Postseason Picture for Tuesday, Sept. 23
The Pirates are closing in on a postseason berth while the October-bound Cardinals try to sew up the National League Central. The Royals are right there in a tough American League Central race, and the A's are still on target for an AL Wild Card berth. The Giants still have a chance in the National League West and look great for a Wild Card slot. And the Orioles have had such a good year that they can get things accomplished even when they lose.
That was the story Monday as the final week of the regular season began and the pennant races got 24 more hours of clarification, even if plenty remains up in the air. St. Louis' magic number to win the NL Central was reduced to four when Adam Wainwright won his 20th game of the year, and the Pirates eked out a 1-0 decision over the Braves to cut their magic number to clinch a Wild Card spot to two.
In the Central, the Royals lost the completion of a suspended game but bounced back to beat the Indians in the second game and now trail the Tigers by a game in the division standings. Out West, the Giants outlasted the Dodgers in 13 innings to cut Los Angeles' division lead to 3 1/2 games. And in the AL East, the Orioles, who'd already clinched the division, wrapped up home-field advantage in their AL Division Series even though they were blanked, 5-0, by the Yankees, simply because Detroit lost to the White Sox.
IF THE POSTSEASON STARTED TODAY ...
Wild Card: Royals at A's
Division Series: Wild Card at Angels | Tigers at Orioles
Wild Card: Giants at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Nationals | Cardinals at Dodgers
Leave it to Wainwright to get the Cardinals where they want to be. The St. Louis ace was at it again on Monday, blanking the Cubs for seven innings as the Cardinals got even closer to a division title.
Pittsburgh isn't giving up, though. In fact, the Pirates seem to be playing their best baseball of the year, and a lot of it comes down to the fact that their pitching has been superb at the most important time of the year. This was proven once again in a 1-0 win over Atlanta on Monday night that featured a sixth-inning home run by Andrew McCutchen and nothing else but a dominant effort from starter Francisco Liriano and the bullpen.
"Pitching's been pretty good around here," McCutchen said. "One run, and the way Liriano is throwing, and the bullpen's been lights-out."
Now Pittsburgh can secure a Wild Card spot Tuesday with a victory and a Milwaukee loss. If the Pirates finish the regular season with the same record as the Giants (both clubs are 85-71 going into Tuesday), they will host that game at PNC Park by virtue of their 4-2 record vs. the Giants this year.
Another team paying a lot of attention to math this time of year is the Orioles, who would like to catch the Angels for best record in the AL, but realize that this might not be the best bet with a 2 1/2-game deficit in that department with six to play. Then again, Detroit's loss on Monday made sure that Baltimore will begin its Division Series at Camden Yards.
"It is [nice], and it wasn't a foregone conclusion," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of guaranteeing at least two playoff games in Baltimore. "I keep saying you are not paranoid, you are alert to things. It could happen. You never assume anything."
The Tigers and Royals certainly can't assume anything at this stage of the game. Entering Tuesday, the Royals are a mere game behind the Tigers for the division title, and the math isn't difficult to decipher.
Kansas City trails Detroit by 1.0 game in the A.L. Central standings. Both teams have 6 games remaining on the schedule. #Royals- Kansas City Royals (@Royals) September 23, 2014
And with the Mariners losing to Toronto and falling two games back of Kansas City, the Royals are looking good once again for a Wild Card spot at the very least. The A's, too, have to like their October chances once again after beating the Angels on Monday to stay in the No. 1 slot in the AL Wild Card running.
On Tuesday, in addition to the Pirates and Giants possibly clinching postseason berths, the Mariners will rely on their ace, Felix Hernandez to try to keep them afloat in the AL Wild Card race.
TODAY'S KEY GAMES TO WATCH (all times ET)
Royals (Ventura, 13-10) at Indians (Salazar, 6-7), 7:05 p.m. Preview
The Indians aren't going down without a fight, so this game is huge for the Tribe to win at home. The Royals are right in the thick of the division race, making this one a can't-miss for baseball fans.
Mariners (Hernandez, 14-5) at Blue Jays (Dickey, 13-12), 7:07 p.m. Preview
Seattle has lost three in a row at a time when it needs to win as much as possible. In other words, no better time to have King Felix on the mound.
White Sox (Carroll, 5-10) at Tigers (Price, 3-4), 7:08 p.m. Preview
Starter David Price, the jewel of the Trade Deadline, would go a long way toward making the Tigers ecstatic about acquiring him by winning this key game as the AL Central gets tighter by the day.
Pirates (Cole, 10-5) at Braves (Wood, 11-10), 7:10 p.m. Preview
As if Gerrit Cole needed more incentive to win, the Pirates can clinch a playoff spot by taking this one over the Braves if the Brewers fall to the Reds and their ace, Johnny Cueto.
Cardinals (Miller, 10-9) at Cubs (Hendricks, 7-2), 8:05 p.m. Preview
St. Louis can get one or two games closer to a division title by taking care of business in Wrigley Field.
Giants (Bumgarner, 18-9) at Dodgers (Greinke, 15-8), 10:10 p.m. Preview
San Francisco could cut the Dodgers' division lead to 2 1/2 games by winning this, and they have their best pitcher on the mound. They'll need a good game from Madison Bumgarner, too, because he's going up against 15-game winner Zack Greinke in the day's best pitching duel.
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
AL East: Orioles clinched
AL Central: Tigers six over Royals
AL West: Angels clinched
AL Wild Card 1: A's six over Royals
AL Wild Card 2: Royals five over Mariners
NL East: Nationals clinched
NL Central: Cardinals four over Pirates
NL West: Dodgers three over Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Pirates six over Giants
NL Wild Card 2: Giants two over Brewers
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.