"In 162 games, anything can happen," Pujols said. "You never want to wait to come down to the end of the season, but if that's the way it goes, hopefully we can be the lucky ones."
In a 21-run rout against the D-backs, the Astros gained a game on the Rangers in the AL West while maintaining their slim one-game lead over the Angels for the second spot in the AL Wild Card race.
Home-field advantage for the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser is still up in the air after Cubs ace Jake Arrieta delivered six scoreless innings vs. the Brewers for his 22nd win and the Pirates walked off against the Reds in the 12th on Starling Marte's homer.
A whopping 18 contests are on tap today, with as many as 11 possessing major playoff implications -- and you can watch all out-of-market games this weekend for free on MLB.TV, presented by AT&T. Blackout restrictions apply. That penultimate slate of games features three doubleheaders (Yankees-Orioles, Mets-Nationals and Phillies-Marlins) and a slew of clinch scenarios, including the lone remaining division title and the final playoff spot.
The AL West, the last division left unclaimed, can be had by the Rangers if Texas can knock off the Angels or the D-backs beat the Astros.
"We knew that we'd get a crack at it today, and if we couldn't do it, we'd get two more chances," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "I like our chances."
But even if the Astros cede the division to the Rangers, they're still in the midst of a three-team race with Los Angeles and Minnesota, which has an elimination number of one, for the 10th and final spot in the postseason. A Houston win and an Angels loss punches the Astros' ticket to the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser against the Yankees.
"All we can do is just keep battling and see what happens," Twins outfielder Torii Hunter said."Best scenario is those guys lose two, we win two, but we've got to go out there tomorrow."
And if that's not enough for a day's worth of baseball, home-field advantage and matchups are at stake for several pending playoff series. Both winners on Friday, the Blue Jays and Royals enter play Saturday tied at 93 wins, with Toronto holding the tiebreaker for home field throughout the postseason. A half-game back of the Dodgers, the Mets can secure home-field advantage in the NL Division Series with a doubleheader sweep against the Nationals and a Los Angeles loss to the Padres. (The Mets hold the tiebreaker over the Dodgers and get home-field advantage if the two clubs finish with the same record.)
The location of both Wild Card Games can also be determined Saturday. A Yankees win or an Astros loss assures the AL's one-game playoff will be held at Yankee Stadium. But if the Astros and Yankees finish tied -- and the Astros don't catch the Rangers -- the Wild Card Game would be played in Houston since the Astros won the season series between the two clubs.
Meanwhile, a Pirates win or a Cubs loss brings the NL Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh. If the Pirates and Cubs finish tied, the game will be at Wrigley Field due to Chicago's 11-8 record vs. the Bucs in head-to-head meetings this season.
"Our goal is to nail down the opportunity to play at home," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our next goal would be to win that game. Then you go to the Division Series, then you keep moving the chains until you win a world championship."
It all adds up to an eventful day in Major League Baseball, packed with postseason implications from top to bottom.
Here are four things to watch for:
The final division winner? LAA@TEX, 1:05 p.m. ET
The Angels will send Hector Santiago to the mound as he tries to improve on his 7.94 ERA over his last three outings. For Texas, Colby Lewis gets the start, trying for his career-best 18th win this season. The Rangers can win their sixth AL West title Saturday afternoon with a win or an Astros loss.
Of course, if the Angels win and find a way to catch the Astros over the final two days, the two clubs would play a tiebreaker game on Monday to determine the second AL Wild Card team. The game would be played in Houston since the Astros won the season series 10-9.
If the Astros win their final two games and the Rangers lose both of their remaining games the two teams would be tied for the AL West lead. In such a scenario, the two teams would play a tiebreaker on Monday to determine the division champion. The game would be hosted by Texas because it won the season series against Houston. The loser would face the Yankees in the Wild Card Game.
Pirates capture home field? CIN@PIT, 7:05 p.m. ET
Chicago will be playing at the same time in Milwaukee, so Pittsburgh will be scoreboard watching as right-hander A.J. Burnett seeks to lock up the home-field advantage. Burnett owns a 3.68 ERA in four starts since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 10. Reds lefty Brandon Finnegan, who arrived in Cincinnati via the Johnny Cueto trade, has a 6.00 ERA in three starts for his new club, allowing five home runs.
NL East pitching duel: WSH@NYM, 7:10 p.m. ET (second game of twin bill)
The Mets already won the battle for the NL East over the Nationals, but there still is reason to keep an eye on the second game of the teams' doubleheader at Citi Field. For one thing, the Mets are battling the Dodgers for home field in the NL Division Series. For another, this will be Matt Harvey's final regular-season start, as he faces Nats ace Max Scherzer. Harvey surrendered seven earned runs to Washington on Sept. 8 -- in a game the Mets rallied to win -- but otherwise has a 1.65 ERA over his last 16 starts. His much-discussed innings count for the season currently stands at 183 1/3. After struggling for much of the second half, Scherzer has bounced back with a 2.12 ERA over his past four outings, striking out 34 in 29 2/3 innings.