Baseball: Weekend Digest (Sept. 16 Edition)
A roundup of news and notes from this weekend in baseball.
With the close of play Sunday, just 14 days remain on the regular season slate. This time two weeks from now we’ll know exactly who is postseason bound and who will be embarking on their winter break. Probably.
The way things are panning out in the American League right now, you’d be silly to bet against a play-in game just to reach the wild card playoff. That’s the sort of entertainment Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball brass was hoping for with the introduction of the second wild card berth, and BettingSports.com for one is very much hoping that’s what we get.
Of course, anything can happen in two short weeks.
For those distracted by another weekend of football, here’s what went down in baseball this weekend, starting with the biggest rivalry in sports.
Sox Sweep Yanks, Four Wins from Division Title
Sunday’s game saw the Sox bid an emotional (and classy) farewell to Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera, who will be retiring following the season. The team’s video of Rivera blowing a save in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, which led to the Sox coming back from a 3-0 hole to win the series and subsequently the World Series, was good natured, or at least as good natured as things get between these two teams.
The 3-0 series wins sees Boston finish 13-6 against the Yankees this season. That certainly won’t sit well in the Bronx. The Red Sox are now just four wins from a first AL East title since 2007 and only a third since 1991, and with 17 wins from the last 21, those four wins figure to come sooner rather than later.
The Yankees, who had fought their way to within one game of a wild card berth ahead of this series, now sit three games back in the race, but more on that later.
A’s, Rangers Heading in Different Directions
A week ago, the Oakland Athletics (88-61) held a 1.5 game lead over the Texas Rangers (81-67) in the AL West. That lead now stands at what figures to be an insurmountable 6.5 after the A’s swept their division rivals in a three-game set over the weekend.
The Rangers entered the series on the back of three straight losses against the Pittsburgh Pirates and have now lost 11 of the last 13. That’s not the sort of form a team wants heading down the final stretch. Furthermore, having been more than five games better off than those chasing for the final wild card berth, the Rangers now find themselves in danger of slipping out of the berth and into the pack.
Oakland meanwhile has won 16 of its last 20 to take command of the AL West and move towards securing an ALDS berth, avoiding the wild card altogether. This comes despite facing a tougher schedule (on paper at least) than the Rangers over the last month or so. Bob Melvin’s team certainly looks a smart bet to be a division champion for the second straight year.
Still No Clarity in AL Wild Card Race
While Boston and Oakland have created some separation in their respective divisions, and while the Detroit Tigers (86-63) continue to hold a five-game lead in the AL Central, we’re no closer to learning who will fill the two American League wild card berths.
Texas isn’t the only team to have slipped up in recent games. The Tampa Bay Rays (81-67), challenging for the AL East title just a few weeks back, had won just five of 13 heading into a weekend series with the Minnesota Twins. Joe Maddon’s side took two of three from the Twins in Minneapolis, and now sit deadlocked with the Rangers in the wild card race.
Both clubs sit a mere half-game up on the Cleveland Indians (81-68) who completed a four-game sweep of the lowly Chicago White Sox on Sunday. The Tribe has now won 10 of the last 14, and with three of four series remaining against sub-.500 teams, could prove to be the dark horse in this race.
The Baltimore Orioles (79-70) bounced back from a 3-1 series loss to the Yankees last week by taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. Chris Davis connected with his 50th home run of the season in Friday’s 5-3 win in Toronto. He becomes only the third player in history to hit 50 homers and 40 doubles in a season, joining Babe Ruth (1921) and Albert Belle (1995). He needs just one more home run to set the Orioles’ all-time franchise record. More importantly for the O’s, the team is still within 2.5 games of a wild card berth.
The Yankees sit three games out of a wild card berth by way of being swept by Boston. Injuries continue to plague the team, this time with Alex Rodriguez being pulled from Sunday’s game with a tight calf. Meanwhile, No. 1 relief pitcher Boone Logan will be taking a trip to the offices of Dr. James Andrews, who will look at the lefty’s elbow. The good news for the Yankees is that nine of the club’s remaining 12 games are against teams with a losing record. The bad news is that that means catching the four teams above will be very difficult.
Finally, the Kansas City Royals (78-71) remain alive in the wild card hunt despite dropping two of three against the Tigers this weekend. At 3.5 games back, the team is on the very brink of the race, but all it takes is a solid winning streak and the Royals could be upsetting everybody.
Cardinals, Pirates All Knotted Up…Yet Again
Over in the National League, the Pittsburgh Pirates (87-62) and St. Louis Cardinals (87-62) find themselves tied at the top of the NL Central yet again. There has been little to separate the two sides this season and the pair seems intent on running this race down to the wire.
Having secured its first winning season since 1992 earlier in the week, Pittsburgh took three of four from the Chicago Cubs this weekend. The Cardinals meanwhile took two of three from the Seattle Mariners.
The Cincinnati Reds (84-66), who we commented last week looked ready to make a bid for the NL Central title too, slipped up this week, first dropping two of three to the Cubs and then doing the same this weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dusty Baker’s side will know that those losses are exactly the type of result that could lead to things getting a bit hairy over these next two weeks.
The Reds currently occupy the second and final NL wild card berth, but the Washington Nationals (79-70) appear to be making one last ditch effort to stake their own claim for that position.
The Nationals, who took two of three against the Philadelphia Phillies this weekend, have won 11 of their last 13 to get themselves back in the race. The club currently sits 4.5 games back of the Reds.
Rockies’ Helton Calling It a Day
While the Colorado Rockies are in no position to make noise at this time of the year, the club’s first baseman Todd Helton made headlines this weekend, announcing his retirement at the end of the season.
Helton was drafted by the Rockies with the No. 8 overall pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft. After making his major league debut on August 2, 1997, Helton spent 17 years – his whole career – with the Rockies, helping the club to three postseason appearances, including a trip to the 2007 World Series.
Helton has appeared in 2,235 regular season games for the Rockies as well as 15 postseason games. He has hit .317 for his career.
Helton was named to the All-Star Game five times in his career, won four Silver Slugger awards, three Golden Gloves, and was the 2000 NL batting champion and RBI leader. He holds franchise records in hits (2,505) and home runs (367).
The Week Ahead
Washington will look to continue its push for the postseason this week with a three-game set against the NL-leading Atlanta Braves (89-60). A win in the series would see the Nationals cut the Braves’ NL East lead to single digits, a fact that was unthinkable just a few days ago. Atlanta leads the season head-to-head 12-4, and while the team may not appear to have much to play for, the Braves very much need to pick up some wins before the postseason begins. The series begins on Monday. [matchup]
Texas and Tampa Bay meet on Monday for the first of four games at Tropicana Field. This series will have huge implications for the AL wild card race. If the Rangers are unable to stop the rot, they will surely be passed by one of the chasing pack by the time this series concludes. If the Rays are anything but sharp, they could find themselves facing the sort of form that has gotten them in trouble over recent weeks. [matchup]
With a three-game series against Cleveland starting Monday, Kansas City faces what could be its last chance to stay in the hunt. A series loss here would essentially eliminate the surprising Royals. The Indians are hardly immune to the result though; a series loss would be a huge setback for Terry Francona’s club. [matchup]
Baltimore makes the trip north to Boston Tuesday. Like the Indians and Royals, the Orioles will need to win to stay in the wild card mix. Unlike the Indians and Royals, the O’s are facing a team that looks nigh on unstoppable.
The weekend rolls around with a big matchup between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. This could prove to be the last chance the Reds have of making a challenge for the division title. If the club doesn’t right the ship after this week, it’ll more likely be cautiously looking over its shoulder at the trailing Nationals.
Baltimore follows up its trip to Boston with a journey south to Tampa. The Rays will be looking to hold on to a slippery wild card berth, which is bad news for the Orioles, who play four games at the Trop. These next two weeks could prove rough in Baltimore.
Depending on results earlier in the week, Texas’ trip to Kansas City could be hugely influential in deciding the wild card race, at least those teams that are eliminated from said race. While both could be in danger, the way this season is going, we’d expect everything to be as close (or closer) as it is right now when we report back next Monday morning.