The Week Ahead: All AL divisions still up for grabs

The Week Ahead: All AL divisions still up for grabs

The Week Ahead: All AL divisions still up for grabs
The Orioles are in the midst of a historic season, and they don't seem to be letting up. The Yankees aren't either.

The Tigers are trying to make one final run to take the division most prognosticators thought they'd win easily, as they did last year, but the White Sox are still in their way.

The A's are looking good in the American League Wild Card standings and could pull a stunner in the AL West if they streak this week and the banged-up Rangers succumb.

And there you have it. As we enter the last full week of the 2012 Major League Baseball regular season, these are the only division question marks still out there. All three National League divisions have been decided.

As for the NL Wild Cards, well, that's a different, entirely more complicated story. But we'll get to that.

First, a little bit about Washington (NL East), Cincinnati (NL Central) and San Francisco (NL West), who all clinched playoff berths this week and looked very good doing it. They made pennant races into boat races pretty early, and now they'll spend the rest of September lining up pitching rotations and making sure they enter October as healthy as possible.

We know the Nationals won't have ace Stephen Strasburg, but manager Davey Johnson still has Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez (who won his 20th game of the year Saturday), Edwin Jackson and emerging left-hander Ross Detwiler. They will most likely clinch the NL East soon.

"As a team, the feeling right now? We feel amazing," Gonzalez said. "This team has been unbelievable. It doesn't feel like a 20-win season for myself. It feels like a 20-win season for the team. This is a childhood dream, but at the same time, this is a team in first place, and it makes it that much better."

Ditto for the Reds and Giants, two clubs for whom starting pitching has been a big strength all year.

But now check out the scoop for those tight AL races this week.

In the East, those Orioles just won't fly away. Last week saw one dramatic feat after another, like the 29 innings in two games in Seattle, which resulted in two huge victories and stretched this out-of-nowhere team's extra-innings winning streak to 15 games. And then there was Saturday, where 12 innings in Boston upped the streak to 16. Ridiculous, to be sure. The O's lost Sunday, but so did the Yankees, so they are still one game out in the AL East but holding down one of the two AL Wild Cards spots, along with Oakland.

"I'm tired of playing extra-inning games, to be honest with you," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. "But we're not quitting until that last out is made. So if we need 13, 14, 15, up to 18 innings to do the job, I guess that's what we have to do."

This week, Buck Showalter's Birds have a favorable schedule, staying home at Camden Yards to play four against sub-.500 Toronto and three more against struggling Boston.

Meanwhile, there's some magic going on in New York, too. Despite Sunday's loss, the Yankees are playing better baseball, although this week, they'll get what seems like a tougher assignment than Baltimore on paper. The Yanks will head out to Minnesota for three road games against the Twins, followed by four games in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

As for the A's, we'll see if they can continue the good vibes gained with Sunday's win over New York. If they do, they can make up a ton of ground in the AL West in a hurry. That's because Oakland travels to Arlington for a huge four-game set against the Rangers beginning Monday. The A's will finish off the week at home with three games against Seattle.

"Today's game was really still just another game, but at the same time, it was definitely a big one," A's infielder Cliff Pennington said. "We needed to get out of here with this one to get some momentum going into Texas."

More intrigue will come to us from the AL Central, where Detroit was swept by Minnesota in a Sunday doubleheader and didn't gain any ground on division-leading Chicago, which has lost five games in a row. The Tigers, who are one game behind the White Sox, will try to get it together this week when they stay home for four games against Kansas City before traveling to Minnesota for a three-game weekend series at Target Field.

The White Sox will try to regroup from their recent woes at home. They'll play all seven this week in the comfort of U.S. Cellular Field -- three against Cleveland and four against Tampa Bay.

"Hopefully it will get better tomorrow," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said Sunday. "But it doesn't matter where you play. If you don't play well, it doesn't work. We just have to find a way to play better."

In the NL, keep looking out for the surging Brewers (2 1/2 out of the Wild Card), the Dodgers (three out) and maybe even the D-backs (4 1/2 out) or Phillies (five out) to catch St. Louis and earn the right to face likely No. 1 Wild Card team Atlanta in the Wild Card game.

In the AL, the Angels (2 1/2 out of the Wild Card) and Rays (three out) could pull a few surprises if they get hot in the next seven days.

"We have to win out, personally," Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. "Take it one game at a time, but we're going to do our job, and that's win games. Whatever happens at the end of the year, that's the way it goes."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog, Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.