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Red Sox clinch 3rd straight AL East title

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

NEW YORK -- A thrilling Red Sox season, one that is all but certain to end with the most wins in club history, reached a celebratory point at the end of a wild Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

On the cusp of clinching the American League East when they arrived in the Bronx on Tuesday, the third attempt proved to be the charm for the team that is now division champs for a third straight year.

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NEW YORK -- A thrilling Red Sox season, one that is all but certain to end with the most wins in club history, reached a celebratory point at the end of a wild Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

On the cusp of clinching the American League East when they arrived in the Bronx on Tuesday, the third attempt proved to be the charm for the team that is now division champs for a third straight year.

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Shop for new AL East champs gear

Video: Red Sox win AL East title for the 3rd straight year

Top AL MVP Award candidate Mookie Betts led the charge (4-for-5, homer, five RBIs) as rookie manager Alex Cora's team pulled out a roller-coaster 11-6 victory that was befitting of the longest-standing rivalry in sports.

Video: BOS@NYY: Betts hits 30th homer in 4-hit, 5-RBI game

"You know, a lot of people don't understand how much work goes into this," said J.D. Martinez, Boston's other MVP candidate, as champagne flowed in the clubhouse. "This is just step one and, obviously, it's one of those things that's tough to do. Winning our division isn't easy. It starts in Spring Training, and the mindset that we had right off the bat, the way Alex set it as soon as he came in and the goal here is to win, but this is obviously the first step and we're proud of it."

Video: BOS@NYY: Martinez talks about winning the AL East

The Top 10 Red Sox Moments of 2018

Craig Kimbrel struck out Giancarlo Stanton to officially hand the division title to a team that took over sole possession of first place on July 2. With Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" playing in the background, the Sox exchanged high-fives and hugs on the mound and in front of their dugout once the game ended. There were chants of "Let's Go, Red Sox," and then "MVP" from the stands when Betts did his stand-up interview on the field.

Video: BOS@NYY: Red Sox celebrate winning division title

"The chants mean you've done something well," said Betts. "I've had a great season and I'm just trying to soak it in right now."

Video: Betts joins MLB Tonight to discuss clinching AL East

At 104-49, the Red Sox can spend the final nine games of the regular season preparing for the AL Division Series, which will start at Fenway Park on Oct. 5. It is all but a lock the Sox will go into the postseason as the No. 1 seed, meaning they will play the winner of the Wild Card Game in the first round. The Yankees and Athletics are the heavy favorites to face off on Oct. 3 for the rights to play Boston. The magic number to clinch best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the postseason is two over the Astros.

Video: BOS@NYY: Holt hammers a solo homer into the 2nd deck

"Like I've been saying all along, they don't stop playing," said Cora. "They just show up and keep playing. We've been hearing that from the opposition a lot lately. I think that's the greatest compliment I can get for our team. That makes me proud. Now we've got a shot. Our next goal is to win, well, the best record, I guess. And then we have a shot to win 11 games in October."

With their next victory, the Sox will tie the franchise record for wins, set in 1912.

Video: BOS@NYY: Cora on winning AL East, playoff momentum

"You don't win 104 by accident," said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "Baseball is a tough game. It's tough to win. You have to have patience. You have your ups and your downs over the season. Winning 100 games is an accomplishment. In my career it's the first time I've ever been with a club that has won 100 games during the regular season.

Video: BOS@NYY: Dombrowski on winning another AL East title

"It just shows you the resiliency. There's so many good parts of the team. So many good players. We can win in a lot of different ways. We battled back today."

Video: Red Sox win the AL East for third straight year

Boston was up, 3-0, early and then trailed, 6-4, on Stanton's grand slam in the fourth. But one thing the Red Sox have proved continually this season is that nothing deflates them.

Video: BOS@NYY: Stanton cranks a grand slam to right field

As the Stadium shrieked with noise on the granny by Stanton, the visitors collected themselves en route to their latest comeback.

"It shows what kind of team we have," said Betts. "You have to play 27 outs. That's the most important thing when you play against us."

Video: BOS@NYY: Bradley Jr. ties game with solo homer in 7th

Jackie Bradley Jr. tied it up with a clutch homer off Chad Green to lead off what wound up a three-run top of the seventh. The next two runs came on, of all things, a flyout by Xander Bogaerts. Center fielder Aaron Hicks gathered the sacrifice fly in which pinch-runner Tzu-Wei Lin scored and fired to third to prevent Andrew Benintendi from advancing. But that plan went horribly wrong, when the throw by Hicks exploded on Miguel Andujar and bounced into the stands, allowing Benintendi to score also to make it 8-6.

Video: BOS@NYY: Red Sox take 2-run lead on sac fly, error

Betts put the Yankees away in the eighth when he hit a towering three-run blast to left on a 1-1 slider by Aroldis Chapman. It was No. 30 on the season for Betts, who improved to 4-for-8 lifetime off Chapman.

Video: BOS@NYY: Benintendi on clinching AL East, WS goals

"That was huge," said Martinez. "That was a big hit. I think that was one of those that kind of put the nail in the coffin right there. It was big."

Neither starter fared well. For the Red Sox, Eduardo Rodriguez threw 100 pitches while recording just 11 outs and he walked a career-high seven. Masahiro Tanaka was pounded for eight hits and five runs in four-plus innings.

Video: BOS@NYY: Rodriguez retires Gregorius to strand a pair

After Rodriguez loaded the bases with three two-out walks, Cora called for Heath Hembree, and Stanton smoked the righty's second pitch -- an 0-1 slider -- over the wall in right for a grand slam that might have people thinking the clinch would have to be pushed back for a third straight night.

But the Red Sox had other ideas.

Video: J.D. Martinez joins MLB Tonight and discusses 2018

And after accomplishing one of their goals, the Sox will soon turn their attention to having the success that eluded them the last two years when they were knocked out by the Astros and Indians, respectively, in the ALDS.

Video: BOS@NYY: Holt times his leap perfectly to rob Voit

"I think we're in a position where they've been through it before," said Dombrowski. "I think Alex with his leadership has got them in the right set of mind. We've risen to the occasion all year long. I think we're even more well-balanced than we have been in the past. A little bit deeper from a positional player perspective. We play good defense. Run the bases well. Maybe just a little tick better and sometimes a little tick better can make the difference."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Wright stuff: Winning pitcher Steven Wright stabilized the game for the Red Sox with three shutout innings out of the 'pen. Wright has been marvelous since returning from the disabled list in September, throwing 10 scoreless innings in seven appearances. Boston is 7-0 in the games he's pitched over that span.

