Pulse: AL Wild Card will go down to the wire
Possibility of historic first three-way tie exists, as Indians own one-game edge
Bit by bit, pixel by pixel, the postseason picture is coming together as the final weekend of the season plays out. But the fuzzy, unfinished part remains the center of attention.
With the American League Wild Card a blur heading into the season's final day, one thing that's known for sure is that the full postseason picture won't be complete until Sunday, at the earliest. In fact, a potential three-way tie remains a very real possibility, which would lead to the first three-way tiebreaker in history.
As the Pulse of the Postseason kept pumping furiously Saturday, two afternoon games with playoff implications were bumped to earlier starts and another was sent into a delay because of that ever-present player with major power: Mother Nature.
It was after a two-hour weather delay in Minnesota that the Indians finally got on the field, and nine innings after they did, they were all alone in the top spot of the AL Wild Card race in the biggest maneuver of the regular season's penultimate day.
A 5-1 victory over the Twins combined with a Rays loss at Toronto put the Indians in the No. 1 spot and one victory away from clinching the Tribe's first postseason appearance since 2007. It's certainly Cleveland in the driver's seat in baseball's hottest race, heading into the season's final day one game ahead of both Tampa Bay and Texas.
After Saturday's shuffle, the possibility exists that the AL Wild Card race, a thrilling jumble all September long, will wind up in a historic three-way tie. Based on cumulative records among them, that would mean the Indians would host the Rays on Monday for the top Wild Card spot, then the loser would play at Texas on Tuesday for the second one. A two-way tiebreaker for the second spot would be played Monday at the team that won the season series. That breaks down to Rays over Indians, Rangers over Rays, and Indians over Rangers -- which also rules if two teams tie for the two Wild Card spots.
The Indians, who won only 68 games a year ago, notched their 91st win of 2013 with their ninth consecutive victory.
"This is a lot better situation to be in," Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "Guys are happier with this. Guys are having more fun with it. If you look around still and just watch, it doesn't feel like we're in a tight race. ... It's still a loose environment in here."
That said, the Tribe knows nothing's settled yet for Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
On Saturday, only a couple of clarifications were delivered, one with the Red Sox clinching home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs by virtue of Oakland's loss at Seattle.
The other came from the National League Wild Card, where Pittsburgh's 8-3 victory at Cincinnati ensured that the Pirates' first playoff game since 1992 will be played at home in PNC Park on Tuesday, at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS. The Bucs tied a Great American Ball Park record for homers by an opponent with six in the series clincher, ensuring there will be at least one more game at PNC Park in front of the Pirates' playoff-hungry fans.
Jason Grilli (@GrillCheese49) September 28, 2013
"They're gonna be definitely excited to see us, as much as they have been all year," outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "Today, we showed how badly we wanted to go home, and were able to answer in a big way."
Elsewhere, the picture only got muddier under the September sky.
The Rangers got up a little earlier to face the Angels, hoping to avoid incoming weather -- and they did, just barely. Ultimately, the Rangers made sure the sun will come up another day by jumping on the Angels early and holding on for a 7-4 victory, the final outs being recorded in a Texas downpour.
Now, the Rangers find themselves with a share of a playoff position again, tied with the Rays in the No. 2 slot. The Rays lost at Toronto, dropping them into the tie, and as it turned out a game behind the Indians.
The Rays have spent 83 consecutive days in a postseason position, but they're hanging by a thread now after a 7-2 loss in which starter Chris Archer was pulled after just 2 1/3 innings and the Blue Jays built a big lead after that.
"We've been here before. We've been in these moments. We never do things seemingly easily. So let's just play [Sunday] and see what happens," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
In terms of the top seeds in each league, one is set, and the other is dangling into Sunday.
In the AL, the Red Sox earned home-field advantage throughout the postseason as they were just getting started in Baltimore, thanks to Oakland's loss in Seattle.
In the NL, the Cardinals made their move into the driver's seat as Adam Wainwright wrapped up another win over the Cubs, 6-2, and the Braves losing, 5-4, at home against Philadelphia on Saturday night despite a furious ninth-inning comeback -- thwarted by a brilliant play by Phillies veteran Jimmy Rollins for the final out. The outcome of that top seed won't be determined until Sunday with a tie going to the Braves, but the Cardinals would clinch it with a win over the Cubs.
