Two races left to finalize playoff sked
AL Central, NL Wild Card winners may be determined today
The Phillies clinched the National East title for the second successive season on Saturday, and at least, they know what their immediate future is going to bring: Games 1 and 2 of an NL Division Series on Wednesday and Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.Who they will be playing and where they will be traveling after that is still up to the baseball gods as another regular season heads into another frantic final day. The choices are the Brewers, who go into the season's 162nd game in a flat-footed tie with the Mets for the NL's Wild Card lead with identical records of 89-72, or the Dodgers. "We don't care who we play," said Jayson Werth after the 91-70 Phils held on to defeat the Nationals, 4-3, in Philadelphia on Saturday. Ditto for the 97-63 Cubs, who clinched the NL Central and their spot in the playoffs a week ago. All they know is that they're hosting games at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and Thursday and that they are not playing the Phillies. The Dodgers, victors in the NL West, are also waiting in abeyance, and know they'll be playing road games this week in either Chicago or Philly. Over in the Junior Circuit, the only undecided race remains in the AL Central, with the White Sox going into action today trailing the Twins by a half-game. Both teams lost for a second successive day on Saturday. The Indians play the White Sox in Chicago, and the Royals go up against the Twins in the Metrodome. The combinations in the NL are still a little dizzying, but a lot less so than they were going into the weekend's action on Friday night. At least there's no longer the possibility of a three-way tie. Today, the Mets will play the Marlins in what was supposed to be the final regular-season game at Shea Stadium, while the Cubs play the Brewers at Miller Park. If the Mets win and the Brewers lose, the Mets will go to Chicago and the Dodgers head to Philadelphia. If the Brewers win and the Mets lose, the Dodgers will go to Chicago and the Brewers make their way to Philadelphia. If both the Mets and Brewer win or lose, Shea will live at least one more day and there will be a one-game tiebreaker on Monday. "It would be a great way to send this stadium off, with a win and a playoff berth at the last possible game at Shea," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said on Saturday after Johan Santana turned in the performance of a lifetime in a 2-0 must-win over the Marlins. "I would be really surprised if we aren't walking on a cloud tomorrow. There are going to be some tremendous former players here and a tremendous history. It's a great opportunity." Santana threw a complete game on three days' rest, but today, Manuel is handing the ball to left-hander Oliver Perez, who will face Florida left-hander Scott Olsen. In Milwaukee, where the Brewers dropped a 7-3 decision to the Cubs on Saturday, they'll be throwing ace left-hander CC Sabathia again on three days' rest against Cubs right-hander Angel Guzman, who's making his first start of the season. The Brewers actually could have clinched their first playoff berth since 1982 on Saturday had they won and the Mets lost. Instead, their five-game winning streak came to a screeching halt, and here they are in Game 162 with everything to win or lose. "It's been a roller-coaster ride," said Brewers manager Dale Sveum, who replaced Ned Yost on Sept. 15 and is 6-5 since then. "But when we started, if somebody said, 'If you're tied after Game 161, would you take it?' Thirty teams would have done that." This is all thanks to Major League Baseball's first-round playoff matchup rules, which stipulate that the team with the best record in the league plays the Wild Card winner in the first round unless that team is from within its own division. In that event, it plays the division leader with the worst record. And so the Phillies, who also had to scramble into the final weekend last year to win the NL East title, must wait.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.