Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Baseball's Last Day

With the Cardinals clinching the last National League playoff berth courtesy of a Dodgers loss, we now know the 10 teams that will compete for baseball's ultimate prize in October.

Heading into the final day of the season, however, that's just about all we know.

There is still plenty to be decided in terms of division races and seeding in this year's postseason, which will begin Friday with a pair of Wild Card games

One of those games on Friday is set: The Cardinals will head to Atlanta to face the Braves -- a year after St. Louis' epic Wild Card comeback in which it passed Atlanta on the final day of the season.

The Yankees hold the upper hand in both the American League East race and the race for the top spot in the AL following their thrilling 12-inning, 4-3 victory over the archrival Red Sox.

Raul Ibanez hit a pinch-hit, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth and then won it in the 12th with a walk-off single to assure the Yankees that a win on Wednesday secures both a division crown and home-field advantage in the first two rounds.

"I think it's extremely important, because you want to be able to do that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "If you win, you win the division -- that's the bottom line. We have a chance to have the best record, and that's the bottom line. That's a good feeling that you can control that."

If the Yankees stumble, the Orioles are waiting to capitalize. Their 1-0 victory over the Rays kept them a game back of New York, and they could force a one-game tiebreaker in Baltimore on Thursday with a win and a Yankees loss.

Otherwise, the O's are destined for Friday's Wild Card Game. Their potential opponent? Still to be determined.

That's because the A's -- who once trailed Texas by 13 games in the AL West -- have stormed back to tie the Rangers for the division lead with one game to play. Oakland's 3-1 win over Texas on Tuesday assured that Wednesday's game will settle the AL West race.

As for tiebreakers regarding home-field advantage in either a Wild Card Game or for the top seed -- get out your notebooks:

• Yankees-Rangers tie: Yankees win due to 4-3 head-to-head record.

• Orioles-Rangers tie: Rangers win due to 5-2 head-to-head record.

• Orioles-A's tie: A's win due to 5-4 head-to-head record.

• Yankees-A's tie: A's win due to second tiebreaker, which is intradivision records. Head-to-head record was 5-5.

The race for the top spot in the National League is much simpler. Washington, which knocked off Philadelphia, 4-2, owns the tiebreaker over Cincinnati. That means the Nats need a win or a Cincinnati loss in St. Louis to secure the No. 1 seed.

The Reds need to win and get help from Philly to take home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Wednesday's key games to watch (all times ET)

Phillies (Lee, 6-8) at Nationals (Jackson, 9-11), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
The Nationals control their own destiny in the hunt for home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They'll need a win or a Cincinnati loss to secure the NL's top spot.

Rangers (Dempster, 12-8) at A's (Griffin, 7-1), 3:35 p.m. Preview >
The equations here are simple: Wednesday's winner is the AL West champion. The loser heads to a winner-take-all Wild Card game on Friday against either the Orioles or Yankees.

Red Sox (Matsuzaka, 1-6) at Yankees (Kuroda, 15-11), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
After a dramatic win on Tuesday, the Yankees' magic number sits at one. They send Hiroki Kuroda to the hill needing a win or a Baltimore loss to clinch the AL East.

Orioles (Tillman, 9-2) at Rays (Hellickson, 9-11), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
The Orioles need a win and a Yankees loss to force a one-game tiebreaker against New York on Thursday, which would take place in Baltimore. Red-hot right-hander Chris Tillman gets the ball vs. Tampa Bay.

Reds (Bailey, 13-10) at Cardinals (Miller, 1-0), 8:15 p.m. Preview >
By first pitch, the Reds will know if they have a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They'll need a Nats loss against the Phillies and a victory Wednesday.

If the postseason started today ...

Wild Card: Orioles at Rangers or A's
Division Series: Rangers or A's vs. Tigers | Yankees vs. Wild Card winner

Wild Card: Cardinals at Braves
Division Series: Giants vs. Reds | Nationals vs. Wild Card winner

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