The dominoes have started to fall in the American League.
The Rangers clinched a postseason berth on Sunday night with an 8-7 win over the Angels in Game 2 of a doubleheader in Texas, and they brought two other teams into the playoffs with them: the Orioles and Yankees. Now, as all of the league heads into the final series of the regular season, several teams need some luck.
The AL West and East titles still remain up for grabs. The A's (91-68), who play the Rangers (93-66) for three games to end their scheduled season, are still in striking distance in the West at two games back, while the Yanks and O's are tied at 92-67 atop the East.
But by virtue of the Rangers' clinching their postseason berth, Baltimore and New York are both in the playoffs, one way or the other. One will win the AL East; the other club will be the first AL Wild Card.
"We still want to win the division and get the home-field advantage," said Rangers catcher Mike Napoli after the clincher. "We've still go to take care of business."
The Rangers are closest to home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, but that's not decided yet. The West winner will also have home-field advantage in the Division Series. Oakland is in a commanding position for the second Wild Card, but the AL West remains the A's goal. The A's need a sweep to take the division.
"We're just going to try to win tomorrow," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I think we're best suited just to do that and not worry about all of the different variables. We're in the dugout today, and all of a sudden, the Angels' score goes up. It's so emotional this time of year, that your thoughts can go back and forth based on one scoreboard change. It is exciting. It is fun. It's a bit of a roller-coaster at times."
For either the Rays or Angels, both 88-71, to make it, everything would have to go their way. Their elimination numbers are at one, so they have to win their final three games, while the A's would have to drop all of theirs. Tampa Bay is hosting Baltimore for its final series, while the Angels are in Seattle.
"It's going to be tight," the Angels' Torii Hunter said Sunday night. "We have to go out there and worry about the game against Seattle, maybe Texas takes care of business out there [against the A's]. We'll just worry about what we need to worry about, and hopefully these guys do what they gotta do."
In the National League, the Central-champion Reds (96-63) clinched home-field advantage in the Division Series with a 4-3 win over the Pirates.
The magic number for the Cardinals (86-73) to clinch a Wild Card spot is at two -- not impossible for the Dodgers (84-75), the only other team alive in the NL Wild Card hunt.
St. Louis is playing the Reds. Los Angeles is playing the Giants, and San Francisco would surely relish knocking LA out of the race, but the Dodgers have a bit of wiggle room compared to the AL Wild Card contenders because they're one game closer.
The Braves (93-66), who have at least the top Wild Card spot locked up, are in Pittsburgh. Atlanta could still force a tie for the East title with Washington (96-63), but it's another win-out situation. One Braves loss or one Washington win seals the East for the Nationals, who are home against the Phillies.
"Now that we're down to that last one, this is what we've been shooting for from Day 1," Nats manager Davey Johnson said.
The magic number for Detroit (86-73) to clinch the AL Central is one. That puts the White Sox (83-76) in the same situation as the Rays and Angels, essentially: Chicago's lone hope is to sweep its final series, against the Indians, and hope the Royals can sweep the Tigers.
Monday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Braves (Maholm, 13-10) at Pirates (Locke, 0-3), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Braves still have a shot at the NL East, but they'll need to win out and have the Phillies win out against the Nationals.
Red Sox (Buchholz, 11-7) at Yankees (Sabathia, 14-6), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
This isn't a typical September Yankees-Red Sox series because the Sox are so far out of it, but there's still high drama because Boston could send New York into the AL Wild Card Game.
White Sox (Santiago, 3-1) at Indians (Kluber, 2-4), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The White Sox couldn't be further from controlling their own destiny, but they still have a chance to catch the Tigers in the AL Central. Chicago needs a herculean sweep of the Tigers by Kansas City.
Phillies (Kendrick, 10-12) at Nationals (Lannan, 4-0), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Nats can clinch their first NL East title at home, which should have the city abuzz, even if it doesn't happen Monday. The Braves are still in the picture.
Orioles (Chen, 12-10) at Rays (Cobb, 10-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Tampa Bay needs to win out to have a shot at the Wild Card, and the Orioles need to do better than the Yankees to take the division title. One of the few series left with implications for both teams.
Tigers (Porcello, 9-12) at Royals (Chen, 11-13), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The Tigers can't clinch at home, but they still are just a game away from clinching against a team they figure to be able to handle.
Reds (Arroyo, 12-9) at Cardinals (Garcia, 6-7), 8:15 p.m. Preview >
Dusty Baker will return to the dugout on Monday, a welcome sign for all of baseball that the Reds skipper is returning to good health. He's been away since Sept. 19 after suffering a minor stroke.
Rangers (Perez, 1-3) at A's (Parker, 12-8), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
The A's have a chance to take the division, but it's going to require a sweep. They're at home at the Oakland Coliseum, and home-field advantage never hurts in a pennant run.
Angels (Wilson, 12-10) at Mariners (Hernandez, 13-8), 10:10 p.m. Preview >
Felix Hernandez hasn't had the best September, but a good performance on Monday could help eliminate the Angels. The Halos have no room for error in their Wild Card chase.
Giants (Cain, 16-5) at Dodgers (Harang, 10-10), 2:05 p.m. Preview >
The Dodgers have three games to make up two for a Wild Card playoff spot. They'll need help from the Reds, who are playing the Cardinals.
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: A's at Yankees or Orioles
Division Series: Yankees or Orioles at Tigers | Rangers vs. Wild Card winner
Wild Card: Cardinals at Braves
Division Series: Giants vs. Reds | Nationals vs. Wild Card winner
For the 2012 postseason, the team with the better record will play the first two games on the road to start the Division Series.
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1