On Friday night, the Giants closed the gap on the Dodgers to a single game with a 9-0 drubbing at AT&T Park. The Giants have won four straight, and don't be surprised if that race goes down to the season's final weekend.
Meanwhile, in the Junior Circuit, the Orioles solidified their grip on the AL East with a doubleheader sweep that put a serious dent in the Yankees' playoff hopes. And in Seattle, the Mariners pulled to within a half-game of the A's for the league's top Wild Card spot.
IF THE POSTSEASON STARTED TODAY ...
Wild Card: Royals/Mariners at A's
Division Series: Wild Card at Angels | Tigers at Orioles
Wild Card: Pirates at Giants
Division Series: Wild Card at Nationals | Cardinals at Dodgers
• Postseason picture
The day got started with a matinee in Baltimore that quickly turned into a pitchers' duel. Though both teams threatened, neither could muster a run until the 11th, when the Yankees got on the board on Chris Young's solo homer. But Baltimore responded promptly, with Jimmy Paredes' bases-loaded liner, simultaneously sending the Orioles to victory and crushing the Yankees' spirits.
In the nightcap, the Orioles cruised behind a season-high 10 strikeouts from Bud Norris. Baltimore's magic number dropped to five in the AL East, as the Blue Jays were blanked by the Rays. Tampa Bay righty Nate Karns threw seven shutout frames in his Rays debut.
The Tigers and Royals continued their back-and-forth battle for the AL Central on Friday, with Detroit moving a half-game up thanks to a 7-2 victory over the Indians, whose playoff hopes are now hanging by a thread. The Royals fell to the Red Sox for a second straight night, 4-2, as they were done in by a rare poor defensive inning in the third.
The Royals, however, still sit in a tie for the AL's second Wild Card spot. With Seattle's pivotal 4-2 win over Oakland, all three teams have now lost 66 games. Oakland holds the top Wild Card spot, having played (and won) an extra contest, but remember, these are the same A's who were nine games ahead of the Mariners a month ago.
Over in the NL, it's looking more and more likely that the Central will come down to three teams fighting for two spots, given the Braves' recent freefall. And all three of those teams won Friday night.
Adam Wainwright moved into a four-way tie atop the NL wins lead with his 18th, as the Cards topped the Rockies, 5-1. In Pittsburgh, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer had three hits apiece as the Pirates stayed 2 1/2 back of St. Louis with a 7-3 victory over the Cubs.
The Brewers, meanwhile, may have finally found a way out of their funk. They've won three straight and sit 1 1/2 back of Pittsburgh for the second NL Wild Card spot, after Lyle Overbay walked off with a liner to the left-center-field gap against the Reds to seal a 3-2 win.
Finally, the night ended with a blowout in San Francisco. In the much-hyped opener of this pivotal three-game set, the Giants jumped out in front with four runs in the first, and they never looked back.
On Saturday evening, the Giants have a chance to pull even with the Dodgers for the first time since July 26. It figures to be just one of a slew of thrilling matchups, as we march on through this most unpredictable of seasons.
TODAY'S KEY GAMES TO WATCH (all times ET)
Yankees (Greene, 4-3) at Orioles (Gonzalez, 9-7), 1:05 p.m. Preview
The Orioles' magic number is down to five in the East, while the Yankees are clinging to slim hopes for the second AL Wild Card.
Cubs (Doubront, 3-5) at Pirates (Locke, 7-4), 7:05 p.m. Preview
The Brewers are hot on the Pirates' heels, but right now, Pittsburgh's focus is on the Cardinals, who sit 2 1/2 games ahead of the Bucs in the NL Central.
Indians (Salazar, 6-7) at Tigers (Lobstein, 1-0), 7:08 p.m. Preview
The Tigers are holding onto the slimmest of margins over Kansas City in the AL Central, while the Indians remain within striking distance in the division and the Wild Card.
Red Sox (De La Rosa, 4-6) at Royals (Guthrie, 10-11), 7:10 p.m. Preview
For the first time in the past month, the Royals enter the day without the lead (or a share of it) in the Central.
Reds (Holmberg, 0-1) at Brewers (Gallardo, 8-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview
The Brewers look like they've finally regained their form, and Yovani Gallardo gets the ball, aiming to run the club's winning streak to four games.
Rockies (Morales, 6-7) at Cardinals (Miller, 9-9), 7:15 p.m. Preview
The Cardinals' lead in the NL Central is 2 1/2 games over the hard-charging Pirates, and they'll need to take care of business against Colorado this weekend.
Astros (Feldman, 8-10) at Angels (Weaver, 16-8), 9:05 p.m. Preview
Jered Weaver takes the hill as the Angels look for their 10th straight win. They currently hold home-field advantage in the AL, leading Baltimore by four games.
Dodgers (Greinke, 14-8) at Giants (Hudson, 9-10), 9:05 p.m. Preview
Only one game separates these bitter rivals. The Dodgers send Zack Greinke to the hill, and the Giants counter with a veteran right-hander of their own in Tim Hudson.
A's (Gray, 13-8) at Mariners (Hernandez, 14-5), 9:10 p.m. Preview
Having closed the gap to a half-game for the top AL Wild Card spot, the Mariners call on ace Felix Hernandez. But the A's aren't going to give it up without a fight; they counter with an ace of their own, Sonny Gray.
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
AL East: Orioles 5 over Blue Jays.
AL Central: Tigers 16 over Royals.
AL West: Angels 5 over A's.
AL Wild Card 1: A's 16 over Royals or Mariners.
AL Wild Card 2: Royals or Mariners: 17.
NL East: Nationals 8 over Braves.
NL Central: Cardinals 13 over Pirates.
NL West: Dodgers 15 over Giants.
NL Wild Card 1: Giants 12 over Pirates.
NL Wild Card 2: Pirates 14 over Brewers.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
• Tiebreaker rules