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Bitter rivals meet in regular season's final flurry

MLB.com @castrovince

This is it, folks. This is where the 186-day Major League schedule comes to its regular-season conclusion with some last-minute stat-padding, some gracious goodbyes, some final ovations and, of course, some bottle-popping (maybe even some ties).

Here are the five top topics to track in the season's final weekend.

This is it, folks. This is where the 186-day Major League schedule comes to its regular-season conclusion with some last-minute stat-padding, some gracious goodbyes, some final ovations and, of course, some bottle-popping (maybe even some ties).

Here are the five top topics to track in the season's final weekend.

Watch all games for free this weekend on MLB.TV

1. Wrigley wrapup: Up until a couple days ago, there was still a very feasible scenario in which the Cardinals beat the Cubs this weekend … and both teams hold clubhouse champagne celebrations. The Cards clinching a National League Wild Card spot on the same day and at the same site where the Cubs clinch the NL Central title would certainly make for a strange visual.

There's a reason why such shenanigans don't happen very often (if at all): Reality intervenes. This week, it intervened in the form of the Cards being swept by the Brewers, putting them in the precarious position of taking an elimination number of three (the combination of Cards' losses and Dodgers' wins this weekend) into this weekend's series at Wrigley.

Video: PIT@CHC: Baez plates Murphy with a single to left

With the Cubs in somewhat of a must-win spot of their own, it doesn't look especially likely that our dual-clinch scenario will come to fruition. The Cubs are just a game ahead of the Brewers (whose favorable weekend schedule we'll address below) in the NL Central standings, with three to play.

So a lot is at stake as the Cards and Cubs renew their rivalry at 2:20 p.m. ET today, with St. Louis franchise cornerstone Adam Wainwright possibly making his final start as a member of the Cardinals, opposite Kyle Hendricks.

2. Wild, Wild West: The Dodgers have a plus-170 run differential. The Rockies have a plus-33 run differential. Under ordinary circumstances, we would insist that enormous gap in outcomes matters, but guess what?

It doesn't matter.

Whereas a week ago, the Rockies were fighting for their playoff lives, now they control their own destiny in the bid for their first-ever division crown. Seven-game win streaks are a beautiful thing, and the Rockies picked a beautiful time to rattle one off. They are up one game on the Dodgers with three to play, and they'll be playing them at home against a Nationals club that long ago fell out of contention.

Video: Dahl connects for a homer in 4 straight games

One thing is unclear, as of this writing: Will they have to face Max Scherzer in Sunday's 3:10 p.m. ET finale?

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have to go into the home park of their fiercest rivals, the Giants. And tonight at 10:15 p.m. ET, they'll face Madison Bumgarner, who has a 1.34 ERA at AT&T Park and, sources confirm, loves to beat the Dodgers -- especially in moments like this.

So this will be fascinating theater out west this weekend. The Rockies could ensure at least a tie in the division with a win on Friday combined with a Dodgers' loss.

Video: LAD@ARI: Bellinger opens the scoring with RBI single

3. Brew-tiful: Strength of schedule can be a difficult thing to ascertain in baseball -- particularly September baseball, what with the bloated rosters and hungry kids trying to impress and whatnot.

But let's just say this: If the Brewers could have had their pick of final-weekend opponents at Miller Park, with the NL Central on the line, the Detroit Tigers might have been on the short list.

It is what it is. The Tigers are wrapping up a year of transition, had a .383 winning percentage in the second half and have suffered 28 defeats by five runs or more this season. They're 6-11 in Interleague Play and 26-51 on the road.

Video: Brewers clinch a berth in the 2018 Postseason

You get the idea. While the Cubs are playing a longstanding rival that, regardless of its own fate, would like nothing more than to ruin the Cubs' year, the Brewers are in a really good spot in terms of opponent strength. They'll send Zach Davies to the mound opposite Wisconsinite Jordan Zimmermann in tonight's 8:10 p.m. ET opener.

4. Hundred Club: When you dared to look ahead to the late-season schedule at the start of 2018, the looming finale at Fenway -- Red Sox vs. Yankees -- looked like a particularly special stage upon which great drama would be performed.

Didn't work out that way, did it?

The Red Sox put together the most wins in franchise history, rendering the Yankees' exploits obsolete (that is, strictly from an American League East perspective).

Video: Look back as the Red Sox clinch the AL East in NY

But that doesn't mean we ought to ignore these next three games (beginning tonight at 7:10 p.m. ET), because, while the division title was effectively decided weeks ago, the potential for an AL Division Series showdown between these two storied rivals remains strong.

Even if you (understandably) came down with an extreme case of Yankees/Red Sox fatigue when certain national networks rode the momentum of their epic AL Championship Series bouts into a seeming never-ending trail of telecasts, there's no denying the starpower and inherent attraction associated with these two powerhouses as they put the finishing touches on their stout seasons. Heck, if the Yankees take care of business and win two of three this weekend, it would mark the first time both of these clubs win 100 in the same year.

Video: NYY@TB: Stanton laces his 36th homer of 2018

5. Baseball buffet: If the gods love us (it can be hard to tell from day to day), multiple games on the Sunday slate will have mathematical meaning in the NL races, as described above.

But even if they don't, you've still got to love the 2015 change that resulted in every club's regular-season finale beginning at (roughly) the same time (3 p.m. ET or thereabouts). It's a fantastic final flurry. If you're at the ballpark, there's just something satisfying about the out-of-town scoreboard being filled to its brink. If you're at home or on the move, there's something gratifying about having the satellite- or app-aided ability to bounce around every ballpark open for business.

Video: SEA@TEX: Beltre exits the game to a raucous ovation

Even removing contenders from the conversation, there are players like Juan Soto and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani putting the final stamp on their award bids, and there are terrific players like Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer and Hunter Pence and -- in a really cool twist -- David Wright definitely or potentially logging or witnessing the final innings of their careers. 

There's always something interesting going on at a ballgame. Especially the final ballgame of a long season. And especially when 15 of those ballgames are taking place all at once.

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.