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Week Ahead: Cards-Giants race to get Wild

12 teams in NL and AL combined have chance to claim Wild Card spots
MLB.com @DougMillerMLB

Postseason pedigree is real, and this is often the time of the year when it shows up the most.

The week ahead takes us into the second half of the final month of the 162-game grind. We are in the thick of the pennant race, so every game between playoff contenders takes on extra meaning and is magnified on the now-short road to October.

Postseason pedigree is real, and this is often the time of the year when it shows up the most.

The week ahead takes us into the second half of the final month of the 162-game grind. We are in the thick of the pennant race, so every game between playoff contenders takes on extra meaning and is magnified on the now-short road to October.

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have had their bumps and bruises along the way in a 2016 campaign that hasn't been as smooth as either franchise would have liked. But a quick look at the standings shows that these two clubs, seemingly perennial playoff participants, are still in this thing. And beginning Thursday night at AT&T Park, they'll play each other in a crucial four-game series that could determine each team's place in the ever-tightening National League standings.

After Sunday's 5-3 victory over Arizona, the Giants kept their spot at the top of the National League Wild Card. They are looking to win World Series titles in every even-numbered year since 2010, and despite a rough second half of the season, they are still heavily in the October mix. They'll start the week with three games at home against San Diego before the huge weekend series vs. St. Louis begins.

"We have to do what we can to win each game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said over the weekend. "That's the stage we're in right now."

Video: SF@ARI: Pence plates two with a double to right

The same can be said for the Cardinals, whose 2-1 loss to the Brewers on Sunday put them a half-game behind the Mets, who won, 10-3, over the Braves, for the second Wild Card slot and two games behind the Giants for the top Wild Card spot in the NL. St. Louis begins the week with a tough assignment vs. the NL Central-leading Cubs, but those three games are in Busch Stadium. Then they have to fly to San Francisco to meet the Giants in those pivotal four games.

One positive is they have shortstop Aledmys Diaz back from the 15-day disabled list and reliever Trevor Rosenthal possibly close to a return from injury woes. That didn't help Sunday, when the Cardinals couldn't muster enough offense to keep pace.

"It comes down to: We've got to find a way to score more runs," Matheny said.

Video: MIL@STL: Matheny on Weaver in loss to Brewers

Meanwhile, in the American League Wild Card race, the Seattle Mariners are still long-shots. They trail the Blue Jays and Orioles by 3 1/2 games entering Monday's action. Then again, they're the hottest team in baseball going into the week ahead.

Seattle finished off a three-game sweep of the A's in Oakland with a 3-2 victory on Sunday afternoon and can make some serious hay if it takes advantage of an impact week schedule-wise, with three games in Anaheim against the banged-up, sub-.500 Angels, a travel day Thursday, and a three-game series at home over the weekend against the Houston Astros.

The Mariners are taking advantage of the stellar work of rookie closer Edwin Diaz plus the steady contributions of a potent middle of the order that features veteran hitters Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

"Our guys, their timing is good, their rhythm is good in the batter's box," Seattle manager Scott Servais said. "It's up and down the lineup, it's not just one or two guys carrying us."

The Mariners aren't the only AL club looking for a spot in the Wild Card. It's a crowded bunch as of Monday, with five teams within four games of the lead.

Video: SEA@OAK: Diaz strikes out Muncy to end the game

One of those teams is the Yankees, who will play the AL East-leading Red Sox in a four-game renewal of their timeless rivalry starting Thursday in Fenway Park. New York lost to Tampa Bay on Sunday, but enters the new week only two back in the Wild Card race and four back in the division. The Yankees will begin the week with three games against the NL West-leading Dodgers at home before the short trip up to Boston.

That's what pennant-race ball is all about, and these September contenders say they're up for the challenge.

"The teams we're trying to catch, we're playing," New York third baseman Chase Headley said. "You either look at it like, 'Hey, these are tough teams and we have a tough road.' Or you look at it like an opportunity to play those guys. I think that's the way we've looked at it.

"We're confident we can go out and beat anybody playing the way we are now. It's not going to be easy. But I'd rather be playing the guys we need to pass than hoping somebody else can beat them."

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.