With lots on table, final week has October feel
AL Wild Card race, battles for home-field advantage going down to wire
Five days to go ...
Does it feel like October yet? OK, it's still September, but you see where I'm going with this, don't you?
Even though eight of baseball's 10 playoff spots have been decided, there's still plenty left on the table in these final days.
For instance ...
The Indians are in a very good place. The Rays are hanging tough. The Rangers face a difficult road.
That's your American League Wild Card race in a nutshell. While the Yankees and Royals are on the verge of being eliminated, they've still got a chance.
When reporters asked Yankees manager Joe Girardi to reflect on the difficulty of the 2013 season, he refused to go there.
Girardi said he intended to play out the string, that his club would keep fighting until it was officially eliminated. And only then would he think about the big-picture questions of this season.
When he does have time to consider the larger meaning of this campaign, Girardi likely will feel pride that his team stayed in the race as long as it did considering the staggering number of injuries.
At the moment, the Indians appear to have the easiest path to the postseason. They play one game home game against the White Sox and then four on the road against the Twins.
The Rays still have the AL Wild Card lead, but they've got five more road games -- two against the Yankees and three against the Blue Jays.
And there are the Rangers, who began Wednesday a game in the loss column behind the Indians and two behind the Rays.
After playing one more against the Astros, Texas finishes the regular season with four home games against the Angels. In case you lost track of the Angels, they're 15-8 this month and scoring more than five runs a game. Meanwhile, their pitching staff has a 3.49 ERA.
The Halos, finishing up a second straight disappointing season, will be motivated to go hard until the end and make a statement about 2014.
The Red Sox and A's are still playing for home-field advantage in a potential AL Championship Series clash.
The Red Sox began the day with 63 loss, the A's 64. Both teams have four road games remaining, and it's a coin toss who has the tougher path. The Red Sox play one against the Rockies and three against an Orioles team that began Wednesday riding a six-game losing streak.
After a season of such high hopes, the Orioles may have trouble mustering much excitement for the final series. But manager Buck Showalter is as good as anyone at getting his guys to focus on the task at hand and not think beyond one game at a time.
The A's have one more against the Angels and three against the Mariners, who began Wednesday having lost 12 of 16. Like the Orioles, the Mariners are putting the finishing touch on a disappointing season. How that plays out in the final weekend is probably a coin toss.
The Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers are in a similar place. The Braves began Wednesday leading the Cardinals by one game in the loss column and the Dodgers by two in the race for NL home-field advantage.
All three teams appear capable of running the table. The Cardinals have an advantage of one fewer game. Their remaining schedule consists of four home games -- one against the Nationals and three against the Cubs.
The Dodgers finish with two on the road against the Giants and three at home against the Rockies. And the Braves, who begin in the driver's seat, have a home game against the Brewers and four more against the Phillies.
All those teams say their mission in these final days is to make sure they're physically and mentally ready to open the playoffs next week. But they want home-field advantage, so they're unlikely to do any wholesale resting of starters.
After six months, it has come down to that. These final days are important because the talent level between the 10 eventual playoff teams is so close that small things -- like getting an extra playoff game at home -- could prove extremely important.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.