Path to the Postseason: Sept. 20, 2012

Path to the Postseason: Sept. 20, 2012

The AL East race is so tight these days that, on Wednesday, the Orioles won their game -- an 11-inning thriller in Seattle -- and still lost ground.

That's because by the time they plated their first run, they had already lost a full game to the first-place Yankees, who swept a doubleheader against the Blue Jays earlier in the day.

"When you're in a pennant race, you don't really have to focus," said Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who notched seven hits in the two games. "This whole atmosphere makes you focus. That's kind of the difference that I've felt. This atmosphere creates this natural way of making you focus more. That's what I've felt."

Both the Yankees and Orioles have won four in a row after Adam Jones hit a go-ahead homer in the 11th to give the O's the 3-1 lead they'd eventually win by. It was Jones' 16th homer this season (out of 30 total) that has given his club the lead, and it pulled the Baltimore within a half a game of New York.

Wells Fargo

In the AL Central, the Tigers gained ground on the White Sox, thanks to a 6-2 victory over the A's coupled with a 3-0 Chicago loss in Kansas City. Miguel Cabrera continued his September tear and Triple Crown push with another homer, giving him 41 -- just one behind leader Josh Hamilton. Cabrera currently leads the AL in batting average and RBIs.

"If you win games and get into the playoffs, I think it'll take care of everything," said Cabrera, whose team is two games back of the White Sox in the AL Central.

In the NL Wild Card race, the Cardinals and Brewers each notched important wins -- the Cards over Houston and the Brewers over a fading Pirates squad that has fallen 4 1/2 games out of the NL Wild Card.

The Dodgers, who split a doubleheader with Washington, now trail the Cards by two games. Matt Kemp's go-ahead ninth-inning homer in Game 2 saved Los Angeles from what could have been a disastrous day in the standings.

The Brewers are 2 1/2 back and the Phillies kept pace at four back with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Mets in which Ryan Howard's two-run homer in the ninth kept them alive.

Out west, the Rangers put some distance between themselves and the A's with a 6-2 win over the Angels. Texas now sits four games up on Oakland, which leads the Angels by 3 1/2 games after the Halos couldn't capitalize on their opportunity to gain ground.

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

A's (Milone, 13-10) at Tigers (Sanchez, 8-12), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
The A's are suddenly struggling after losing three straight and the Tigers -- bolstered by Miguel Cabrera -- are very much alive, two games back in the AL Central.

Astros (Norris, 5-12) at Cardinals (Garcia, 4-7), 1:45 p.m. Preview >
The Cards extended their lead to two games on Wednesday, and on Thursday they go for a sweep against the Astros when they send Jaime Garcia to the mound.

Reds (Cueto, 17-9) at Cubs (Berken, 0-1), 2:20 p.m. Preview >
Johnny Cueto takes the ball for Cincinnati, as the Reds have a chance to clinch at least a postseason berth with a win over Chicago at Wrigley Field.

Padres (Richard, 13-12) at D-backs (Skaggs, 1-2), 3:40 p.m. Preview >
The D-backs are fighting for their lives in the NL Wild Card race, and they're still alive at four games behind the Cardinals.

Rockies (De La Rosa, 0-0) at Giants (Zito, 12-8), 3:45 p.m. Preview >
The Giants send Barry Zito to the hill with the NL West virtually locked up and home-field advantage in the first round not entirely out of the question.

Brewers (Fiers, 9-8) at Pirates (Rodriguez, 11-13), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
The Brewers go for a crucial sweep of the struggling Pirates on Thursday. Milwaukee currently sits 2 1/2 back in the NL Wild Card, trailing only St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Blue Jays (Laffey, 3-5) at Yankees (Hughes, 15-12), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
A Yankees win on Thursday in the Bronx would run their lead in the AL East to a full game over the Orioles. With both teams playing well, every victory is crucial.

Dodgers (Capuano, 11-10) at Nationals (Detwiler, 9-6), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Dodgers are still alive in the NL Wild Card hunt at two games back, while the Nats could clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Phillies (Cloyd, 1-1) at Mets (Hefner, 2-6), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
The Phillies go for a sweep of the Mets, looking to stay alive in the NL Wild Card hunt. They'd have to jump three teams, but their four-game deficit isn't insurmountable.

Red Sox (Buchholz, 11-6) at Rays (Price, 18-5), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Rays ace David Price takes the mound against the Sox with Tampa Bay looking for a split. They'd need to mount an historic comeback to earn a playoff spot at this point.

White Sox (Liriano, 6-11) at Royals (Guthrie, 4-3), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The White Sox own a two-game lead in the NL Central and will need to capitalize on games like Thursday's against Kansas City.

Rangers (Darvish, 15-9) at Angels (Greinke, 14-5), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
The Angels 3 1/2-game deficit in the AL Wild Card isn't where they'd like to be, but they're very much alive as the first team out. Texas looks to increase its West lead.

If the postseason started today ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card: A's at Orioles
Division Series: Yankees vs. White Sox | Rangers vs. Wild Card winner

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card: Cardinals at Braves
Division Series: Reds vs. Giants | 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 and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.

Tiebreaker scenarios
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.

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

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1

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