Draft positioning. Playoffs. MVP. Boston and Washington enter the final series of the season with everything on the line.
Ultimate chaos at the end of the baseball season is every fan’s dream. It adds to the drama of the 162 game season and makes clinching a playoff spot feel that much sweeter. There are playoff races and there is whatever is going on in the AL.
Boston, Toronto, New York, and Seattle are all within three games of each other for the two Wild Card spots with three games to go. The Yankees are in the driver’s seat with a two-game lead over the pack. Seattle and the Mariners are tied for the second Wild Card spot, while Toronto is one game back. If everything goes correctly then the baseball world could be blessed with a four-way tie to end the season, which would lead to extra play-in games.
Entering the final week of the season, Boston had the easiest remaining schedule and were in charge of their own destiny. But someone forgot to tell that to the Baltimore Orioles. The worst team in the AL took two of three from the Red Sox, allowing Seattle to thrust themselves on the verge of ending their playoff drought.
Now Boston limps their way to Washington for the final series of the season which holds plenty of crucial implications. Most importantly, Juan Soto has a chance to cement himself as NL MVP. After a slow start to the season, Soto has reminded everyone why he is arguably the best hitter in baseball. Since the All-Star break he is slashing, .360/.532/.662. He is the only player in baseball to have more walks (140) than strikeouts (87) and he leads all of baseball in OBP (.462).
A monster series could hand Soto the award, but that’s where Boston comes in. The AL East powerhouse is still fighting for a playoff spot and would be dumb to pitch to the hottest hitter on the planet. In order to clinch a playoff spot, Boston should give Soto the Barry Bonds treatment.
That’s not to say the rest of the Nats new-look lineup can’t do some damage of their own. Lane Thomas, Josh Bell, Luis Garcia, and Keibert Ruiz are all clicking and will be looking to finish the season strong. Despite not making the playoffs, Washington doesn’t want to watch another team celebrate on their field. This weekend will feel like a playoff series and will be a great first taste for the younger guys.
Seattle will have their eyes glued to this series, having not made the playoffs since 2001, the longest streak in baseball. In fact, the last time they made the playoffs, Washington was still in Montreal, Ichiro was a rookie, and ARod was a Ranger. Now the Nationals have a chance to send the Mariners back to the postseason.
But if the Nationals win this series, they will lose the fifth pick in the draft. Currently, they are tied with Miami for the fifth pick. Miami ends their season against the Phillies who just missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season. Yet, finishing with the sixth pick in the draft isn’t the end of the world. After all, Anthony Rendon fell to the Nats with the sixth pick in 2011.
Keep in mind, smaller market teams are starting to under-slot more and more. This year, Kahlil Watson, Brady House, and Jordan Lawlar were all projected to be top six picks. Instead, the Royals, Pittsburgh, Orioles, and the Rockies all choose to save money for later rounds, leading to a free fall.
Boston was embarrassed against Baltimore and can no longer allow any more hiccups. Washington’s young core could care less about draft positioning and will be focused on playing spoiler. With stakes at an all-time high, this series is going to be must-watch baseball.