As day dawned... well, emerged from a cloud that looks like burning-paint-factory-meets-dying-grass... both the local baseball foundries had October plans. The Athletics, well, that's not news. The Giants, on the other hand...
Anyway, because the air is now at Industrial Revolution-England-level quality, let's walk you through the thicket briefly.
If the season ended today (and if that end wasn't connected to the planet exploding), the A's would have a cheerful three-game series set against the Minnesota Twins, a difficult matchup made real by the fact that the American League has better teams. The Twins are only a game behind Oakland in the raw standings, but because their record is sheep's-hair-width worse than either the Chicago White Sox or Cleveland Indians, today it's the Twins. Tomorrow it could be the White Sox, who have been one of the three hottest teams in baseball for the last month and mostly hurt baseballs for laughs, and the Indians have so much pitching that they traded their best starter, Mike Clevinger, to San Diego (more on them in a moment) and still only allow three runs per game — or the output of one inning in last night's Braves-Marlins' game.
In short, the A's get no pass into the October at all unless they catch and pass Tampa Bay to get the best record, in which case they get the New York Yankees at top health, or the weirdo Baltimore Orioles or Detroit Tigers if the Yankees stay injured. The O's and Tigers are like the Giants, only people thought at the beginning of the year that they'd be even worse, if that gives you any idea. If they slip and finish third, they'll probably get more games with the probably sixth-seeded Houston Astros, which means more stupid and cliched jokes about trashcans in what passes for originality in our wretched culture.
Nobody wants that. Trust me, nobody.
As for the Giants, who are 15-5 since their low-water mark on August 16, they have won enough in this burst to get past the fading Miami Marlins and may be wedged against their wills into seventh. They can get no higher because the Padres, who are 17-5 in the same span and in any event are better by lots and lots, hold the second NL West spot and the format only allows for two teams per division into the top six. In other words, the Dodgers, who are 16-5, have the top seed locked, and the Padres will be fourth.
That leaves the Giants with only three paths:
One, start playing the better teams again and fade as quickly as they emerged.
Two, slip into eighth and face the Dodgers, a hellscape in its own right.
Or three, sit in seventh and wait to see if the opponent is Atlanta/Philadelphia or Chicago/St. Louis. Not nearly as sexy, true, but they look downright adorable now being as high in the standings as they are.
The Braves have a ridiculous offense that the Giants pitching will be helpless against, but their starting pitching has been ravaged by injuries to Max Fried, Cole Hamels and Mike Soroka. Fried and Hamels may come back in time, but Soroka won't, and the Braves tried desperately without success to lift Lance Lynn from Texas at the deadline.
The Phillies have been better after a crap start but can't seem to shake the Marlins, for God's sake, and the Cardinals are slowly making up the games they missed by catching the cootie but are otherwise fairly ordinary except for Paul Goldschmidt and a stingy rotation that includes Jack Flaherty and the 350-year-old Adam Wainwright. Betting on either team to catch the Braves or Cubs seems a fool's errand, although the Cardinals have nine games in hand on Chicago, whose best playes are Ian Happ and Yu Darvish and whose most famous players are having awful years, maybe as Javier Baez suggests because they can't use the video room between at-bats any more because the Astros made sure nobody can have nice things.
However this breaks, there are two teams dramatically better than the others, and the Giants can miss them for at least a series because the format doesn't allow them to play Los Angeles or San Diego in the first round. All they have to do is not finish eighth, or as the smart folks say, not be the second wild card team. I mean, beggars can't be choosers, and their remaining schedule is what social scientists call a bitch, and this still feels like last July in many respects, which is the only good month they had.
Still, they were dead last a month ago, emphasis on "dead," and now they're not. The A's have the tougher path to glory but the talent to get there if they can find n extra healthy starter or two and slap their infield back into proper shape, but the Giants may have already landed there by simply stopping the sucking process. In these rancid times, that has to count for something. At least it doesn't sear your lungs to breathe them in any more.