Three playoff slots and four division titles remain up for grabs as the Major League Baseball season reaches its final three games, adding late-season drama for the second consecutive season.
The second wild card spot, a new addition this season, is undecided in both the American League and National League, can be clinched tonight by the Oakland Athletics and defending-champion St. Louis Cardinals. The other undetermined playoff spot, currently held by the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers can also be secured tonight.
The tight races in both leagues could produce late-season drama similar to last season, when two playoff spots came down to the final day.
“It’s not over yet,” Detroit relief pitcher Jose Valverde said yesterday on the team’s website. “I want to win already, but you never know. Baseball is so crazy.”
The New York Yankees (92-67), Baltimore Orioles (92-67) and Texas Rangers (93-66) all secured playoff spots with victories yesterday, though none has clinched a division title. The Rangers have a two-game lead over the Athletics (91-68) and can secure the division with a win tonight in Oakland.
The Yankees and Orioles are tied atop the AL East as New York begins a three-game series at home against the Boston Red Sox. CC Sabathia is scheduled to pitch tonight against Boston’s Clay Buchholz.
If the Yankees and Orioles remain even after 162 games, they’ll have a one-game playoff Oct. 4 in Baltimore for the division title, with the loser taking a wild card spot. New York has 1-to-2 odds to win the division, according to Pregame.com’s RJ Bell, meaning a $100 bet would return $50 plus the original investment.
“Every game is like it’s a playoff game right now,” Yankees catcher Russell Martin said yesterday. “That’s our attitude.”
The Rangers, runner-up in each of the last two World Series, are the favorites at 4-to-1 to win the championship this season, followed by the NL Central-champion Cincinnati Reds (96-63) and Yankees at 11-to-2, according to online sports book Bovada.lv. The Washington Nationals (96-63) are fourth at 6-to-1, and Tigers, who are yet to clinch a postseason spot, are fifth at 7-to-1.
Detroit (86-73) can clinch the AL Central title with one win in its final three games or a single Chicago White Sox (83-76) loss. Should the Tigers lose three straight to the Kansas City Royals and the White Sox sweep the Cleveland Indians, the two would meet for a one-game playoff.
The Cardinals, one of the teams that secured a playoff spot on the final day of the 2011 season, currently hold a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL’s second wild card. The team’s ’magic number’ is two, meaning it clinches the spot with any combination of wins or Dodgers losses that add up to two.
Under the league’s new postseason schedules, the two wild card winners in each league play a one-game playoff, followed by the traditional divisional series.
“The enthusiasm for the 10-team structure among our clubs, fans and partners has been overwhelming,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said when the new format was announced. “This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports.”
The Athletics, who hold a three-game lead in the race for the AL’s second wild card, can secure a playoff spot today with a win at home against Texas or losses for the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels travel to play the Seattle Mariners; the Rays play on the road against the Orioles.
The Nationals hold a three-game NL East lead over the Atlanta Braves, who have already clinched at least the league’s top wild card spot. A single Washington win or Braves loss would secure the first divisional title in 18 years for the Nationals franchise, which has held at least a share of the NL East lead since May 22.
“Now that we’re down to that last one, this is what we’ve been shooting for from Day 1,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on the team’s website. “I really like the energy level on our ballclub during the games leading up to this one. It’s been great.”
-- Editor: Jay Beberman