Video: BOS@NYY: Wright hurls 3 shutout frames to earn win

"It's been fun," said Wright, who missed most of last season after major left knee surgery and had setbacks this season as well. "It's been a long road back. I'm just trying to be as aggressive as I can and throw as many strikes as I can, so it's been fun."

SOUND SMART
The Red Sox continue to be a beast when their offense is clicking. They improved to 76-10 when scoring five runs or more and are 18-0 since Aug. 10 when they score five or more.

HE SAID IT
"It's fitting that we clinch here. As you remember that Sunday, between Games 2 and 3 [of last year's ALCS], I walked into the suite at the Palace [Hotel] with a lot of confidence. I was like, 'Well, I got a shot.' When they told me they were going to fly either to Cleveland or come here regardless of the result of the ALDS, I was like, 'You know what, they're looking at me like I'm capable.' I went into that suite, I guess I did a good job, they hired me, and it's fitting that it's here. It's a lot of work, a lot of work, and like I said, it's not only me. I think the front office, the medical staff, the coaches, media, everything that has to do with our organization, they helped us to accomplish this." -- Cora, on clinching in New York, where he interviewed for Boston's managerial post last October

UP NEXT
Lefty ace Chris Sale (12-4, 1.92 ERA) continues his progression back from the disabled list when he opens a three-game series in Cleveland against the Indians. Sale fired three shutout innings last time out against the Mets and is expected to ramp up to four to five frames and 65 pitches in this one. The Indians counter with one of their top pitchers in righty Trevor Bauer (12-6, 2.22 ERA), who will be making his return from the disabled list in his first start since Aug. 11.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez

Braves' magic number at 4 after win over Phils

Duda, Gausman come up big as Atlanta moves closer to NL East title
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As the Braves took another step toward delivering the knockout blow, they provided a reminder of how much better they became once general manager Alex Anthopoulos diligently did what he could to address his club's needs.

Nearly two months after being acquired from the Orioles, Kevin Gausman remains energized by the opportunity to be part of a postseason race that became even less tight on Thursday night, when the Braves widened their National League East lead with an 8-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.

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ATLANTA -- As the Braves took another step toward delivering the knockout blow, they provided a reminder of how much better they became once general manager Alex Anthopoulos diligently did what he could to address his club's needs.

Nearly two months after being acquired from the Orioles, Kevin Gausman remains energized by the opportunity to be part of a postseason race that became even less tight on Thursday night, when the Braves widened their National League East lead with an 8-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.

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"These games mean a lot," Gausman said. "As a player, that's all you can ask for -- to be in September and to be playing meaningful games. To be a pitcher coming from Baltimore with the season we were having there, the playoffs were a far-fetched dream. So to be in this situation is great."

Video: PHI@ATL: Gausman fans Alfaro for his 1st strikeout

While producing a 2.80 ERA in the nine starts made since his July 31 acquisition, Gausman has influenced the envious position inhabited by the Braves, who own a 6 1/2-game division lead over the second-place Phillies. The magic number has been reduced to four with just nine games remaining, six of which will be played against Philadelphia.

"It's always huge to get the first game of a series, no matter who you are playing," Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "We'll take it today and carry the momentum into tomorrow."

Video: PHI@ATL: Swanson, Gausman, Suzuki on win over Phils

Whatever remaining fight might have been left in the Phillies was minimized as the Braves tallied a four-run eighth, which featured Dansby Swanson drawing a bases-loaded walk before an out was recorded. Swanson had also produced the hustle double that put him in position to score when the recently acquired Lucas Duda laced Tommy Hunter's cutter down the right-field line for a decisive pinch-hit RBI double.

Video: PHI@ATL: Swanson hustles to second for the double

Anthopoulos focused on the pitching staff when he added Gausman to his rotation and acquired relievers Jonny Venters and Brad Brach before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. His desire to add a left-handed bat to his bench was satisfied with the Aug. 29 acquisition of Duda, who has gone 3-for-15 with two doubles and a homer as a pinch-hitter since the trade with the Royals.

"We've done a great job," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Alex and his guys didn't sit around and wait. They went out and tried to make our club better. It has and it's going to pay off."

Snitker dodges foul ball, but not without a priceless reaction

Gausman might not be the overpowering ace who is going to strike fear into opponents. But he provided a glimpse of his resolve when he allowed the Phillies to tally a first-inning run and then surrendered three hits during a two-run third. He minimized damage in that frame and then proceeded to retire each of the final 11 batters he faced in his 6 1/3-inning effort.

"He found his groove and then once he got out there, he got over that hump and it was kind of what we expected when we got him," Snitker said. "He's been good the whole time he's been here. He's had a couple of games, but he's just been really big for us since he's been here."

Video: PHI@ATL: Snitker on Gausman, offense in win vs. Phils

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The suddenly red-hot Freddie Freeman, who has hit .404 over his past 12 games, helped create an early advantage when he teamed with Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis to record three consecutive one-out singles in a two-run first against Vince Velasquez, who allowed three runs over three innings.

Video: PHI@ATL: Markakis plates Inciarte with an RBI single

The Phillies could have limited the first-inning damage to one run had first baseman Rhys Hoskins fielded Johan Camargo's chopper and thrown to second base to begin what would have been a likely double play. But once Hoskins stepped on the bag, Markakis got himself in a rundown that allowed Freeman to score from third.

Video: PHI@ATL: Freeman scores as Markakis gets in a rundown

BULLPEN HELP
The early portion of this homestand enhanced concerns about the Braves' bullpen, which could assume a much different look if Arodys Vizcaino remains healthy and Chad Sobotka continues to look like a legit high-leverage option.

Vizcaino's right shoulder certainly looked fine as he touched 98.5 mph and flashed his wicked slider during a perfect eighth inning. Now the former closer must prove his shoulder can favorably respond in a manner that would give Snitker comfort to carry him on the postseason roster.

Sobotka also displayed an impressive mix of plus fastballs and sliders as he struck out each of the three batters faced in the ninth. The 25-year-old rookie has worked four scoreless innings since returning from a short late-season stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.

