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Baseball: Weekend Digest (Sept. 23 Edition)

A roundup of news and notes from this weekend in baseball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate a fist division title since 2009.

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate a first division title since 2009.

In seven days we’ll know exactly who is postseason bound and who is heading for that long winter break with little to show for 2013. Before then though, there’s still plenty to play for with no fewer than 15 teams still in with a shot at October play. Of course, there’re only 10 berths up for grabs which means there’ll be plenty of disgruntled major leaguers come this time next weekend.

BettingSports.com gives you a rundown on the Major League baseball action as it occurred over the weekend, and serves up a look at what’s left on tap in this final week of the regular season.

Dodgers, Braves Clinch Division Titles

The Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team to secure a postseason berth Thursday, defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 at Chase Field. The win put the Dodgers out of reach of the D’backs in the NL West, giving Don Mattingley’s club its first division title since 2009.

A smidgen of controversy followed the game as a gaggle of Dodgers players took their champagne and beer celebrations into Chase Field’s pool, but Arizona players were more worried about finding a way to celebrate themselves next year than Yasiel Puig and Co.

With the Washington Nationals’ unexpected late-season run, the Atlanta Braves had to wait until Sunday to finally be crowned NL East champions. Leading the Nationals by 15 games on September 3, the Braves had gone 7-10 since while Washington went 14-4 to extend the division race. Ultimately, the Nationals fell to the Chicago Cubs in the first game of a double-header Sunday, while the Braves defeated the Milwaukee Brewers to sew up the division.

Now the Dodgers and Braves will look to finish with the best record in the National League, ensuring home field advantage until the World Series.

Reds, Bucs Knotted Up in NL Wild Card

20130922_NL_WildcardWith the West and East divisions tied up in the National League, the Central Division holds the keys to the remaining three postseason berths.

The St. Louis Cardinals took two of three from the Milwaukee Brewers to remain two games up in the division standings, but it was the weekend’s showdown between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates that caught the attention.

The Reds picked up a 10th inning win on Friday night before the Bucs returned serve with a 4-2 win on Saturday. Sunday’s rubber match saw the Reds again defeat the Pirates, leaving the two sides knotted up on 89 wins.

The two will meet again this coming weekend to close out the regular season. That’s not a bad way to welcome in the postseason. Of course, both still have a legitimate shot at winning the division too. This race looks to be going down to the wire.

Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals remain in the wild card race, for now. Davey Johnson’s side sits five games back after splitting a double-header Sunday. That leaves no room for error; the Nationals must win and hope either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh loses all of their remaining games. In reality, with the Bucs meeting the Cubs and the Reds meeting the New York Mets early this week, the Nationals will likely be eliminated by the end of Tuesday.

Red Sox, Athletics Top Divisions

The Boston Red Sox were quick to follow the Dodgers’ lead. The Sox secured a playoff berth Thursday with a 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles, before locking up the AL East on Friday with a 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The division title completes the club’s worst-to-first turnaround in the AL East, and coupled with a series win over the Blue Jays sees the Sox heading for home field advantage.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics completed a stunning three-week period that saw the club leave the Texas Rangers in its wake. The A’s swept the Minnesota Twins in a four-game set this weekend, while the Rangers struggled against the Kansas City Royals. In fact, it was the Rangers’ loss to the Royals on Sunday that officially handed the division crown to Oakland, relieving any pressure the A’s might have felt on their way.

Having taken the division title on the last day of the season a year ago, Oakland has now secured two straight AL West titles.

AL Looks to Turn Six Into Two

20130922_AL_WildcardWhile the National League is all but set postseason-wise, there’s plenty to sort out in the American League.

The Tampa Bay Rays took a step closer to securing a berth this weekend, handing Baltimore three straight defeats. The two teams meet again on Monday afternoon (matchup) in a game that could spell the end for the Orioles. A loss would see Buck Showalter’s team fall five games back of the second playoff berth, with six to play. That’s a steep mountain to climb.

Conversely, a win would see the Rays climb one-game ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians, and two games ahead of the Texas Rangers in third. The Indians swept the Houston Astros in a four-game series this weekend and face the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins to close out the season. That schedule alone may be enough to see the Tribe into the postseason for the first time since 2007.

To put it simply, Texas is having a rough a time. The club has lost 15 of the last 19, including two of three against the Royals this weekend and is now looking up at the Rays and Indians. A home series with the Astros means the team should remain in the mix but a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels, a club that has gone 21-8 since August 23, should have the alarm bells ringing.

Like Baltimore, Kansas City and the New York Yankees could see their respective fates sealed early this week, despite both picking up 2-1 series wins this past weekend. The Royals sit 3.5 games back with seven to play, while the Yankees trail by four games with six to play.

The Royals face visits to the Seattle Mariners and White Sox, both very winnable series, so may still be in the race as we approach the weekend. The Yankees will face Tampa Bay (see below) on the road before visiting Toronto. That earlier series will prove vital.

It Was an Honor

Away from postseason implications and on-field play, a number of teams chose Sunday to honor several players of distinction.

In New York, the Yankees held a 50-minute pregame ceremony to celebrate the career of Mariano Rivera, preparing to retire at the end of the season. The club also celebrated Any Pettite’s final start at Yankee Stadium Sunday, after the veteran starter announced he would retire for a second time at the end of this year.

200 miles north, the Red Sox unveiled a statue of 1967 Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski outside Gate B at Fenway Park. Yaz played 23 years in Boston, receiving 18 All-Star nods, seven Gold Gloves, and was named the 1967 American League MVP. He was ushered into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, receiving 94.63 percent of the first ballot vote.

Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals honored manager Davey Johnson, who will also retire at the end of the season. Johnson led the Nationals to their first postseason appearance last season, but barring some kind of divine intervention, will miss out on a return trip this season.

Finally, while there was no ceremony on hand, the Philadelphia Phillies announced that interim manager Ryne Sandberg would be given the honor of managing the Phillies again next season, this time without the interim tag. Sandberg took over from Charlie Manuel back in August and has led the club to an 18-17 record.

The Week Ahead

Monday sees the Washington Nationals (84-72) travel to St. Louis (91-65). The Nationals are looking to cling to any slim chance of a wild card berth, while the Cardinals are looking to take one step closer to clinching the NL Central. Anything less than a win for Washington will surely be fatal, which makes this one well worth watching. (matchup)

Later in the week, the Pirates travel to Cincinnati to close out the season. This three-game series will ultimate determine whether one or both of these sides make it into October. The smart money is on both joining the Cardinals, but this particular three way dance for the NL Central title is likely to be decided by this matchup.

Over in the American League, Monday afternoon’s game between Baltimore and Tampa Bay could effectively eliminate the Orioles from contention, which makes it unmissable. The Rays have won the first three games of the series, making them the favorites, but the O’s will have that back against the wall mentality.

Win or lose, Tampa Bay will face another tough test starting Tuesday. The Rays visit the Bronx to take on the Yankees, a team looking simply to survive. As it stands, the Yankees look out of the wild card race but a sweep of the Rays would change that perception, and the postseason landscape, dramatically. On the other hand, victory for the Rays would go a long way to locking up a postseason berth and securing home field advantage in the wild card playoff game.

If Baltimore fairs well against the Rays on Monday and the Blue Jays early this week, the club will get its last shot at the postseason this coming weekend hosting the Red Sox. The Orioles will need a lot of help from elsewhere, but with the Red Sox preparing for postseason play, there may be some wins in the offing here.


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