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.

Phillies fan injured after being shot by the Phillie Phanatic’s hot dog cannon

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In between one inning during every home game at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillie Phanatic will drive around the edge of the playing field shooting hot dogs into the stands from a pneumatic gun — a hot dog cannon, if you will — mounted on an ATV. Until Monday night, a fan had never been injured during this event.

Sarah Bloomquist of 6 ABC reports that, unfortunately, a Phillies fan was injured on Monday night when the Phillies opened a three-game home series with the Cardinals. Kathy McVay of Plymouth Meeting, PA was hit in the face. McVay said, “I have a small hematoma in my eye. And mostly, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to go down the side of my face.” She also suffered cuts and bruises and had to be taken to the hospital to be tested for a concussion.

McVay doesn’t plan to take legal action against the Phillies and seems to be taking the injury with a good sense of humor. She said, “It gives people a good laugh, and if that makes somebody chuckle, then that’s fine.” McVay also advised fellow fans, “Just to be aware, because you never know. I understand a baseball, but not a hot dog.”

The Phillies reached out to apologize to McVay on Tuesday and offered her tickets to another game once she heals, assuming she would like to return to Citizens Bank Park.

One wonders if Monday’s incident might motivate the Phillies to do away with the hot dog cannon stunt. There’s really nothing gained by doing it, and there are plenty of other ways for the Phanatic to have fun with the fans around the ballpark.