Day at the Races: Sept. 29

Day at the Races: Sept. 29

Oh, Papi. Do we have a big weekend of baseball ahead of us.

On a Day at the Races that saw the White Sox celebrate their AL Central title, the AL East and AL Wild Card races only became more intriguing.

With David Ortiz going all Big Papi on the Blue Jays and carrying the Red Sox back for a victory at Fenway Park, the stage is set for a showdown with the Yankees this weekend. The Yankees head into the three-game finale with a one-game lead in the AL East.

Here is how it all sorts out:

• If Yankees win two of three, they win the AL East.
• If Red Sox win two of three, but the Indians have a better record, then there will be a one-game playoff to see who wins the AL East.
• If Red Sox win two of three, but the Indians do not have a better record, then the AL East champ will be decided by head-to-head record, and the runner-up will win the Wild Card.
• If Red Sox win two of three, and the Indians have the same record, then the AL East champ will be decided by a one-game playoff, then the runner-up will play the Indians in a one-game playoff to determine the Wild Card.
• If Red Sox sweep, they win the East.

Meanwhile, the Indians might have lost out on their chance to go from 15 back to the top of the AL Central, but their Wild Card hopes remain very much alive heading into their three-game set at home against the White Sox. They're tied with the Red Sox for the fourth AL spot.

Over in the NL, the Houston Astros lost, cutting their Wild Card lead over the idle Phillies by half a game.

It all adds up to the best kind of final weekend you can ask for -- three spots still up for grabs, and a lot of important baseball to be played.

Here's a closer look around baseball's Day at the Races:

If the season ended today:
American League
Play-in Game:
Monday, Oct. 3: Indians at Red Sox for Wild Card

If Indians win Wild Card:
ALDS 1: Angels at White Sox, starting Oct. 4
ALDS 2: Indians at Yankees, starting Oct. 4

If Red Sox win Wild Card:
ALDS 1: Angels at Yankees, starting Oct. 4
ALDS 2: Red Sox at White Sox, starting Oct. 4

National League
NLDS 1: Padres at Cardinals, starting Oct. 4 or Oct. 5
NLDS 2: Astros at Braves, starting Oct. 4 or Oct. 5

AL WILD CARD
Boston Red Sox (93-66), first place, TIED
Thursday: The chants echoed long after the hit: MVP, MVP, MVP. Red Sox fans have spoken (again), and David Ortiz is their man. He gave good reason in Boston's 5-4 victory, that's for sure. Big Papi hit a solo homer in the eighth to tie it and won it in the ninth with an RBI single that might have burned part of the Fenway infield.

Friday: Well, their destiny is in their hands, and the ball's in the hands of former Yankee David Wells. The big lefty has had his ups and downs this year, but there are few big-game pitchers like him -- and you can't get a whole lot bigger than this. He's 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA in four starts against the Yankees this year, but his best one by far was at his favored confines of Fenway, a seven-inning gem in that 17-1 blowout on July 15. Tim Wakefield is on the docket for Saturday, and Curt Schilling is scheduled to go on Sunday.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 vs. New York Yankees

Cleveland Indians (93-66), first place, TIED
Thursday: One day after suffering a costly blanking, the Indians returned the favor on the Devil Rays and broke out the bats. C.C. Sabathia delivered the goods with eight shutout innings, and Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta and Ronnie Belliard provided the pop with homers. So, in other words, they're right back on track after a three-game hiccup.

Friday: The lack of a division race doesn't mean these won't be some hard-fought games at Jacobs Field this weekend. The Indians will need their best across the board, and that starts with Kevin Millwood, who has allowed more than two earned runs in each of his last six starts. That includes a Sept. 19 outing against the White Sox in which he allowed four runs (one earned) on eight hits in six innings. Millwood earned a no-decision as Aaron Boone came through with a two-run single to win that one, 7-5.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 vs. Chicago White Sox

AL EAST
New York Yankees (94-65), first place, one game ahead
Thursday: Aaron Small, absolutely huge again. The right-hander continued what's become one of the true feel-good stories of the season by holding down the Orioles while the Yankees' bats jumped all over them in an 8-4 win that kept the Yankees in first place heading into the big weekend. Jason Giambi's three-run homer broke it open, and Small took a shutout into the seventh. The Yankees have won 15 of 18, apparently finding their groove just in time.

Friday: Shawn Chacon and Small got it done. Why not put Chien-Ming Wang in the spotlight of the biggest game of the year? Wang has faced the Red Sox once this year, giving up two runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings on May 29. He'll be followed by Randy Johnson on Saturday and Mike Mussina on Sunday.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Boston

AL CENTRAL
Chicago White Sox (96-63), first place, CLINCHED
Thursday: The White Sox washed out all that choke talk with some celebratory champagne after riding a strong start by Freddy Garcia to a 4-2 victory at Comerica Park. A two-out triple by Carl Everett got the party started, and now the White Sox head to Cleveland knowing that even a sweep can't touch their AL Central title.

Friday: Of course, the White Sox will be looking to do a whole lot more than just avoid a sweep. Mark Buehrle makes his final tuneup start before the postseason, and the Sox would no doubt like to see him use it to put some of his second-half struggles behind him.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Cleveland

NL WILD CARD
Houston Astros (87-72), first place, two games ahead
Thursday: Oh, how close the Astros came to another miracle finish. This time, the runner trying to come around to score from first base was Charles Gipson, and he didn't make it -- thrown out at the plate to end a 3-2 loss to the Cubs. The night before, Willy Taveras had scored on a Morgan Ensberg double. Earlier mistakes, including a run given to the Cubs on a hit batter, a two-base error and a wild pitch, were even more costly to the Astros.

Friday: The Astros still can wrap it up by winning two of the three games on the weekend, and they start out with a good chance because lefty Andy Pettitte will be taking the mound. More good news for the Astros: Pettitte allowed one run on two hits in six innings in his last start, also against the Cubs and had another quality start against them in August. The bad news: Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano is pretty darn good, too. He gave up six runs in that same start against Pettitte but hurled a 8 1/3-inning gem against Houston in August.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 vs. Chicago Cubs

Philadelphia Phillies (85-74)
Thursday: This is what's called a productive day off: The Phillies gained a half-game without playing.

Friday: The Phillies need some help from the Cubs but they are still alive, and they have the right man on the mound to start off their series against the Nationals. Cory Lidle has been strong against Washington this season, allowing six earned runs covering 19 innings in three starts. He'll face Livan Hernandez, whose last start against the Phillies lasted eight innings as he earned the victory on Aug. 15.

Remaining games (3): Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Washington

John Schlegel is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.