Key things to watch for in today's games

Key things to watch for in today's games

As the number of days left on the regular season baseball calendar shrink, so do the magic numbers for playoff contenders. There are plenty of races yet to be decided, but a few teams are nearing a playoff berth.

Stay tuned this weekend. Here are five things to watch for:

National League Central clash: STL @ CHC, 1:05 p.m. ET
The Cardinals can become the first team in the Majors to clinch a postseason berth Saturday. St. Louis either needs to beat the Cubs, or have the Giants lose to the D-backs, to clinch the franchise's fifth straight playoff appearance.

Michael Wacha, whose worst start of the season came earlier this month against the Cubs, starts for the Cards against Chicago, who will send Travis Wood to the mound.

The Cubs won the opener of this three-game series, 8-3, and trail the Cardinals by six games in the division.

Subway Series: NYY @ NYM, 1:05 p.m. ET
The Subway Series in New York always draws plenty of attention, but it's been a while since it carried so much importance in the standings this late in the season. Both the Mets and the Yankees are in prime contention for playoff spots and division crowns, and that's all thanks in part to right-handers Michael Pineda and Noah Syndergaard, who pitch Saturday. Pineda beat the Mets, allowing one run on five hits over 7 2/3 innings, on April 24.

Pineda fans Colabello

Playoff contenders collide: PIT @ LAD, 9:10 p.m. ET
Two NL clubs with the playoffs on their minds meet in Los Angeles this weekend for an important series, and southpaws Francisco Liriano and Clayton Kershaw will square off in Saturday night's game. Kershaw is riding a nine-game winning streak and has made seven consecutive starts without allowing more than one earned run. Liriano, meanwhile, is 3-0 in his career against the Dodgers.

Kershaw's one-run outing

Hamels streaking: SEA @ TEX, 8:05 p.m. ET
As the Rangers have hit their stride in the last couple weeks, so has ace left-hander Cole Hamels. The southpaw is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in his last six starts, and Texas has won each of those games. To keep things rolling in the contentious AL West, they'll need more of that against Vidal Nuno and the Mariners. Nuno recently notched his first victory of the season by beating the Rangers on Sept. 9.

Hamels fans eight

Erlin returns: SD @ COL, 8:10 p.m. ET
As crazy as it might seem, Robbie Erlin is set to become the first left-hander to start a game for the Padres this year when he takes the hill for the first time since a 2014 elbow injury. That setback sidelined him for three months, and he's been in the Minors ever since, managing a 7-6 record and a 5.60 ERA in 24 starts for Triple-A El Paso). On Saturday, he starts against Colorado's Yohan Flande.

Erlin's solid start

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.