"I really liked what I saw out of Chad," Snitker said. "In that game, in that situation, that was really nice to see. Vizzy, too -- that was a huge outing from Viz. If we can get him back and you see that out of Chad, that's some really big pieces moving forward."

UP NEXT
Julio Teheran will attempt to move the Braves closer to a division title when he opposes the Phillies on Friday at SunTrust Park, with first pitch set for 7:35 p.m. ET. Teheran's velocity has dipped recently and he has issued 10 walks over his past 10 innings. But he still has a 3.04 ERA over his past nine starts. This will be his fourth start against Philadelphia this season, but first since April. The Phillies will counter with Nick Pivetta, who has a 5.97 ERA over his past six starts.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Lucas Duda, Kevin Gausman

A's amaze with 21-run eruption in rout of Angels

MLB.com @JaneMLB

OAKLAND -- Cue the "We control our own destiny" mantra.

It's been heard from every corner of the A's clubhouse down the stretch, but on Thursday they simply let their bats do the talking in another rout of the Angels that brought their magic number down to four with nine games to play.

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OAKLAND -- Cue the "We control our own destiny" mantra.

It's been heard from every corner of the A's clubhouse down the stretch, but on Thursday they simply let their bats do the talking in another rout of the Angels that brought their magic number down to four with nine games to play.

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Oakland's 21-3 series-winning victory at the Coliseum moved them within 1.5 games of the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot.

Video: LAA@OAK: Chapman, Piscotty combine for a 5-run 5th

The A's have a 6 1/2-game lead on the Rays, who lost to Toronto, for the second Wild Card berth, while 3 1/2 games separate them from the first-place Astros in the AL West after they improved to an MLB-best 58-25 since June 16.

"We just keep grinding and try to win every game," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We know there are limited games left."

Video: LAA@OAK: Melvin on offensive excellence in 21-3 win

Their second straight win, coming on the heels of an atypical three-game losing streak, featured a familiar formula, a sneak attack of sorts. Less than 24 hours after breaking out for six runs in the fourth inning, the A's used a five-run third to break away.

Video: LAA@OAK: Martini drills his 1st big league home run

That would have been plenty, but they struck for seven more runs -- all with two outs -- in the fourth and, just for fun, six in the sixth. It got downright silly in the seventh, when the Angels turned to position player Francisco Arcia on the mound and watched him surrender back-to-back homers to Nick Martini, the first of his career, and Chad Pinder to punctuate the season-high 21-run day and hand the Angels their worst loss in franchise history.

Video: LAA@OAK: Pinder goes back-to-back with Martini in 7th

"You know, down the road maybe I'll tell people that guy was throwing 98 [mph] with a nasty slider," Martini said, grinning. "No, I mean I was definitely happy to get that for sure. It was definitely an exciting feeling."

Stephen Piscotty also homered, a three-run blast against starter Matt Shoemaker -- who was around for just 2 2/3 innings -- for his second in as many days, seventh in 17 games this month and 26th on the season.

Video: LAA@OAK: Piscotty cranks a 3-run homer to left

"That was special, a lot of fun," Piscotty said. "Honestly, when I saw the score on the board, it was like a football score. It doesn't happen all that often. It's a crazy game."

Tweet from @joe_sheehan: Despite it being the home of the Raiders for 46 seasons, the A���s win today was the first 21-3 game in Coliseum history.

Right-hander Edwin Jackson held the Angels to two earned runs and compiled seven strikeouts across 5 1/3 innings for the A's, who are 13-3 when the veteran toes the rubber.

Video: LAA@OAK: Jackson K's Francisco, strikes out the side

They outscored the Angels, 31-3, in the final two games of the series to pad their AL-leading run total for the month (118), getting a career-high five RBIs from Marcus Semien. The team finished 12-for-17 with runners in scoring position, totaling 22 hits -- including at least two apiece from all but one of their starting nine. Moreover, eight of their players scored two or more runs for the first time since July 25, 1929, as they fell two runs shy of the Oakland single-game record.

Video: LAA@OAK: Semien drives in 5 runs on 3 hits in A's win

"When you're getting runs like, that it's always fun," Jackson said. "The main thing you want to do is go out and continue to pitch and get back into the dugout so they can continue hitting."

Video: LAA@OAK: Piscotty discusses the offense after A's win

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A's pounce after miscue: There were two outs in the fourth inning when Martini reached base on a throwing error by Andrelton Simmons, opening the floodgates once again. The A's responded with seven straight hits before Josh Phegley -- responsible for the first two outs of the inning on a double play -- flied out for the third out. All seven runs in the inning were unearned.

"Obviously, we have the ability to score some runs, and we've been doing a really good job of it at home here recently," Melvin said. "Our lineup is deep all the way through. We feel like we have a chance to score every inning. We find different ways to do it, and we did again today."

SOUND SMART
This was the third time in Oakland history the A's scored five or more runs in an inning three times in one game. They also did it Sept. 30, 2000, against the Rangers, and June 14, 1969, opposite Boston.

HE SAID IT
"Everyone on this team has a chance to shine. It's not necessarily one person hogging all the shine. Every day it's a different hero, and everyone is cheering everyone on and everyone is happy for everyone. It's a bunch of go-getters. They aren't afraid of a challenge, and they're up for whatever the task may be."
-- Jackson

UP NEXT
Right-hander Liam Hendriks will make his seventh start of the month Friday, acting as an opener for the first of a three-game series with the Twins at the Coliseum. Hendriks, who will likely be limited to one inning, has not allowed a run in the first inning in any of his starts. Minnesota will counter with right-hander Jose Berrios (11-11, 3.81 ERA) in the 7:05 p.m. PT tilt.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

Oakland Athletics, Stephen Piscotty

Postseason Picture: Where we are right now

A closer look at the divisions, Wild Cards and tiebreakers
MLB.com

The Red Sox clinched their third consecutive American League East title with a victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, while the A's moved to 1 1/2 games behind New York in the AL Wild Card race with a 21-3 rout of the Angels in Oakland. With the Astros idle, the A's also picked up a half-game in the AL West, now 3 1/2 behind Houston.

Postseason bracket

The Red Sox clinched their third consecutive American League East title with a victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, while the A's moved to 1 1/2 games behind New York in the AL Wild Card race with a 21-3 rout of the Angels in Oakland. With the Astros idle, the A's also picked up a half-game in the AL West, now 3 1/2 behind Houston.

