On Monday, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates officially clinched their playoff berths, leaving only the two AL Wild Card spots up for grabs in Major League Baseball with most teams having six games left to play. While the NL races have been finished everything but mathematically for several weeks, the AL Wild Card heads right down to the wire with no clear resolution in site. Finally on Monday, the bottom team in the race was all but eliminated and another will need a sweep in the next three days to stay alive. But even as the teams in contention begin to dwindle, this AL Wild Card race continues to be one of the most highly-contested races in recent memory and it wont be until the bitter end of the year that we finally discover who will punch their tickets to the postseason and who will be heading home.
Rays 5, Orioles 4
After losing their first three games to the Rays in their four-game set at Tropicana Field, the Orioles had found their playoff hopes on the ropes. But even after the Orioles’ opportunity to make a move had come and gone, the Orioles won’t going to give up. 2013 would not finish the way 2012 did, but their pride was on the line and they were going to use everything in their power to finish the series and conclude the season with a statement if nothing else. Instead, they watched everything slip away figuratively and literally as the lost to the Rays 5-4.
Chris Archer and Wei-Yin Chen both were removed after just 4.1 innings of work. It seemed symbolic of how little difference there is between the Orioles and Rays–are the Rays really six games better?–but the Orioles actually got the better outing from Chen. Chen allowed a sac fly to Tim Beckham in the second inning (his first MLB RBI) and a two-out RBI double to Jose Molina in the fourth, but the Orioles drilled Archer for a Chris Davis two-run homer (his 52nd) and a J.J. Hardy RBI single in the 4th before Ryan Roberts responded to the Molina double with a solo shot in the fifth to give the Orioles a two-run lead once again. Both starters departed and Josh Stinson tossed 1.2 perfect innings while the Rays bullpen managed to work around a few baserunners. But everything changed in the top of the seventh. With one out and Jake McGee on the mound, Manny Machado hit a groundball to the right side that was mistakenly gone after by both Rays second baseman Tim Beckham and first baseman Sean Rodriguez, leaving no one to cover first base. In wake of the strange event, Beckham booted the ball as he waited for Rodriguez to cover, but the more harsh consequence occurred seconds later. Seeing that he would be safe, Machado eased up as he arrived at the first base bag, and in the process, he stepped on it awkwardly and buckled his left knee as he fell to the ground. The extent of the injury remains to be seen, but it will surely end Machado’s season and took the significance out of the game for the Orioles as they saw the young star whose ascent to the major leagues had been critical to their playoff run last year go down in a scary play.
In the bottom of the seventh, Brian Matusz came in for Baltimore and allowed a one-out walk to Jose Lobaton and a two-out single to Ben Zobrist before Darren O’Day entered the game to face Evan Longoria. O’Day got ahead of Longoria 1-2 and was able to survive a hanging slider that Longoria pulled just to the left of the left field foul pole, but Longoria worked the count to 3-2 before taking a fastball up in the zone for a walk. Two pitches later, O’Day forced Wil Myers to hit a bloop to right field and it looked like the Orioles would escape the jam as Alexi Casilla had ranged over to make a nice catch. But also runnng hard to the ball was Nick Markakis, and Markakis’ knee hit Casilla in the head, dislodging the ball as Casilla fell to the ground and scoring two runs for the Rays. The Orioles could have regained the lead the next inning, but Matt Wieters committed a big baseball offense–making the first out at third as he unsuccessfuly tried to stretch a double into a triple–just ahead of Nate McLouth‘s double and the game remained tied. Finally in the bottom of the ninth, James Loney gave the game the conclusion expected by all, drilling a walk-off home run off Tommy Hunter to give the Rays a 5-4 lead. The Orioles played hard, but especially after Machado departed, there was a helpless feeling that was a major reason they let the game unravel.
Rangers 12, Astros 0
After the Indians had a series of field days with them, the Rangers are the latest team to discover how fun it is to play the Astros in the stretch run. Nothing at all went wrong for Texas in the game as Derek Holland struck out 9 in a complete-game shutout while Alex Rios went 4 for 4 with 4 RBI, 3 runs scored, hitting for the cycle in the process. Leonys Martin also had 3 RBI for Texas and they vastly improved their state of mind and gained ground on the inactive Indians.
Royals 6, Mariners 5 (12 innings)
After winning series against the Indians and Rangers proved not to be enough, the Royals will just have to win every game they possibly can the rest of the year and hope they get help from whoever is playing the teams ahead of them. Every game is a must-win, and that sense of urgency was never more clear than in this one, where they endured a bullpen collapse but somehow found a way to make sure this game didn’t slip away.
Both teams’ starting pitchers were very good, with rookie Yordano Ventura tossing 5.2 one-run innings for Kansas City and Brandon Maurer allowed two runs, one earned, in seven innings for Seattle. But things got sketchy once the bullpens entered the fray. In the 7th inning with Will Smith in the game, Jarrod Dyson made an enormous error on a Mike Zunino flyball to tie the game at 2 and Nick Franklin drilled an RBI single to give the Mariners a 3-2 lead. The Royals came back with three runs in the 8th, scoring on an Emilio Bonifacio RBI single, an Eric Hosmer groundout, and a Salvador Perez RBI single. However, Luck Hochevar, who came out of nowhere to have a great season, picked the wrong time to show his earlier form, allowing back-to-back home runs to Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders to knot the game at 4. But seeing a game they absolutely had to win about to fall from their fingers, the Royals shifted the momentum the following inning when Francisco Bueno got the out at second base on Brad Miller‘s sac bunt attempt. Bueno tossed 1+ shutout innings before Wade Davis tossed shutout ball for the next two innings (flashing his 2012 form in a good way). And in the 12th, Salvador Perez drilled a two-out go-ahead double off Lucas Luetge to give the Royals a 6-5 lead before Greg Holland worked around a pair of walks for his 45th save as the Royals won 6-5. It wasn’t pretty and the Royals certainly wished it would have been easier, but the bottom line was that Kansas City found a way to win and stay alive another day.
Monday’s contests saw the Rays and Rangers each gain half a game on the Indians, the Orioles get the final nail in their coffin, and the Royals seeing their slim playoff hopes remain alive with their win. Let’s look at the standings and pitching matchups for today.
1. Tampa Bay (87-69), +1.0
2. Cleveland (86-70), —
3. Texas (86-75), 1.0 GB
4. Kansas City (83-73), 3.0 GB
5. New York (82-74), 4.0 GB
6. Baltimore (81-75), 5.0 GB
TB @ NYY (7:05 PM EST): Matt Moore vs. Hiroki Kuroda
CHW @ CLE (7:05 PM EST): Hector Santiago vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
TOR @ BAL (7:05 PM EST): Tood Redmond vs. Chris Tillman
HOU @ TEX (8:05 PM EST): Brad Peacock vs. Yu Darvish
KC @ SEA (10:10 PM EST): Bruce Chen vs. James Paxton