What a week.
This is what baseball fans around the world were hoping for—that the last week of MLB's regular season would be filled with drama and intrigue as multiple teams battle for a chance to play meaningful baseball in October.
But before we can look ahead to what awaits us in the season's 26th and final week, we need to understand how we got here.
Last week saw four of the six divisional races come to an abrupt end, leaving only six remaining playoff spots available and nine teams still mathematically alive to clinch one.
We saw a team officially go from worst to first, another clinch back-to-back division crowns and yet another hopeful of starting a new decade of dominance after winning its first division title in eight years.
We also saw Mariano Rivera's farewell tour reach its final destination, with a grand celebration at Yankee Stadium befitting a living legend.
Let's take a look back at the biggest winners and losers over the last seven days of action.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of Sept. 22.
Weekly Record: 3-3
For the first time since 2007, the Red Sox are the champions of the AL East, becoming the 11th team in MLB history to go from worst to first in the process.
Considering how far away a division title seemed just over a year ago, Boston's resurgence, capped off with a division-clinching 6-3 victory over Toronto last Friday, winning the AL East for the seventh time in team history, is all the sweeter.
That wasn't lost on Jon Lester, who came up big in the division-deciding game to earn the 100th victory of his career, as he told the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham after the game:
This is different because in years past it was almost expected. To go through some of the things we’ve gone through the past three years, the injuries and nonsense and everything, to finally be back at this point is very, very rewarding.
We’re going to sit back and enjoy this and really let it soak in.
With a 1.5-game lead over Oakland for the best record in the American League, the Red Sox will look to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a strong finish this week.
While home-field advantage doesn't always guarantee postseason success, Boston owns the best home record in the AL, going 53-28 at Fenway Park, second only to Atlanta (52-22) in all of baseball.
|Dustin Pedroia||.391||1.136||5 (1)||5||4||0|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia||.333||.778||2 (0)||0||3||2|
OK, we get it.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were asked to hold off on the boisterous celebration for winning the NL West until they got back to the privacy of the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field. But they didn't, with the team streaming out to the pool in right-center field, climbing the outfield wall and going for a celebratory dip.
It was an act that drew the ire of Arizona Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall, U.S. Senator John McCain and Diamondbacks infielder Willie Bloomquist, among others. Bloomquist went on a lengthy rant about how disrespectful of an act it was, via ArizonaSports.com:
I think it's tired and disrespectful. It's surprising because they have a lot of veteran guys on that team that I thought were classier than that.
But there's a fine line between going overboard at someone else's place and doing that, I think. But what are we going to do about it? There's not much we can do about it now. They've clinched the division this year, but if that's how they're going to act and be classless, that's their gig, that's their clubhouse. I just think it's disrespectful and classless.
While I can see being annoyed by the impromptu pool party, to call it classless and disrespectful is a bit of a stretch.
Had the Dodgers danced atop the Diamondbacks logo, had they defecated on the field, taken blue permanent markers and written "Dodgers Rule!" all over the dugout walls, that would have been disrespectful.
It's not as if the Dodgers made a beeline to the pool immediately after the game. They waited until the stadium was nearly empty before making their way to the outfield. And while it may have been "bush league," they didn't show the Diamondbacks up in front of the hometown crowd.
There's certainly no love lost between these two division rivals, who were involved in a pair of scraps earlier this season, and that history likely played a part in the frustration that Bloomquist and others are dealing with.
Perhaps the organization should focus that energy on figuring out why the team collapsed over the second half of the season instead of whining about the Dodgers taking a dip in the pool, as it makes the Diamondbacks come across as nothing more than sore losers.
Nothing went according to plan for Brandon McCarthy in his first season as a member of the Diamondbacks, with the 30-year-old missing more than two months of the season due to injury and sitting with an ERA over 5.00 for most of the season.
While he's pitched his best baseball of the year over the past month, going 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA over his last four starts, it would have been easy—and perhaps understandable—for the outspoken starter to go off on the Dodgers for acting like caddies at Bushwood Country Club.
Instead, he came to their defense—and called out his own team in the process—via Twitter:
Celebrating is fun. I don't care how and where you do it. Only thing to care about is what we need to do to celebrate in our pool next year.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) September 19, 2013
Well said—and if the Diamondbacks were smart, they'd take their veteran hurler's advice.
Weekly Record: 3-4
We talked about the potential for disaster in Texas at the beginning of last week and, wouldn't you know it, disaster struck.
Not only were the Texas Rangers unable to stop the Oakland A's from clinching the AL West title, but they have now fallen out of the playoffs, sitting 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the second and final wild-card berth in the American League—a spot that the Rangers had to themselves at the beginning of last week.
No longer in control of their own destiny, the Rangers need to win out against Houston and Los Angeles this week—and get some help—to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
|Craig Gentry||.636||1.510||1 (0)||1||1||4|
|Elvis Andrus||.250||.777||2 (2)||7||6||0|
Weekly Record: 5-2
A half-game behind Tampa Bay and Texas in the AL wild-card race to start the week, Cleveland now has a 1.5-game lead on Texas for the second wild-card spot. And with six games remaining against inferior competition (Chicago and Minnesota), the Indians are on the fast track to the playoffs.
After dropping two out of three to Kansas City earlier in the week, Cleveland took out its frustration on Houston, sweeping the hapless Astros in four games, outscoring its overmatched opponents 17-5.
We've been saying for weeks that Terry Francona has his players believing that nothing can stop them from reaching the playoffs—and with a 15-6 record in September, the Indians now control their playoff fate.
