Pulse: Braves, Cardinals, A's join celebration
Royals' win over Rangers seals AL West title; Reds pull even with Pirates
From Peachtree Street to the banks of the Mississippi and all the way out to Jack London Square, the country was just about covered by clinches on an eventful September Sunday in Major League Baseball.
The same-day addition of the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland A's to the upcoming October playoff party that already included the Red Sox and Dodgers might have been one to file in the foregone-conclusion category, but there was still plenty of drama to behold in the air on the first day of autumn.
Meanwhile, the Pulse of the Postseason pounds away, and there still might be some surprises on the horizon, which we'll get to in a bit.
First and foremost, Sunday was a day for celebration.
The Braves clinched the National League East for the first time since 2005 without even having to win a game, and that very same game vaulted the Cardinals into the postseason dance, too.
Atlanta had such a large lead in the division that it clinched when the Nationals lost, 4-2, to the Marlins, in the first game of day-night doubleheader. This occurred while Atlanta was leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the sixth inning at Wrigley Field.
The Braves won their game anyway, 5-2, making the champagne party that much sweeter. The Cardinals lost to Milwaukee on Sunday night but are assured of at least a Wild Card spot.
My Coaches plus some pic.twitter.com/t3W5QBgN9R- Jason Heyward (@JasonHeyward) September 23, 2013
Atlanta has spent a Major League-high 175 days in first place and has owned a division lead of at least eight games dating back to July 24, and with the division in their pocket, the Braves will try to maintain the best record in the NL and secure home-field advantage while waiting to see which team awaits them in the NL Division Series.
It's not a bad position to be in, but the Braves say they're not planning on letting up anytime soon.
"We're still in a race the way we're looking at it," Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel said. "We've still got a lot of games to win. Now is not the time to relax. Now is the time to turn it up. So that is what we plan on doing."
The Cardinals still haven't won their division and head into what could be a dramatic final week in the NL Central. On Sunday, the two teams chasing St. Louis for the division crown, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, played the finale of their three-game series at PNC Park, and the Reds scored five runs in the first inning en route to an 11-3 laugher that pulled them even in the Wild Card standings with Pittsburgh. Both teams are two games behind St. Louis in the division.
In the wake of Sunday's events, the Pirates were happily saying goodbye -- for the time being, they hope -- to their fans before embarking on a season-ending road trip, and the Reds were celebrating their win and the comeback victory by the hometown NFL Bengals, who beat Green Bay.
Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP) September 22, 2013
Both teams are set for another three-game series to finish off the season next weekend in Cincinnati, which could determine home-field advantage in the Wild Card game that, as of Monday, would feature the very same two teams.
"If we're going to play a one-game playoff, we sure would like to do it at home," Reds left fielder Chris Heisey said. "If we fell two games behind today, it would have been an uphill battle the rest of the way. We've played a lot better at home this year than we have on the road. Hopefully it doesn't, but if it does come down to that last game, hopefully it comes at home."
The A's like playing at home, too, but as it turned out, they didn't have to win Sunday to get in, although they went ahead and won anyway. Prior to the A's 11-7 win over Minnesota in Oakland, they watched on TV as the Royals walked off against the Rangers, 4-0, in Kauffman Stadium in 10 innings, cementing Oakland as the winner of the AL West for the second consecutive year.
Rage. AL West Champs. http://t.co/GC4owyxOze- Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson49) September 23, 2013
Oakland now waits to see who it will play in the AL Division Series, and if the season ended right now it would be a rematch of last year's first-round battle with the Detroit Tigers, which ended up going five games.
"We still have some time left in this season that we have to finish," A's outfielder Coco Crisp said. "We just have to keep going out there playing. Hopefully we can make our situation going into the postseason, but I'm happy that we're at least going there. Anything can happen in the postseason. Obviously, where we finished is not the ultimate goal, I don't believe, for any team. Hopefully we can finish up on top."
The A's likely opponent had to wait at least one more day to wrap up the AL Central after losing to the White Sox on Sunday and seeing the Indians beat the Astros.
Still, things look very good for Detroit heading into Monday, when it will try to have a good week and finish with a better season record than Oakland so the Division Series will begin at Comerica Park.