Postseason bracket

In the National League, the Braves and Phillies faced off in Atlanta, and the Braves won the series opener to expand their lead over Philadelphia to 6 1/2 games in the NL East, with six meetings remaining between the two clubs.

Here is a division-by-division breakdown of the playoff picture, recapping Thursday's action and taking a look at where each contender stands heading into today. Within each division, clubs are listed in order of current standing.

Explaining tiebreaker scenarios for '18 postseason

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

RED SOX (104-49, .680)

Status: Clinched AL East; lead HOU by 8 1/2 games for best record in MLB.

Yesterday's result: Beat NYY, 11-6. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Boston currently sits in front of AL West-leading Houston, but in the event the Astros catch the Sox, the season series would determine home field in a potential postseason matchup. The Astros won the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: at CLE (7:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday at CLE, Sept. 28-30 vs. NYY

Video: BOS@NYY: Kimbrel K's Stanton to clinch AL East title

YANKEES (93-59, .612)

Status: Lead OAK by 1 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Lost to BOS, 11-6. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Yankees and A's tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with each club having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (37-29 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (35-35 vs. AL West) in that regard.

Today's schedule: vs. BAL (7:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 28-30 at BOS

Video: BOS@NYY: Stanton cranks a grand slam to right field

RAYS (85-67, .559)

Status: Trail OAK by 6 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Lost to TOR, 9-8. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Rays were to tie the A's for the AL's second Wild Card spot, they would host a tiebreaker play-in game because they won the season series over the A's, 5-2.

Today's schedule: at TOR (7:07 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-27 vs. NYY

Video: TB@TOR: Kiermaier sprints from first to score on 1B

AL CENTRAL

INDIANS (85-67, .559)

Status: Clinched AL Central.

Yesterday's result: Lost to CWS, 5-4 (11 innings). Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland were to pull even with Houston, it still would not host Game 1 of the ALDS, since the Astros took the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: vs. BOS (7:10 p.m. ET) 

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday vs. BOS

Video: CWS@CLE: Lindor, Brantley slug back-to-back jacks

AL WEST

ASTROS (95-57, .625)

Status: Lead OAK by 3 1/2 games in AL West; trail BOS by 8 1/2 games for the AL's best record.

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland pulls even with Houston, the Astros still would host Game 1 of the ALDS, since they took the season series, 4-3. In the event of a tie with Oakland atop the AL West, the Astros would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: vs. LAA (8:10 p.m. ET)

Video: SEA@HOU: Reddick sprints 83 ft. in 5 sec for catch

ATHLETICS (92-61, .601)

Status: Trail HOU by 3 1/2 games in AL West and NYY by 1 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card; lead TB by 6 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat LAA, 21-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the A's and Yankees tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with both teams having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (37-29 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (35-35 vs. AL West) in that regard. If the A's tie the Astros for the AL West crown, Houston would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: vs. MIN (10:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at SEA

Video: LAA@OAK: A's put up 21 runs against the Angels

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

BRAVES (85-68, .556)

Status: Lead PHI by 6 1/2 games in NL East; trail CHC by 4 1/2 games for No. 1 seed in NL; tied with LAD for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat PHI, 8-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A tie for the division crown would necessitate a tiebreaker game, and the Braves currently have the edge on the Phillies for home field in such a game. Atlanta leads the season series, 8-5, but the clubs have six games remaining against each other. In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Braves and Cubs each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (44-23) currently leads Chicago (37-32) in that department. In the event of a tie for the second seed in the NL, the Dodgers would be awarded the second seed by virtue of winning the season series with the Braves, 5-2.

Today's schedule: vs. PHI (7:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday vs. PHI, Sept. 28-30 at PHI

Video: PHI@ATL: Duda brings home Swanson with an RBI double

PHILLIES (78-74, .513)

Status: Trail ATL by 6 1/2 games in NL East; 5 1/2 games out of the second NL Wild Card berth behind STL.

Yesterday's result: Lost to ATL, 8-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A tie for the division crown would necessitate a tiebreaker game, and the Braves currently have the edge on the Phillies for home field in such a game. Philadelphia trails the season series, 8-5, but the clubs have six games remaining against each other.

Today's schedule: at ATL (7:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday at ATL, Sept. 24-27 at COL, Sept. 28-30 vs. ATL

Video: PHI@ATL: Alfaro drives in Cabrera on RBI single

NL CENTRAL

CUBS (89-63, .586)

Status: Lead MIL by 2 1/2 games and STL by 5 1/2 games in NL Central; lead LAD and ATL by 4 1/2 games for No. 1 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tiebreaker game for the division title, the Cubs would have home-field advantage over the Brewers, by virtue of their 11-8 record vs. Milwaukee in the season series. In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Cubs and Braves each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (44-23) currently leads Chicago (37-32) in that department.

Today's schedule: at CWS (4:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 28-30 vs. STL

Video: CHC@ARI: Russell, Baez combine for smooth double play

BREWERS (87-66, .569)

Status: Trail CHC by 2 1/2 games in NL Central; lead STL by 3 games for first NL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: The Brewers' final three-game series against the Cardinals from Monday through Wednesday will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and who would have home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots.

Today's schedule: at PIT (7:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at STL

Video: CIN@MIL: Aguilar crushes a 3-run homer in the 3rd

CARDINALS (84-69, .549)

Status: Trail CHC by 5 1/2 games in NL Central; lead COL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot, trail MIL by 3 games for top NL Wild Card spot.

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: The Cardinals' final three-game series against the Brewers from Monday through Wednesday will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and thereby who would have home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots. Should St. Louis finish tied with Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot, the Cardinals would host a tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, 5-2.

Today's schedule: vs. SF (8:15 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday vs. MIL, Sept. 28-30 at CHC

Video: STL@ATL: Bader belts a towering solo shot to left

NL WEST

DODGERS (85-68, .556)

Status: Lead COL by 2 1/2 games in NL West; tied with ATL for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: Should there be a tiebreaker game for the division title or the final NL Wild Card berth, Los Angeles is currently in position to host the Rockies (won the season series, 12-7) or play at Arizona (9-7 deficit), with more games left against Arizona. The Dodgers lost the season series to the Cardinals, 4-3, so in the event of a tie for a Wild Card spot, Los Angeles would play at St. Louis. 

