Cardinals, Giants compete for Wild Card positioning; Yankees continue playoff hunt vs. Red Sox at Fenway
By Chad Thornburg
The very first division flag could fly today as the Cubs enter play in position to claim the National League Central. With a win over the Brewers or a Cardinals loss, Chicago can lock up the division and punch its ticket to the NL Division Series.
The Cubs' potential division clincher is far from the only matchup worth tuning in for today. The Giants and Cardinals open a pivotal four-game series in San Francisco with major Wild Card implications, while the Yankees continue their playoff pursuit against the first-place Red Sox at Fenway Park.
The Cubs are assured of postseason play. They can finish with no worse than the same record as St. Louis, and the Cardinals have four games remaining against the Giants. Since the Cards would have to win all of their games to tie Chicago, that would mean four losses for the Giants, who lead the Wild Card race by a half-game over the Mets. New York also can do no better than finish with the same record as the Cubs. In other words, in the highly unlikely event that the Cubs lose all of their remaining games and the Cardinals and Mets win all of theirs, there would be a tie atop the NL Central and the loser of the tiebreaking game would be one of the Wild Cards.
MLB.TV Premium has returned with the same features as last year, and is only $9.99 for the rest of the season. This package has the best value and provides access to more than 400 devices and a free subscription to the MLB.com At Bat Premium app (a $19.99 value). It offers the best picture quality ever -- a new 60 frames per second -- for supported devices.
Here's what to watch for throughout the day (all times ET):
Cubs return home on the verge of division title: MIL@CHC, 8:05 p.m.
The Cubs return to Chicago with an opportunity to celebrate their first NL Central title since 2008 in front of a hometown crowd today in a meeting with the Brewers at Wrigley Field. After seven seasons ceding the division to the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers, the Cubs are in prime position with a commanding 17-game lead on St. Louis.
"It'll be fun," Chicago's Anthony Rizzo said. "It's been the Cardinals' division for so many years now. We're going to really enjoy it when we do clinch [Thursday] or whenever it happens. We're not going to take it for granted."
Left-hander Mike Montgomery will start the potential division-clincher for the Cubs, making his fifth start with Chicago. He took a no-decision against the Brewers just last week, allowing one run on two hits in five innings of work. Righty Jimmy Nelson goes for the Brewers. He's struggled of late, allowing four or more runs in five of his last eight starts.
Stat that matters: This game marks the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand of the season. Chicago is an MLB-best 51-20 at home this year.
Cards, Giants battle for Wild Card standing: STL@SF, 10:15 p.m.
This weekend's four-game series between the Cardinals and Giants could determine which team takes the field in the NL's one-game playoff next month. The Cardinals enter today's opener just one game behind the Giants and a half game back of the Mets in the Wild Card race. This series represents the final head-to-head matchup between any of those three teams.
"I think it's going to have that [October] feel," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
The opener will certainly feature a pitching matchup befitting October as veterans Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto toe the rubber. Wainwright has traditionally pitched well against the Giants with a 3.06 ERA in 13 career games (11 starts). Cueto, who spent seven-plus years in the NL Central, has a 3.88 ERA in 21 starts vs. St. Louis.
Stat that matters: The Cardinals have outscored opponents, 250-177, in the seventh inning and later this season. The Giants, meanwhile, have the most blown saves (28) in the NL.
Yankees, Red Sox clash as playoff races heat up: NYY@BOS, 7:10 p.m.
The Yankees continue their pursuit of a Wild Card spot today in the opener of a four-game series against the first-place Red Sox. A division title isn't yet out of reach, however, as New York trails Boston by four games within the American League East. The Red Sox enter the series having won eight of their last 12 games, hoping to maintain their hold on first place with the O's just one game back.
Masahiro Tanaka will look to continue his recent dominance in the opener. The right-hander is unbeaten (6-0) in his last seven starts with a 1.94 ERA. He held the Rays to just one run and struck out a season-high 10 batters his last time out.
The Red Sox will counter with lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who has been at his best when facing the Yankees. He's 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA in six career starts vs. New York.
Stat that matters: The Yankees on Wednesday signed veteran Billy Butler, who was released from the A's last weekend. Butler, a right-handed hitter, is slashing .299/.381/.491 for his career vs. southpaws, and the Red Sox will deploy three lefty starters in this four-game set.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers get the Mosaic View -- split screen or quad, available on PC or Mac only. That always comes in handy, especially when scoreboard-watching looms. MLB.TV Premium and MLB.TV Single Team subscribers both enjoy HD and both will get real-time highlights and player stats automatically loaded moments after they occur (only for the game you are watching with MLB.TV Single Team, and for all games with MLB.TV Premium).
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.