Wednesday, September 25, 2013

AL Wild Card Race - Cleveland Rocks!

Just as the two-team wild card race was designed to do, it’s come down the final week in the American League! Four teams are realistically in the hunt with the Yankees in need of a major miracle at four back with six to play and the Kansas City Royals hanging on three behind both Tampa Bay and Cleveland who sit a game apart for the two top spots starting Tuesday. The Texas Rangers meanwhile continue to fight for their fourth straight post-season appearance and second in the wild-card one game playoff. Ron Washington’s team led the west back in early September before going 6-15 in their last 21 games to not only give the division to the A’s again but fall on the brink of missing the playoffs altogether and probably costing the manager his job in the process if they don’t rally to get in during the final week. Although starting the final week a game back, destiny still sits in the Rangers own hands, bats and gloves. Texas plays baseball’s worst team in the Houston Astros tonight and tomorrow in Arlington, before ending the season with four against the 76-80 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, also at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Of their last six games they only face one pitcher with a winning record and that being the Angels C.J. Wilson (17-7, 3.36) on Friday. Alexi Ogando (7-4, 2.93) goes for Texas. The Rangers have big pitching advantage in both of the final games of the Astros series with Yu Darvish and Martin Perez closing things out against Houston. Texas can also lay its hat on the fact they’ve gone 11-4 against the Angels so far this season, including sweeps at the end of July at home and in the beginning of August in Anaheim. The Rangers could realistically win out despite their terrible September swoon song and get in. Two behind the Rangers are the Royals who need to basically win out and get lots of help. Their end of the deal is doable with two at Seattle and four at US Cellular Field versus the White Sox. Both the Mariners and Sox have losing records at home while the Royals have gone 39-36 away from Kauffman Stadium and also gone 6-4 in their last ten games. Seattle is just 3-7 and Chicago 4-6 in their last ten so it’s not impossible but they’d still need the Rays or Indians and Rangers to collapse in the final week and all of that most likely won’t happen. With the Yankees a game behind them, their playoff scenario is even worse, although they do face Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium in a must sweep series before they even think about closing out the season over the weekend at Houston. New York needs a not only a sweep of the Rays but also the Indians, Rangers and Royals to all tank in order to play meaningful games on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. That brings us to the front runners. Tampa is the leader, one game in front of Cleveland for the first spot. The Rays do have the toughest remaining schedule with three against the Yankees and three at unpredictable Toronto. The Rays have won 9 of 16 against the Bombers, including three of five in the Bronx so you have to believe getting swept during these final three meetings is almost out of the question. In the second half of the season they’ve also won five of six from the Blue Jays, who also aren’t even over .500 at the Rogers Centre so you have to believe the Rays are in. That leaves us with the Indians and what a job new manager Terry Francona has done! Can you say possible A.L. Manager of the Year? Last season the Tribe finished 68-94, good for 20 games out in the AL Central. Entering the final six games they are 86-70, a 24 game turnaround in the loss column. Cleveland finishes its White Sox series in which they are a dominating 15-2 against Chicago, before closing the season with four at Minnesota where the Twins are just 32-43. Francona’s club has gone 10-5 versus the Twins this season and is 3-3 at Target Field. After the Indians wash the Sox away at Progressive Field, expect their playoff shopping to be very productive at Target as they pass Tampa for the top wild-card spot and end up hosting the wild-card one game playoff for their first post-season appearance since 2007.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Six in the Mix in the AL Wildcard

The American League wild card race is shaping into a big winner for those in favor of the two-team system that allows for a heart stopping one-game playoff at the end of the season. Not only is the playoff must see television but the race to get into the single-game elimination outing is turning into can’t miss scoreboard watch each and every night of the season’s final three weeks. Six teams are all legitimately in the race, separated by just 2.5 games on September 13th. While Texas and Tampa attempt to hold down the ranch with a one game lead, the big bad Yankees, despite all their injury problems and A-Rod drama are knocking on the post-season door just a game back. New York continued its relentless charge by winning three of four over Baltimore at Camden Yards. New York continues to bring the heat as it now sits within one game of its high-water mark for the season, 12 games over .500, which last occurred all the way back in May. However, the final series victory did not come without another price. Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner left the game in the first inning with a strained muscle on his left side. Obliques are one of the toughest strains for a baseball player to recover from in a timely manner because of the hitting motion and this could throw a serious wrench into the Yankees playoff chances that have pretty much been on the brink from the get-go of the season due to the injury bug that has been well documented unless you live on Pluto. With the victory the Orioles continue to be the Yankees little play toy as the win gives New York the season series victory at 10-9. Baltimore hasn’t won a season series from the Bronx Bombers since 1997. While the Yanks continue to push, the Tampa Bay Rays hoped to put a band-aid on some serious bleeding from the last two weeks. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the series finale at home against the first place Red Sox, the Rays rallied in the 8th for a run and an eventual 4-3 victory. The win comes off the heels of Tampa going 3-7 on a 10-game roadie and then losing their first two back at Tropicana Field against Boston. The Rays sudden September swoon has set up another huge series between the hated rivals Yanks and Sox this weekend in Beantown. The Friday match-up between Hiroki Kuroda and John Lackey has to favor the visitors despite the fact Boston lit up Kuroda for career worst 11 hits and five runs in just 5 2/3rds the last time he faced the Red Sox on August 17th. Overall, Kuroda is just 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in five starts against Boston this year, splitting two outings versus Lackey, who is just 9-12 overall with a 3.48 ERA. Kuroda has been the Yankees man all season, arguably the only reason they’re still in the hunt despite their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi wouldn’t want to start anyone else in a must win series for his club. The Saturday match-up of C.C. Sabathia versus Jon Lester favors the Sox as does the Ivan Nova – Clay Buchholz Sunday outing. The Kansas City Royals have the toughest weekend ahead, facing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park as they try to close in from 2.5 out. The Orioles try to regroup on the road at Toronto, also 2.5 back of the final spot. While the Blue Jays are a below .500 team at the Rogers Centre, so are the O’s away from Camden Yard. The Rays head back out on the road against a terrible Minnesota club that has won just 30 home games all season long against 41 losses. Cleveland, the unsung dark horse in all of this continues to grind under Terry Francona, moving to just 1.5 out after winning the first of three at U.S. Cellular Field against the hapless White Sox. With six teams all within a good or bad weekend of making the playoffs, no doubt this will come down to the final week, which is what the wild card spots where intended to do!
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