AL wild-card race tightens up on penultimate day, may extend beyond Game 162
The Indians and Rangers won on Saturday afternoon and the Rays lost. As a result, Cleveland took a one-game lead in the American League wild-card race, clinching a tie, and the Rangers tied the Rays for the second wild-card spot, putting all three teams just one game apart heading into the season's final day on Sunday. That's good news for Team Entropy, as it means that a three-way tie, which would necessitate tiebreaker games on both Monday and Tuesday in advance of Wednesday's Wild Card Game, remains a possibility, as does a two-way tie for the second spot, which would necessitate a tiebreaker on Monday.
All of those scenarios are detailed below, but first, let's take a quick look back at Saturday's games. With all three teams separated by just one game coming into Saturday, their remaining so isn't a shock. But it was rather shocking when Joe Maddon lifted his starting pitcher, Chris Archer, from the Rays' game in Toronto after Archer got the first out of the third inning.
Archer wasn't injured, but he wasn't particularly sharp either. Through 2 1/3 innings, he allowed six baserunners and threw 64 pitches, working into deep counts even during his hitless second inning. Archer stranded a pair of singles in the first, walked a man in the second, and was greeted by three singles in the third, the last tying the game at 1-1, before he struck out fellow rookie Moises Sierra for the first out of that inning.
To that point, all of Archer's outs had come on groundouts (three) and strikeouts (four), and the first single he allowed in the third didn't leave the infield. Nonetheless, with the season on the line, four lefties due to bat against the right-handed Archer, and an expanded roster, Maddon wasn't taking any chances. Never mind that the lefties were Anthony Gose, Ryan Goins, Ryan Langerhans, and Josh Thole.
Lefty reliever Alex Torres did the job, stranding both runners in the third and retiring three of those four lefties, with the exception, Langerhans, reaching on a bunt single, but the next two men out of the Rays' bullpen did not. Jamey Wright gave up a walk and a single to his first two batters in the fourth to allow Langerhans and Kevin Pillar, who also reached on an infield single against Torres, to score, and Wright and Brandon Gomes both gave up two-run home runs in the fifth, giving the Jays a 7-1 lead they would not relinquish as the Rays managed just one more run in the ninth and lost 7-2.
"I just thought Archie was struggling a bit," Maddon said after the game. "I didn't see a comfortable moment there and they had all those lefties coming up . . . I liked Alex there." He went on to credit the Blue Jays pitchers, who have held the Rays to a total of five runs over the last two games led by starters R.A. Dickey (on Friday) and J.A. Happ (on Saturday).
Todd Redmond, who is 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his last five starts, not counting holding the Rays to one run over six innings in Toronto back on August 18, will take the mound for the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon looking to bounce Tampa Bay out of the postseason. Matt Moore (2-1, 2.28 in five starts since returning from the disabled list) will take the mound for the Rays.
The Rays loss opened the door for the Rangers to move back into a playoff spot, which they did, taking advantage of five Angels errors and a pair of wild pitches by Halos starter Garrett Richards to win a rain-soaked game 7-4 and climb into a tie with the Rays for the second wild-card spot. The Rangers will send Cy Young contender Yu Darvish to the mound on Sunday against Jason Vargas, who has a 2.89 ERA in three starts against the Rangers this season and shutout the A's in his last start.
Finally, the Indians moved ahead of Tampa Bay and stayed ahead of Texas by beating the Twins 5-1 behind another strong start from Scott Kazmir, who has a 3.06 ERA over his last 18 starts. Kazmir held the Twins to one run on six singles and two walks over six innings while striking out 11. It was Kazmir's third double-digit strikeout total this month. Only 11 pitchers have more double-digit strikeout games on the season -- ten of them were All-Stars this year and the one who wasn't, Anibal Sanchez, is leading the AL in ERA.
The Indians control their own destiny and are guaranteed to play at least a tiebreak game beyond Sunday's game 162. On Sunday, they will send Ubaldo Jimenez, who has a 2.47 ERA over his last 22 starts, to the mound against the Twins and and Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54 ERA including a beating at the hands of the Indians in late July) needing just a win to clinch a wild-card spot outright.
Speaking of which, here are those scenarios:
Indians: Would clinch a wild-card spot if they win on Sunday or either the Rays or Rangers lose.
Rays and Rangers: Either team would clinch a wild-card spot if they win and the other loses.
If both the Rays and Rangers lose, or if all three teams win, the Rays and Rangers would be tied for the second wild-card spot. They would then play a tiebreaker game on Monday in Arlington with the winner advancing to Wednesday's Wild Card Game in Cleveland. The Rangers would host the tiebreaker by virtue of their 4-3 advantage in the season series between the two teams.
Two-team tie scenario: If the Indians lose and only one of the Rays or Rangers wins, the Indians and whichever team won would be the two wild cards and homefield advantage for Wednesday's Wild Card Game would be determined by their head-to-head record (see below).
Three-way tie scenario: If both the Rays and Rangers win and the Indians lose, all three will be tied at 91-71. In that case, the Rays and Indians would play a tiebreaker game in Cleveland on Monday with the winner advancing to Wednesday's Wild Card Game. The loser of Monday's game would then play the Rangers in Arlington on Tuesday with that winner also heading to the Wild Card Game. Homefield in the Wild Card Game would be determined by head-to-head record (see below).
Seeding in this scenario is determined by combined record against the other two teams. Thus the Indians would host the first game by virtue of having gone 7-5 against the Rays and Rangers. The Rays, 7-6 against the Indians and Rangers, would be the second seed. The Rangers, 5-8 against the Indians and Rays, would be the third seed. As the third seed, the Rangers would be the only team that wouldn't get two chances to play for the wild card, a disadvantage only slightly offset by their getting to host Tuesday's game. Home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game: In the case of a tie, the Indians would host the Rangers (Cleveland won that series 5-1), the Rays would host the Indians (Tampa Bay won that series 4-2), and Rangers would host the Rays (Texas won that series 4-3) in Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game.