Spoiler alert: Also-rans gear up for contenders

Spoiler alert: Also-rans gear up for contenders

Spoiler alert: Also-rans gear up for contenders

No, the Chicago Cubs weren't exactly fighting for their playoff lives over the weekend when they took two of three in St. Louis over the National League Wild Card-leading Cardinals.

But don't tell that to the Cubs' players, who put as much energy and effort into the series as if they were in the midst of a pennant race.

"You get up more for games like this," said Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. "It's just one of those things where they're in the hunt and need to win some ballgames, and we're playing spoilers once again."

In a sense, the Cubs, along with a handful of other clubs across the Majors, are in the midst of a pennant race. Only, it's not exactly their race.

Teams like the Astros, Brewers, Cubs and White Sox have long had their dreams of October baseball dashed. But they'll still be playing very meaningful September games against other teams in the hunt.

The Cubs finish the season with three games at home against the Pirates before heading to St. Louis for three against the Cards. Those two clubs -- along with the Reds -- are in the midst of one of baseball's hottest races. Chicago will also face Cincinnati for three and Pittsburgh for four on a road trip in mid-September.

The Astros may have said goodbye to that tight NL Central before the season. But following their move to the American League, they find themselves in the midst of a couple of races -- both for the AL West and the AL Wild Card.

Right now, the AL West stands as baseball's tightest division, with the Rangers sitting a game ahead of the A's. Houston faces Oakland for four games in early September and Texas for three at the end of the month.

The Astros will also face the Reds, who could be battling for the NL Central or the NL Wild Card at the time, depending on how things play out over the next month. The Astros follow that series with a four-game set against the AL Wild Card-chasing Indians, and they'll close the season against the Yankees, who could be playing for something more than just Mariano Rivera's sendoff.

"Spoiler" is the simple way to put it. They will, of course, be trying to "spoil" the seasons of their opponents.

But it goes deeper than that. Most of these so-called spoilers are filled with young, talented players, who hope to factor in pennant races at some point down the road. By playing what is essentially pennant-race baseball on a nightly basis, they're getting their first taste.

"Watch the game in its entirety, see what's going on, and you'll be amazed how you can learn," Astros manager Bo Porter told his team.

Back in the NL Central, the Brewers figure to be right in the thick of things, as well. Five of their eight September series come against teams currently holding playoff berths -- including 12 games against the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds.

The White Sox, meanwhile, may be one of the most important teams in deciding the AL Wild Card race. Although they sit 27 games below .500, expect to see plenty of the South Siders on highlight reels come September.

They open the month with an all AL East road trip -- starting in Boston, then New York and concluding with four in Baltimore. As of now, all three clubs are very much alive -- the Red Sox with a lead in the division, and the Yankees and Orioles with a shot at the Wild Card.

The rest of the month is filled with AL Central playoff contenders. The White Sox have two series against the Tigers and Indians, and they finish with a four-game set against the Royals.

There's a chance that by the time the South Siders head to Detroit at the end of September, the Tigers will have the division all but wrapped up. Still, the Royals and Indians could very easily make a push -- if not for the division, then for the Wild Card, which they now trail by four and 4 1/2 games, respectively.

The White Sox themselves may not have a chance to win the division this year or even the Wild Card. But like the Astros, Cubs, Brewers and a handful of other clubs, they'll certainly have their say in who does.

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.