A's create winner-take all, Cards back in, AL East race stays tight
Just as crazy, the last time the A's were in first place, 28 teams had yet to play their first game of the season. The A's split two regular games against the Mariners in Tokyo in late March (losing the first, winning the second), and traveled back to the States tied with Seattle for first place. They then lost their next two games after the regular season started a week later. Yet, with a win at home on Wednesday, they could win their division, a division they trailed by 13 games when the calendar flipped to July and by five games with nine games remaining.
An Oakland win on Wednesday would also set up the possibility of the Rangers failing to make the Division Series. Yes, the Rangers are now just two loses from going home. If they lose to the A's on Wednesday then lose the wild-card game on Friday, they're done. This is the team that looked like the default favorite to win its third-straight pennant as recently as, well, Tuesday morning.
To salvage the division, the Rangers will turn to Ryan Dempster in what will be a 12:35 p.m. Pacific Time start in Oakland (3:35 p.m. EST). Dempster has gone 7-3 with a 4.64 ERA in 11 starts since being acquired from the Cubs at the trading deadline, though that ERA drops to 3.33 if you look only at his last eight starts. Alternately, if you simply leave out his three starts against the Angels, Dempster has gone 7-1 with a 2.92 ERA for the Rangers. Of course, only two of those remaining eight starts have come against winning teams. He dominated the Orioles on August 20, but was lit up by the Yankees two starts before that. Dempster has not faced the A's all season.
The A's will counter with A.J. Griffin, who is 7-1 with a 2.71 ERA in 14 starts in this, his first major league season. Griffin, a 24-year-old right-handed control artist, came up in late June and held the Rangers scoreless over six innings in Arlington in his second career start, his only appearance against them this year. His first seven career starts were quality, but a shoulder strain cut his eighth short and sent him to the disabled list for most of August. He won his first three starts after returning to run his record to 6-0, but has come back to earth a bit since. Just one of his last five starts has been quality and he has posted a 6.14 ERA over his last three. Still, he has yet to have a bad outing at home, going 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in seven starts at the Coliseum.
Wednesday's loser will play the loser of the AL East race in the wild-card game on Friday.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Mark Ellis, who otherwise had a solid season at second base for the Dodgers, contributing two and a half wins above replacement despite missing roughly two months due to injury, came up as the goat twice in the late innings, first by getting thrown out trying to stretch a one-out double into a triple while representing the tying run in the seventh, then by making the final out of the game with Gordon on second base in the ninth on a sinking liner to center. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly didn't distinguish himself either. He issued an intentional walk to Angel Pagan in the fifth only to have the next batter, Marco Scutaro, follow with a two-run double that plated Pagan with what proved to be the winning run. Mattingly then had A.J. Ellis attempt to bunt the tying run to second in the ninth despite the fact that Ellis had hit a two-run homer in his previous at-bat (Ellis failed to get the bunt down and struck out on three pitches, wasting one of the last three outs in the Dodgers' season). The Dodgers and their fans will have all winter to replay those sequences in their heads. The Cardinals, meanwhile, will travel to Atlanta for the wild-card game on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Yankees just couldn't get their offense going Tuesday night against Jon Lester and a trio of relievers and found themselves down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth after James Loney added an insurance run via a solo homer off Yankee closer Rafael Soriano in the top of the inning. Facing a crushing loss that would have allowed the Orioles, whose game had already ended, to tie the Yankees atop the division, Curtis Granderson singled off Andrew Bailey to open the bottom of the ninth, and Raul Ibañez followed with a game-tying, pinch-hit home run. The Yankee offense again sputtered after that, but against Andrew Miller with two outs in the 12th, the Yankees' third-string catcher, Francisco Cervelli, drew a walk in his first major league plate appearance of the year, Granderson followed with another walk, and Ibañez came through again, poking a single through the shortstop hole to bring Cervelli home with the winning run. That was the first game the Yankees had won all year in which they had trailed after eight innings.
The Yankees now need just one more win against the Red Sox or an Orioles loss against the Rays on Wednesday to clinch the division lead they very nearly blew several times over the last month. A win would also give the Yankees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (as would loses by both New York and Baltimore and a Rangers win, as the Yankees won their season series against Texas, giving them the home-field tiebreaker in that pairing). Given Wednesday's pitching matchup of Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68), a Yankee win seems like the most likely result, but as the Orioles have proven time and again, they'll take advantage of any opportunity they get. If New York somehow loses to Boston, there's still a chance they could be facing elimination in the wild-card game come Friday. In fact, the possibility exists that the wild-card game could pit the Yankees against the Rangers while the A's and Orioles sail on through to the Division Series. It's not very likely, but it's out there.
In contrast to the Cardinals' good news on Carpenter, the Tigers continue to get bad news about Max Scherzer. Scherzer was scheduled to test out his sore right deltoid muscle by starting the final game of the regular season on Wednesday, but someone stepped on Scherzer's right ankle during the team's celebration of winning their division on Monday night. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the injury wasn't serious, but the ankle did swell up and will be enough to scratch Scherzer from his start, sending the Tigers into the postseason without knowing if their second-best starter is going to be able to be effective if they do decide to put him in the Division Series rotation.
Dusty Baker, who is back in the dugout with the Reds, announced on Tuesday that his team would open the Division Series with Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, and Mat Latos in that order, but did not commit to a fourth starter. Homer Bailey is believed to be the leader for that spot, particularly after throwing a no-hitter in his last start. That decision is clearly being reserved until after Bailey makes his final start of the regular season on Wednesday. The Nationals, meanwhile, will start Gio Gonzalez in Game 1 of their Division Series and Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2, neither a big surprise, but won't decide the rest of their rotation until they know who they're facing.