With a 24-8 record against the White Sox and Twins this week, it would be a bigger upset for Cleveland to miss the playoffs than if the team made it to the postseason.
|Nick Swisher||.417||1.208||3 (2)||3||5||0|
|Asdrubal Cabrera||.346||.970||4 (1)||4||1||1|
Weekly Record: 2-4
Baltimore's descent out of contention continued last week, with the Orioles dropping four games in a row to end the week, including a costly three-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the teams they have been desperately trying to catch in the AL wild-card chase.
Take a look at the notable performers I picked out below, with Brian Roberts and Adam Jones being the best that Baltimore's offense had to offer last week. That's not good, and neither is the team's collective slash line from last week, a pathetic .183/.251/.276 that doesn't lend itself to a successful playoff push.
Nonetheless, Kevin Gausman, the team's first-round pick in last year's first-year player draft, continues to flash an impressive arsenal that is keeping batters off-balance and could be a difference-maker over a full season of action in 2014.
|Brian Roberts||.250||.698||2 (0)||2||2||0|
|Adam Jones||.200||.670||2 (1)||4||2||0|
Weekly Record: 4-3
Tied with Pittsburgh for the division lead heading into the week, St. Louis picked up two games on its division rival, giving the Cardinals a bit of breathing room while keeping the team in contention for the best record in the National League and home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
With a combined 12-7 record against Washington and Chicago, both of whom come to Busch Stadium this week to finish the regular season, the Cardinals control their own destiny. Win at least four of their remaining six games and the division crown will be theirs, regardless of what Cincinnati and Pittsburgh do.
Play .500 baseball or worse and, well, that's a door that St. Louis and the Cardinals faithful hope the team doesn't open.
|Matt Holliday||.500||1.273||3 (1)||7||8||0|
|Matt Carpenter||.406||1.125||5 (1)||5||7||0|
Weekly Record: 4-3
For the first time since 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be playing meaningful baseball in October, courtesy of an NL West-clinching 7-6 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks last Thursday that has drawn more attention for the team's postgame celebration than its action on the field.
We've already gone over the pool party and how it was a bit bush league, and certainly the Dodgers could have—and probably should have—exercised better judgement.
That said, you can't take away from the incredible run that Los Angeles has been on since late May, going 71-38 since May 22 en route to becoming the first National League team to clinch a playoff berth and winning the 12th NL West championship in team history.
|Michael Young||.600||1.345||1 (0)||2||0||0|
|Hanley Ramirez||.714||1.571||2 (2)||4||5||0|
Weekly Record: 5-2
It may not have had the flair and drama of last year's surprising run to the AL West title, but for the second consecutive season—and 16th time in franchise history—the Oakland Athletics are champions of the AL West.
After dropping two out of three to Los Angeles to start the week, Oakland needed to rebound against Minnesota. But it did just that, sweeping the four-game series from the Twins, including an 11-7 victory on Sunday that was a mere formality after Texas fell to Kansas City during the game, giving Oakland the division crown.
This marks the 25th postseason appearance for Oakland, a number that surprisingly puts the franchise third in baseball history behind only the Yankees (51) and Dodgers (27).
|Alberto Callaspo||.429||1.193||2 (2)||6||4||0|
|Josh Donaldson||.385||1.077||3 (1)||4||5||0|
Weekly Record: 2-5
A week that started with Pittsburgh and St. Louis tied for the NL Central lead ended with the Pirates tied with Cincinnati for second place in the division, 2.5 games behind the streaking Cardinals.
Five of the team's biggest bats, Pedro Alvarez, Marlon Byrd, Russell Martin, Justin Morneau and Andrew McCutchen, combined to hit only .178 with a combined six extra-base hits (three home runs) and 13 RBI last week, the driving force behind the team's untimely slump.
Luckily for Pittsburgh, which dropped three out of four to San Diego and two out of three to Cincinnati last week, Washington remains five games out of the playoffs. Even with the team's swoon, Pittsburgh should still wind up in the playoffs, even if it limps into them.
|Jose Tabata||.421||1.213||3 (1)||5||4||0|
|Jordy Mercer||.385||.967||2 (0)||1||3||0|
Weekly Record: 5-1
A week ago, the Cincinnati Reds sat 3.5 games behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis for the division lead, and it was fair to question whether the streaking Washington Nationals were about to catch—and pass—the floundering Reds in the NL wild-card hunt.
Seven days later, the question isn't whether the Reds are going to make the playoffs, it's whether they or the Pirates will host the NL Wild Card Game, with the two division rivals ending the regular season with a three-game series at Great American Ballpark that will make for must-see television.
A three-game sweep of former division foes Houston sent the Reds into Pittsburgh on a high note, where they took two of three from the Pirates, putting the team into a tie with the Bucs for second place in the division, two games behind the Cardinals.
|Billy Hamilton||.500||1.238||2 (0)||1||5||7|
|Jay Bruce||.333||.993||5 (1)||14||5||1|
Weekly Record: 5-2
For the first time since 2005, the last year of Atlanta's 11-year run of NL East dominance, the Braves are once again division champions, winning the crown after Washington fell to Miami on Sunday afternoon during Atlanta's game against Chicago.
Heading into the season's final week, the Braves hold a 1.5-game lead over St. Louis for the Senior Circuit's best record and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
While Atlanta has the best home record in baseball at 52-22 and finishes the season with home games against Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the Braves have only a 9-9 record against their remaining competition, leaving the door open for St. Louis to reclaim the top spot.
|Freddie Freeman||.300||1.044||2 (2)||6||5||0|
|Andrelton Simmons||.250||1.077||3 (2)||5||3||0|