Some argue that 162 games is way too long for a season. That can continue to be a debate, but one thing is for certain: all 162 matter.
As the MLB season enters its final week, three teams in the same division are fighting for two (possibly three) postseason spots in the American League, including the division title, while the final two spots in the National League will also come down to the wire.
Here’s a look at the postseason races for the final week of the regular season (you may need to follow closely):
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The AL Wild Card race is insane
Entering Friday, the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners were all within 0.5 games of one another. The latter two faced off in a three-game series in Arlington, and the Rangers swept it. Meanwhile, the Astros were swept at home by the lowly Kansas City Royals.
Now, the Rangers are up 2.5 games in the division and face the Angels in Los Angeles for the next three days. They’ve won 11 of their last 15, and it’s now their division to lose.
The Astros’ cold stretch is now two weeks old when they should have run away with the division. Heading into Sept. 11, they were 2.5 games up in the AL West with nine of their next 12 games against the Royals and Oakland Athletics. Well, they lost two of three to the A’s, Royals and Baltimore Orioles each before getting swept by Kansas City this weekend.
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The Astros still hold the final wild-card spot, thanks to Texas, by just a half-game over the Mariners, who they play in a three-game series in Seattle beginning Monday. The probables are Justin Verlander and Luis Castillo, Cristian Javier and George Kirby, and Framber Valdez and Bryce Miller, and the winner of this series will likely hold the third wild-card spot as play enters the final weekend.
The Astros don’t control their own destiny in the division, but the Mariners actually still do. That’s because after their three-game series with the Astros, they close the season out with a four-game set against the Rangers in the Pacific Northwest.
While the Rangers should feel rather comfortable after this past weekend, the AL West and the third-wild card spot are both certainly up for grabs.
What about the AL East?
The Toronto Blue Jays, owners of the second wild-card slot, are up 2.5 games on the Mariners. They host the New York Yankees for three games before the Tampa Bay Rays come to town, and their magic number for a postseason berth is 5.
The Rays have clinched at least a wild-card spot, but they are still fighting for the division, which is currently led by the Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games.
The Orioles’ magic number for the AL East title is 4 as they wrap up their schedule with three against the Washington Nationals and three against the Boston Red Sox, all of which will be played in Camden Yards. Before the Rays head to Canada, they’ll travel to Boston for three: advantage, Baltimore.
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To the National League
The Philadelphia Phillies will very likely clinch the top wild-card this week as their magic number is just 2. The final two wild-card spots are likely a three-team race between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins.
After the Diamondbacks complete their rain-delayed series against the Yankees on Monday, they’ll have three games in Chicago against the White Sox before heading to Houston for a trio of games to end their season. While they’re not competing against one another for the same postseason spot, the atmosphere will already be postseason-like, as both teams will be vying for their own separate berths. Arizona owns the second wild-card, being just a half-game ahead of the Cubs, and 1.5 games back of the Marlins.
The Cubs do not have an easy road to hold onto their postseason spot – they have three in Atlanta against the NL East champion Braves and then three against the likely NL Central champion Brewers in Milwaukee.
The Marlins are currently on the outside looking in behind Chicago, but the schedules do play out in Miami’s favor – they’re on the road for their final six regular-season games but against the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, both of which will finish the season under. 500.
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But the Cincinnati Reds are not dead. They’re 2.5 games out, and with five games left, they face the Cleveland Guardians for two and the St. Louis Cardinals for three, all of which are on the road.
Oh, and here is your reminder that Major League Baseball did away with Game 163s last year, so mathematical tiebreakers will have to be put into effect, if necessary.
It may be football season, but the baseball season is entering the best part – and it’s about to be a whole lot of fun.