At this time of year in Major League Baseball, the goal is to get into the divisional series, and there are two ways to do that. The simplest way is to sit in first place in your division at the end of the season. If that fails, then the situation starts to get a lot more complicated.

The non-division winners need their records to hold up as best or second best among their competitors for one of two wild-card spots. If that condition is satisfied, then the said wild cards still have to win a one-game playoff to get to the divisional round. Since winning that do-or-die game involves burning your best available pitching arms, a far simpler matter is just to win your division.

From that point of view, there is emerging drama this week and this weekend for both the #Chicago Cubs and the #Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs and the Brewers are in a pennant race, one that the former has taken firm control of since the All Star break. Heading into Wednesday, the situation is that the Brewers trail the Cubs by 3.5 games. The two teams will meet on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in games that Milwaukee will host. Both teams also play on Wednesday, but against separate teams. That means the Chicago lead could be as much as 4.5 games by Thursday or it could either shrink to 2.5 games or stay at 3.5 games. Regardless, the series between Chicago and Milwaukee has major ramifications for both teams.

There might not be a Plan B

The winner of the #Nl Central will almost surely start the post-season on the road in the divisional round.

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The second-place finisher won't necessarily see any more action this season. Colorado and Arizona hold the two wild-card spots at the moment, and they have held them for ages. Colorado is currently the second wild card and they may still be caught by either Milwaukee, Chicago, or maybe even St. Louis.

The team that finishes second in the NL Central might be on the outside looking in, not just for the divisional round, but for the wild-card game. There is more baseball to be played in the regular season than just the four games between Milwaukee and Chicago that are upcoming. However, the series is pivotal for both teams' playoff aspirations as the wild-card route is by no means guaranteed to be open.

Chicago can play for a split

That Chicago will have a big edge against Milwaukee heading into their series is clear, even ahead of Wednesday's action. A lead of 2.5 games to 4.5 games won't be a a huge lead, but when it comes to a time in the season when there are only about a dozen games left for teams, it starts to look a lot larger every day.

The lead is significant enough that Chicago really only needs a split in the four games to be played in Milwaukee to emerge from the weekend as huge favorites to win the NL Central. That series result would burn four games off of the limited schedule remaining while keeping Milwaukee at a safe distance in the standings.

The Brewers, on the other hand, will need to win at least three of four games in the upcoming series against Chicago to keep serious hopes of a divisional crown alive. If they lose a game in the standings on Wednesday, then four of four becomes the new requirement. While beating Chicago in at least three games of four looks daunting, based on the Cubs' current form, Milwaukee did sweep the Cubs in Chicago earlier this month. It was that result that really injected some hope into their late-season aspirations.

The situation involving Chicago and Milwaukee is not simple. The wildcard backdoor plan is still alive and St. Louis isn't totally out of the picture yet. If Milwaukee loses ground to Chicago in the days ahead, then it would definitely look like the beginning of the end for the Brewers. If they stalemate, that wouldn't be neutral, but would instead be to Chicago's benefit. What is simple is that Milwaukee is still in control of its destiny, but the Brewers need to keep winning or else things could turn south fast despite the team's hot play of late.