The Cardinals could join the Yankees, who secured a playoff berth on Tuesday, by clinching a postseason spot without even throwing a pitch or swinging a bat. Holding a magic number of one to clinch via the NL Central crown, the Cardinals will spend Thursday traveling to Colorado for a weekend matchup of playoff hopefuls, but they could still clinch with a Cubs loss at San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will take on the last-place Indians, and the Rockies will host the Padres, fourth in the five-team NL West -- both hoping to defend top billing in their respective races.
Detroit's bats woke up in a big way Wednesday night, scoring 11 runs on 15 hits against Cleveland, with all nine starters getting into the act. Keeping those bats awake could give the Tigers the opportunity to gain a half-game on the surging Twins, who are 2 1/2 back and idle Thursday.
"For the offense, it's pretty good," said Carlos Guillen, who hit two home runs Wednesday. "Now we've got to be consistent. We have to do the same thing."
Tigers ace Justin Verlander will be on the mound against the Indians in the series finale, meeting Carlos Carrasco, who will make his fourth Major League start.
The Rockies, meanwhile, will be hosting the Padres in the finale of their series and will try to hold fast to a four-game lead over the Giants and Braves in the NL Wild Card race. They'll send right-hander Jason Hammell to the mound on regular rest, before bringing back healthy ace Aaron Cook on Friday in the opener against the Cards.
"Keeping Jason Hammel on his regular turn makes a lot of sense," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
At 9-8, Hammell will be trying to give the Rockies -- yes, the Rockies -- five starters with double-digit wins. He'll be opposed by Padres lefty Clayton Richard.
Elsewhere, the Red Sox will be trying to salvage a split in Kansas City and possibly chip away at the AL Wild Card magic number, currently at five, as the Rangers finish up a series at Oakland. And the NL East-leading Phillies hope to pick up a half-game on the idle Braves and Marlins in the opener of a four-game series against the Brewers.
Other contenders off Thursday include the Yankees, awaiting a visit from the Red Sox starting Friday, and the Angels, who next host the A's on Friday.
The Cardinals actually had a possible clincher in their hands Thursday, but a 3-0 loss to the Astros put it off for another day or two, as inevitable as it seems to be.
"Everybody wants to clinch," said Albert Pujols. "But ... when you go to Spring Training, you want to have an opportunity to play in October. And we have a pretty good chance to get there."
In trying to stave off NL Central elimination Thursday, the Cubs will be taking on a Giants team hungry for another victory to keep up with or gain on the Rockies in the Wild Card race.
"We're still breathing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Wednesday's 5-2 win at Arizona. "We're running out of games, we know that. And we need a little help. But there's still hope."