The Washington Nationals -- yes, the Washington Nationals -- and Detroit Tigers became division winners Monday night. The Oakland A's clinched an improbable wild-card berth and can still win the AL West, while the Yankees moved a step closer in the AL East and the Cardinals are on the brink of cementing baseball's first wild-card playoff matchup.
The Nationals lost to the Phillies, 2-0, but clinched the NL East in the middle of the ninth inning of that one when the Braves lost at Pittsburgh, 2-1, and the party was officially on at Nationals Park (above). Former Buffalo News intern Amanda Comak reports on all the sights and sounds of the celebration in today's Washington Times.
So now we officially have the scenario so many people in baseball have wondered about: The Nationals are in the playoffs, but how will they do without Stephen Strasburg? They have a 21-game winning ace in Gio Gonzalez and another stud in Jordan Zimmermann but we'll have to see how the rest of the rotation holds up.
The Tigers won at Kansas City, 6-3, and that was enough to clinch the AL Central in what was an up-and-down year. The White Sox won at Cleveland, 11-0 but Chicago's 2-9 slump proved fatal in the division. Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown hopes grew with a four-hit night. He's batting .329 but Angels rookie Mike Trout also had four hits and is at .325. He has 44 home runs, one ahead of Josh Hamilton and leads by 10 in the RBI race.
In Oakland, the A's posted a 4-3 win over Texas to clinch the wild-card. And if they beat the Rangers in the final two games, they would take the AL West and send the two-time defending AL champions on a stunning slide into Friday's wild-card games. The Rays were eliminated.
Wrote Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle: "An improbable, implausible, absurd season for the Oakland A's churned out one sensational story after another, and at last comes the most fantastic tale yet: The 2012 A's are going to the postseason."
It is crazy to ponder how a team that traded the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey over the winter -- and has five rookies in its rotation -- will finish ahead of the big-money Angels and make the postseason.
Said outfielder Jonny Gomes, an alum of the upstart 2008 Rays: "We wear jerseys on the field. We don't wear contracts between the lines."
The Yankees can clinch the AL East tonight with another win over Boston and another Baltimore loss in Tampa Bay. New York's 10-2 win Monday featured a franchise record-tying four home runs in a nine-run second. The Red Sox are just pathetic, as John Harper writes in the Daily News. The Cardinals' magic number is one for the second NL wild-card and a one-game showdown with the Braves Friday in Atlanta.
(Photo: Associated Press)