t look like much of an advantage.Phillies (-4.5)3 at Braves, 3 at Indians, 5 at Nationals, 3 vs. MarlinsAlready facing an uphill climb, Philadelphia gets no help from its schedule. They play 14 games in 13 days starting Tuesday, starting with a three-game set in Atlanta against a hot team fighting for home-field advantage. You may think the Phillies would in good shape if they find themselves within striking distance entering the final weekend, but they’re just 7-9 against the Marlins this year.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide