Key series loom for Tigers, Pirates

Critical matchups could determine postseason fates of several teams

Updated: August 25, 2014, 12:54 PM ET
By Paul Swydan | ESPN Insider

Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchenUSA TODAY SportsCould Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen miss the postseason?
The playoff picture is beginning to crystallize just a bit. As of Sunday night, the FanGraphs playoff odds listed six American League teams with at least a 50 percent chance of reaching the postseason, and seven National League teams with at least 30 percent odds of reaching it.

Thanks to the imbalanced schedule, a lot of the games these playoff contenders will play down the stretch will be against horrible teams, as no division has five good teams in it.

But there will be some important series to play. Twelve of these teams will meet in 22 different series, starting tonight (only the Baltimore Orioles get a pass). What follows is an attempt to hand pick the most important or intriguing series of the 22.

I've listed those 22 series in the table below. Admittedly, what I'm looking for here is a bit subjective. First, we're looking only at the impact on the playoff odds. We're trying to identify the five teams from each league that will get a dance card, and as such, we're not as interested in the teams that have 90-plus percent odds of reaching the postseason. They will surely have some drama down the stretch, and these odds can and will change by the day, but for our purposes, we're not as concerned with the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals (and Orioles, because they don't have any cool series to play).

We also have to be mindful of looking too far into the future. If things remain static, the series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves in late September could end up being one of the more pivotal ones of the group. But there's no guarantee, of course, that things will remain static. After all, at the beginning of the month, both the Braves and Pirates had 50 percent or better odds of reaching the postseason. Those odds have been cut substantially this month, and by late September, one or both of those teams could be simply playing out the string.

With that, here's a look at the 22 remaining series of playoff contenders, followed by a look at four of the biggies. Once again, the playoff odds are as of Sunday night: