Postseason Picture for Thursday, Sept. 18

Postseason Picture for Thursday, Sept. 18

Another day, another division. The Angels beat the Mariners on Wednesday night, the A's lost in excruciating late fashion to Texas, and Mike Scioscia's team was officially able to put a bow on its long-expected American League West title, joining the Nationals (National League East) and Orioles (AL East), who clinched their divisions Tuesday. But elsewhere around the Major Leagues on Wednesday, the Postseason Picture continued to change, and the Giants had something to do with that.

San Francisco rallied late to beat the D-backs, 4-2, while the Dodgers were pounded, 16-2, by the Rockies in Colorado. That turn of events enabled the Giants to pull within two games of Los Angeles in the NL West standings while maintaining their position as the top NL Wild Card contender.

The Central divisions continued to be centers of intrigue. In the AL Central, the Royals beat the White Sox and the Tigers lost to the Twins, which pulled Kansas City to within half-game of Detroit. That left the Royals and A's deadlocked in the two AL Wild Card slots with identical 83-68 records, with the Mariners two games behind. And in the NL Central, the Cardinals shut out the Brewers, 2-0, to keep their 2 1/2-game advantage over the victorious Pirates. As a result, the Giants and Pirates remained in the two Wild Card spots, with the Brewers another 2 1/2 games back and the Braves at 5 1/2 games behind.

IF THE POSTSEASON STARTED TODAY ...

American League

Wild Card: A's at Royals

Division Series: Wild Card at Angels | Tigers at Orioles

National League

Wild Card: Pirates at Giants

Division Series: Wild Card at Nationals | Cardinals at Dodgers

Postseason picture

The notion of the Angels winning the AL West has been a foregone conclusion for a while, but it became an official conclusion on Wednesday night, even though they had to wait for it. The Angels did their part, shutting out the Mariners, 5-0, behind a sterling pitching effort by starter C.J. Wilson (seven innings, one hit) and the bullpen, but it was J.P. Arencibia's late home run that broke open the Rangers' win over the A's and produced the mathematics that the Angels needed.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto summed up the odd situation experienced by the victorious and television-glued Angels clubhouse, saying, "I became the biggest J.P. Arencibia fan ever."

The Giants, meanwhile, are not giving up the chase for the NL West title. Not by a longshot. And on Wednesday night, they got a key contribution from an unlikely source when pinch-hitter Matt Duffy singled home the winning runs in the ninth inning in Arizona. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 and things are looking pretty October-ish once again in an even-numbered year.

Across the country, the Pirates kept their late-season roll going. Pittsburgh, the postseason darling from a year ago, took care of business in Boston on Wednesday night with a 9-1 Interleague rout over the Red Sox that saw top prospect Gregory Polanco homer early and Francisco Liriano turn in an effectively wild outing.

Yes, the Pirates are hot, and they're in a comfortable position in the second slot in the Wild Card race, with a 2 1/2-game lead on the Brewers. Then again, they only trail St. Louis by 2 1/2 for the NL Central title, and that's what they're focusing on.

"We still have our eyes set on winning the division," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "You just gotta go play. Everybody is playing for something. Last year, we had to play to game No. 162 to catch a breath, and we don't anticipate that changing."

In the AL Central, things are getting tighter again. The Royals beat the White Sox to pull to within a half-game of the Tigers, who lost to Minnesota, and once again that division is anybody's guess. It also had a direct effect on the Wild Card race, where the Royals and A's are tied and the Mariners are only two games back.

On Thursday, the Mariners will rely on ace Felix Hernandez to get them a road split in Anaheim, but he'll be up against a formidable foe in Jered Weaver. The A's will try to snap out of their funk against the last-place Rangers to stay atop the Wild Card race. In the Central, only a day off will interrupt the drama between the Royals and Tigers, both of whom will be idle before opening a pivotal three-game series in Kansas City on Friday. The Dodgers will get a chance to add a half-game to their NL cushion while the Giants travel to San Diego.

TODAY'S KEY GAMES TO WATCH (all times ET)

Rangers (Martinez, 3-11) at Athletics (Gray, 13-8), 3:35 p.m. Preview

Young right-hander Sonny Gray was lights-out in the late season of 2013 and the A's need him to lean on that experience here. Oakland simply can't afford to lose home games to last-place Texas in the middle of a pennant race.

Red Sox (Workman, 1-9) at Pirates (Cole, 9-5), 7:05 p.m. Preview

The Pirates will be looking to keep the mojo rolling when they hand the ball to their talented second-year pitcher, Gerrit Cole, in a game they must win if they're going to chase down the first-place Cardinals.

Dodgers (Greinke, 15-8) at Cubs (Wada, 4-3), 8:05 p.m. Preview

The Dodgers need a victory to get back on the right track after being routed in Colorado, and they'll get one of their aces on the mound in Zack Greinke.

Brewers (Lohse, 12-9) at Cardinals (Miller, 10-9), 8:15 p.m. Preview

Milwaukee is sinking out of contention and desperately needs a big effort on the road from starter Kyle Lohse and the rest of the roster, too.

Mariners (Hernandez, 14-5) at Angels (Weaver, 17-8), 10:05 p.m. Preview

Thursday's Major League nightcap also happens to be the best pitchers' duel of the day, with AL Cy Young Award contenders Hernandez and Weaver going pitch for pitch in a game that's vitally important to Seattle's Wild Card hopes.

Watch the races on MLB.TV

MAGIC NUMBERS

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 clinched

AL Central: Tigers 11 over Royals

AL West: Angels clinched

AL Wild Card 1: A's/Royals

AL Wild Card 2: A's/Royals 10 over Mariners

NL East: Nationals clinched

NL Central: Cardinals 9 over Pirates

NL West: Dodgers 9 over Giants

NL Wild Card 1: Giants 9 over Pirates

NL Wild Card 2: Pirates 9 over Brewers

Standings

TIEBREAKER SCENARIOS

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

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