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Weekend Watch List: Some birds square off; NL leaders meet

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

Buck Showalter and Mike Matheny are set to match wits this weekend.
Buck Showalter and Mike Matheny are set to match wits this weekend. (USATSI)

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It's Aug. 8 and there are just 52 days left in the regular season. There are 17 teams within very legitimate reach of a playoff spot while a few others, like the Rays, White Sox, Marlins and Mets, are within miracle-run distance. This weekend features some real exciting action, so the Weekend Watch List is here to break it down.

1. The Birds

Possible World Series preview? It would be far from my first pick, but it's feasible to see the Orioles and Cardinals squaring off in the Fall Classic. They'll do battle in a three-game series this weekend, beginning Friday in Baltimore. There's some fun history here, as the Orioles were once the St. Louis Browns and in 1944 the Cardinals beat the Browns in the only all-St. Louis World Series.

This one is all about the here and now, though, as the Orioles hold the biggest division lead in all of baseball right now at five games. The Cardinals are one game behind the Brewers in the NL Central, but do have their hands on one of the NL wild-card spots.

Cherry-picking fun: The Orioles have been the best team in baseball (23-10) since June 29.

2. NL titans

Speaking of previews, might we be seeing an NLCS preview in Milwaukee? It's the Dodgers and the Brewers for a three-gamer. Newly acquired Roberto Hernandez toes the slab for the Dodgers against Kyle Lohse on Friday, which seems an advantage for the Brewers, but after that it's a heavy Dodgers advantage in pitching matchups (Zack Greinke vs. Mike Fiers and Clayton Kershaw vs. Jimmy Nelson).

Given how good both teams are and that each is real fun to watch (Yasiel Puig! Carlos Gomez!), this is a must-watch.

3. NL East battle?

The Nationals and Braves have been the top two teams in the NL East over the past three seasons (mostly), with each winning one division title so far. The Nationals have a 4½-game lead entering the weekend, but their struggles vs. the Braves (3-7 this year, 6-13 last season against ATL) are well-documented. Might this be a big chance for the host Braves? Well, on the flip side, the Braves are riding an eight-game losing streak and haven't beaten a team with a winning record since June 20. The Nationals also won the past two games in which these two teams met.

This series is big. A Braves sweep would get them within 1½ games. A Nationals sweep makes this thing 7½ games, which would seem pretty insurmountable. Something in between isn't nearly as dramatic, but even the Nats taking two of three and escaping with a 5½-game lead is large.

4. AL wild-card goodness

The race for the second AL wild-card spot is crazy right now. The Royals currently have it, but only by a half-game over the Yankees, Mariners and Blue Jays. Yes sir, that's four teams within a half-game for a playoff spot. Gimme.

None has it easy this weekend, either.

The Royals deal with the Giants, who have been struggling mightily for a few months but still have plenty of talent and would make the playoffs if they started right now.

The Yankees get the Indians, who are only four games out of the second wild card themselves and know a thing or two about great last-season runs.

The Blue Jays get the first-place Tigers and dates with Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and David Price.

The Mariners have it easiest of the group, taking on the White Sox in Safeco Field, but Chicago is 6½ out of the spot and not a pushover. Seattle won't have to deal with Chris Sale, but Felix Hernandez isn't going, either.

Things will still be far from settled after this weekend, but that fact doesn't decrease the fun factor. Keep your eyes on all of these series.

5. The Javy Hour in Wrigley

Cubs phenom Javier Baez debuted this week and didn't disappoint, hitting three homers and driving home five runs in Colorado during the first series of his career. Beginning Friday against the Rays, Cubs fans will have an up-close slobberfest with the youngster in Wrigley Field. The standing ovation for his first career at-bat in the Friendly Confines will be pretty cool. What if he homers? Oh boy ...

The Cubs have won seven of their past 10 and the Rays are still on the periphery of the AL wild-card hunt, too, so this one is watchable past the exploits of young Javy.

6. Everything's smaller in Texas

The Rangers and Astros are battling for Texas pride. And the worst record in the AL.

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