Season far from over as final weekend arrives
Penultimate series will settle some things, leave others at large
The final weekend isn't exactly final this year, not with next Wednesday wrapping up the 162-game regular season.
And the final weekend isn't exactly final for other reasons. It's certainly not as final as it seemed it would be a few weeks ago. With an unsettled postseason picture and some individual accolades still up in the air, we really could use another few days to sort it all out.
Sure, there are certain things we know, such as some teams having established a foothold for the postseason. But as the last weekend meetings of the regular season approach, there's a lot we still don't know, including who will be playing whom and where next weekend -- when the Division Series begins with an American League doubleheader on Friday and the National League teeing off on Saturday to make it a foursome.
And that's what's great about this last weekend: We know a little, but we don't know a lot. And there will be still a few more days to get it worked out once the weekend is through.
What we know:
Every team has six days remaining on the marathon route that started in the waning days of March and ticks down to the last days of September. Two teams -- the Twins and Indians -- have seven games in those six days thanks to a doubleheader.
More germane to thoughts of October, only three teams have secured postseason spots at this point: the Phillies, Yankees and Tigers.
That said, three other teams enter Friday's series openers with an opportunity to taste champagne by the end of the night.
The one head-to-head meeting that could make that happen will be at Chase Field, where the improbable is one win away -- the D-backs, last place a year ago, need only to take one of three games this weekend to vanquish the Giants in the NL West.
The Brewers take a magic number of two in the NL Central into their series with the Marlins, while the trailing Cardinals play the rival Cubs. Also, the Rangers bring a magic number of two into their series at home against Seattle, hoping a win or two and/or an Angels loss or two against Oakland will sew up the AL West for a second season running.
The Wild Cards continues to liven up the stretch run. Seriously, where would we be without them?
The Red Sox have to fend off not only the Rays, two games out, but also the Angels, three out, with six to play. This was not how it looked at the beginning of September, when the Red Sox held the AL East lead and there were nine games between them and the Rays, who were a 7 1/2 games behind the Yankees, then in the Wild Card lead.
The Braves, too, had a lot more breathing room in the NL Wild Card race at the beginning of the month, the Cardinals sitting 8 1/2 games behind, not two like they are now, with the Giants still hanging in there by a thread at four out.
The defending World Series champions are against the ropes, and if they can't dig out of the hole that would make five of the past 10 defending champions getting shut out of the playoffs the following year.
A spurt of runs and an eight-game winning streak put the Giants within sniffing distance, but they pretty much have to win out at this point to get back in the tournament.
The Rays really are making a beautiful mess of this thing.
They'd been lurking all season long, and that seemed plenty for a team that had to remake itself after making the postseason two of the previous three seasons and reaching the World Series in 2008. But with the Red Sox visiting New York this weekend and then the Rays hosting the Yankees to finish off the season next week, the three-headed monster in the AL East is something to watch, right to the very end.
What we don't know:
What in the name of Ducky Medwick is going on here? Will Matt Kemp actually pull it off and become the first player in the National League to win a Triple Crown since the Cardinals' Joe Medwick in 1937?
He's making the strongest bid at a Triple Crown in recent memory, having overtaken the RBI lead, moved to within a homer of Albert Pujols for tops in that category and made Ryan Braun (.330) and Jose Reyes (.329) look in their rearview mirrors, with Kemp now at .326 after his 4-for-5 performance Thursday night. That's part of a 15-for-25 run in his past seven games. Throw in 40 steals and Gold Glove-caliber play in the center field, and how can this guy not be the Most Valuable Player in the NL?
Triple Crowns are going around this year, but will this be the first double-triple in history? (Or even the first triple-triple, if Kemp pulls it off?)
There's the possibility of the first dual pitching Triple Crowns in history, with Justin Verlander having all but wrapped up the AL lead in wins, ERA and strikeouts, and Clayton Kershaw sharing the lead with Arizona's Ian Kennedy at 20 wins while leading the NL in ERA (2.27) and strikeouts (242) with one start remaining for each. Like Kemp, it's difficult to ignore Kershaw's credentials as an NL Cy Young Award candidate, despite the Dodgers being out of contention.
Playoff pairings are still very much up in the air, so we don't really know where we'll be a week from now.
In the AL, the Yankees have a magic number of two to clinch home-field advantage, and the Tigers own the tiebreaker over the Rangers with those two teams currently tied for the No. 2 spot. That means if the setup winds up as it stands now, the Yankees would play the Rangers if the Red Sox or Rays win the Wild Card, and the Angels if they were to pull off the Wild Card comeback.
In the NL, the Phillies have home-field advantage all wrapped up, but the Brewers hold only a one-game lead on the D-backs for the No. 2 record. Again, if it stays the way it is, it'd be the Phillies against the D-backs and the Brewers meeting the Braves, but if it's the Cardinals or the Giants in the Wild Card slot, it's be Phillies-Wild Card and Brewers-D-backs, no matter how that shakes out.
One weekend to go, and there's plenty to keep us wondering.
It used to be the final weekend was all she wrote. Turns out this year still has plenty of intrigue to go around, as the final weekend will lead us into three more games to play in the regular season.
Don't expect to have everything all wrapped up when it's over Sunday afternoon. With three more days to follow, this season isn't over just yet.
And that's final.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.