Every team in the AL Wild Card chase dreams of setting their postseason rotation with a group of pitchers they believe can keep him in games no matter who they’re playing. But while pitching is critical in the playoffs, it’s even more important right now as teams desperately need their pitchers to step up in order to keep their postseason dreams alive. On Saturday, four of the six teams still in contention got exactly what they hoped for. Alex Cobb and Scott Kazmir did their part to keep the Rays and Indians atop the standings while the Rangers and Yankees hope that the huge performances they received could be the start of a turnaround.
Rays 5, Orioles 1
The Orioles entered their weekend series with the Rays hoping to turn the AL Wild Card into a four-team race. Instead, the Rays stunned them in an 18-inning affair on Friday, blowing a 3-0 lead to fall behind 4-3 only to come back, and then on Saturday, the Orioles looked demoralized. Alex Cobb walked two batters in the first inning, but that was the only time he allowed multiple baserunners in an inning until the 9th. Cobb went 8.1 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 12 while walking 2. A Chris Davis triple and an Adam Jones single plated a run for the Orioles in the 9th, but Fernando Rodney came in to record the final three outs. The game was actually scoreless entering the bottom of the 5th, but Desmond Jennings drilled a 3-run homer off Miguel Gonzalez in the 6th before the Rays added two more runs against Francisco Rodriguez in the 7th. For Cobb, it was his second straight start of 8 innings and 10 strikeouts, and he is 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA in 8 starts since coming off the disabled list on August 15th. Cobb has been the solidifying force in a Rays rotation that has been rife with turmoil the last few weeks, and in the process, he has put together a tremendous season.
Indians 4, Astros 1
While Cobb made sure the Rays stayed in first place in the Wild Card, their former ace kept the Indians in heavy pursuit. Scott Kazmir breezed by his hometown Astros, going 7 shutout innings allowing just 4 hits, striking out 10 while walking 1. A Michael Brantley 2-run homer and a Jason Kipnis sac fly gave him a 3-0 lead from the get-go, and he made sure the Astros never get close. A Lonnie Chisenhall RBI single made it 4-0 Indians in the 4th inning before the Astros finally got a moral victory in the 9th, scoring on Chris Carter 28th home run off of Joe Smith. The Indians have taken advantage of their easy schedule in the past few weeks, and they have been especially dominant against the Astros and White Sox all season, going 20-3 against them. The Rangers remain hot on their heels, but the Indians are poised to make sure their opportunity for their first postseason berth since 2007 does not slip away.
Rangers 3, Royals 1
Speaking of the Rangers, their acquisition of fellow ex-Ray has not gone nearly as well as signing Kazmir did for Cleveland as he entered Saturday having gone just 3-5 with a 4.94 ERA in his 11 starts, failing to complete five innings in his previous two outings. In a critical game against the Royals, however, Garza finally showed why the Rangers were so intent on acquiring him at the deadline. Garza went 8+ innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. An Eric Hosmer home run to lead off the 9th knocked Garza out of the game, but Joe Nathan retired the next three batters in succession to close out the game. The Rangers didn’t score their runs in the flashiest way in this contest, scoring on an Elvis Andrus RBI groudout, an A.J. Pierzynski sac fly, and an Adrian Beltre groundball single, but Garza made sure they held up. Garza gave the Rangers his first outing of eight innings and three or less runs in his time with the team after pulling off that feat twice in just his final five starts with the Cubs. With the win, Texas stays neck-and-neck with the leaders while Kansas City’s playoff hopes are slowly but surely dwindling away.
Yankees 6, Giants 0
What Cobb, Kazmir, and Garza did was nice, but the best outing and the most dominant game of Saturday goes to Ivan Nova and the New York Yankees. Nova made the Giants look helpless all game as he went all 9 innings allowing no run on 6 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. Nova allowed some baserunners, including doubles by Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, but he didn’t allow multiple baserunners in any inning and held the Giants to 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Nova was able to get nice and comfortable as the Yankees gave him plenty of support. The Yankees offense has been much-maligned for not getting runners in from scoring position, butwhen a bases loaded, no out situation fell into place against Ryan Vogelsong in the 3rd, they capitalized fully, scoring all 3 runners on a sac fly, a groundout, and an Ichiro Suzuki RBI single. The Yankees went back to being the Bronx Bombers after that, scoring three more times on an Eduardo Nunez two-run homer and Alfonso Soriano‘s 34th home run, 17 of which have come in just 52 with the Yankees. One of the Cubs’ deadline trade chips has turned out to be one of the greatest July acquisitions we’ve seen in a while, and that player is not the highly-touted Garza but Soriano, whose hot streak since donning pinstripes started from the get-go and has never seemed to end.
After the Indians passed the Rangers on Friday, Saturday’s huge pitching performances acted more to maintain order than to shift the balance of the race as the Rays, Indians, and Rangers stayed in the top three spots. Nova’s gem, however, keeps the Yankees’ slim hopes alive as they passed the Orioles and Royals for fourth place, and they will need to win plenty and get a lot of help to turn this improbable run into a success. Let’s take a look at the current standings and the pitching matchups for Sunday.
1. Tampa Bay (85-69), +1.0
2. Cleveland (85-70), —
3. Texas (84-70), 0.5 GB
4. New York (82-73), 3.0 GB
T5. Baltimore (81-73), 3.5 GB
T5. Kansas City (81-73), 3.5 GB
HOU @ CLE (1:05 PM EST): Erik Bedard vs. Corey Kluber
SF @ NYY (1:05 PM EST): Yusmeiro Petit vs. Andy Pettitte
BAL @ TB (1:40 PM EST): Scott Feldman vs. Enny Romero (major league debut)
TEX @ KC (2:10 PM EST): Alexi Ogando vs. James Shields