Possibilities abound on season's final day
Wild Card, home-field advantage up for grabs in both leagues
It's down to the final day of the regular season, and with both Wild Card bids and both No. 2 seeds still up for grabs, it's a finale like no other before it.
All we know for sure is that the Yankees and Phillies have earned home-field advantage throughout their respective league playoffs, and that there remains the possibility of Thursday Wild Card tiebreakers in both leagues.
Here's the lowdown on what's left to find out as a remarkable total of eight games that affect the postseason picture play out Wednesday:
The AL Wild Card remains a deadlock between the Red Sox and the Rays for a second day, with the AL East foes holding identical 90-71 records after Boston won at Baltimore and Tampa Bay beat New York on Tuesday. Tampa Bay earned home field for the potential Thursday tiebreaker at 4:07 p.m. ET by winning the season series between the two clubs, 12-6. The Yankees can't play either one of their division foes in the Division Series, so that means the No. 2 seed will draw the Wild Card -- but we still don't know the No. 2 seed in the AL.
The Rangers retain a one-game edge over the Tigers for the AL's No. 2 seed after both teams won Tuesday. The Rangers win Wednesday and they clinch it and would host the AL Wild Card winner, with the Tigers visiting the Yankees. But if the Rangers lose and the Tigers win Wednesday to match season records, they would flip seeds, because Detroit won the season series over the Rangers, 6-3. In other words, a tie means Detroit would host the Wild Card and the Rangers would travel to meet the Yankees in a Division Series rematch of last year's AL Championship Series.
Even if it takes another day to sort out the Wild Card race, we know the Yankees will play host to Game 1 of their AL Division Series at 8:37 p.m. ET Friday. ALDS play will begin with the No. 2 seed hosting the Wild Card at 5:07 p.m. ET Friday.
The NL Wild Card is a dead heat, with the Phillies handing the Braves their fourth straight loss and the Cardinals making a huge comeback in Houston. If Atlanta and St. Louis finish in a tie after Wednesday's games, the Cardinals would host the one-game Wild Card tiebreaker Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET by virtue of their 5-1 season advantage over the Braves.
Like the AL, the battle for the No. 2 seed in the NL is down to the wire. After the Brewers came back for a win over the Pirates, the D-backs outdid them with a six-run 10th inning against the Dodgers, winning on Ryan Roberts' walk-off grand slam. The Brewers still have a one-game lead over the D-backs -- a lead they must maintain to gain the second seed, because the D-backs went 4-3 against Milwaukee in the regular season to gain the tiebreaker edge.
Since the two NL Wild Card contenders are from different divisions, all we know now is that the Phillies will host one of two NLDS games on Saturday. As it stands, with the Brewers ahead of the D-backs, the No. 1 Phillies would play the No. 3 D-backs and the No. 2 Brewers would play the Braves if they win the Wild Card. If the D-backs overtake the Brewers for No. 2 and it's still the Braves, then it'd be Phillies vs. Brewers and D-backs vs. Braves. If the Cardinals take the Wild Card, it would be Phillies vs. Cardinals and Brewers vs. D-backs, with the home field in the latter going to the team that ultimately wins the No. 2 seed.
The Wild Card races are self-explanatory at this point: both tied with one game to play. As for the No. 2 seeds, the Rangers can clinch in the AL with a win over the Angels or a Detroit loss vs. Cleveland, and the Brewers can clinch in the NL with a win vs. Pittsburgh or an Arizona loss to the Dodgers. If both win or both lose in either league, it'd be Rangers and Brewers at No. 2.
That's a lot of "ifs" with just hours to go. With eight games in play on the final day, it's more than we've ever seen.
Last year, for example, there were four games that mattered to the postseason picture on the final day, with the NL West and Wild Card unsettled and the top seed in the AL still up for grabs. Before that, only the inaugural Wild Card finish of 1995 had as many as six games in play on the final day, and a few years since have had five, most recently 2005.
This is certainly more "ifs" than anyone would have imagined a month ago.
Nobody was counting the Rays in the picture then, but there they are for Game No. 162. The Cardinals had two big hills to climb, and now they're tied with Atlanta for the Wild Card. And, really, did anyone expect Arizona to fulfill its NL West quest, much less compete for home-field advantage in the first round?
No matter what happens Wednesday, the finish to the 2011 season is unlike any other before it.
Whatever happens, baseball's first Final Wednesday is a classic already.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.