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NL standings: The fight for playoff positioning

With three weeks remaining in the season the Dodgers are clinging to the No. 2 seed in the National League, which would mean home field advantage in the NLDS. But the NL teams are so bunched up they could finish anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3.

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers play their remaining 20 games — 10 at home, 10 on the road — against their own division, but as they found out over the weekend the National League Central will play a major factor in the 2013 playoffs.

Barring a total collapse, the five National League playoff teams are known. The Braves hold a 12-game lead over the Nationals, the Dodgers hold an 11-game lead over the Diamondbacks, and the Pirates and Reds lead the Nationals and Diamondbacks by eight and nine games, respectively for the second wild card spot.

What this means is that three NL Central teams will make the playoffs, and that the Dodgers will likely play a team from that division in the division series.

The Reds worked their way back into the divisional hunt last week by winning three of four against St. Louis and their sweep of the Dodgers. After watching the Pirates beat them for most of the year, the Cardinals responded with a weekend sweep of Pittsburgh to take the NL Central lead. The three teams are separated by just 1½ games.

The Dodgers trail the Braves by two games for the league's best record, but Atlanta holds the tiebreaker by winning five of seven games against Los Angeles. If the Dodgers are unable to pass the Braves for the top NL playoff seed they will end up playing the NL Central division winner in the first round, with home field advantage yet to be determined.

The Dodgers hold a half-game lead over the Cardinals and a two-game lead over the Pirates and Reds for the No. 2 seed. Los Angeles has the tiebreaker over St. Louis (by winning four of seven head-to-head) and Pittsburgh (4-2) but thanks to the weekend sweep Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over the Dodgers (4-3) should the two division winners finish with the same record.

If the Dodgers do manage to end with the best record in the National League, they will play the winner of the wild card game, which will almost certainly be between the second and third-place finishers in the NL Central.

The Dodgers swept a pair of NL Central teams, the Cubs in 2008 and the Cardinals in 2009, before running into the Phillies buzz saw in a pair of NLCS losses. The Dodgers last played the Reds in the playoffs in the 1995 NLDS (a three-game sweep for Cincinnati) and last played the Pirates in the 1974 NLCS (a 3-1 series win for Los Angeles).

The NLDS opens with home games for the team with home-field advantage on Thursday, Oct. 3 and Friday, Oct. 4, followed by two road games on Sunday, Oct. 6 and Monday, Oct. 7. The fifth game of the NLDS, if necessary, will he held back at home on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

The NL wild card game will be played on Tuesday, Oct. 1.