The Week Ahead: Quest for the clinch
Several division titles could be decided soon, as Braves, Dodgers, Red Sox close in
It's that time of week. It's that time of year.
Monday brings about the second-to-last week of the Major League Baseball season, and with it, we should soon get some postseason answers.
Not everything will necessarily be decided by Sunday, of course. The American League Wild Card scenario remains crowded and wide open, and the Pirates and Cardinals are still tied atop the National League Central, with the Reds a mere 3 1/2 games back and set for a three-game series against Pittsburgh over the weekend.
This looks like it could very well be Clinch Week for a number of teams whose dominant seasons should be celebrated before October begins and everything from the 162 games of the regular season is tossed out the window.
The Dodgers, for example, need only two wins against the D-backs to clinch the NL West, and the clubs are set for a four-game series at Chase Field beginning Monday.
Then again, the Dodgers are banged up, with Yasiel Puig's hip, Carl Crawford's back, Hanley Ramirez's hamstring and Andre Ethier's ankle all day-to-day concerns. One good thing: Manager Don Mattingly doesn't seem terribly concerned about any of the ailments.
"I'm pretty confident that these guys are getting healthy and we'll be able to get everybody back in there," Mattingly said.
Another good thing: Outfielder Matt Kemp, who's been on the disabled list since late July, could be back in the lineup Monday.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, could be quick to clinch. They enter Monday with a magic number of four in the AL East and the best record in the Major Leagues at 92-59. They will play six games this week, and all will be at home. Boston will meet Baltimore for three games beginning Tuesday, and then it will play host to Toronto for a weekend set at Fenway.
"It's always fun being on a good team," Red Sox starter John Lackey said. "It's that time of the year. The boys are playing good baseball, getting ready for bigger games coming up."
In Atlanta, Braves fans are probably wondering when their team will clinch -- and for good reason. The Braves have had a double-digit lead over the second-place Nationals for weeks upon weeks, and even a recent surge by Washington and some sluggish play by Atlanta hasn't prevented the Braves from carrying a magic number of four into Monday.
This week, Atlanta gets to try to wrap up the division title in Washington. The Braves play at Nationals Park for three games before taking Thursday off and then flying to Chicago for a weekend three-game series against the Cubs.
Out West, as in the AL West, the A's won yet again Sunday, finishing off an astounding three-game sweep of the second-place Rangers in Arlington, and their magic number is at eight, so it's conceivable that they could wrap up their second consecutive division title this week, too.
Oakland, which has won 16 of 20, while Texas has lost 12 of 15, will play all seven games at home this week for its final regular-season stand at O.co Coliseum while riding a huge high.
The only possible bummer is that outfielder Yoenis Cespedes -- who is hitting .373 in September, but was scratched on Sunday because of shoulder soreness -- was scheduled to undergo an MRI. If Cespedes has to miss time, it might be tougher for the A's, who are slated to play three against the Angels and four against the Twins this week in hopes of clinching in front of their fans.
"It's a good lead, but we can't pay too much attention to the standings right now," Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "We don't want to get too comfortable. We want to continue steadily getting better, as we have. Hopefully that takes us to where we want to go."
Elsewhere in the AL, the Tigers are inching closer to another October in Motown. The defending AL champions' magic number is at nine in the AL Central, which makes it tougher for a division clinch this week, but Detroit can get a lot done toward that goal with all seven games this week coming at home, its last Comerica Park stand of the regular season. The Tigers get four against the struggling Mariners and three more against the sub-.500 White Sox.
Maybe then Max Scherzer will get his 20th victory, although he claims that's not a concern.
"This is all about trying to get us into the postseason," he said. "I don't care if I win another game. If we win our division, that's all that matters."
The NL Central, on the other hand, is as up for grabs as anything in baseball right now, with Pittsburgh and St. Louis tied for the lead and the loser of that battle a likely lock for NL Wild Card position No. 1. Cincinnati, in third place, remains in great shape for the second Wild Card slot, holding a 4 1/2-game advantage over Washington heading into Monday.
For all that relative certainty, there's the craziness of the AL Wild Card, which might very well be destined for Day No. 162 of the big league schedule in 2013.
Texas and Tampa Bay remain in front with identical records of 81-67, and those two clubs begin this week with three games against each other.
The Indians are only a half-game back, the Orioles are 2 1/2 back, the Yankees are three out and the Royals are very much in the thick of things with a record of 78-71 that has them only 3 1/2 games out of the Wild Card chase. Cleveland and Kansas City lock horns for three games early this week, and Baltimore and Tampa Bay play three over the weekend.
Confused? Don't be. Well, don't be too confused.
Because there's one common solution to either clinching, making up ground or simply surviving in The Week Ahead, and it will become evident very quickly. Just don't lose.
"You better start your engine," O's skipper Buck Showalter said. "You can't get into ratios of two out of three. You've just got to win baseball games."