Week Ahead: October tickets to be punched

Week Ahead: October tickets to be punched

Magic numbers, matchup drama and a milestone a minute.

Not much more needs to be said about the state of Major League Baseball when The Week Ahead is the penultimate seven-day period in both the scintillating month of September and the season.

Monday carries with it the momentum of five months-plus of intrigue. Everything is boiling down to the 10 clubs that will qualify for the postseason, and this week, first and foremost, will be all about the simple and sometimes not-so-simple mathematics of contention.

The Cardinals are already in -- no surprise there for the team with the best record in the game for much of the season. But take a closer look and you'll see all sorts of permutations pointing to more October tickets possibly being punched this week.

In the American League, the Royals can clinch a playoff berth as early as Tuesday, and the Blue Jays could soon follow. Again, this is no shock, given how both teams have taken control of their respective divisions, the East and Central. But the Royals are no longer a cinch to have the best record in the AL when the season is over, and the Jays are no longer a cinch to win the East.

In fact, entering Monday, Toronto is only two games behind Kansas City after being 12 back in late July, but they're only 2 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in their division. No one seems to be panicking, of course. Not with October still well in sight.

"The good thing about it is that our guys have been really focused on coming out so there's no drop in intensity," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They're playing hard, they understand that, yeah, we've got a big lead in the division, but home-field advantage is important, too. So they've stayed focused on that."

The Rangers, who lead the AL West, and the Yankees and Astros, who have the top two spots in the AL Wild Card standings, are focused on possibly securing postseason invitations later in the week.

In the National League, the Mets can wrap up the East by midweek, and the Dodgers can take the West as well. The Wild Card-bound Pirates and Cubs, who are second and third behind the Cardinals in the Central, respectively, also can make their berths official this week.

The Yankees and Mets just finished a regular-season Subway Series, and the electricity at Citi Field reminded them that it's possible they could meet again in the World Series.

"We're playing for something big," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "They are also. Obviously, when you're playing a team where there is somewhat of a rivalry going, you're going to be pumped up for it."

But a lot would have to happen for that matchup to take place, and there are other teams still in the mix, too.

The Indians, Twins and Angels, for example, are not out of the Wild Card hunt in the AL, and they are all in position to make some noise and confuse things this week.

The Angels begin the week with three games against the Astros in Houston. If Mike Scioscia's club can pull off a sweep in Minute Maid Park, it will move ahead of Houston. Meanwhile, the Twins, who have the same record as the Angels, will play the Indians at Target Field for three games starting Tuesday, so one of those Central teams could be in better position to challenge for a Wild Card position if Houston continues to slide.

Over the weekend we will see a likely matchup of the two teams set for the NL Wild Card Game, with the Pirates visiting the Cubs. As of Monday the Wild Card game would be played at PNC Park, but the Cubs are only two behind. Winning the series at Wrigley could help assure that the Wild Card Game is played in the Friendly Confines.

We'll also see what could be a key Friday-to-Sunday set for the Indians, who will play the division-leading Royals in Kansas City as they keep trying to move closer to Wild Card pay dirt.

The Astros might be in position to turn things around in the West, too. They get a three-game weekender at home against the Rangers, who swept them in four games last week in Arlington and have vaulted ahead of them in the division.

"The bottom line is, we just got outplayed," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after the Texas rivals' last meeting. "They found different ways to win games and executed pretty flawlessly. It's not a good feeling going home getting beat up like this, but these games are over."

The season, however, is not, so there are still milestones to be achieved.

Perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout of the Angels needs only one home run to reach 40 in a single season for the first time in his already legendary career. Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado need only one apiece for the same achievement.

Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta is scheduled to take the ball on Tuesday night at home against the Brewers to try to become the first pitcher in the Major Leagues this season to win 20 games. It would be the first time the breakout Cy Young Award contender pulled off that increasingly rare feat.

And even though his team is out of the playoff race, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon has 200 hits in sight. The speedy All-Star entered Monday with a Major League-leading 187 hits, and his club has six home games this week against Philadelphia and Atlanta. If Gordon has a hot week, he could be the first big leaguer in 2015 to reach this much-sought-after number.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.