Today's schedule: vs. SD (10:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at ARI

Video: Must C Clutch: Puig belts pinch-hit, go-ahead homer

ROCKIES (82-70, .539)

Status: Trail LAD by 2 1/2 in NL West; trail STL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot. 

Yesterday's result: Off

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tie for first place in the division, there would be a tiebreaker game to determine the NL West champion. As things stand now, the Rockies would be on the road for such a game against the Dodgers due to the results of their season series against Los Angeles (7-12), while Colorado's season series with the D-backs is currently even at 8-8 as the Rockies open a weekend series at Arizona beginning Friday.

Today's schedule: at ARI (9:40 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday at ARI

Video: COL@LAD: Anderson K's 4 over 6 innings vs. Dodgers

D-BACKS (79-74, .516)

Status: Trail LAD by 6 games in NL West; trail STL by 6 games for second NL Wild Card. 

Yesterday's result:  Off

Key tiebreaker: If the D-backs finish tied for the division title or final NL Wild Card berth, season series would determine home-field advantage in an extra game for the right to advance to the NL Wild Card Game. Arizona leads its season series against Los Angeles (9-7) and is tied with Colorado (8-8) and St. Louis (3-3). The D-backs and Rockies meet for a final regular season series starting Friday at Chase Field. Home field between Arizona and St. Louis would come down to intradivision record, with the Cardinals (40-30) currently leading the D-backs (36-31) in that race.

Today's schedule: vs. COL (9:40 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday vs. COL, Sept. 24-26 vs. LAD

Video: CHC@ARI: Walker crushes 445-ft. home run to center

POSTSEASON PICTURE

If the playoffs began today, here's how they would look:

Postseason schedule

NL Wild Card Game (Tues., Oct. 2)
Cardinals at Brewers

AL Wild Card Game (Wed., Oct. 3)
Athletics at Yankees

NL Division Series (begins Thurs., Oct. 4)
NL Wild Card Game winner at Cubs
Braves at Dodgers

AL Division Series (begins Fri., Oct. 5)
AL Wild Card Game winner at Red Sox
Indians at Astros

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros

Blue Jays stun Rays with 3 homers in 7-run 9th

Smoak's walk-off follows Gurriel's game-tying blast and Jansen's three-run shot
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- One of John Gibbons' favorite expressions is, "There's no quit in this team." He was proven right on Thursday night when the Blue Jays pulled off one of the most improbable victories in franchise history.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Justin Smoak hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the ninth as the Blue Jays rallied from six runs down to pull off a stunning 9-8 victory over the Rays at the Rogers Centre. The six-run turnaround is tied for the largest ninth-inning comeback win in Toronto's 42 years as an MLB franchise.

View Full Game Coverage

TORONTO -- One of John Gibbons' favorite expressions is, "There's no quit in this team." He was proven right on Thursday night when the Blue Jays pulled off one of the most improbable victories in franchise history.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Justin Smoak hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the ninth as the Blue Jays rallied from six runs down to pull off a stunning 9-8 victory over the Rays at the Rogers Centre. The six-run turnaround is tied for the largest ninth-inning comeback win in Toronto's 42 years as an MLB franchise.

View Full Game Coverage

Gurriel tied the game with a two-run homer off Rays reliever Sergio Romo and Smoak added the finishing touch with a solo shot over the wall in right field. That secured Toronto's 40th comeback win of the season, and it also dealt a devastating blow to Tampa Bay's chances at the second American League Wild Card spot.

Video: TB@TOR: Smoak caps comeback with walk-off HR in 9th

"I don't even know," Gibbons said, when half-jokingly asked what had just happened after the game. "Baseball is a crazy game. The odds of that happening [are low]. But sometimes things start snowballing and it's tough to stop. I'm proud of the guys. We put all of the youngsters in there and they made something happen. Some great at-bats in that last inning and then Smoaky, one of the old vets, because we didn't want to play extra innings."

The Blue Jays sent nine batters to the plate in the final frame and the most exciting part for the organization is that six of those players spent most of the season at Triple-A Buffalo. Toronto began its youth movement at the Major League level earlier this month, and while it has added to the excitement at the ballpark, it also has resulted in some improved results on the field for a team that has now won five of its past six games.

The rookie duo of Rowdy Tellez and Danny Jansen once again took center stage in the ninth. Tellez drove in the first run of the inning with an RBI double, which was part of a 2-for-4 night at the plate that also included a two-run homer. Jansen chipped in with a three-run home run in the ninth that chased reliever Jaime Schultz and provided Toronto with a glimmer of hope.

Video: TB@TOR: Jansen belts a 3-run HR to cut into deficit

Rookie outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. started the rally with a leadoff double. Fellow rookie outfielder Jonathan Davis also reached base on a hit by pitch and then Gurriel turned the game on a dime with the game-tying two-run homer to left. According to Statcast™, Gurriel's ninth of the season was projected to travel 345 feet and left his bat at 101 mph. One pitch later, the game was over when Smoak followed with a solo home run to give Toronto its ninth walk-off win of the year.

Video: TB@TOR: Gurriel skies a moonshot to tie it in the 9th

"You're sitting there watching it unfold on the bench and you have to give it to some of these young guys -- they're having really good at-bats," Smoak said. "Davis had that long at-bat, another couple of big hits from Rowdy. I felt like it happened so fast, the next thing I knew I was up there. It was a good way to win."

The Blue Jays entered the ninth inning trailing 8-2. The six-run comeback is Toronto's largest in the ninth inning since rallying from a score of 10-4 to defeat the Angels on July 30, 2017. Toronto picked up three home runs in one inning for the second time this season and improved to 22-16 in one-run games. Not too many of them were quite as dramatic as this one.

Video: TB@TOR: Tellez dumps opposite-field RBI double in 9th

"I think the future is bright for us," Gurriel said through an interpreter after the game. "It's always nice to have those guys that I played with last year and this year. I'm happy and feel fortunate to play with those guys, knowing that some of them, probably all of them, will be my teammates next year. On top of that, we got the win. It's an amazing night and I'm really happy for them, too."

THE BLOOPER
A minute or two before Gurriel stepped to the plate in the ninth, the ballgame looked over. With two outs, Kendrys Morales lifted a shallow pop-up to right-center field. The ball was high enough that on first glance, most people assumed it would turn into the final out. But instead, four Rays players converged and nobody could come up with the play. Morales stayed at first base and was lifted for a pinch-runner before Gurriel unloaded on Romo with the two-run shot to left that tied the game.

