White Sox collapsing, Rays surging and Tigers pitching injuries
The Rays' 3-2 win over the White Sox on Thursday night continued the recent trend for both teams and could be symbolic of what the final six days of the season have in store with the White Sox collapsing, and the Rays streaking. More on those two as well as the other teams on the fringe of the American League playoff picture below.
This isn't a collapse on the level of those of the 2011 Braves and Red Sox, but the White Sox spent all but seven days from May 29 to September 25 in first place and now have to play three games better than the Tigers over the next six games against stronger competition to save their season. The wild card is not an option. With their loss on Thursday, the Sox's elimination number in that race is down to one. One more Chicago loss or Oakland win and they'll be eliminated from the wild-card hunt. Meanwhile, the Tigers' magic number in the Central is now five. If the White Sox pull out of their funk and win two-thirds of their remaining games while the Tigers merely split theirs against weaker competition, the Tigers will still win the division, and if the White Sox manage to pull even forcing a one-game playoff next Thursday, the Tigers will have Justin Verlander lined up to start it. This is looking awfully over.
A velocity drop was a major tell for Scherzer, who was removed after just two innings two starts ago due to shoulder fatigue and who's average fastball was a good four miles per hour slower than normal when he returned to the mound on
Rookie Drew Smyly will take Scherzer's turn on Friday and likely his next on the final day of the season as well, unless the Tigers are playing for their season on Wednesday and decide to pitch Justin Verlander on short rest rather than save him for a playoff game that may never come. Leyland believes Porcello will make his next start, his last of the regular season, but if he's also injured it could mean Smyly would have to assume the fourth spot in the postseason rotation. The twist there is that, if Scherzer is out, having Porcello out as well may actually work to the Tigers' benefit in the postseason as, on the season, Smyly has out-pitched Porcello, who has an 89 ERA+, 1.54 WHIP, and hasn't had a quality start in any of his last five turns.
In stark contrast to Scherzer and Porcello, the other three Tigers starters have been heating up. Justin Verlander, who has pitched well enough this season to win his second consecutive Cy Young award and is currently on schedule to pitch Game 1 of the ALDS against the AL East Champion, has gone 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA over his last three starts. Doug Fister, who was the Tigers' number-two starter heading into last October, shut out the Twins on Saturday, then set an American League record by striking out nine consecutive batters on Thursday afternoon in a strong 7 2/3 innings against the Royals. He didn't walk a man in either start. Anibal Sanchez, meanwhile, threw 6 2/3 hitless innings against the Indians on September 15, facing the minimum over that stretch, then after a rough outing against the A's, shutout the Royals while allowing just three singles and a walk and striking out ten on Tuesday. Most of that (all but Verlander's middle start against the A's) has come against weak lineups, but the Tigers are still 11-5 over their last 16 games with four of those wins coming against the A's and White Sox. With a healthy Scherzer, who went 11-2 with a 2.45 ERA and an 11.2 K/9 from mid-June to mid-September, they might start to look dangerous in a short series, but that looks like a mere fantasy now.
The Angels had won their last five games coming into Thursday afternoon's tilt against the Mariners and, with the Rangers beating Oakland, could have climbed to within just one game of the second wild-card spot by completing a sweep of Seattle. They got out to an early 1-0 lead, but after the M's moved ahead 2-1 in the top of the fourth, the Angels never led again as their bullpen just couldn't hold the Mariners, the
Greenberg, who is 31, isn't a civilian, or