Postseason Picture: Sept. 25

Postseason Picture: Sept. 25

Two clubs can punch their tickets to the postseason on Saturday, though they would be reaching the mark in far different fashions.

The Phillies and Rangers both enter the day with magic numbers of two, and both can clinch their respective divisions with wins and losses by their closest competitors.

The Rangers lead the American League West by seven games. Texas can directly engineer a clinch with a win against second-place Oakland. The Rangers will send Derek Holland to the hill, opposed by Gio Gonzalez. The Rangers have been comfortably in front in the West since late July, when they pushed their lead in the division to seven games, where it stands now. But that's masked a tepid stretch of play -- since July 25, the Rangers are 26-27.

The Phillies, on the other hand, are blisteringly hot. Philadelphia has won 11 games in a row and can clinch the National League East with a win and an Atlanta loss. The Phillies are seven games up on the Braves, a 14-game swing from July 22. Since then, the Phillies are 43-15.

Only Minnesota has a guaranteed spot when the postseason begins on Oct. 6. Here is where the seven remaining clubs stand.

NL Picture

Tiebreaker scenarios
If two teams are tied atop the division and both are assured of making the postseason, head-to-head record would be used to determine which team is the division champ and which falls to the Wild Card.
If two teams are tied atop the division and share the Wild Card lead with another club, the ties will be broken in the following fashion:
• The teams tied atop the division will play, with the winner taking the division.
• The losing team will then play the remaining Wild Card contender, with the winner making the playoffs.
If three clubs are tied atop a division or Wild Card standings, each club would be designated in one of three slots, "A," "B," or "C." Clubs get to choose their designation based on head-to-head records. Tiebreaking games would then proceed like this:
• Club A hosts Club B on Monday, Oct. 4
• The winner of the first game hosts Club C on Oct. 5, with the winner declared champion.
The Phillies' success has come in part at the Braves' expense, to the extent that Atlanta begins play on Saturday outside the playoff picture. In addition to trailing the Phillies in the East, the Braves trail the Padres by a half-game in the Wild Card standings.

San Diego faces Cincinnati in the second installment of a three-game series at PETCO Park. The Reds' magic number is three games against the Cardinals. The Padres mounted a late rally to win the opener, and they turn to Jon Garland against the Reds' Travis Wood. Cincinnati can move closer to its first playoff berth since 1995 with a win or if the Cardinals fall to the Cubs.

San Diego is in the thick of the NL West race, a half-game behind San Francisco. The Giants and Rockies meet at Coors Field in the second of a three-game series. There's quite a distance between the division leaders and closure, however, and the third-place Rockies can get back in the mix with Jason Hammel on the mound.

The Phillies would be the top seed in the NL if the season ended today and would host the Padres. The Giants would face the Reds.

NL West three-way tiebreaker scenario
If three clubs are tied for first place in the division with an identical winning percentage at the end of the regular season, then the tie is broken by designating the clubs as "A," "B" and "C," with selection of those designations based on the clubs' records against one another. Tiebreaking games would then be played as follows:

• Club A would host club B on Monday, Oct. 4.
• The winner of the A vs. B game would then host club C on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
• The winner of the A/B vs. C game would be declared division champion.

NL West three-way records: Colorado is a combined 20-14 (.588) vs. SD/SF; San Diego is a combined 16-17 (.485) vs. SF/COL; and San Francisco is a combined 13-18 (.419) vs. SD/COL. Thus if it's a three-way division tie, Colorado would have the choice of being Club A or Club C -- essentially a choice of whether it wants to try and win two home games or one road game. The other two club designations would be pending further meetings this season.

The Giants could get their record within the group to 18-18 if they sweep this series at Coors Field -- and if they also sweep the Padres at home on the regular season's final weekend. The Padres could push their record in the group to 19-17 if they sweep the last series at San Francisco.

