Plenty of drama to come during stretch run

Plenty of drama to come during stretch run

Six weeks.

A lot can happen in six weeks. A tremendous amount has already transpired in the first 20 weeks of Major League Baseball's six-month schedule, so a handful plus one month means it's about time to start counting down the weeks, days and hours until October begins.

Eight teams.

That's all that will be invited at the end of these six weeks into October's destiny dance -- or perhaps it'll be six weeks and a day again, thanks to the American League Central not being able to work out its business in the regulation 162 games like the past two years, or another tight race coming down to the wire and then some.

Five-hundred-seventy-one games.

Yes, there is a lot of baseball left.

That's how many games remain of the 2,430 on the championship schedule, and in one way or another the majority of them will affect which eight teams will remain standing after these six weeks and 571 games are complete.

Entering the final six weeks of 2010, there are 12 clubs within six games of a playoff spot. That includes the teams currently in playoff position -- the Yankees, Twins, Rangers and Rays in the AL, the Braves, Reds, Padres and Phillies in the NL -- along with the teams hottest on the trail -- the White Sox, the Red Sox, the Cardinals and the Giants.

Extend a little bit beyond that six-game threshold, and there are still 17 teams within eight games of a playoff spot -- there's the Dodgers and Rockies, who will meet in Denver next weekend to perhaps designate one team a contender over the other, and the Marlins still holding on in the National League, and the Angels and A's in the AL.

For those well into the hunt, it's time to enjoy the ride. Mark Teahen, for instance, spent his career up to this season hoping for postseason play in Kansas City and now finds himself with the White Sox on the Twins' trail.

"It's awesome," said Teahen. "For the first time in my career, I'm playing for an opportunity to go to the postseason. It's exciting. I spent quite a few years trying to be a spoiler, so now I get to experience the other side of it. There's a different atmosphere when you're in the hunt this late in the year."

But even six weeks out can be too early to start having the standings branded on your brain daily and living and dying by the out-of-town scoreboard.

At least for managers like Bud Black of the Padres and Bruce Bochy of the Giants, who squared off recently in what Black dryly pointed out was not the first time his club had been deemed to be in a "showdown."

"When we were in Colorado just before the All-Star break, someone said that was a showdown. When we played Los Angeles it was a showdown," Black said.

So when do those things start to creep into the spotlight? When's it OK to peek at the scoreboard and do the math on the standings with every outcome?

"When you get into September, that's sort of the line for me," Black said. "It seems as though when NFL football comes, Major League Baseball picks up."

Said Bochy: "It's way too early to start scoreboard-watching. Once you get into September and you know a little bit more about where things stand, I think there are a few guys glancing up at the scoreboard, especially those last couple of weeks."

Still, you can bet many of the players are peeking already, and they're checking their mobile devices when they're not at the ballpark, watching out for what their foes are doing in the chase for October invitations.

Six weeks.

What's remarkable is how much already has transpired in the first 20 weeks -- all the no-hitters, all the amazing rookie debuts and historic performances, so much that has imprinted a distinct memory for 2010 to hold in baseball's history.

Will there be another no-no down the stretch? Just how much can some of these rookies -- for example, Jason Heyward in Atlanta and Jaime Garcia in St. Louis -- factor into the hunt for October? Will the Year of the Pitcher finish with a flourish, or will there be a hitting revolution in September?

Whatever happens, these last six weeks figure to top off what has been a uniquely engaging 2010 season.

With the countdown of weeks to October at T minus 6, every single one of the remaining weeks will include series that will make a difference.

That starts Monday, when the NL Central-leading Reds visit the Wild Card hopeful Giants, the AL East pursuing Rays travel to meet the teetering three-time defending AL West champion Angels, and the AL Central-leading Twins taking their summer surge to Texas to meet the Rangers, who are ensconced atop the AL West with their first playoff bid since 1999 in their scope.

Rinse and repeat for five more weeks after that.

The rest of the countdown only gets better:

T minus 5: The most contentious division rivalry of 2010 will flare up one more time with the Reds coming to meet the Cardinals in St. Louis from Sept. 3-5, hopefully with less pugilism this time around. Those same days, the Rangers will visit Minnesota's Target Field with two teams' playoff hopes on the line. And the Dodgers will know better about where they stand after hosting their NLCS foes the past two years, the Phillies, and the rivals they seek to overtake, the Giants.

T minus 4: The Rays-Red Sox meeting at Fenway starting Labor Day could be a barometer of how the battered but still battling Sox might fare in the final month. And for the second time in a month, the Yankees will visit Texas, this time for three games from Sept. 10-12 that -- if the standings are set the same way then as they are today -- would be a prelude to an AL Division Series tilt. Meanwhile, the Padres will host the Dodgers and the Giants in a homestand that's sure to test their September mettle.

T minus 3: The Yankees and Rays will meet in Tampa for the first of a home-and-home, this one three games on Sept. 13-15. Also, the Twins will be visiting the White Sox in a crucial AL Central meeting from Sept. 14-16. That weekend will bring a couple of key non-divisional matchups as well: Angels-Rays and Padres-Cardinals.

T minus 2: Division rivals clash all over the place with a four-game set of Rays-Yankees in the Bronx, a Braves-Phillies matchup at the home of the two-time defending NL champs, and the Rangers getting an opportunity to inch closer to a title if they can win some games in Anaheim. The weekend will include a venerable Red Sox-Yankees series in the Bronx and an interesting clash of surprising contenders with the Reds visiting San Diego.

T minus 1: The final week will come with the Red Sox visiting the White Sox, who will have just returned from Anaheim. The final weekend has tremendous potential for drama, with Padres-Giants possibly deciding the NL West, Phillies-Braves possibly deciding the NL East, Angels-Rangers possibly having a say in the AL West and Yankees-Red Sox possibly deciding, well, something in the American League.

T minus 0 means the field will be set for the postseason, which will begin with Division Series games on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

Let the countdown begin.

Six weeks left. Eight teams to be determined. Five-hundred-seventy-one games to go.

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