Pennant race update: Playoff spots still to be decided in season's final week
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There are just seven days left in the 2013 regular season, and while four teams have clinched their divisions, a fifth has clinched playoff berth and three more have a magic number of two, there is still a lot left to be decided in the season's final weekend, especially in the American League wild-card and the National League Central and wild-card races.
AL Wild Card:
This past weekend boiled this down to a three-team race for two spots with the Rangers on the outside looking in at the Rays and Indians. The Orioles have lost their last four, including three to Tampa Bay to fall four games behind second-place Cleveland in the loss column. The Yankees suffered a gut-wrenching loss to the Giants on Sunday despite Andy Pettitte's strong effort in his final home start, landing in the same position as the Orioles and rendering their three-game set at home this week against the wild-card-leading Rays, whom they now trail by five games in the loss column, all but moot.
The Royals are three back in the loss column and have a soft remaining schedule -- three against the Mariners followed by three against the White Sox, all on the road -- but the Indians have it just as easy (Monday off, two at home against the White Sox, then four at the Twins) and Kansas City's three-game deficit with seven to play is huge.
The Indians are 24-8 (.750) against the White Sox and Twins this season and control their own destiny with a one-game lead in the loss column over the Rangers, who stay home to face the Astros and Angels. That latter series could be Ron Washington's Waterloo, as the Angels are 21-8 (.724) since Aug. 23 and took two of three from Texas earlier this month.
Tampa Bay, which has one more game against the Orioles followed by those three at the Yankees, has perked up over the last week and a half, going 7-3 over its last 10, including those last three wins against Baltimore. The Rays have a two-game lead in the loss column over the Rangers with seven to play and a soft landing in Toronto on the final weekend, so if they can survive the next four days against Baltimore and New York, they'll be sitting pretty when the Angels arrive in Arlington on Friday.
NL Central and Wild Card:
The Pirates and Reds, who are currently tied atop the NL wild-card race, both have a magic number of two to clinch a playoff spot, which means they can both wrap up a postseason berth with a win and a Nationals loss on Monday night. They would probably rather have Washington win, though, because the Nats are in St. Louis for three games against the division-leading Cardinals. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are two behind with six to play, meaning their best chance to make a run at the division crown and avoid the one-game wild-card playoff is for the Nationals to beat up on the Cards.
That's not a total pipe dream. The Nationals, the only remaining team in the NL that is not currently occupying a playoff spot but has not yet been eliminated, have gone 16-5 thus far in September and 30-12 (.714) since Aug. 9 and have a lot to prove after a disappointing season. The Pirates and Reds, meanwhile, will get to pick on the Cubs and Mets, respectively, to start the wek. Pittsburgh is 10-6 against Chicago this season, including taking two of three earlier this month, and the Cincinnati has swept its three previous games against New York this season.
If the Nats and either the Reds or Pirates sweep, there will be a new NL Central leader on Thursday morning. If none of those three teams does better than taking two of three, the Cardinals will drop their magic number to three heading into a final weekend. St. Louis finishes up with three against the Cubs while the Pirates and Reds will again face each other, most likely to determine homefield advantage in the Wild-Card Game, which will be played one week from Tuesday.
Other races: The AL Central-leading Tigers have a magic number of two, but with the Indians idle on Monday, they won't be able to clinch until Tuesday at the earliest. The Red Sox (AL East), A's (AL West), Braves (NL East) and Dodgers (NL West) have clinched their divisions. The Cardinals have clinched a playoff berth, but all are still jockeying for homefield advantage. Boston and Atlanta hold 1 1/2 game leads over Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, in those races heading into the final week.