Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Down To Crunch Time In MLB

Nine down, one to go.

With the Tigers and A's clinching playoff berths on Monday night, the list of teams competing in the 2012 postseason is almost set. Only one spot out of 10 -- the second National League Wild Card -- remains up for grabs, although the next few days will include plenty of jockeying for position in both leagues.

The Tigers punched their playoff ticket by winning the American League Central on Monday night. The White Sox put some pressure on them by beating Cleveland, 11-0, but Detroit responded with a 6-3 win in Kansas City.

Miguel Cabrera, who is continuing his historic Triple Crown push, went 4-for-5 with his 44th homer of the season.

"It's great, man. We got it," Cabrera said of winning the AL Central. "This feels awesome. We've got to give credit to the White Sox, Kansas City, everybody, because it was a good race -- unbelievable race. We're happy. We're proud, too, because it was a lot of pressure. Everybody said we weren't going to make it. We did. It's unbelievable."

The Cardinals came close to clinching with their 4-2 victory over Cincinnati on Monday, but later in the night, the Dodgers made certain there would be no celebrating in St. Louis. Elian Herrera's walk-off single in the ninth kept the Dodgers -- whose elimination number is one -- alive for at least one more day.

In the AL East, the Yankees took a one-game lead over the Orioles thanks to a 10-2 victory over Boston in the Bronx. The Yankees mashed four home runs in a nine-run second inning on Monday.

"That's what you want," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of his club's lead in the division. "That's what you hope to have all the time when you're playing this game, that you have control of your own destiny. Now we have to go out and win a ballgame tomorrow."

New York gained that one-game edge because Baltimore faltered in Tampa Bay, losing, 5-3. The victory kept the Rays alive, but only for a matter of hours.

The A's secured a playoff spot with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Texas. The win knocked both the Rays and the Angels out of contention for the postseason. It also pulled Oakland within a game of the Rangers for the AL West lead and knocked Texas out of the top overall spot in the American League.

In the race for the No. 1 seed in the National League -- which means home-field advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to the Senior Circuit's All-Star Game win -- both the Nationals and Reds lost, keeping them tied atop the league.

The Nationals, however, clinched the NL East courtesy of a 2-1 Braves loss in Pittsburgh. They own the tiebreaker against Cincinnati and would hold the top spot if the playoffs started today. Atlanta will host the NL Wild Card Game.

If the AL East and AL West champions finish with identical records, tiebreakers will determine which one plays the AL Central champ and which one plays the winner of the Wild Card playoff -- and also which one would have home field in the Championship Series if they were to play each other.

• Yankees-Rangers tie: Yankees would play Wild Card winner and would have ALCS home field, due to 4-3 head-to-head record.
• Orioles-Rangers tie: Rangers would play Wild Card winner and would have ALCS home field, due to 5-2 head-to-head record.
• Orioles-A's tie: A's would play Wild Card winner and would have ALCS home field, due to 5-4 head-to-head record.
• Yankees-A's tie: A's would play Wild Card winner and would have ALCS home field, due to second tiebreaker, which is intradivision records. Head-to-head record was 5-5.

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

Red Sox (Lester, 9-14) at Yankees (Phelps, 4-4), 7:05 p.m.
The Yankees can win the AL East with a win and an Orioles loss.

Phillies (Rosenberg, 1-2) at Nationals (Gorzelanny, 4-2), 7:05 p.m.
Though they're already division champs, the Nationals still have plenty to play for as they could wrap up the NL's top seed with a win and a Cincinnati loss.

Orioles (Gonzalez, 8-4) at Rays (Shields, 15-9), 7:10 p.m.
The Rays were eliminated Tuesday but can still play spoiler to Baltimore, which trails the Yankees by a game in the AL East with two to play.

Reds (Latos, 13-4) at Cardinals (Carpenter, 0-1), 8:15 p.m.
The Cardinals need a win or a Dodgers loss to clinch a playoff spot as they send Chris Carpenter to the hill against the Reds, who are fighting for the NL's No. 1 overall seed.

Rangers (Harrison, 18-10) at A's (Blackley, 5-4), 10:05 p.m.
The A's may have clinched a playoff berth on Monday, but they've got their eyes on bigger things. If they can take two straight against Texas, they'll win the AL West.

Giants (Zito, 14-8) at Dodgers (Capuano, 12-11), 10:10 p.m.
It's a long shot, but the Dodgers are still alive in the NL Wild Card hunt. They'd need to win twice and have the Cardinals lose twice to force a one-game tiebreaker against St. Louis.

If the postseason started today ...

Wild Card: Orioles at A's
Division Series: Rangers 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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