And then there are the Wild Cards.
In the AL, it's still up for grabs, with Tampa Bay and Cleveland's Sunday wins solidifying their current positions, and the Royals' amazing 10th-inning, Justin-Maxwell-walkoff-grand-slam-4-0 win over Texas in their home regular-season finale improving their own situation (they're now 3 1/2 games out of it) while hurting the Rangers' (they're 1 1/2 games back).
Jeremy Guthrie (@TheRealJGuts) September 22, 2013
It's still confusing in the AL race, with the Yankees (four back) and Orioles (4 1/2 back) still mathematically in it, too, although it's a tough row to hoe for both clubs.
For the Yankees, Sunday was a bittersweet day of goodbyes, with a ceremony for the retiring closer Mariano Rivera and the last home start for veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte, not to mention a crushing loss to the San Francisco Giants.
"We're still alive, obviously, but this one really hurts," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's tough."
The same could be said for the Nationals, who won the second game in their doubleheader with Miami but still have an elimination number of two that is virtually impossible to overcome.
"I'm not good at math, but I'm good enough to know that losing makes it tougher," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "But you've just got to keep playing and see what happens. We put ourselves in this situation. We've just got to keep trying to finish strong."
Finishing strong is what the Pulse of the Postseason is all about, and it literally starts Monday, the first day of the last week of the regular season.
The Tigers are the closest remaining team to locking up a playoff berth, but they'll have to do it on the road for the third consecutive year. The Tigers' magic number to clinch remains at two, their lead in the AL Central now reduced to five games over Cleveland.
Detroit will get the first crack when they begin a three-game series against the Twins in Minnesota beginning Monday night. They can clinch at least a Wild Card spot and a tie in the division Monday if they beat the Twins. With the Indians off Monday, the soonest Detroit can clinch a division title is Tuesday.
"We have to go out and win a couple games. It's that simple," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "There's no secret to what we have to do. We're packed up."
The NL Central battle will come to a dramatic close this week with the leading Cardinals taking on the Nationals at Busch Stadium, the Reds heading home to host the Mets, and the Pirates traveling to the Windy City to lock horns with the Cubs at Wrigley.
The Rays can make a huge statement for their AL Wild Card hopes by beating the Orioles one more time and coming one day closer to knocking Baltimore out for good. The two teams play Monday. The Rays are hoping it goes like Sunday.
Elsewhere, the Yankees will have to wait until Tuesday to try to stave off elimination, but they can turn things around quickly because they'll be facing the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The Royals will head up to Seattle and lean on hard-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura to try to capitalize on the momentum they gained Sunday in a series-opening game against the Mariners at Safeco Field.
The Indians won't play until Tuesday, with second-half sensation Ubaldo Jimenez gunning for his 13th victory of the year.
"We've battled so hard, and we've got ourselves into an amazing spot," Cleveland outfielder Nick Swisher said. "Guys are going to be ready to go every single day, and we'll try to finish this thing out right."
In other words, the season is far from over still.
There's still some math, some mayhem and some memories to be made.
Monday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Orioles (Chen, 7-7) at Rays (Archer, 9-7), 3:10 p.m. Preview >
Brewers (Estrada, 6-4) at Braves (Minor, 13-7), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Mets (Harang, 5-12) at Reds (Cueto, 5-2), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Astros (Lyles, 7-8) at Rangers (Holland, 9-9), 8:05 p.m. Preview >
Pirates (Morton, 7-4) at Cubs (Samardzija, 8-12), 8:05 p.m. Preview >
Tigers (Verlander, 13-12) at Twins (Pelfrey 5-13), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
Nationals (Roark, 7-0) at Cardinals (Wainwright, 17-9), 8:15 p.m. Preview >
Athletics (Griffin, 14-9) at Angels (Richards, 7-6), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
Royals (Ventura, 0-0) at Mariners (Maurer, 4-8), 10:10 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: Indians at Rays
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox^ | Tigers at A's^
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves^ | Dodgers^ at Cardinals*
* - clinched postseason spot
^ - clinched division
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.
2013 postseason schedule
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 1
AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 2
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 3
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 4
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23