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MLB playoffs 2017: The Cubs might play the Dodgers in the NLDS (no, really)

The Nationals have a chance to beat the flailing Dodgers for the N.L.’s best record, which could change everything.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the last month or so, we have pretty much assumed that if the Cubs won the National League Central, they’d play the Washington Nationals in the division series round of the postseason. The Nats were running away with the N.L. East and the Dodgers were so far ahead of Washington for the N.L.’s best record that L.A. would have home field throughout the N.L. playoffs.

You might want to hold that thought for a moment.

On August 25, the Dodgers defeated the Brewers to make their record 91-36, 55 (!) games over .500. They led the N.L. West by 21 games and were 14½ games better than the Nats.

Since then the Dodgers are 1-11 and the Nats 9-4. The Dodgers’ 10½-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the N.L. West is probably enough to hold for L.A. to win the division title. Even so, the Dodgers have had that 21-game lead cut in half in just a 12-game span and they should be legitimately terrified of having to possibly face Arizona in the division series.

The Dodgers are now 92-47 and the Nats 85-54. That’s a seven-game difference and both teams have 23 games remaining. That’s a lot of ground to make up over 23 games, but:

  • The Nats just made up seven games on the Dodgers over their last 13 games, and
  • The Nats and Dodgers still have three games to play against each other, in Washington September 15-16-17.

So the Nats still do have something to play for even once they clinch the N.L. East title, which ought to happen this weekend or early next week — their magic number is six.

If they can sweep that series against the Dodgers, they can knock three games off that seven-game lead L.A. currently has, and that would also give the Nats the season series against the Dodgers, giving them the tiebreaker for home field.

Also, the Nats have the easier schedule. Their only remaining games against a team with a winning record are the three against the Dodgers; they’ll play the Phillies seven times and the Braves six. Meanwhile, L.A. has seven vs. the Rockies, against whom they’re just 7-5, and six with the Giants. Now, the Giants have an awful record this year but they always seem to up their game against their in-state rivals, and L.A. is just 7-6 against San Francisco so far this year.

It’s still something of a longshot, but coming into the realm of “possible.” We might wake up one late September morning and find out that the Cubs’ first-round playoff opponent is on the West Coast instead of the East Coast.