The Road to October: Sept. 15, 2011

The Road to October: Sept. 15, 2011

The Road to October: Sept. 15, 2011
It's official.

The Phillies clinched a playoff spot Wednesday and are back in the postseason just like everyone expected. They could have company as early as Thursday if all goes according to plan for the Detroit Tigers.

Now who expected that?

With the 1-0 win against Houston in their 146th game of the season Wednesday, the Phillies eclipsed the 1915 club (No. 147) as the fastest in team history to clinch a playoff berth.

The Phillies, in addition to being the first team to clinch a postseason spot, also reduced their magic number to four for claiming a fifth consecutive National League East title.

Philadelphia was led by none other than Roy Halladay (18-5), who scattered six hits and struck out seven in a complete-game effort to become the first Phillies pitcher with back-to-back 18-plus wins in a season since Steve Carlton did it in 1979-80.

"To know we're going [to the postseason], obviously there's some work that we want to get done -- and obviously trying to win the division and get ourselves home field -- but going to the playoffs is always a thrill," Halladay said. "That's the ultimate reason you're playing the game."

As for Detroit, the Tigers tied the game with a pair of ninth-inning homers and went on to beat the White Sox, 6-5, in 10 innings Wednesday. The come-from-behind victory extended the Tigers' winning streak to 12 games -- the club's longest since winning a franchise record-tying 14 straight in 1934 -- and combined with Cleveland's loss to Texas lowered that magic number to two.

The Tigers are feeling confident and it's hard to blame them.

"I will say one thing," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Up to this point, we're certainly not backing our way in. We're not backing anywhere up until this point. And I do emphasize up until this point."

The Rangers helped the Tigers but also helped themselves Wednesday, pounding 12 hits -- the seventh consecutive game the team has registered 12 or more hits, setting a franchise record and becoming the first American League team to do it since Baltimore in May 2004.

Most importantly, the Texas win ensures that the Rangers' lead in the AL West stays at three games, as they matched the Angels' 4-1 victory against Oakland.

"Up and down the lineup, we're getting it done," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Everybody is doing their part. The substitutes are doing their part, the regulars are doing their part, and it couldn't happen at a better time of the year."

In the AL East, the Yankees' magic number to clinch a postseason berth dropped to seven despite a 2-1 loss the Seattle in extra innings. New York maintains a four-game lead over second-place Boston in the division standings and leads Detroit by 3 1/2 games in the race for the best record in the American League.

The Rays and Red Sox are headed for a showdown in Boston starting Thursday but neither could club could help themselves with a victory Wednesday.

The Red Sox gave up three runs in the eighth inning against the Blue Jays on their way to a 5-4 defeat at Fenway Park but still hold a four-game advantage over the Rays in the AL Wild Card standings. The Rays, who trail the Yankees by eight games in the division, couldn't solve Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie and the result was a 6-2 loss in Baltimore.

In the NL Central, the Cardinals edged the Pirates, 3-2, at PNC Park but Atlanta held off Florida in a game that finished earlier in the afternoon, keeping the Redbirds' deficit in the NL Wild Card race at 4 1/2 games with 13 games left on the Cards' schedule. It was the third straight day that the Cardinals neither gained nor lost ground in the chase for the Wild Card. They did pick up a game in the division, however, moving to within 5 1/2 of first.

That's because the Rockies cruised past the division-leading Brewers, 6-2. The Milwaukee faithful have watched their team's lead in the division shrink during the last 10 days, but the club is not panicking.

"You've got to just battle the adversity," said right fielder Nyjer Morgan. "The game's catching us a little bit. We were beating up people a little bit in August and everything, so it's definitely no time for a panic or nothing like that. It's just part of the game."

The Brewers and the D-backs, who were defeated, 3-2, by the Dodgers on Wednesday, have identical 87-63 records as the competition for the second-seed in the NL playoffs continues.

If the postseason started today

Rangers (3) at Yankees (1)
Red Sox (Wild Card) at Tigers (2)

Brewers (3) at Phillies (1)
Braves (Wild Card) at D-backs (2)

Today's key games to watch

Rays (Hellickson, 12-10) at Red Sox (Weiland, 0-1), 7:10 p.m. Preview
Get ready for a showdown. The Red Sox lead the Rays by four games in the AL Wild Card and this series could have a dramatic affect on the landscape of the playoff race in the American League.

Marlins (Sanabia, 0-0) at Phillies (Lee, 16-7), 7:35 p.m. Preview
The Phillies have clinched a playoff spot and now have their eyes on a division title. Their magic number for a NL East championship is four.

Tigers (Scherzer, 14-8) at Athletics (McCarthy, 8-8), 10:05 p.m. Preview
The Tigers lead the AL Central by 13 1/2 games over the White Sox, with a magic number of two to clinch the division. Detroit is 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the best record in the AL.

Indians (Carmona, 6-14) at Rangers (Ogando, 12-8), 8:05 p.m. Preview
The Rangers lead the Angels by three games in AL West, and they trail the Yankees by 5 1/2 games for the best record in the AL.

Postseason 101

Magic numbers

To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining on the schedule and add one. Then subtract the difference in the loss column between the team and its closest pursuer. Here are the current magic numbers.

Yankees: 7 to clinch postseason

Tigers: 2 to clinch the AL Central

Rangers: 11 games to clinch the AL West

Red Sox: 11 games to clinch the AL Wild Card

Phillies: Clinched a postseason berth, 4 games to clinch NL East

Brewers: 8 games to clinch NL Central

D-backs: 6 games to clinch postseason and NL West

Braves: 9 games to clinch the NL Wild Card

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 Thursday, Sept. 29
• The winner of the first game hosts Club C on Friday, Sept. 30, with the winner declared champion.

If two division winners are tied for the highest winning percentage, the following tie-breakers will be used to determine home-field advantage in the Division Series:
• Head-to-head record
• Highest winning percentage in intraleague games
• Highest winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games
• If the clubs remain tied, then the tied club with the higher winning percentage in the last half plus one of the intraleague games during the championship season. This process will be followed game-by-game until the tie is broken.

2011 Postseason schedule

American League Division Series: Sept. 30 - Oct. 6
National League Division Series: Oct. 1-7
American League Championship Series: Oct. 8-16
National League Championship Series: Oct. 9-17
World Series: Oct. 19-27
Full postseason schedule

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.