Video: TB@TOR: Morales delivers a pinch-hit single in 9th

"It was such a big lead," Gibbons said. "When things start rolling, you never know, but yeah sometimes you go, 'OK' [after a play like that]. Gurriel is a pretty good hitter. At least you expect him to get on base and then of course he hits the homer."

SOUND SMART
Tellez has 10 extra-base hits since joining the Blue Jays at the start of the month. That moved him past Adam Lind for the most extra-base hits by a Blue Jay in their first 14 MLB games. Tellez's hits have come across 40 plate appearances, which ties Taylor Teagarden for the most all-time since tracking began in 1913.

Video: TB@TOR: Tellez smacks a 2-run homer to right-center

UP NEXT
Right-hander Sean Reid-Foley (2-3, 5.54 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their four-game series against the Rays on Friday night at Rogers Centre, with first pitch scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET. This is expected to be Reid-Foley's final start of the season as he approaches an innings limit. The rookie right-hander has tossed 155 2/3 combined innings between the Minors and Majors this season.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Justin Smoak, Rowdy Tellez

Here's why deGrom is NL's Most Valuable Player

Mets ace leads Yelich in FanGraphs WAR, 8.3 to 6.1
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Jacob deGrom is probably going to win the National League Cy Young Award. Let's just accept it. We've moved past the discussion over whether his 8-9 record will prevent him from winning the award (it won't, correctly) and stepped right into it starting to seem like a foregone conclusion. That's in part because he deserves it, and in part because voters place too much emphasis on late-season performance -- and chief competitors Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola each have September ERA marks north of 5.00.

Instead, let's ask a far more interesting question: What if deGrom is actually the Most Valuable Player in the National League? Let's make the case.

Jacob deGrom is probably going to win the National League Cy Young Award. Let's just accept it. We've moved past the discussion over whether his 8-9 record will prevent him from winning the award (it won't, correctly) and stepped right into it starting to seem like a foregone conclusion. That's in part because he deserves it, and in part because voters place too much emphasis on late-season performance -- and chief competitors Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola each have September ERA marks north of 5.00.

Instead, let's ask a far more interesting question: What if deGrom is actually the Most Valuable Player in the National League? Let's make the case.

It's not likely to happen, we admit, but he's got a much stronger argument than you might think. Here are the reasons you will hear not to vote for him ...

• Because he's a pitcher, and pitchers have their own award
• Because the Mets are not contending
• Because he has an 8-9 record

... and we have good reasons why none of that matters. First, let's explain why you should consider him for the honor.

Reason No. 1: His lead in Wins Above Replacement is enormous

This entire argument is not going to be about Wins Above Replacement, we promise, but it's a good place to start, because this is exactly what it's supposed to do -- help compare value across different positions. As our glossary entry states, "WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position." Well, yeah.

Video: NYM@BOS: deGrom strikes out 12 hitters in 7 innings

To simplify that, the idea is that it looks at hitting, running and fielding (for a position player), and a variety of inputs for a pitcher (like strikeouts, walks or runs prevented, depending on the version) and adjusts it for difficulty of position and park. It allows us to compare a good-hitting, good-fielding third baseman (Anthony Rendon , 5.3 WAR) to a better-hitting, less defensively valuable first baseman (Paul Goldschmidt , 5.2 WAR) and say that they've been basically equal in value this year. 

It's not perfect. It's not expected to be, and award balloting should not just be about "who has the most WAR." It is, however, one of the best tools we have at the moment. It should inform a voter's decision, but not make it for them.

With that in mind, we can look at FanGraphs for their leaderboard of combined WAR, which credits deGrom for his hitting and fielding work as well as pitching. 

9.2 -- Mike Trout, Angels
9.1 -- Mookie Betts, Red Sox
8.3 -- deGrom, Mets
8.1 -- Jose Ramirez, Indians
7.5 -- Scherzer, Nationals
7.4 -- Alex Bregman, Astros
7.2 -- Francisco Lindor, Indians

(A version of this same leaderboard using the slightly different "runs allowed" definition of WAR changes the numbers slightly, but not the order. It actually bumps deGrom up to 8.6. This includes deGrom's hitting and fielding value, as well. A third version of WAR, at Baseball Prospectus, has deGrom tied for fourth.)

In the world of Wins Above Replacement, 2 WAR is "league average," and 4 WAR is considered All-Star level, so you can see how strong these years are -- and that deGrom is squarely in the mix, essentially tied with Ramirez behind Trout and Betts.

Video: NYM@CHC: deGrom K's 10, notches 2 hits vs. Cubs

That WAR leaderboard tells us something else, too. If you look at the top 15 names, 10 of them are in the American League. The AL has Trout and Betts, Lindor and Ramirez, Bregman and Matt Chapman. It has J.D. Martinez, who doesn't rate highly in WAR because of a lack of defensive value, but who will be in the MVP discussion anyway as he chases the Triple Crown. The National League ... doesn't. That's going to be important.

deGrom is on that list because he's in that rarefied air of having an ERA below 2.00 while throwing 200 innings that's been done only 19 times in the last 50 seasons, most recently by Jake Arrieta in 2015. He's there because he's fourth among qualified starters in strikeout rate while having the 13th-lowest walk rate. He's there because he deserves to be; at his projected rate, he'll have the highest pitching WAR since Randy Johnson's 9.0 in 2004.

But what about his competition?

Reason No. 2: There's no obviously great candidate in the National League

The NL has a ton of good candidates. You can make a strong case for Christian Yelich or Lorenzo Cain in Milwaukee, or Nolan Arenado or Trevor Story in Colorado, or Javier Baez of the Cubs, or Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals, or Scherzer of the Nationals, or Goldschmidt in Arizona. There are a lot of good cases, but unlike the AL, there may not be a great case, in that it's something of a split field, with no one pulling apart from the crowd.

No one, that is, except deGrom. Let's look at the National League WAR leaders for hitters only, and right now we'll see Yelich (6.1 WAR) and Cain (5.4) at the top, well behind deGrom's 8.3, and that enormous gap is sort of the point. All of the names we mentioned are having strong years, but a six-win season is usually more "very good" than "great." In just the five seasons between 2013-17, 45 hitters had a six-win season -- and that doesn't even include pitchers. The NL has had at least one hitter put up a six-win season every single full year dating back to 1927. This kind of year happens a lot.

