LEADING OFF: NL playoff race wide open, AL nearly locked in

Sports

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty delivers during first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/David Dermer) Pennsylvania

A look at what’s happening around the majors Friday:

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CRUNCH TIME

Eight teams in the National League are vying for four available postseason spots heading into the regular season’s final weekend, and Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty can get St. Louis a crucial win in the opener of a doubleheader against Milwaukee. The clubs opened a five-game series Thursday that could have huge implications on the race, as none of the six other contenders are facing each other.

The Marlins, Phillies, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Giants are the top teams still in contention — and they’re packed tightly with slots available for one team from the NL East, another from the NL Central and then two wild cards. The Mets (26-31) and Rockies (25-31) are mathematically eligible but need to win out just to have a shot.

AL-MOST OVER

Only one playoff spot remains open in the AL, and Michael Brantley and the Astros are on the verge of clinching it. Houston is visiting the Rangers this weekend.

The Twins are trying to seal the AL Central. They hold a one-game lead over the White Sox and are at Target Field to finish up with Cincinnati.

Minnesota slugger Nelson Cruz has missed four straight games with soreness in his right knee. Manager Rocco Baldelli says Cruz wouldn’t be back in the lineup until he’s 100 percent.

SECOND CITY SKIDS

The White Sox and Cubs both hope to reverse recent slides when they meet this weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field before opening the playoffs.

The Chisox have lost five in a row, dropping them out of the AL Central lead and one game behind Minnesota. Rookie outfielder Luis Robert, stuck in an 0-for-28 slump, wasn’t in the lineup Thursday at Cleveland. The 23-year-old Cuban leads all rookies with 30 RBIs and is tied for first with 11 homers.

“The reality is you have a young man coming into the big leagues, and no matter how talented you are, you hit a wall,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Nobody wants to see the wall be hit, but you hit a wall.”

The NL Central-leading Cubs have a magic number of two for clinching the division. They’ve lost five of six, scoring two or fewer runs in each of those losses.

Cubs ace Yu Darvish (7-3, 2.22 ERA) starts against Dylan Cease (5-3, 3.52).

MAXED OUT

Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer makes his final start of the season, taking on the Mets at Nationals Park. A win would let Scherzer (4-4, 3.67) finish with a winning record for the 11th straight season, tying Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw for the longest active such streak.

Washington was eliminated from postseason contention this week, a year after the winning the championship. Manager Dave Martinez intends to point out to his players what they’ve accomplished in the recent past.

“I’ll remind them that other than not making the playoffs this year, we did win the World Series in 2019,” Martinez said. “That means a lot. That doesn’t go away. Let’s come back in 2021 and do it again.”

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