The Week Ahead: Fates hanging in the balance
Dramatic finishes ahead as division titles, Wild Card berths will be won in final days
It's finally here. Major League Baseball's regular season has entered its last week, the time for the pennant races to dramatically be decided.
But wait a minute. Seriously, where do we even begin?
The confusion is still hovering. Even though the Texas Rangers' win over the Angels in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader took away some uncertainty by punching postseason tickets for the Rangers, Yankees and Orioles in one fell swoop, we've still played 159 games of a 162-game grind and we don't have a single division winner in the American League, nor do we know who will make up the Wild Card game.
The Angels, Rays and White Sox are reeling, but somehow they made it out of the weekend with some breaths of life remaining.
Some of that could be decided soon. Maybe today. Or later. The next three -- or four -- days will give us all the answers we need. Oh, and we'll also learn where the postseason games will be played.
Here's what we know. Intriguing battles to the wire have materialized on both AL coasts.
Out West, the dramatic late-season run put together by the Oakland A's continued with the Sunday culmination of a series sweep over the Mariners, and even though the Rangers came through in Sunday's nightcap over the Angels to carry a two-game division lead over the A's into Monday, the two teams play against each other in the final three games of the regular season in Oakland. So it boils down to simple math. The A's have to sweep to win the division.
Then again, who thought they'd have any chance at being anywhere close to the Rangers at this point in the season?
"We're just going to try to win tomorrow," A's manager Bob Melvin said Sunday. "I think we're best suited just to do that and not worry about all of the different variables."
The A's might be headed for the Wild Card, but Oakland will take it. The Angels certainly would take it, too, but after losing a heart-wrenching 8-7 nightcap Sunday, they know how stacked against it they are. Manager Mike Scioscia's team trails the A's by three games, which means the Angels will have to pull off a three-game sweep of the Mariners in Seattle while the A's lose all three to Texas to force a one-game tiebreaker.
"We needed to get that second game, obviously, to keep pace and keep ourselves in a little better position than we are right now, but these guys played their hearts out," Scioscia said Sunday.
"I don't know if you can ask much more of what they did. Unfortunately we didn't get the second game. Get up there tomorrow and have a good game in Seattle."
In the East, the Rays are in a similar situation.
Their elimination number, like that of the Angels, is one, which means if Tampa Bay doesn't win out at home against Baltimore while the A's get swept by Texas, the Rays won't make it to the Wild Card playoff.
"We still have a chance to get there," Tampa Bay ace David Price said. "... So I guess we need a little help in Texas and continue to win. And then hopefully, we can get back in there like we did last year."
Meanwhile, the two clubs that are already in from the AL East, the Yankees and Orioles, are in the biggest divisional dogfight. They're tied for the division lead at 92-67, and while they're both in the postseason, both teams surely want the East title and the spoils that go with it.
If the two teams are tied at the end of 162 games -- the Orioles are at Tampa Bay and the Yankees are home against Boston for the season's final three days -- the tiebreaker game would be played in Baltimore. The winner would take the division flag and the loser would go the Wild Card game.
"I think everybody knows what we're going for here, and that's the AL East," Orioles reliever Darren O'Day said. "We have confidence in ourselves that we're going to win the last three, so we don't have to depend on anybody else."
The Yankees expressed similar sentiments. Derek Jeter offered his predictable thoughts on the matter.
"[A clinch] means we're in the playoffs, but you celebrate for winning the division," Jeter said. "That's what you're trying to do. Our goal going into the season isn't to clinch a Wild Card. It's to win a division, and we still haven't done that."
In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers haven't done that either, although that could be coming soon.
One win in their next three at Kansas City or one White Sox loss in Cleveland would do it for skipper Jim Leyland's gang, which is trying to to get Detroit into the postseason in successive years for the first time since 1934-35.
"We have to wait," closer Jose Valverde said. "It's not over yet. I want to win already, but you never know. Baseball's so crazy."
While the White Sox know how much of an uphill climb they're facing, the Dodgers are in a similar boat.
While Los Angeles has won five in a row, it is two games behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card berth in the National League, with Atlanta having already claimed the first.
The Dodgers will at least have to take two out of three in their season-ending series against the NL West-champion Giants and hope the Cardinals lose at least two out of three against the NL Central-champion Reds. If that happens, the Dodgers would host a Wild Card-determining tiebreaker. If not, well ...
"We really can't worry about what they are doing over there," Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp said of the Cardinals. "As long as we keep winning, we still know there is hope."
As for the rest of the NL teams in the mix, hope right now is mostly attached to where they might be headed and against whom they'll be playing.
But for the Braves, there's still faint hope that they can overtake the Nationals and win the East.
It's a longshot, to be sure, but Atlanta enters Monday three games behind Washington, so it's mathematically possible.
Atlanta is on the road in Pittsburgh for the final three games, while Washington, which could have clinched the division in St. Louis on Sunday, is back home at Nationals Park with a chance to sew it up against Philadelphia.
"We've had rough outings before and come back good. We'll be fine," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "And I like clinching at home in front of the home fans. That's nice."