In the American League Central, the division-leading Tigers will try to bounce back against the Royals after a Wednesday loss in Kansas City, and in Toronto, the second-place Twins will attempt to gain more ground.
|AL Division Series|
|NL Division Series|
The National League East pictures may come into even more focus when the East-leading Phillies finish off a series against the Nationals in Washington, while the Marlins aim for a sweep over the Mets in New York and the Braves try to get back on the beam in Houston.
And then there are the torrid, Wild Card-leading Colorado Rockies, who can cut the idle Dodgers' NL West lead to two games with another home win against Cincinnati.
The Tigers, who have struggled of late but hold a 5 1/2-game lead over Minnesota, will look to lefty Jarrod Washburn on Thursday, and manager Jim Leyland said it's important for the club to not get caught up in the emotion of the late season.
"When you're in [a race] like this, you can't help but notice the hype of it," Leyland said. "The players, nobody's immune to that kind of stuff. You know it's around. We came out of Tampa and everybody said we were the greatest thing since Post Toasties, and now all of a sudden we've lost a couple.
"You can't help but notice that stuff because it's there. The key is knowing how to handle it and keeping your concentration and zeroing in on what you're trying to accomplish as a team. As long as you do that, you'll be fine."
The Marlins are six games behind Philadelphia in the division and 5 1/2 behind Colorado for the Wild Card. In other words, their mission is a simple one: win and then hope the other teams lose. Outfielder Cody Ross admitted that this situation has caused some serious scoreboard-watching.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I was looking up there after every out, after every inning, to see what's going on," Ross said.
"But we know what's going on. We've still got 23 games left and we've got to take care of business. If we don't take care of our business, it doesn't matter what those other teams do."
One of those teams is Atlanta, and while the Marlins are three games ahead of the recently struggling Braves, that can change quickly, and the Braves know it. They'll throw Derek Lowe against Astros ace Roy Oswalt on Thursday in a true pitcher's duel.
"It's no fun losing five in a row when you are in the middle of trying to qualify for the playoffs," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team ended a five-game losing streak on Tuesday. "We played well. We got good pitching and made all kinds of great plays. We just hit a streak like the Phillies did. Four [losses] in a row for them and five for us.
"We need to put a six or seven-game win streak together. Something of that sort. It's got to be done."
The Braves should take after what the Rockies are doing. They won again Wednesday, their sixth victory in a row, and if they can handle the Reds on Thursday, they can put even more pressure on the Dodgers.
"You can tell as soon as the National Anthem has been played, some of the different things you hear from people in the dugout," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
"They're here to win."
Doug Miller is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less