"Keep building the momentum," St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams said after Saturday's win.
* * *
Once again, more than 2,400 games over the course of six months might not be enough to decide who gets to play the games every team really wants to play in October.
The postseason field might finally be set with Sunday's games, but there's no guarantee of that, thanks to an AL Wild Card race that has been the star of the September stretch run. It was a six-team battle deep into the month, and ends up with three teams standing within a game of each other heading into Game No. 162 -- a Game No. 163 still a possibility.
As the Pulse of the Postseason ticks into the last games of the regular season, that AL Wild Card race will be front and center on what has become an annual tradition of blissful uncertainty on the final Sunday.
This final Sunday begins with the Indians holding a one-game edge over the Rays and Rangers. The Rays' finale at Toronto will start things off, followed by the Indians at the Twins and concluding with the Angels at the Rangers.
The Indians, winners of 14 of their last 16, can claim a postseason bid and the No. 1 Wild Card slot with a win at Minnesota.
That would conclude a remarkable turnaround from losing 94 the year before to winning 91 and counting heading into the regular-season finale, and manager Terry Francona -- one of many significant offseason additions -- says there's really nothing complicated about it at this point.
"I know I'm supposed to come up with some stuff to say, but it's just, you show up and play," Francona said. "We need to be one run better [Sunday] and we'll go from there."
In the NL, the Cardinals enter their regular-season home finale with a one-game edge over the Braves for home-field advantage through the playoffs, meaning a Cardinals win over the Cubs on Sunday would clinch it. But a loss combined with a Braves home win over the Phillies would put them in a tiebreaker that Atlanta wins based on a 4-3 edge in their season series.
Elsewhere, the Red Sox -- the No. 1 seed in the AL -- could win 98 games for the first time since that heady year of 2004, and the Tigers will play at Miami and the A's at Seattle as those two division winners prepare for their AL Division Series that will begin on Friday in Oakland.
In the NL, the Pirates and Reds will get one more game in before meeting with everything on the line in Tuesday's NL Wild Card playoff in Pittsburgh. Also, the Dodgers won't know until where they're headed for the NL Division Series until the Braves and Cardinals resolve things, but they'll wrap up their home schedule with the Rockies knowing they're the No. 3 seed in the NL playoffs.
Sunday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Rays (Moore, 16-4) at Blue Jays (Redmond, 4-2), 1:07 p.m. Preview >
Tigers (Verlander, 13-12) at Marlins (Alvarez, 4-6), 1:10 p.m. Preview >
Pirates (Cumpton, 1-1) at Reds (Reynolds, 1-2), 1:10 p.m. Preview >
Red Sox (Lackey, 10-13) at Orioles (Tillman, 16-7), 1:35 p.m. Preview >
Phillies (Miner, 0-1) at Braves (Teheran, 13-8), 1:35 p.m. Preview >
Indians (Jimenez, 12-9) at Twins (Diamond, 6-12), 2:10 p.m. Preview >
Cubs (Samardzija, 8-12) at Cardinals (Westbrook, 7-8), 2:15 p.m. Preview >
Angels (Vargas, 9-7) at Rangers (Darvish, 13-9), 3:05 p.m. Preview >
Rockies (Francis, 2-5) at Dodgers (Ryu, 14-7), 4:10 p.m. Preview >
A's (Gray, 4-3) at Mariners (Ramirez, 5-2), 4:10 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: Rays or Rangers at Indians
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox^ | Tigers^ at A's^
Wild Card: Reds* at Pirates*
Division Series: Wild Card at Cardinals^ | Dodgers^ at Braves^
* - clinched postseason spot
^ - clinched division
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker. If the division record is tied, then intraleague record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker. If the division record is tied, then intraleague record will be the next tiebreaker.
2013 postseason schedule
NL Wild Card Game: Tuesday
AL Wild Card Game: Wednesday
NL Division Series begin: Thursday
AL Division Series begin: Friday
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.