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Playoff Snapshot: AL Central, NL top seed hang in the balance

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

PLayoffs

Of MLB's 30 teams, 26 are in action on Thursday. So let's take a look at where things stand in the quest for the postseason.

Playoff Picture page | Wednesday scoreboard | Three-day schedule

Here's a quick rundown of the five most important games you'll see on Thursday ...

1. A's vs. Tigers, 1:05 p.m. ET

The Tigers, having whittled down Chicago 's lead in the AL Central to two games, go for the sweep at home against Oakland. They'll start Anibal Sanchez while Oakland counters with Tommy Milone. The good news for Detroit is that, after today, all of their remaining games come against the Twins and Royals.

2. Astros vs. Cardinals, 1:45 p.m. ET

Another game of import involving those poor Astros? Yes, indeed. The Cardinals' easy ride to the finish continues. Jaime Garcia starts at home, where he has been much better throughout his career, and St. Louis will look to widen or maintain its two-game lead over the Dodgers (and 2 1/2-game lead over the Brewers) in the chase for the second NL wild-card berth.

3. Dodgers vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET

Besides the Dodgers' attempt to catch the Cardinals, the story here is that the Nats lead the Reds by just a half-game in the battle for top seed in the NL. The stakes? Besides the right to home-field advantage in the NLCS, the top seed, of course, gets the presumable benefit of playing the wild-card-game winner, which won't be able to start its designated ace until the back end of the NLDS.

4. Blue Jays vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

The Orioles are off, so the Yankees can push their lead in the AL East to a full game. They'll also be going for the sweep against the Jays as they head into a big weekend series at home against Oakland. Phil Hughes takes up the Yankee cause.

5. White Sox vs. Royals, 8:10 p.m. ET

The Sox can't seem to shake the Tigers. They'll try to nurse their two-game lead in the Central when Francisco Liriano opposes Jeremy Guthrie. That's potentially a sneaky-good pitching match-up. The bad news for Chicago is that they're only 6-11 against the Royals this season.

Playoff chances, via coolstandings.com

AL East champion

Yankees 71.3%
Orioles 28.5%
Rays 0.2%

AL Central champion

White Sox 72.8%
Tigers 27.2%

AL West champion

Rangers 88.1%
A's 11.6%
Angels 0.3%

AL Wild Card

A's 72.9%
Orioles 61.6%
Yankees 26.2%
Angels 17.8%
Rangers 11.4%
Rays 4.6%
Tigers 3.6%
White Sox 2.0%

NL East champion

Nationals 96.7%
Braves 3.3%

NL Central champion

Reds 99.9%

NL West champion

Giants 99.9%

NL Wild Card

Braves 96.7%
Cardinals 69.3%
Brewers 13.9%
Dodgers 10.8%
Diamondbacks 3.5%
Nationals 3.3%
Pirates 1.3%
Phillies 1.1%

Magic numbers (listed in ascending order)

NL Central: Reds, 3
NL West: Giants, 5
NL East: Nationals, 9
AL West: Rangers, 11
AL WC2: A's, 11
NL WC2: Cardinals, 12
AL Central: White Sox, 13
AL East: Yankees, 14

Grim Reaper Watch (i.e., teams that could be mathematically eliminated today)

Mets -- They'll be officially out of playoff contention if they lose to the Phillies and the Cardinals beat the Astros.

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