The Nationals have the luxury of being able to experiment in the final week of the regular season. Not only have they clinched the National League East title, but the seven remaining games on their schedule are at home and are against two teams that have been eliminated from postseason consideration: the Mets (three games) and Marlins (four games).
The rest of the postseason hopefuls would like to be as worry-free.
BALTIMORE has survived despite catcher Matt Wieters appearing in only 26 games before needing Tommy John surgery, and the early-August loss of third baseman Manny Machado to right knee surgery. Now the Orioles have to fill the power void of Chris Davis, suspended earlier this month for violating baseball's drug agreement and out until at least midway in the American League Championship Series.
CLEVELAND is a longshot for an AL Wild Card berth, coming into the week 3 1/2 games behind the Royals, who hold the second AL Wild Card spot, and two games back of the Mariners, who are third. The Tribe, however, can make up ground in a hurry on Kansas City. Not only do the Indians open a three-game series at home with the Royals tonight, but they also will complete a suspended game from last month, needing just three outs for a win when the game resumes with the Tribe leading 4-2 in the 10th inning.
DETROIT opens the week hoping to get medical approval to activate catcher Alex Avila, who has been sidelined by concussion symptoms, and after a 45-pitch simulated-game session on Sunday, the Tigers are hopeful that Anibal Sanchez, on the disabled list with a right pectoral strain, can be available for at least a relief role in the postseason.
KANSAS CITY left-hander Danny Duffy, out since Sept. 6 with left rotator-cuff inflammation, threw a simulated game last week and will be activated to start tonight's scheduled game in Cleveland. That will give the Royals a chance to look at him twice before making a roster decision if they hold on to one of the playoff spots.
The LOS ANGELES ANGELS are looking at a possible three-man rotation, at least in the AL Division Series, while they wait to check out the health of righty Matt Shoemaker, who has been out for a week with a left oblique strain and has yet to throw off a mound. Josh Hamilton was given seven cortisone shots in his left rib-cage area on Friday, and it's anticipated that he could return to left field sometime this week.
The LOS ANGELES DODGERS know they need a healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu to fill out their rotation for the postseason. He has been out with left-shoulder inflammation since lasting only one inning against the Giants on Sept. 12, but he could get back on a mound this week. What calms fears about Ryu's recent downtime is he returned after a 23-day break with a similar problem in May, without a rehab start, and went 6-0 in his first seven starts back. Ryu wouldn't be needed until the third day of the NL Division Series -- 23 days since he faced the Giants.
MILWAUKEE is looking for help. The Brewers' magic number for elimination in the NL Wild Card race is three. They head into their final six regular-season games -- three at Cincinnati beginning Tuesday and three at home with the Cubs during the weekend -- having lost 18 of their past 25 games, going from first place in the NL Central to third place in the NL Wild Card standings.
OAKLAND is trying to hang on for an AL Wild Card spot, but the outlook is not optimistic for the return of center fielder Craig Gentry and catcher John Jaso, both suffering concussion symptoms. That impacts the depth that is so critical to the A's lineup juggling. Shortstop Jed Lowrie left Sunday's game with a left-foot contusion sustained when he was hit by a pitch from A.J. Burnett of the Phillies.
PITTSBURGH has won six of its past seven games, moving into a tie with the Giants for the two NL Wild Card spots, and has a magic number of three to claim a second Wild Card berth in as many years. On a seven-game road trip to Atlanta (four games) and Miami (three), the Pirates know they can't let up if they want to have the home field for the NL Wild Card Game. They were 4-2 against the Giants in the regular season, which gives them the tiebreaker advantage if the two teams finish with the same record.
SAN FRANCISCO makes a last gasp at a division title with a three-game series at Dodger Stadium starting tonight. The Giants need a lift from a lineup that has been held to 14 runs in losing six of the past eight games. Michael Morse pinch-hit and played two innings in the field on Friday, but aggravated the strained oblique that has kept him out of the lineup. Angel Pagan has played in one game in the last week, and his back stiffness flared up after six innings on Friday. Both could miss the Dodgers series.
SEATTLE expected to get the results of an MRI on lefty Roenis Elias' left elbow today. If all is well, Elias will be a bullpen possibility, but the Mariners won't use him in the postseason rotation if they get in. They are counting on Taijuan Walker stepping into Elias' spot and showing he can handle a postseason role.
ST. LOUIS doesn't have any major concerns with its roster, but a stomach virus has slowed down the club's bid to overtake the Dodgers for the second-best record in the NL, which brings home-field advantage for at least the NL Division Series. At least 10 Cardinals players were impacted by the flu on Sunday.