Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012

Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012

Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012
The postseason is quickly approaching, scheduled to start in only 20 days, but you won't find any contenders looking too far into the future.

Likewise, yesterday's games were important but they are already a distant memory.

Welcome to the final three weeks of regulation, the time of the season when a team's most crucial game is the one it is currently playing.

Wells Fargo

On Friday, the White Sox shut out the Twins, 6-0, to maintain their one-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. In the NL, the Marlins defeated the Reds, 4-0, but Cincinnati still leads the NL Central by 11 games.

Back in the AL, the Orioles and the Yankees lost Friday night to the A's and Rays, respectively, and remain tied for the top spot in the AL East.

With the 6-4 win, the Rays are three games out of the top spot in the division and AL Wild Card.

Also Friday, the Giants won their third game in a row and seventh in their last 10 games, topping the D-backs, 6-2, to stay on top in the NL West. The Dodgers, who trail the first-place Giants by 7 1/2 games in the division, cut into the Cardinals' lead in the race for the NL Wild Card to one game by beating them, 8-5, Friday night.

The Dodgers will send Joe Blanton to the mound on Saturday with a chance to force a tie. The Cardinals will counter with Jaime Garcia.

But there is more.

The showdown continues in Oakland in the race for a playoff spot between the A's, who trail the Rangers by three games in the AL West, and O's. In the NL East, The Nationals still hold a sizeable 7 1/2-game lead, but don't expect the Braves to go down without a fight. Atlanta is looking to pad its lead atop the NL Wild Card standings.

Want wild?

The Phillies, who take on the Astros, and the Pirates, who square off against the Cubs, are both three games back in the race for the NL Wild Card heading into Saturday's games. Meanwhile, the Brewers, who take on the Mets, are only 3 1/2 games back.

The Angels? They are only 2 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card heading into the second game of the series against Kansas City on Saturday.

Saturday's key games to watch (all times ET)

Pirates (Rodriguez, 3-4) at Cubs (Berken, 0-0), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
The Pirates have lost seven in a row and are slipping fast in the National League Wild Card race. They hope Rodriguez will get them back on track.

Red Sox (Buchholz, 11-6) at Blue Jays (Villanueva, 7-5), 1:07 p.m. Preview >
Boston's next loss will be its 81st of the season, marking the first time the Red Sox haven't finished a season above .500 since 1997.

White Sox (Quintana, 6-4) at Twins (Deduno, 6-3), 1:10 p.m. Preview >
The White Sox, who lead the Tigers by one game in the AL Central standings, are 11-3 in their past 14 games at Target Field.

Tigers (Sanchez, 7-12) at Indians (Masterson, 11-13) 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Detroit pitchers have a 2.79 ERA and 224 strikeouts in their last 27 games dating back to Aug. 14, and it will be up to Sanchez to keep the solid streak alive.

Rays (Shields, 14-8) at Yankees (Nova, 11-7), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Ivan Nova is 2-1 against Tampa Bay on the season with a 2.57 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 21 innings over three starts.

Nationals (Jackson, 9-10) at Braves (Hanson, 12-8), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
The Nationals' next win will be their 90th of the season, and it will mark the first 90-win season the city has enjoyed since the 1933 Senators win 99 games.

Phillies (Kendrick, 9-10) at Astros (Keuchel, 1-7), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Philadelphia has now won 16 of its past 21 and is looking to make a strong push in the final stretch of the season to take hold of a Wild Card spot.

Angels (Greinke, 5-2) at Royals (Guthrie, 4-3), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Zack Greinke is pitching at his old stomping grounds, his former home where he won the 2009 American League Cy Young. In 109 career games at Kansas City, including 89 starts, Greinke is 36-28 with a 3.52 ERA.

Reds (Cueto, 17-8) at Marlins (Buehrle, 12-12), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Johnny Cueto needs a win. He has dropped two straight losses for just the second time the season and the first time in more than two months.

Mets (Mejia, 0-0) at Brewers (Marcum, 5-4), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Milwaukee is 18-6 in its past 24 games and creeping back into contention for the NL Wild Card.

Mariners (Vargas, 14-10) at Rangers (Feldman, 6-11), 8:05 p.m. Preview >
Mike Napoli will be activated from the disabled list and start at catcher for the Rangers. Napoli has been on the sidelines since Aug. 11 with a strained left quad muscle.

Giants (Zito, 11-8) at D-backs (Miley, 15-9), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The Giants have won three in a row, seven of their last 10 games and each of Barry Zito's last seven starts

Orioles (Britton, 5-2) at A's (Parker, 10-8), 9:05 p.m. Preview >
Britton is coming off a short outing and Parker is 3-1 in his past five starts, allowing three or less earned runs in four of those starts.

Cardinals (Garcia, 4-7) at Dodgers (Blanton, 1-4), 9:10 p.m. Preview >
Garcia has a road ERA of 6.19 this season, as opposed to a 2.63 mark at Busch Stadium. Overall, he's 18-11 with a 2.42 ERA in his career at home and 13-12 with a 4.69 on the road.

If the postseason started today ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Wild Card: Orioles or Yankees at A's

Division Series: White Sox at Orioles or Yankees | Rangers vs. Wild Card winner

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Wild Card: Cardinals at Braves

Division Series: Giants at Reds | Nationals vs. Wild Card winner

Postseason Bracket »

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.

Tie-breaker scenarios

Tie-breaker games will be played to determine the division winner, even if the two tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tie-breaker game is necessary, the head-to-head record between the tied clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tie-breaker.

If two clubs are tied for both Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the tied Clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tie-breaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 Postseason Schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
American League Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
National League Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1

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