Path to the Postseason: Sept. 28, 2012

Path to the Postseason: Sept. 28, 2012

The postseason begins in seven days with two playoff games that could not be more appropriately named.

Next week's Wild Card games and the sprint to get there is proving to be a crazy race that might come down to the final six games.

The Orioles, who were idle on Thursday, remain the top team in the American League Wild Card standings, followed by the A's and Angels, who were defeated by the Rangers and Mariners, respectively. The Rangers lead the A's by four games in the AL West following the 9-7 win and four-game split in Arlington.

"We would've loved to take three back home with us, but it's just going to take a little bit more of an effort and be a little bit more of a grind these last six games, but that's what we do," said Oakland's Josh Reddick. "We grind and focus on winning games."

The Rays won their eighth game in row Thursday night by defeating the White Sox, 3-2, and like the Angels, are two games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. What's more, Chicago's loss combined with Detroit's 5-4 win against Kansas City extended the Tigers' lead to two games in the AL Central. Also, the first-place Yankees still have a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East, despite losing, 6-0, to the Blue Jays.

"We know what's at stake right now," Yankees first baseman Nick Swisher said. "We've just got to go out there and keep picking up wins. That's what it boils down to."

The Braves have already clinched at least a National League Wild Card slot, but are keeping the pressure on the NL East-leading Nationals, who have the best record in the league. The Braves beat the Marlins, 6-2, and the Nats topped the Phillies, 7-3, on Thursday.

"We're playing good baseball right now, doing what we need to do," Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We've got six games left, so we've just got to keep taking care of business and keep going the direction we're going."

The Cardinals, who were idle Thursday, lead the Dodgers by three games and the Brewers by four for the second Wild Card in the NL.

In one of the most thrilling games of the day, the NL-Central leading Reds topped the Brewers, 2-1, with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"This was a game we could not afford to lose," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

Friday's action could be better than Thursday's.

Last season, Baltimore spoiled Boston's postseason hopes. This year, the Red Sox can return the favor in the series at Camden Yards. There's no denying the playoff implications in the series between the Rays and the White Sox that also continues Friday.

Here's something else to think about: The Cardinals and the Nats square off for three games in St. Louis starting Friday in what could be a preview of one NL Division Series.

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

Red Sox (Cook, 4-10) at Orioles (Tillman, 8-2), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The O's trail the first-place Yankees by one game in the AL East standings and are in the top spot in the race for the AL Wild Card.

Yankees (Kuroda, 14-11) at Blue Jays (Jenkins, 0-2), 7:07 p.m. Preview >
The Yankees still lead the O's in the division by one game and are two games behind Texas for the best record in the American League.

Phillies (Lee, 6-8) at Marlins (Buehrle, 13-13), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
The Phillies are teetering on the brink of elimination and are considering playing second baseman Chase Utley at third base.

Mets (Niese, 12-9) at Braves (Hudson, 16-6), 7:35 p.m. Preview >
The Braves have clinched a spot in the postseason, but are not conceding the NL East title to the Nationals.

Angels (Weaver, 19-4) at Rangers (Dempster, 7-2), 8:05 p.m. Preview >
The Rangers lead the AL West by four games and the Angels trail the A's by two games for the final AL Wild Card spot.

Tigers (Smyly, 4-3) at Twins (Diamond, 12-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The Tigers have a two-game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central and are coming off a sweep of the Royals.

Astros (Gonzalez, 2-1) at Brewers (Gallardo, 16-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
Milwaukee, in pursuit of the second NL Wild Card spot, trails St. Louis by four games with six to play.

Rays (Hellickson, 9-10) at White Sox (Floyd, 10-11), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
The White Sox trail the Tigers by two games for the top spot in the division while the Rays remain in contention for the second AL Wild Card.

Nationals (Jackson, 9-10) at Cardinals (Wainwright, 13-12), 8:15 p.m. Preview >
The Nats have already secured a spot in the postseason and are seeking to secure the NL East division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Cubs (Wood, 6-12) at D-backs (Kennedy, 14-11), 9:40 p.m. Preview >
The D-backs' destiny is out of their own hands, as they need a great deal of help to capture the NL's second Wild Card.

Mariners (Beavan, 10-10) at A's (Griffin, 6-1), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
The A's split a crucial series against the Rangers, but remain within striking distance in the AL West and are in control of the second AL Wild Card spot.

Rockies (Francis, 5-6) at Dodgers (Kershaw, 12-9), 10:10 p.m. Preview >
Clayton Kershaw, last year's National League Cy Young winner, will take the Dodger Stadium mound on Friday night against the Rockies, with every game crucial to Los Angeles' Wild Card hopes.

If the postseason started today ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Wild Card: A's at Orioles

Division Series: Yankees at Tigers | Rangers at Wild Card winner

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Wild Card: Cardinals at Braves

Division Series: Reds at Giants | Nationals at 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.