Video: MLB Tonight breaks down the NL MVP race

Trout, for example, has had seasons of 9 WAR or more three times. Bryce Harper had a 9-WAR season in 2015. Yelich is going to end up with something in the range of 6.3 WAR, and that's the real question: How often has the NL MVP gone to a player with a total that low?

"Not often," is the answer. In the 50 seasons preceding this year, the NL MVP went to a hitter 48 times. Yelich's 6.3 WAR mark would top only seven of them, including some of the most questionable award winners from decades gone by, like when Steve Garvey (3.8 WAR) somehow topped Mike Schmidt (9.4 WAR) in 1974. 

Again, that's not to discredit Yelich, who has been great, but his park-adjusted batting line is relatively similar to that of Brandon Nimmo, a good player having a great year who is in no one's MVP discussion.

Yelich, or Baez, or Arenado, or anyone noted above would be a perfectly fine choice. They're just not a no-doubter choice, like Harper in 2015, like Trout most years. That opens the door for deGrom. That makes this realistic. 

OK, so what about those reasons that would be held against him? Let's briefly dissect and refute the common arguments against it.

"Because pitchers shouldn't win the MVP."

First of all, that's not the rule. "Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters," says the instruction to voters on ballots.

Besides, pitchers still can and do win the award. Clayton Kershaw did in 2014, as did Justin Verlander in 2011. So did another dozen other pitchers to win the MVP since the Cy Young was introduced in 1956, and 25 have done it all-time, so that holds little water.

"Pitchers get into one game every five days, while position players play every day," goes another, and that's true. It also misstates the impact that actually has. For example, Trea Turner has 691 plate appearances this year, the most in baseball. deGrom has faced 786 hitters while on the mound, and hit 68 more times as a batter. That's 854 total plate appearances impacted. That's 163 more than Turner. It's 249 more than Yelich. Even if you include Yelich's 239 putouts in the field, that draws them to about even. The "once every five days" argument doesn't hold weight.

Video: NYM@LAD: deGrom helps cause with RBI single

"Because the MVP must come from a winning team." 

While the Mets have had a nice second-half rebound -- they're 31-27 since the All-Star Game -- they're obviously not going to make the playoffs or reach .500. To some voters, that's a disqualification. It shouldn't be. We understand that deGrom isn't collecting wins because his teammates haven't done their jobs. Shouldn't we understand that's the exact same reason the Mets are in fourth place? Value can come from anywhere; the only thing deGrom could have done to make the playoffs this year was to have been traded to the Dodgers or Braves or Cubs. 

Either way, the ballot is clear on this point. "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means," the instructions read. "It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team.

The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier."

It should be noted that only seven players from losing teams have won the MVP, but there are signs that voters are softening on this, because two of those winners -- Trout in 2016 and Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 -- came in the last two seasons.

"Because a starting pitcher has never won MVP without winning 20 games, and a pitcher has never won MVP from a losing team."

Well, that's true. They're both true. But if we're going to be shattering tradition by assuming deGrom wins the Cy Young, why stop there?

Yelich or Baez will probably win, because they're non-pitchers having great years for contending teams. It doesn't have to be that way, though. deGrom has a strong case for baseball's most impressive award, if you care to hear it.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom

Angels' Arcia 1st to catch, pitch, HR in 1 game

MLB.com @mi_guardado

OAKLAND -- Francisco Arcia injected a bit of levity into the Angels' 21-3 loss to the A's at the Coliseum on Thursday afternoon, becoming the first Major League player to catch, pitch and homer in the same game.

Arcia started behind the plate and then took the mound in the seventh after the Angels had tumbled into a 16-run deficit. The 29-year-old rookie gave up back-to-back home runs to Nick Martini and Chad Pinder that extended the A's lead to 21-2, though he worked a scoreless eighth to cap his second pitching appearance of the season.

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OAKLAND -- Francisco Arcia injected a bit of levity into the Angels' 21-3 loss to the A's at the Coliseum on Thursday afternoon, becoming the first Major League player to catch, pitch and homer in the same game.

Arcia started behind the plate and then took the mound in the seventh after the Angels had tumbled into a 16-run deficit. The 29-year-old rookie gave up back-to-back home runs to Nick Martini and Chad Pinder that extended the A's lead to 21-2, though he worked a scoreless eighth to cap his second pitching appearance of the season.

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Video: LAA@OAK: Catcher Arcia induces DP on 55-mph pitch

In the ninth, Arcia helped atone for his pitching missteps by crushing a two-out solo shot off Chris Hatcher.

"I just try to stay positive and just play hard all game," Arcia said. "I feel good about it."

Arms That Hammer Sweepstakes

Earlier this season, Arcia also became the first player to record 10 RBIs in his first two Major League games. He is now slashing .221/.247/.477 with six home runs over 89 plate appearances this season and has split the catching duties with fellow rookie Jose Briceno over the last two weeks.

Afterward, manager Mike Scioscia preferred to spotlight Arcia's afternoon rather than focus on the Angels' historic drubbing at the hands of the A's.

"It's a nice little note for Frankie, for sure," Scioscia said. "OK guys, are we good on that note? I think we're good."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Francisco Arcia

Blake Snell negotiated his own trade with a fan: a baseball for some fresh chicken tenders

Lefty Blake Snell is doing big things for the Rays this season, putting himself firmly in the American League Cy Young Award conversation as the team's ace.

With this type of clout (he's currently 20-5 with a 1.97 ERA, recording 200 strikeouts in 169 innings in 2018) comes a certain level of confidence. And, during the Rays' 9-8 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Thursday, Snell negotiated his own trade ... kind of. 

Mike Trout's mom noticed somebody missing from an AL MVP discussion, so she weighed in

As the 2018 regular season winds down -- I know, it seems like Opening Day was barely a month ago -- it's time to start talking about the MVP race. Voters will have a tough time whittling down the list in the American League, due to the incredible offensive years put together by some key sluggers. 

Just imagine where the Red Sox would be without J.D. Martinez or Mookie Betts. Or where the A's would be without Khris Davis, with his 43 home runs and counting. Or where the Astros would be without Alex Bregman, or the Indians without Jose Ramirez. You get the idea.

