After a busy weekend, not much has changed in the standings
The Angels and Brewers gained some ground in the Wild Card races this weekend, while the Orioles lost some and raised some red flags, but the biggest factor on the pennant races over the last four days was the relentless march of time.
With the Cardinals' extra-inning win on Sunday, St. Louis regained the one-game lead it held on Los Angeles entering their head-to-head series. With the A's loss and the Rangers win on Sunday, Texas regained the game it lost to Oakland in the standings on Saturday, restoring the three-game lead they had entering Thursday's action. The Yankees broke their tie with the Orioles on Saturday and maintained that one-game advantage with a win on Sunday, and the White Sox added a game to their lead over the Tigers when Detroit blew a late lead to Cleveland on Sunday (more on that below). That lack of change is good news for the leaders, who are burning games off the schedule. No contender has more than 17 games left on its schedule and some are down to 15.
Backbreaker? Not so much. The Angels won 4-3 on Sunday thanks in part to 3 1/3 scoreless innings from their bullpen, with Kevin Jepsen getting the save, taking two of three in the series. Having entered Thursday's action 3 1/2 back, they are now just 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore and a game and a half ahead of the Rays in the AL Wild Card race.
Amidst all of that, the Brewers took two of three from the Mets to become the only one of the top five teams in that race for the second NL wild-card spot to win their weekend series. In the process, they slipped past the Pirates into third place in that race and are now just 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. That's only a half-game gain from Thursday morning, but they're just two games back in the loss column, and given how poorly their competition is playing and the fact that there's now one less team between them and their goal, it's fair to say they've gone from the periphery of this race to the center of it.
Wolf was taking Jason Hammel's turn in the rotation following Hammel's departure from his last start due to a stabbing pain in his surgically repaired right knee. Hammel's MRI revealed no structural damage in the knee, but the O's are going to skip his start anyway and have said they're going to take a "wait and see" approach to his health. Meanwhile, Chris Tillman is scheduled to start on Monday after missing two turns with stiffness in his pitching elbow. Given Britton's collapse and Hammel's mysterious status, that could prove to be a huge start for the team, as having Tillman or Hammel (and ideally both) healthy for the remainder of the season is a must for Baltimore.
On the other side of the ball, the Orioles, trailing 5-2, staged a ninth-inning rally on Saturday, bringing the tying run to the plate with two outs. Veteran defensive specialist Endy Chavez, a lefty-hitting September call-up who hit .190/.222/.281 this season before being outrighted off the roster in early August, was the batter due up. Buck Showalter let Chavez hit against the A's right-handed closer, Grant Balfour. That might have been a questionable call anyway (Chavez ground out weakly to third to end the game), but one reason Showalter didn't sent up a pinch-hitter in that situation is that, despite the expanded rosters, he didn't really have one. With Nick Markakis, whose spot in right field Chavez was filling, out for the season with a broken thumb and Wilson Betemit possibly done as well after re-aggravating the right wrist injury which sent him to the disabled list in August, the only lefty bats Showalter had on his bench were utility man Ryan Flaherty, reserve infielder Omar Quintanilla, and rookie speedster Xavier Avery, and the best hitter he had on his bench from either side was Lew Ford, who is 2-for-21 against right-handed pitchers this season, his first in the major leagues since 2007.
From there, the Tigers will travel home to host the A's for three games starting on Tuesday. The Tigers are pretty much out of the wild-card hunt at this point being 4 1/2 games behind the Orioles and 6 1/2 behind the A's, but they're very much in the hunt for the Central. This is a big week for Detroit. If the Tigers can hang close to the White Sox this week, they'll be in a great position as they face only the Twins and Royals the rest of the way, while the White Sox have seven games against the Angels and Rays.
Elsewhere, the Brewers will look to further separate themselves from the rest of the NL wild-card challengers via a three-game set against the free-falling Pirates, while the closest wild-card challengers, the Dodgers and Angels, will try to avoid losing ground while facing the teams with the top records in their respective leagues, the Nationals and Rangers. Meanwhile, the other top contenders take on weaker teams and anticipate key starting pitcher returns. The Orioles and Yankees will face the Mariners and Blue Jays, with Tillman and Andy Pettitte scheduled to return on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, while the Cardinals hope to avoid the Phillies' fate against the Astros, particularly with Chris Carpenter now scheduled to return against the Cubs on Friday afternoon.