As for head-to-head, the Rockies won the season series from the Padres, 12-6; the Rockies are even with the Giants, 8-8; and the Padres won the season series from the Giants, 10-5. Should the Giants and Rockies finish tied atop the NL West with identical winning percentages, each with a qualifying postseason berth, that head-to-head record means the Padres would be declared division champs and the Giants would be the Wild Card.

AL Picture
The Rangers get top billing in the Junior Circuit, trumping the game's fiercest rivalry. That's what happens when a club is on the brink of clinching a playoff spot for the first time in more than a decade.

Holland was 13 years old when the Rangers last made the postseason in 1999. Now 23, Holland can lead Texas to a clinch when he takes the hill in Oakland. He's had good results against the A's, with a 2.84 ERA spread over five appearances. Gonzalez is Oakland's last line of defense, and his career numbers are strong against Texas. Gonzalez has a 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings spread over seven appearances.

The Red Sox began the weekend by taking a pound of flesh from the Yankees, dragging New York from the AL East lead to the Wild Card race, where Boston is the closest pursuer. The Yankees' magic number in the Wild Card race is three; a win would trim that to one. Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova will get his introduction to the rivalry, opposed by Red Sox lefty Jon Lester.

New York's misfortune on Friday was Tampa Bay's benefit, and the Rays are now the caretakers of a half-game lead in the AL East. Tampa Bay will be playing without one of its cornerstone players -- third baseman Evan Longoria is out for this series because of a strained quadriceps.

The Rays are jockeying with the Twins for the top spot in the AL -- right now, the clubs are even. Because the Wild Card is likely to come out of the East, the Twins will likely host the Wild Card winners. Right now, they would be going against the Yankees in the first round, while the top-seeded Rays would host the Rangers. The Rays would have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, by virtue of their winning records against the Twins.

Today's key games to watch (All times ET)

Braves (Lowe, 14-12) at Nationals (Maya, 0-2), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Cardinals (Carpenter, 15-8) at Cubs (Coleman, 2-2), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Rangers (Holland, 3-4) at A's (Gonzalez, 14-9), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Reds (Wood, 5-4) at Padres (Garland, 14-12), 4:10 p.m. Preview >
Red Sox (Lester, 18-8) at Yankees (Nova, 1-0), 4:10 p.m. Preview >
Twins (Pavano, 17-11) at Tigers (Bonderman, 8-9), 7:05 p.m. Preview>
Mets (Gee, 1-1) at Phillies (Kendrick, 10-9), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Mariners (Fister, 6-12) at Rays (Garza, 14-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Giants (Zito, 9-13) at Hammel (10-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

Rangers (3) at Rays (1)
Yankees (Wild Card) at Twins (2)

Padres (Wild Card) at Phillies (1)
Reds (3) at Giants (2)

Leaders and contenders

AL East
Rays: W, 5-3 vs. SEA
Lead: Half-game over NYY | Next: vs. SEA

AL Central
Twins: L, 10-1 @ DET

AL West
Rangers: W, 10-3 @ OAK
Lead: 8 over OAK | Next: @ OAK

AL Wild Card
Yankees: L, 10-8 vs. BOS
Lead: 6 1/2 over BOS | Next: vs. BOS


NL East
Phillies: W, 3-2 vs. NYM
Lead: 7 over ATL | Next: vs. NYM

NL Central
Reds: L, 4-3 @ SD
Lead: 6 1/2 over STL | Next: @ SD

NL West
Giants: W, 2-1 @ COL
Lead: Half-game over SD | Next: @ COL

NL Wild Card
Padres: W, 4-3 vs. CIN
Lead: Half-game over ATL, 4 over COL | Next: vs. CIN

Top NL contenders
Braves: L, 8-3 @ WAS
Deficit: 7 behind PHI in West, half-game behind SD in Wild Card | Next: @ WAS

Rockies: L, 2-1 vs. COL
Deficit: 4 1/2 behind SF in West, 4 behind SD in Wild Card | Next: vs. SF

Sunil Joshi is a reporter for Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.