Labor Day grill: Pirates take over first place in NL Central, A's tie up AL West, Rays' slide continues
NOTE: There is a full slate of games on Labor Day, including 13 afternoon start times, many of which will have major pennant race implications. Cliff Corcoran will have a look at how the day's action impacted the races around baseball; updated standings are through today's relevant action:
AL Wild Card
Rays: 75-61 (.551)
Orioles: 73-63 (.537), 2 games behind
Yankees: 73-64 (.533), 2 1/2 games behind
The Rays' tumble continued Monday night as they lost 11-2 to the Angels, shedding another game off their lead for the second American League wild-card spot in light of earlier wins by the Orioles and Yankees. The Rays have now lost eight of their last nine, three of them to the sub-.500 Angels, whom they play three more times this week, and their lead for the AL's final playoff spot is down to just two games. The Rays will activate Matt Moore to start Tuesday night's game, one night after they had to put outfielder Sam Fuld on the mound in the eighth inning despite having an expanded roster.
The Orioles' win, meanwhile, came against the Indians, knocking Cleveland, which has now lost six of its last seven, into fifth place in the wild-card race, 3 1/2 games out.
A's and Rangers: 79-58 (.577), 14 1/2 games ahead of third-place Angels, also lead AL wild-card by 5 1/2 games over third-place Orioles, 3 1/2 games over second-place Rays
The A's pulled into a tie atop the American League West on Monday by beating the Rangers 4-2 at home thanks to a pole-scraping two-run home run by Coco Crisp and four innings of Houdini-like work by the Oakland bullpen. This marks the first time the A's have had a share of first place since Aug. 9 and continues a run of success against potential playoff opponents that has seen them go 7-1 against the Tigers, Rays and now Rangers since last Monday.
This Monday's game was the opener of the penultimate head-to-head series between Oakland and Texas, with two more games coming this week followed by three in Arlington a week from Friday. Those are the A's only remaining games this season against teams with winning records as they otherwise face the Astros, Twins, Angels and Mariners. The Rangers, meanwhile, have three games against the Pirates next week and four against the Rays the week after. Oakland has thus picked the exact right time to get hot. Just one more win in this series guarantees that the A's will be at least tied for first place when they welcome the Astros on Thursday. They'll look for that win on Tuesday with Bartolo Colon going up against rookie lefty Martin Perez.
Pirates: 80-57 (.584)
Cardinals: 79-58 (.577), 1 game behind; lead NL wild-card by 9 1/2 games over third-place Arizona
Reds: 77-61 (.558), 3 1/2 games behind; lead second NL wild-card spot by 7 games over Arizona
In Cincinnati, the Reds lit up Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright for the second time in as many starts, scoring runs in each of the first four innings while Mat Latos went the distance for a 7-2 win that helped the Reds move to within 2 1/2 games of St. Louis in the National League Central.
Cincinnati stayed 3 1/2 games out of first, though, because the Pirates, who entered the day tied atop the division with the Cardinals, beat the Brewers 5-2 in Milwaukee to move into first place. Charlie Morton delivered seven strong innings for the Bucs, who also got a pair of RBI singles by Jose Tabata and a three-run homer by Neil Walker to win their 80th game of the season, their most since 1992. More notably, the Pirates are now one win away from clinching at least a .500 season for the first-time since '92, and with two more they will clinch their first winning season in that span.
Wainwright has now given up 15 runs in 8 innings in his last two starts, both against the Reds, inflating his ERA by more than half a run and pushing it above 3.00 for the first time since early April. Given that Wainwright has had one of the heaviest workloads in baseball this season (he has thrown 206 2/3 innings on the season, second only to the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw), and is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, one has to wonder if his poor performance is more than a fluke. After all, he had a 2.57 ERA in his two previous starts against the Reds this season. Latos, meanwhile, has gone 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in his last eight starts for the Reds dropping his ERA more than a run over that stretch to a mere 2.98.
This is the latest Pittsburgh has been in first place by itself since, yes, 1992. Rookie Gerrit Cole will look to keep his team in that lofty perch on Tuesday when he opposes Yovani Gallardo, while another rookie, Michael Wacha, will try to get the Cardinals back in the winning column when he faces the Reds Homer Bailey.
Other RacesThe Braves, Dodgers and Tigers all won and increased their division leads over the Nationals, Diamondbacks and Indians, respectively, all of whom lost. The Braves now lead the NL East by 15 games and have a magic number of 11. The Dodgers now lead the NL West by 12 1/2 games and have a magic number of 14. The Tigers now lead the AL Central by 8 1/2 games and have a magic number of 17. The Reds similarly expanded their lead for the second wild-card spot over the Diamondbacks by a game, now leading by 7. Things remained the same in the AL East, where both the Red Sox and Rays lost, maintaining the Boston's 5 1/2 game lead.