The Week Ahead: Big finish is just the start

The Week Ahead: Big finish is just the start

The Week Ahead: Big finish is just the start

So the last day of the season happened, and all we saw Sunday was a walk-off no-hitter on a wild pitch and the forcing of a tiebreaker game just so one team can make it into the win-and-you're-in Wild Card Game on Monday.

That's it. Boring stuff for Game No. 162, right?

Tiebreaker

So it's on to Game No. 163, in which the Tampa Bay Rays will meet the Texas Rangers in Arlington tonight -- on TBS at 8:07 ET -- for the chance to win and extend their season by at least one more day with a flight to Cleveland to meet the Indians in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

After the craziness of a full Major League schedule, that is what it has come down to as we steam into the high drama that will commence in the week ahead.

David Price of the Rays will pitch in one of the bigger games in his career against Rangers starter Martin Perez, who is unquestionably in the biggest game of his young career, and the winner is guaranteed another day of life, while the loser packs it in for the winter.

Tampa Bay gained a bit of momentum Sunday, forging an early lead in Toronto and holding on for a 7-6 win that earned it the tie with Texas at 91-71. The Rays will look to Price and his postseason experience while trying to conjure some of the mojo that has been lacking over a trying last few weeks of the regular season.

"We're not in the playoffs yet, but we've gotten to this point," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Let's just let the air out and go play."

Meanwhile, the Rangers enter this fray with a Texas-sized head of steam after finishing the regular season with seven consecutive victories. They wore down the Angels on Sunday, winning by a score of 6-2 to complete an impressive week in which they had to win every game and did exactly that.

"We knew we had to win all seven games this week," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "But there is nothing to celebrate. We have a lot of things to take care of, and this is the first step. Tomorrow is the next obstacle."

And then the rest of baseball awaits, specifically nine other teams locked into their playoff spots and ready to rumble.

The Red Sox are the top seed in the AL, will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason, and will play the winner of the Wild Card Game in the Division Series. That means there will be baseball in Boston beginning Friday, and for now the Red Sox will sit back and watch how things unfold in determining their opponent.

"That's a pretty big accomplishment for our team," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "There's a lot of great teams. We've got the best record. It sets us up nicely. We've still got to go out and play well, obviously. It doesn't matter where you're playing. But it helps us that we get to hit last."

The A's will also get that advantage in their first-round series against Detroit, the team that beat them in the Division Series last year. Oakland beat Seattle, 9-0, in a tuneup on Sunday that might have proved to manager Bob Melvin that rookie right-hander Sonny Gray deserves a shot at a postseason start ... or more. Gray threw five scoreless innings, struck out eight and was pulled after throwing 79 pitches.

The Tigers, of course, are a force, and have been all season, winning the AL Central for fun. But they are going to have to do a lot better offensively in the Division Series than they did Sunday if they are to knock out the A's.

Baseball will see how Detroit responds during the series, which begins in Oakland on Friday, after falling victim to Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez's unbelievable last-day-of-the-season, walk-off-on-a-wild-pitch no-hitter.

"This could be a good thing," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "This could be a wake-up call for our offense."

The Indians apparently do not need to turn on their phones anytime soon. They are waking up all on their own every day and going out and doing what they have to do to rank among the elite in Major League Baseball.

The question now, after they won their season-ending 10th game in a row to gain home-field advantage in Wednesday's Wild Card Game, is: Can they keep it going, especially with rookie Danny Salazar toeing the slab in a do-or-die game?

Well, these are the Indians, who can't seem to lose right now, and as first baseman Nick Swisher astutely pointed out, Salazar isn't just a rookie.

"He's a rookie throwing 100 mph," Swisher said.

Over in the National League, there is more intrigue, and the Cardinals are once again at the center of it. They came out of the ultra-tight NL Central -- the first division in MLB history to produce three postseason teams -- and played their best at the end of the year to nail down home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.

They will wait to see which of the very familiar teams from their division -- Pittsburgh or Cincinnati -- comes out of Tuesday's Wild Card Game at PNC Park. The Cards seem to like it that way, too.

"This division has been incredibly tough all year, and those guys have been with us neck-and-neck the whole season," Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "I think it's fitting that we're in a matchup with one of them that first round."

The Braves know they are getting the Dodgers in the first round, and they know it will begin in Atlanta on Thursday.

Their plan is to see how far the right arm of Kris Medlen can take them in Game 1 and how well they can do against the likely NL Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw.

"I haven't necessarily gone over [their lineup] in depth yet," Medlen said. "All I know is I've faced them twice, and I've had some pretty good success. They're a good team, obviously. They're in the playoffs. Regular season is out the window, and you just focus on that one day."

The Dodgers will have to head to Atlanta with the knowledge that their star outfielder, Matt Kemp, is out for the year with an ankle injury, and another big part of their lineup, outfielder Andre Ethier, is banged up, too. But for a team that was languishing in last place before unleashing a summer surge that vaulted them to an easy NL West title, it does not seem like adversity bothers manager Don Mattingly's group.

"I don't think anybody out there in that room is going to be willing to give this thing up because Matt is hurt," Mattingly said. "Without saying it in a bad way, we played all year long without Matt. We're capable of winning. We're not just going to roll over and act like something is wrong now. We're not going to be full strength. If you don't have Andre and you don't have Matt, you're not as good as you could be. But we're still good enough to win."

The Pirates have to think they are good enough to win a one-game playoff in their home park, which is the situation they'll face on Tuesday. They will have Francisco Liriano going against the Reds' Johnny Cueto, who missed much of the year with an injury. They'll expect a packed house at PNC. They'll have confidence. And they'll have their NL MVP contender, Andrew McCutchen.

Then again, the Reds have been and will be a formidable opponent for Pittsburgh or anyone else should they advance beyond Tuesday. Their skipper, Dusty Baker, is an October veteran. And even though they are on a five-game losing streak, they are planning on bringing everything they have to the Wild Card Game, no matter where it is played.

"You've got to block it out," Baker said of the losing streak. "It's a situation where it's a new season. What you did previously, it doesn't matter. What you didn't do previously doesn't matter. Now you start the season all over."

Yes you do. And it begins tonight.

Today's key game to watch

Rays (Price, 9-8) at Rangers (Perez, 10-5), 8:07 p.m. ET Preview >

2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card: Rays or Rangers at Indians
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox | Tigers at A's

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Cardinals | Dodgers at Braves

2013 postseason schedule

NL Wild Card Game: Tonight
AL Wild Card Game: Wednesday
NL Division Series begin: Thursday
AL Division Series begin: Friday
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23

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