MLB Postseason Picture: NL Central setting up for dramatic finish

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor

It’s September, so the baseball games matter a little more. That’s why every day between now and the start of the postseason we’ll keep you updated on baseball’s postseason picture.

Not even two full days ago, the St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be locks to win the National League Central.

Two losses later, including a 19-inning marathon that began Tuesday night in Arizona and ended early Wednesday morning, it’s not so certain anymore.

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During that same time frame, the scorching hot Milwaukee Brewers gained two full games with back-to-back wins against the Cincinnati Reds. The Brewers also clinched a playoff berth, but can still catch St. Louis at just 1.5 back with four days left in the regular season.

The Brewers will play one more in Cincinnati on Thursday before finishing the season with a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. The Cardinals head home for a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs.

There’s some irony in that scheduling given how last season ended. The Brewers swept the Cardinals in St. Louis during the final week in 2018 to help them catch the Cubs in the NL Central standings. They went on to defeat Chicago in a tiebreaker game. This season, they need Chicago to play spoiler in St. Louis.

If Milwaukee gets help from Chicago, it could be a wild weekend.

Ryan Braun and the Brewers clinched a playoff spot, but still have more work to do. They're in reach of the NL Central title next. (David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)
Ryan Braun and the Brewers clinched a playoff spot, but still have more work to do. They're in reach of the NL Central title next. (David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)

Races to keep an eye on

NL CENTRAL: The condensed version of the above: The Cardinals have a 1.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Brewers. With St. Louis off Thursday, the Brewers have a chance to close the gap even more with a win.

AL WILD CARD: The A’s and Rays both won Wednesday while the Indians lost. The Indians are now 1.5 games behind the Rays for the second spot. The A’s have a half-game lead for the top seed. The Rays are idle Thursday, but the A’s and Indians both play.

NL WILD CARD: The Nats and Brewers are both in, the only question is who hosts. Right now, that’s the Nats who hold a one-game lead for the top seed. Both teams are riding winning streaks — four games for the Nats, six for the Brewers — so we’ll see if someone blinks.

HOME FIELD: The Astros have already punched their postseason ticket. Now they’re closing in on home-field advantage through every playoff round, including the World Series. Houston’s magic number to clinch home field is one after improving to 104-54 behind Zack Greinke’s near no-hitter.

Already clinched

TWINS: The Minnesota Twins clinched their first AL Central title since 2010 with a 5-1 win against the Tigers and the Indians 8-3 loss to the White Sox. They will face either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the ALDS.

BREWERS: The Milwaukee Brewers locked up a postseason berth with Wednesday’s win against the Cincinnati Reds.

DODGERS: The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their seventh straight NL West title on Sept. 10.

YANKEES: The New York Yankees clinched their first AL East title since 2012 on Sept. 19.

BRAVES: The Atlanta Braves clinched their second straight NL East title on Sept. 20.

ASTROS: The Houston Astros clinched their third straight AL West title on Sept. 22.

NATIONALS: The Washington Nationals clinched an NL wild-card spot Tuesday by sweeping a doubleheader against the Phillies.

Games to Watch

Brewers at Reds (12:35 p.m. ET) — Will the Brewers roll out a hangover lineup? Can that lineup still hang with the Reds? These are the questions.

Indians at White Sox (8:10 p.m. ET) — The Indians need a win, so they don’t fall two games behind in their wild-card chase.

Elimination Watch

• The Milwaukee Brewers clinching victory officially eliminated the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets from playoff contention. Only one more team will be knocked out before the postseason begins, and that team will be the A’s, Rays or Indians.

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