Now that the Brewers' magic number is zero, what's left to watch for as the season winds to a close?
There's just over a week remaining in the season, and the Milwaukee Brewers know they are National League Central champions. The team wakes up Oct. 3 with a five-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and one game to play. Despite a recently completed 17-game winning streak for the Cards, they can't catch the Brewers.
Whew, what a season. But there are still some intriguing story lines to watch. Here's what's left.
What's the Brewers' magic number to win the NL Central?
It's zero. They're in, clinching at the earliest point in the season in franchise history (easily eclipsing the Sept. 23 clinch of 2011) and then ensuring a division title in the final home game of the season.
To calculate a magic number, start with 163 (the total number of games in an MLB season — plus one, since we're going for an outright win in the standings and not a tie. Subtract the number of wins from the frontrunner and then the number of losses from the next-closest team. For example, 163, minus 95 (Brewers wins), minus 71 (Cardinals losses) equals ... well, less than zero.
So what's left to watch for?
Who will the Brewers face in the playoffs?
Milwaukee has guaranteed the No. 2 seed in the National League, though they are guaranteed to have the third-best record. The Giants and Dodgers, the two teams with the best records in baseball, are both in the National League West, and one will be relegated to the wild-card game (and cannot, by rule, obtain a top-three seed).
The Brewers will thus be paired against the winner of the National League East, and that's the Braves, who clinched Sept. 30 after finishing off a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. That's a nice setup because Milwaukee simply won't have to play both of the current two best records in the NL at any point in the postseason.
When do the playoffs begin?
The American League and National League wild card games will take place Oct. 5 and 6, respectively, with the season ending Oct. 3.
The AL division series will begin Oct. 7, with the NL division series starting Oct. 8. That means the Brewers will host games at American Family Field on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 8-9.
What time will they play?
Alas, we don't know yet, and it's not going to be information available until much closer to game day.
If history is our guide, the higher-profile markets get the primetime slot, and west coast teams are usually slotted with the latest time slot. Since the other NL series is likely to be the only one featuring a true west coast team, it stands to reason that the Brewers-Braves series will be earlier. Using that speculation, it would be about a 4 p.m. first pitch Saturday, when the American League teams are off.
On Friday, when all four series are in action, the Brewers-Braves matchup will probably get one of the earlier slots (roughly 1 or 3 p.m.), especially if either the Yankees or Red Sox are still alive and likely to get favor for the 7 p.m.-ish slot. But again, that's all a rough guess.
Will the Brewers reach the franchise record for wins?
The Brewers have 95 wins, one shy of the franchise record set by the 2011 and 2018 teams (96). The 2018 team played 163 games (including a one-game tiebreaker) to reach that mark.
The Brewers must win their season finale against the Dodgers to equal that mark. They have fallen short of setting a new franchise record.
If the Brewers make the World Series, will they have home field advantage?
Home-field advantage in the World Series is awarded to the team with the best regular-season record. Right now, only the Rays are guaranteed to have a better mark than the Brewers. So the Brewers wouldn't have the edge if they met the Rays in the World Series, but Milwaukee is sitting better than every other team in the AL.
The Brewers are one ahead of the next-best American League team, the Houston Astros. The Astros also have an intradivision edge, so if the Brewers lose Sunday and the Astros win, Milwaukee would not host a World Series against the Astros, either.
The Cardinals concern me. What are the odds they wind up in Milwaukee's postseason path?
The Cardinals are ticketed for the wild-card game after clinching Tuesday; and if the season ended today, that would be against the Dodgers. That's probably good news for Brewers fans who would just assume see both the division nemesis Cardinals and reigning champ Dodgers out of the way. Only one would advance to the division series.
That is, of course, if the Giants hold off the Dodgers to win the NL West. The Giants' lead in the NL West was one game heading into Sunday's finale. If the Giants win or Dodgers lose, then the Giants, holding the top seed, would get the winner of that wild-card game. If the Dodgers win and Giants lose, then the two will engage in a one-game playoff to determine who wins the West and who's relegated to wild-card status.
As impressive as St. Louis has been, the Cardinals would still have to negotiate the two best teams in baseball to reach the Brewers in the NLCS. The Brewers, of course, would need to win their own best-of-five NLDS series to get that far.
If the NL West winner (Giants, right now) and Brewers meet in the NLCS, the Giants would have home field advantage. If Milwaukee meets the wild-card winner Dodgers (right now) or Cardinals, it'll be the Brewers who hold the homefield edge in the best-of-seven series.