PHOENIX (AP) — It might take all 162 games to decide the playoff races in both the National League and American League.
The epicenter of the wild-card chase this weekend is in Arizona at Chase Field. Thanks to some fortuitous interleague scheduling, the AL's Houston Astros face the NL's Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game set crucial to races in both leagues.
Defending champion Houston is fighting for a berth after a September swoon. The Diamondbacks — who have played better lately after their own second-half slide — are trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2017.
“We know it’s right in front of us,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said after his team beat the White Sox on Wednesday. “We control our own destiny in this particular situation."
Here's a look at some of the other series this weekend that will decide the postseason field:
Rangers at Mariners: This is a big four-game set that actually began Thursday night, with both teams fighting for position in the AL West and the AL wild-card race. The Rangers have played well over the past 1 1/2 weeks, opening a 2 1/2-game division lead. Texas probably is fine with a win or two in the series while Seattle might need to sweep.
Rays at Blue Jays: The Rays have already secured their berth and are locked into their playoff spot after the Orioles won the AL East on Thursday. The Blue Jays are fighting for an AL wild-card spot and winning at least two of three against Tampa Bay would go a long way toward securing that goal.
Cubs at Brewers: The Cubs just finished a tough series against Atlanta and have lost nine times in September in games in which they led. The Brewers have won the NL Central.
Marlins at Pirates: The Marlins have been playing roughly .500 ball for the better part of a month. They'll need a big weekend against the Pirates — possibly a sweep — to have a chance at making the postseason.
Reds at Cardinals: The surprising Reds have been sliding some in recent weeks. They'll likely need a sweep over the Cardinals to have much of a shot at sneaking into the postseason.
The most intrigue still surrounds the NL Cy Young Award race, which has a handful of solid candidates in San Diego's Blake Snell, Chicago's Justin Steele, Arizona's Zac Gallen and Atlanta's Spencer Strider.
Strider's got a shot in his final start to become the majors only 20-game winner. Steele and Gallen will have one more chance to impress in the middle of the NL wild-card race.
Ronald Acuña Jr. recently created the 40-homer, 70-stolen base club after the Braves star became the first player to reach both those marks in the same season. With apologies to teammate Matt Olson and Dodgers standouts Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, he's still the favorite for the National League MVP.
Yankees star Gerrit Cole pitched a two-hit shutout against Toronto, clinching the AL ERA title and strengthening his Cy Young case.
Miguel Cabrera hit his 511th homer on Wednesday.
The 40-year-old is putting the finishing touches on a stellar career that includes two MVP awards, A Triple Crown, four batting titles, 12 All-Star appearances and a 2003 World Series title. There was a 13-year stretch from 2004-6 when he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
All signs point to this being Cleveland manager Terry Francona's final season in the dugout.
The 64-year-old has been slowed by major health issues in recent years, but if this is it, there's little doubt the personable, popular Francona has left a lasting imprint as a manager and one of the game’s most beloved figures.
He won World Series titles with the Boston in 2004 and 2007 before guiding the Guardians over the past 11 years, which have included nine winning seasons.
MLB has enjoyed a big boost in attendance this season, averaging roughly 29,000 fans per game going into the final weekend.
That's much better than 26,843 fans per game from 2022 and 18,901 in 2021 — which were both affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. No fans were allowed in parks during the 2020 regular season.
But that doesn't explain all of this year's jump. The sport is poised to draw its most fans since 2017, when the average was just shy of 30,000. One popular hypothesis: The newly-introduced pitch clock has made the sport much more watchable, shaving more than 20 minutes off of games.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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