Tiebreakers on NL side up in the air
NL East, Wild Card races will go down to the wire this weekend
A little more clarity came to the playoff picture on Friday night, as the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the American League East title and the Angels clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The evening also saw the Brewers take over sole possession of the National League Wild Card lead, Houston eliminated from postseason consideration and the Phillies cut their magic number to clinch the NL East to one.
Play will begin on Saturday with three tiebreaker possibilities still in play: The AL Central, the NL East and the NL Wild Card.
|Twins at White Sox|
|Mets at Phillies|
|NL Wild Card|
|Brewers at Phillies|
|Brewers at Mets|
The Rays lost to the Tigers, 6-4, but clinched the AL East division when the Yankees routed the Red Sox, 19-8, at Fenway Park. The Rays will have the home-field advantage against the AL Central champion, either the Twins or the White Sox, when their best-of-five AL Division Series begins next week on Wednesday or Thursday.
The last piece of the AL bracket to be filled is from the AL Central, where the Twins hold a half-game lead over the White Sox, since both teams lost Friday night. The half-game separating the Twins and White Sox could force the South Siders to make up the Sept. 13 rained-out game against Detroit.
If the White Sox and Twins are still within a half-game of one another following Sunday's games, the Tigers would play the White Sox on Monday at U.S. Cellular Field at 1:05 p.m. CT. Following that game, if both teams remained tied, the two would play a one-game tiebreaker on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field for the division crown.
Philadelphia's 8-4 victory over Washington and the Mets' 6-1 loss to the Marlins dropped the Mets two games behind the Phillies, with two games to play. Philadelphia's magic number to clinch the division is one, which means one more Phillies win or Mets loss will give Philadelphia a second consecutive NL East title. The Mets are one game behind the Brewers in the NL Wild Card race.
The Phillies, Mets and Brewers could still finish the regular season with identical records, in which case the Phillies and Mets would play on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, with the winner being declared the NL East champions. The loser would host Milwaukee on Tuesday, with the winner of that game advancing to the postseason as the NL Wild Card entry.
Should the Phillies and Mets finish the regular season tied for the division lead, they would play a tiebreaker game on Tuesday in Philadelphia, if Milwaukee is the NL Wild Card winner. If the Mets and Phillies finish tied with both teams assured of a playoff berth, the Mets win the NL East by virtue of their 11-7 record vs. the Phillies this season.
The Brewers' 5-1 win over the Cubs ended any chance of Houston crashing the playoff party. It also means the North Siders will not have to make up a Hurricane Ike-postponed game against the Astros on Monday.
The Angels will face the Red Sox in the Division Series and had their choice of when to begin the series. They opted for the longer series in days (beginning Wednesday), which will enable them to go with a three-man rotation.
The format difference for the Division Series could give a team the decided edge in how to space its starting pitching. The AL team with the best record could start at home with Game 1 on Oct. 1, have an off-day on Oct. 2, play Game 2 on Oct. 3, and have a travel day on Oct. 4, before playing Games 3 and 4 on the road on back-to-back days.
The AL team starting on Thursday would play consecutive days in its own city to catch up with the other series, take a day off, and then play on consecutive days in the opposing city. With a travel day, that's five days to play four games. In both series, there would be another travel day prior to Game 5.
TBS and ESPN Radio would provide national coverage of any tiebreaker game. In the event of simultaneous or overlapping tiebreaker games, TNT would provide national coverage.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.