The Week Ahead: It's clinching time

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rivera_yanks_090927.jpgThe New York Yankees are in. The St. Louis Cardinals, too. The Los Angeles Dodgers are assured at least the NL wild-card slot, and will soon be celebrating a division title. And these traditional powers are about to have a lot more company very soon.

What’s left in baseball’s playoff races? Not a whole lot, really.

[Breakdown of playoff races  |  Standings] 

The Texas Rangers, hanging on by a thread in both the AL West and wild-card races, essentially have to run the table this week and receive a ton of help to even have a chance. They open the week with a four-game series against the Angels, and any loss in that series will end their division hopes.

In the wild-card race, the Boston Red Sox can clinch by going just 2-5 this week – even if the Rangers win out.

In the NL, the Phillies can clinch the NL East with a 3-4 week – even if the Braves run the table — and the aforementioned Dodgers can clinch the West with a mere two wins this week – no matter what the second-place Colorado Rockies do.

That leaves only two races with any sort of drama left, the NL wild card and the AL Central. In the NL, the Atlanta Braves have ridden a 5-game winning to move within 2 ½ games of the leading Rockies. And there is reason for hope in Atlanta. If the Braves can get past the Marlins in the early part of the week, they finish with four games at home against the Washington Nationals, whom they just swept by a combined score of 21-9.

Colorado has a much tougher road, with three games at home against Milwaukee before heading to Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers. L.A. is 12-3 against Colorado this season.

In the AL Central, the Tigers are trying to fend off the Twins, who are hanging two games back as the teams enter a four-game series on Monday in Detroit. A split would put Detroit in good shape, as the Twins would then almost certainly need a weekend sweep against Kansas City – and they’ll face leading AL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke on Saturday.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Marlins at Braves, Sept. 28-30: The Marlins are pretty much cooked, but they Braves still have an outside chance of catching the Rockies for the NL wild card spot. Florida wouldn’t mind playing spoiler

Rangers at Angels, Sept. 28-Oct. 1: The Rangers haven’t been eliminated yet from either the AL West or wild card races. That being said, anything less than a four-game sweep of the Angels spells doom. The drama here could end real quickly.

Twins at Tigers, Sept. 28-Oct. 1: This is pretty much it for the Twins, who trail Detroit by two games heading into this four-game series. If Minnesota doesn’t win at least three, you can pretty much give Detroit the division.

Royals at Twins, Oct. 2-4: As we said above, Greinke and the Royals get a chance to play spoiler here. And Greinke has something to play for, too, as he aims to grab as many wins as he can to impress Cy Young award voters.

Rockies at Dodgers, Oct. 2-4: The Atlanta Braves must look at this series and think “Ahah. We have hope.” While Atlanta will be playing the lowly Washington Nationals, Colorado draws Los Angeles. Colorado is 3-12 against the Dodgers this season. The Braves must just make sure they are close enough heading into the weekend.

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Sean Manaea pitches the first no-hitter of 2018

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Athletics southpaw Sean Manaea delivered his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox in a decisive 3-0 victory on Saturday night. Any thought of a perfect game was banished in the first at-bat, when Mookie Betts drew a leadoff six-pitch walk to open the first inning. From there, Manaea was nearly flawless, holding the Sox to four total baserunners and striking out 10 of 30 batters faced — a career record.

Manaea was gifted a three-run lead thanks to RBI doubles from Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien‘s solo shot off of Chris Sale in the fifth inning. While the Red Sox managed to draw two walks off of Manaea, they didn’t come anywhere close to plating a run. Andrew Benintendi tried to break up the no-no in the sixth inning with an infield hit down the first base line, but strayed out of bounds and later saw his hit reversed on a call of batter interference.

Entering the ninth inning, the 26-year-old lefty was sitting at just 95 pitches through eight frames of no-hit ball. He quickly deposed Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts with a groundout and fly out, then walked Benintendi on seven pitches. Any threat the Red Sox might have posed was soon eliminated, however, as Hanley Ramirez ground into a force out to complete the no-hitter.

Manaea is the first A’s pitcher to toss a no-no since Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays eight years ago. The last time the Red Sox were on the losing end of a no-hitter was also against an AL West rival, when the Mariners’ Chris Bosio clinched a 2-0 no-no on April 22, 1993. Manaea’s feat is even more outstanding given how dominant the Red Sox have looked this season: prior to Saturday’s defeat, they boasted a 17-2 record and had yet to be shut out during the regular season.