First off, thank the baseball gods. Second, call in sick, skip class, take an extra-long lunch break. Just find an excuse to get away from your regular Monday obligations. We have two tiebreaker games for the first time in MLB history. These will be the 11th and 12th one-game tiebreakers, and the first since the Rays and Rangers played in 2013 for the second AL wild card.
These tiebreakers differ from the first 10 because in those games, the loser went home. The losers of these games will meet each other in the wild-card game Tuesday. Still, you don't want to play in that game. You want to win Monday. Note this: Of the seven tiebreaker winners from the wild-card era (since 1995), only the 2007 Rockies went on to reach the World Series.
Remember this as well: This is considered a regular-season game, so full 40-man rosters are in effect. Look for a lot of relievers, some pinch hitters and maybe pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore winning a game for the Cubs with his speed.
First pitch: 1:05 p.m. ET (ESPN)
What it means in the NL picture: The winner is the NL Central champion and the No. 1 seed in the NL. The loser will host the loser of the Rockies-Dodgers tiebreaker in Tuesday's wild-card game. That means the Brewers and Cubs could be right back at it Thursday in the division series.
How the Brewers forced a tiebreaker game: The Brewers were five games out on Sept. 1 but went 19-6 the rest of the way, including winning their final six over the Cardinals and Tigers. They also beat the Cubs in four out of six games in September. Christian Yelichprobably locked up the NL MVP award with a monster final month: .352/.500/.807, 10 HRs, 33 RBIs in 26 games.
How the Cubs forced a tiebreaker game: The Cubs went 16-12 in September, so you can't really say they collapsed. Give the Brewers credit for a great finish. The offense has struggled at times in September, with eight games in which they've scored zero or one run.
The Brewers waited to make their decision, choosing Chacin on regular rest (he started Wednesday) over a full bullpen game or startingChase Anderson (who last pitched on Sept. 18), Freddy Peralta or one of the regular relievers such as Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes.
If they lose with Chacin on the moundthey'll probably go with a bullpen game in the wild-card game.
The good news: With Sunday's blowout win, none of the team's top relievers pitched. Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress each threw one inning on both Friday and Saturday, and Burnes threw two innings and 31 pitches Saturday. Josh Hader last pitched Friday, when he threw 22 pitches. If you go bullpen game, you probably imagine at least two innings apiece from Burnes and Hader, and four or five outs from Knebel and Jeffress. That's seven innings right there.
The Cubs will have a more conventional approach with Quintana, who finished strong with a 3.05 ERA over his final eight starts. He faced the Brewers twice in September and went 6 innings both times, giving up two runs in the first start and zero runs in the second. Still, with a full slate of relievers available, you know Joe Maddon will have a quick hook. For what it's worth, nine of the 19 meetings between the clubs featured a shutout -- three by the Brewers and six by the Cubs.
The fallout: We just went over the Milwaukee scenario. If they reach the division series, that probably leaves Wade Miley to start in Game 1. Miley started Saturday and went only three innings and 53 pitches, so he's even a candidate to pitch Tuesday given that limited pitch count.
The Cubs are the only one of the four teams to have a favorable setup, win or lose. If they lose on Monday, Jon Lester pitches Tuesday on regular rest. If they win Monday, Lester is ready for Game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday. If they play in the wild-card game and win, then Kyle Hendricks goes in Game 1, and he has been their best pitcher down the stretch.
First pitch: 4:09 p.m. ET (ESPN)
What it means in the NL picture: The winner is the NL West champion and the No. 2 seed in the NL, giving them home-field advantage over the Atlanta Braves in the division series. The loser will be the No. 5 seed and travel to the loser of the Brewers-Cubs game for Tuesday's wild-card game.
How the Dodgers forced a tiebreaker game: After losing two out of three in Arizona to start the week, the Dodgers rebounded to sweep the Giants. They overcame a shaky Clayton Kershaw start on Saturday in which he gave up five runs for the first time in 22 career starts at AT&T Park, then pounded the Giants 15-0 on Sunday as they scored seven runs in the third inning and had Rich Hill throw seven scoreless innings.
How the Rockies forced a tiebreaker game: The Rockies looked dead after the Dodgers swept them at Dodger Stadium from Sept. 17-19, but they won nine of their final 10 games, including a three-game sweep at Arizona and a four-game sweep of the Phillies at home. They caught a break Sunday when the Nationals decided not to start Max Scherzer, and they cruised to a 12-0 victory. Tyler Anderson, who had a 7.80 ERA over his previous 10 starts, tossed 7 scoreless innings, Charlie Blackmon hit for the cycle, David Dahl cracked his ninth home run of September and Nolan Arenado hit two home runs to take over the NL lead with 37.
Two of the best young starters in the game enter this tiebreaker as two of the hottest pitchers. Marquez has a 2.16 ERA over his past 12 starts with a .201 average allowed and 109 strikeouts in 83 innings. He last faced the Dodgers on June 30, when he gave up two hits and one run in eight innings at Dodger Stadium. Marquez owns a mid-90s fastball and made the leap into the upper echelon of starters after improving his slider, giving him a second wipeout pitch to go with his plus curveball.
Buehler had originally been scheduled to start Sunday, but the Dodgers changed to Hill, lining up Buehler for either the tiebreaker or the wild-card game -- basically holding him off for the game they viewed as more vital than Sunday's game. Since Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw pitched Friday and Saturday, neither would be on regular rest for Tuesday.
It was a calculated gamble that gives them a hot starter going Monday afternoon. Buehler's 2.21 ERA in the second half ranked fourth in the majors, he has a 1.70 ERA over his past 11 starts with a .167 average allowed, and he has given up more than two runs only once in those 11 starts. Buehler averages 96.2 mph with his fastball, has two nasty breaking balls and even mixes in a sinker, cutter and changeup. Good luck.
The fallout: The loser of this game will be at a huge disadvantage for the rest of the postseason. If the Rockies lose, they have to decide whether to start Kyle Freeland on three days' rest for the first time all season in the wild-card game or go with Antonio Senzatela and a bunch of relievers. If they use Freeland in the wild-card game and win, they've probably burned their top two starters for the first two games of the NLDS.
If the Dodgers lose the tiebreaker game, their fifth starter of late has been Ross Stripling, who returned from a DL stint to make four starts in September, going no more than 3 innings in any of them. They could go with Ryu on short rest, and remember that Kershaw pitched in relief in Game 7 of the World Series with two days' rest.
The winner, however, is in great shape, as Freeland and Kershaw would both line up to start Game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday on full rest.