This weekend will help set stage for October

Sox, Tribe meet in potential playoff preview; Braves, Astros closing in on celebrations
MLB.com @castrovince

It's the penultimate weekend of the regular season, and there's so much more to celebrate than just an awesome word like "penultimate." Here are five topics to track this weekend in MLB:

1. You again? The Red Sox and Indians don't have much of a postseason history against each other.

It's the penultimate weekend of the regular season, and there's so much more to celebrate than just an awesome word like "penultimate." Here are five topics to track this weekend in MLB:

1. You again? The Red Sox and Indians don't have much of a postseason history against each other.

Well, OK, unless you count the 1995 American League Division Series, 1998 ALDS, 1999 ALDS, 2007 AL Championship Series and 2016 ALDS.

Other than all that, they're total strangers.

An ALCS between these two clubs is a distinct possibility next month, so while AL seeding is set (the top-seeded Red Sox clinched the AL East at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night), it behooves us to pay close attention to their clash in Cleveland this weekend.

Postseason Picture: Where we are right now

Video: NYM@BOS: Sale hurls 3 scoreless in shortened start

It gets started with two stud pitchers getting stretched back out tonight (7:10 p.m. ET). Trevor Bauer will make his first start since Aug. 11, when a comebacker struck him in the right leg and caused a stress fracture. And Chris Sale will be making his third appearance since his most recent return from a shoulder issue, as he, too, readies himself for the October run after missing nearly all of August.

Video: Francona talks Bauer's return from DL on High Heat

Prior to getting hurt, Sale and Bauer were probably first and second in the AL Cy Young race. Maybe they'll still finish with an interesting Cy argument, but, more than anything, they have to prove themselves ready for October.

The weekend series wraps with Adam Plutko opposing Nathan Eovaldi at 7:05 p.m. Sunday. But will that be the last time these two clubs cross paths in 2018? Their history seems to insist otherwise.

Complete MLB standings

2. I want to see you be Brave: The Braves and Phillies entered this year high on upside but low on real expectations. The NL East was supposed to be the Nationals' domain, and, well, no sense rehashing what happened there.

The point is, the unexpected emergence of these two young clubs became one of the season's most fun storylines. And whether one or both would prove to have late-season staying power was, around the midpoint of the season, one of the biggest questions.

We have the answer to that question now. The Braves rose to the occasion, while the Phillies faded (or is it phaded?). Ronald Acuna Jr. ignited the top of the order, Alex Anthopoulos made some wily pitching acquisitions, and the Braves took over first place from the Phils -- seemingly for good -- on Aug. 13.

Video: STL@ATL: Acuna Jr. belts a solo smash for his 26th HR

So it's only appropriate that the Braves have a chance to finish off the Phils with a direct hit this weekend. With the magic number whittled down to four, a champagne celebration awaits the Braves if they can win just two of the remaining three games in this weekend's four-game set (even though Acuna is actually still too young to even purchase champagne).

With the Braves' first division title since 2013 in sight, it's Julio Teheran opposite Nick Pivetta tonight (7:35 p.m. ET, SunTrust Park).

3. On the Rox: Beset by a bullpen that went backward, the D-backs have, unfortunately, slithered out of what had been a legit three-team race in the NL West. With Arizona's elimination number down to four, the Rockies can effectively finish them off at Chase Field this weekend, in a three-game set that begins tonight (9:40 p.m.) with German Marquez and Zack Greinke on the hill.

Now, the question is whether the Rox can make one last push past the Dodgers. They sit 2 1/2 games back after getting swept in L.A. this week.

Video: COL@LAD: Rox broadcast on Story's positive MRI

A big key could be the condition of Trevor Story, who, prior to leaving Monday's game with an elbow injury, became the first shortstop in history with 40 doubles, 30 homers and 25 steals. An MRI earlier this week revealed only inflammation and no structural damage to Story's UCL, and it's possible he could be back in the lineup this weekend.

That would be huge, because the Rockies' offense can run very hot and cold and the Dodgers are playing their best ball of the season right now. Run differential (the Dodgers are at plus-156, while the Rox are at minus-9) insists that L.A. ought to be running away with this thing, but the Rockies still have a chance to finish with a flourish, beginning this weekend in Phoenix.

4. A great run, sans runs: You should never assume anything in baseball. That said, if you want to assume that Jacob deGrom will pitch great against the Nationals tonight (7:05 p.m., Nationals Park) and get very little run support, well, who could blame you?

These deGrom outings have become great theater, as his Sisyphean struggle to notch victories despite outrageously good individual numbers has become the ultimate referendum on the value (or lack thereof) of the win stat for starting pitchers. And actually, deGrom's Major League-best 1.78 ERA is even more impressive when you consider that he hasn't even had the benefit of going up against the Mets offense!

Video: deGrom on what a Cy Young Award would mean to him

Tonight, deGrom tries to improve his 8-9 record opposite Joe Ross and the Nats. The last time deGrom faced the Nats was back on April 16, when his record (and ongoing) run of 27 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer began. Naturally, deGrom took a no-decision in that game. Little did we know then that this would be a defining trend of his year.

We know it now, and we know that -- losing record or not -- deGrom is still in good position for the NL Cy Young.

5. Halo, goodbye: The Astros are on the verge of their second straight AL West title. They've got Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton on the mound in succession this weekend against the Angels at Minute Maid Park, and their magic number is seven. So they're in great shape.

But let's talk about their weekend opponent for a sec.

The Majors' two best hitters this month, as measured by weighted runs created plus, are Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. They are putting quite a polish on their applications for AL Rookie of the Year and MVP, respectively.

Video: Must C Combo: Trout, Ohtani smash back-to-back homers

What if they both win? There have only been 14 teams in history to have both the Rookie of the Year and MVP -- counting the 1975 Red Sox (Fred Lynn) and 2001 Mariners (Ichiro Suzuki), who had both award winners in the form of a single human being. All of the previous 14 have finished the season with winning records (the Angels are dangerously close to falling short of that goal). And the previous two in the Wild Card era (the 1998 Cubs and those '01 Mariners) reached the playoffs, which obviously isn't happening in Anaheim.

It's a bit of a bummer that these two great players haven't been able to alter the Angels' bottom line and even more of a bummer that Ohtani's elbow will keep him off the mound for the foreseeable future. But right now, with both of their engines running hot at the plate, they're especially fun to watch -- even if it's the other club that will be popping bubbly soon.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.