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Pulse of the Postseason: Sept. 4, 2013

The National League Central just doesn't want to surrender top billing these days as Major League Baseball puts Labor Day in the rear-view mirror and starts counting down the days to October.

Tuesday saw a dramatic shutout with possible playoff implications, a much-awaited first Major League stolen base, and the collective relief of an entire city and region when a team assured its first season of .500 or better in 21 years.

And that was only in one division.

All over the bigs, the Pulse of the Postseason was pounding away, ratcheting up heart rates of teams and fans as the pennant races keep crystallizing and the best players in the world continue to own the occasions.

It started in Cincinnati, where the Reds beat the Cardinals, 1-0, to move to within 1 1/2 games of second-place St. Louis. Dusty Baker's group got seven shutout innings from starter Homer Bailey, yet another save from closer Aroldis Chapman, and scored its only run when September callup Billy Hamilton, who owns the Minor League record for 155 stolen bases in 2012, made his Major League debut a memorable one by stealing second and scoring the game's only run.

And then there were the Pirates. Not since 1992 had they finished a season at .500 or better, but when Mark Melancon shut the door on the Brewers in Milwaukee for a 4-3 Bucs victory, it was the franchise's 81st win of the season. One more and they'll have a winning record for the first time since the days of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.

Then again, they plan on getting a lot more than that.

In the aftermath of the win, which featured a clutch tie-breaking late home run by Travis Snider and the 100th homer of Andrew McCutchen's career, the Pirates lead the division by two games and are 24 games over .500. Their postseason bid gets more and more realistic with each passing day.

Fittingly, the Red Sox and Tigers keep going, too. They lead their respective divisions, the American League East and Central, and on Tuesday they locked up in another pitchers' duel.

In the end, Boston's Jon Lester was too good for Detroit's Max Scherzer, the Red Sox won, 2-1, and Scherzer's bid to become the first pitcher to reach 20 wins with only one loss since Roger Clemens in 2001 fell by the wayside.

The Wild Cards continued to be extra wild on Tuesday. The Indians beat Baltimore, 4-3, to pull to within 3 1/2 games of the Wild Card. The Royals held off the Mariners, 4-3, to stay in the hunt. The Rays did what they had to do in the return of ace Matt Moore, blasting the Angels in Anaheim.

And the Yankees had one heck of an eventful night. First they saw Derek Jeter pull into ninth place on the all-time hits list, passing Eddie Collins. Then they pulled off serious drama, rallying for five runs in the eighth inning to beat the White Sox, 6-4, and move within two games of the Wild Card lead.

In other games, the NL East-leading Braves kept rolling at home, the ridiculous Dodgers won their sixth in a row, and out by the San Francisco Bay, the Rangers took care of the A's and rebuilt a one-game lead in the tight AL West.

It was a fitting end to a jam-packed day, proving yet again that all things postseason are really starting to simmer and won't let up until October.

Wednesday's key games to watch (all times ET)

Mets (Gee, 10-9) at Braves (Loe, 1-2), 12:10 p.m. Preview >
Dillon Gee's having a sneaky good year for the Mets. The high-flying Braves are in full playoff-preparation mode, giving young right-hander Julio Teheran a rest until next week by spot-starting veteran reliever Kameron Loe.

Rangers (Darvish, 12-6) at Athletics (Parker, 10-6), 3:35 p.m. Preview >
The pitchers' duel of the day gives us Darvish, who has been brilliant all year, and Parker, who hasn't taken a loss since late May and can tie up the Rangers atop the division once again with another win.

Blue Jays (Buehrle, 11-7) at D-backs (Delgado, 4-5), 3:40 p.m. Preview >
Arizona is in danger of falling out of the race soon, so they need all the home cooking they can get.

Orioles (Gonzalez, 8-7) at Indians (McAllister, 7-8), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Both teams are all out to make it to a Wild Card berth, which should send a playoff-like charge through Progressive Field.

White Sox (Johnson, 0-0) at Yankees (Sabathia, 12-11), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Yankees are suddenly underdogs and playing with passion in the heart of a pennant race. It helps to have their horse on the hill in this one as they face righty Erik Johnson, who will be making his Major League debut.

Nationals (Zimmermann, 15-8) at Phillies (Halladay, 3-4), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Nats have to win games, and Zimmermann leads their staff in victories. That's a good sign for Washington.

Tigers (Porcello, 11-7) at Red Sox (Dempster, 7-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
The third game in this tough series should be a good one, with two bend-but-don't-break right-handers going at it in a sure-to-be-packed Fenway park.

Cardinals (Miller, 12-9) at Reds (Arroyo, 13-10), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
A hard-throwing youngster in Miller takes on a soft-tossing veteran in Arroyo. It's a classic clash of pitching styles in a huge NL Central September showdown.

Pirates (Liriano, 15-6) at Brewers (Peralta, 8-14), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The Bucs try to keep it rolling, with their ace left-hander on the hill looking for win No. 16 and the chance to seal a winning record for the season for the first time in 21 years.

Mariners (Walker, 1-0) at Royals (Santana, 8-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The Royals need to keep winning to stay within striking distance in the AL Wild Card race. Seattle's top pitching prospect won his Major League debut and will try to do the same in start No. 2.

Dodgers (Volquez, 9-10) at Rockies (De La Rosa, 15-6), 8:40 p.m. Preview >
The latest addition to the Dodgers' pitching staff has been working on avoiding tipping pitches. We'll see how it goes against the Rockies, who are getting a tremendous bounceback season from De La Rosa.

Rays (Hellickson, 10-8) at Angels (Weaver, 9-7), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
The Rays can't afford to lose right now, but it's a tough task any time against Weaver, the unquestioned Angels ace.

If the postseason started today ...

Wild Card: Rays at A's
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox | Rangers at Tigers

Wild Card: Reds at Cardinals
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves | Pirates at Dodgers

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
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.

Tiebreaker scenarios
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.

Tiebreaker rules »

2013 postseason schedule
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 1
AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 2
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 3
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 4
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.