The Cubs are headed for a wild-card game date in Pittsburgh October 7, unless the very small chance they have at catching the Bucs and hosting the game comes through, or the Pirates pull a small miracle and overtake the Cardinals.
There are teams in all six divisions who still have unfinished postseason business as of Tuesday morning, so in place of the usual On The Horizon post looking forward to the Cubs series (there will be a poll on how many games you think the Cubs will win against the Reds in the game preview at 4 p.m. CT), let's have a look at the postseason possibilities.
National League Central
The Cardinals can clinch the division title with a win over the Pirates Tuesday night. Presuming they do that, they will also sew up home-field advantage in the N.L. division series and league championship series rounds.
I went over the possibilities of the Cubs catching the Pirates in the recap to last night's win, but ICYMI:
If the Cubs go 6-0, the Pirates must go 2-3 to tie at 97 wins If the Cubs go 5-1, the Pirates must go 1-4 to tie at 96 wins If the Cubs go 4-2, the Pirates must go 0-5 to tie at 95 wins
It's not as farfetched as you might think. The Cubs are playing teams they have defeated regularly this year (21-11 vs. the Brewers and Reds), while the Pirates have two more vs. St. Louis and then play the Reds, against whom they are 6-10.
National League East
The Mets have sewn up the division title, but are trying to hold off the Dodgers for the second-best mark in the league, which would give them home field when the two clubs meet in the division series. The Mets enter Tuesday two games ahead. They face the awful Phillies and the carcass of what's left of the Nationals, while the Dodgers play the Giants and Padres.
National League West
The aforementioned Dodgers still have to hold off the very slim chance that the Giants might catch them. L.A.'s magic number is two and they can clinch the division title by defeating the Giants tonight. However, the Dodgers have lost all seven games they have played in San Francisco this year, as well as eight of their last 10. Even if the Giants sweep the four-game set, though, they'd still be two games back with three to play, a tall order.
American League East
The Blue Jays' magic number to clinch their first division title since 1993 is also two. They can win the division with a victory tonight over the Orioles combined with a Yankees loss to the Red Sox (and you can bet the Red Sox would love to do that). The Yankees, for their part, seem relatively safe in the lead to host the A.L. wild-card game, 3½ games ahead of the Astros.
American League Central
The Royals clinched this division quite some time ago, but still would like to finish with a better record than the Blue Jays, as that would give them home field advantage throughout the postseason. They currently trail the Jays by one game. The Twins are still in contention for the second wild-card spot, trailing the leading Astros by 1½ games -- but also behind the Angels, and that brings us to this delicious mess...
American League West
The Rangers were 2½ games behind the division-leading Astros on September 10, then roared into first place on a 10-3 run while Houston was going 4-10 and led by 4½ last Friday. Texas, though, has now lost three straight and Houston has won three in a row and so the Rangers' lead has been cut to 1½ games over Houston... and two games over the Angels, who have won nine of their last 11.
So that leaves open the possibility of a three-way tie atop the A.L. West and having the Twins also tied with all three of those clubs. That's what David Pinto of Baseball Musings calls the Massive Tie Scenario, and it can happen at 85 wins if:
Rangers go 1-5 Astros go 2-3 Angels go 3-3 Twins go 4-2
The Angels finish the season with a four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers, and Pinto writes:
I have the probability of a four-way tie at 0.004, but that based on independent games, and that’s not true with only a few games left in the season. On the other hand, right now the Angels control their destiny in regards to the Rangers. The Rangers and Angels need to play even the next two games for the four-way tie to even be possible.
Even if the four-way tie doesn't happen and the Rangers wind up winning the A.L. West, the other three teams don't play each other and a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot is quite plausible.
You don't really want to know what kinds of machinations MLB and these four clubs would have to do in the event they all wind up tied. Wait, no. Of course you want to know, and if you missed this Jayson Stark article at ESPN.com last week, go look -- it explains all the scenarios, and includes this nightmarish potential travel schedule for the Astros:
Sunday in Phoenix, Monday in Anaheim, Tuesday in Texas, Wednesday in New York, Thursday in Kansas City or Toronto. There might be astronauts who haven't flown that many hours.
While you're enjoying the Cubs' run-up to their date with the Pirates, watching the rest of this can be fun, too.