The best game of the postseason last year wasn't officially a postseason game.
It was Game 163, Tigers at Twins, and by baseball rules it was a regular-season game.
But it sure did have a playoff feel, and it was great.
In an October/November where none of the seven official postseason series went to a final, winner-take-all final game, Game 163 was as good as it got. And it was plenty good, a 6-5, 12-inning Twins win that even the Tigers acknowledged as maybe the best game they'd ever played in.
We've had a Game 163 each of the last three years, and they've all been great ones. It was Matt Holliday scoring in the 13th inning for the Rockies against the Padres in 2007 (was he really safe?). It was Jim Thome homering off Nick Blackburn for a 1-0 White Sox win over the Twins in 2008.
And it was an Alexei Casilla single off Fernando Rodney (pitching his fourth inning), after home-plate umpire Randy Marsh missed Brandon Inge getting hit by a pitch in the top of the 12th.
So what are the chances we get a Game 163 this year?
Not too good, from the looks of things going into the final weekend. The Giants lead the Padres by three games in the National League West, which means the Padres would need to sweep this weekend's series at AT&T Park to force Game 163.
The Braves lead the Padres by two games in the NL wild-card race, which means the only chance of Game 163 in Atlanta would be if the Padres win two of three and the Braves lose two of three.
Or, if the Braves lose two of three and the Padres sweep, you'd have a three-way tie for the wild card/NL West and a pair of one-game play-in games.
Unlikely possibilities, all of them, and disappointing for neutrals, especially since as recently as Sunday night, the Giants, Braves and Padres were separated by just one game.
So what do we do? We settle for a final weekend with plenty still on the line, and then we hope for a great October (and early November).
A few things to watch for this weekend, besides the Padres, Giants and Braves:
-- The seeding race. The Rays have the tiebreaker against the Yankees (by winning the season series), so they enter the weekend with a magic number of three to clinch the American League East. The winner in the East hosts the Rangers, while the loser in the East is the wild card and goes to Minnesota. The Rays also had a magic number of three to clinch the AL's best record, and home field in a possible second-round matchup with the Twins.
In the NL, the Phillies have already clinched the best record, but this weekend will determine the first-round matchups, and home-field for the other two division winners.
-- The awards race. Buster Posey's big home run Thursday (and his big September overall) had to make an impact with voters in the toughest NL Rookie of the Year race in years, and the toughest of the major award races this year. It might come down to who has the best weekend between Posey and Jason Heyward, although Florida's Gaby Sanchez also deserves consideration.
-- The playoff questions. Yankee fans worried about their rotation will watch closely to see how Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett pitch on Friday and Saturday against the Red Sox. Ranger fans worried about their lineup will watch closely to see how Josh Hamilton looks, assuming he's able to return to the lineup as scheduled on Friday against the Angels. Phillie fans will keep an eye on Jimmy Rollins, who is 1-for-8 in his first three games back from a hamstring injury.
-- The Pirates. Their road record is 16-62, which is historically bad. How bad? Well, in the era of the 162-game schedule, the fewest road wins any team has had are 17, by the 1963 Mets, followed by 18, by the 1962 Mets. The Pirates are in Florida this weekend, with three games to go.
On to 3 to watch:
1. The Giants are one of the hottest teams in baseball, with eight wins in their last 10 games and an 18-8 record in September. The Padres are one of the coldest, with four losses in the last five games and a 12-22 record over the last month-plus. The Giants pitching was amazing in September, with a 1.78 team ERA. The Padres offense has been shaky all year and awful recently, with 81 runs in 28 games in September (28th among the 30 major-league teams). Now the Padres need to sweep this weekend's three games, starting with Padres at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park . Their opponent Friday is Matt Cain, who has given up two runs in his last 22 innings.
2. The Braves chose Saturday to honor Bobby Cox, who is retiring at the end of this season. With a magic number of two, the Braves could clinch Cox's record 16th playoff appearance as soon as Friday night. But it wouldn't be bad if the clinch comes Saturday, when the Braves and Padres will play at the same time. Tommy Hanson, the Braves' best starter of late, will go in Phillies at Braves, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Turner Field .
3. As unlikely as it is, we're still holding out hope for Game 163. So save time on Monday. Just make sure you've got something else to do if it doesn't happen.