Five Cuts: Giants playoff bound, A's reeling, NL Central up for grabs
While Derek Jeter was saying goodbye in the Bronx in typically clutch fashion on Thursday night, the playoff pictures in both leagues started to clear up. Even so, anyone rooting for a chaotic scenario that can produce extra baseball — a fan of Team Entropy, in other words — shouldn't give up hope just yet. With just three days left in the regular season, there's still a chance things can get crazy.
1. Brewers eliminated, Giants clinch
The Brewers' 5-3 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati eliminated them from contention and dropped them to 81-78. The Brew Crew have gone a flat 8-15 this month and just 10-23 since August 19, a slide that has earned them a spot in infamy: They're just the sixth team of the division-play era (1969 onward) to hold first place for at least 150 days in a season but miss the playoffs, joining the 1969 Cubs, 1993 Giants, 2007 Mets, 2008 Diamondbacks and 2009 Tigers.
Some lists omit the 1993 Giants, whose count surpasses 150 only if days sharing first place but separated by percentage points — as the NL East was this past July 19, with Nationals (52-43, .547) and the Braves (53-44, .546) effectively even — are counted.
Milwaukee's loss meant that the current Giants (85-73) managed to clinch a wild-card berth in the time between losing the NL West race on Wednesday night in Los Angeles and taking the field at AT&T Park for Thursday evening's game against the Padres.
2. Beltre walkoff delivers another gut-punch to the A's
In Arlington, the struggling A's and lowly Rangers traded zeroes through the first five innings before each scoring a run in the sixth, as Oakland's Jason Hammel and Texas' Colby Lewis stymied the opposing lineups. The A's couldn't get a runner past first base in the final three frames, while the Rangers stranded Adrian Beltre, who had led off the inning with a single, at third in the seventh. Beltre got another chance, though, in the bottom of the ninth against Luke Gregerson, and he connected for his 19th homer of the year and 395th of his career:
The blow sent the A's to their third straight defeat and their 19th in the past 27 games dating back to August 28. Adding insult to injury, the combination of their loss and the Royals' 6-3 win over the White Sox in Chicago dropped Oakland's record to 86-73, bumping the team that spent much of the season with the best record in baseball into the second wild-card spot. If things remain this way, the A’s aren't even guaranteed a playoff game at raucous O.co Coliseum. They have three more games against the Rangers, who despite being just 66-93 this year own a 9-7 series advantage in 2014.
3. Tigers inch closer to their fourth straight AL Central title, Royals to a playoff berth
In Detroit, the Tigers, who have already clinched a playoff berth, beat the Twins 4-2 behind homers from Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera and a solid performance from Max Scherzer. That upped their record to 89-70, keeping them two games ahead of the Royals (87-72) in the Central race.
Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain had huge games for the Royals. Hosmer went 3-for-5 and drove in KC's first run in the first inning, then hit his ninth homer of the year in the sixth, a solo shot off Jose Quintana that tied the game at 3-3. Cain went 4-for-5, scoring on Hosmer's hit in the first and then the go-ahead run in the eighth via Billy Butler's fielder's choice. For good measure, he collected an RBI single in the ninth to cap the scoring. The Royals' magic number to clinch their first playoff berth since 1985 is down to one. They have three more games in Chicago against the Sox, over whom they hold a 10-5 series edge.
4. Mariners, Indians keep hope alive
In Toronto, Logan Morrison's two home runs each gave the Mariners the lead in a seesaw game. The first, a three-run shot off reliever Todd Redmond, turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning, and the second, off Aaron Loup, broke a 4-4 deadlock in the sixth and put the M's ahead for good as they hung on to win 7-5. The shots backed a nine-pitcher-bullpen game started by Tom Wilhelmsen, who lasted just 1 1/3 innings and gave up two runs before getting the hook.
Earlier this week, manager Lloyd McClendon chose to go the bullpen route because scheduled starter Chris Young was rocked for four home runs and seven total runs in three innings against the Astros in his previous turn, his second abbreviated start of the month. The win lifted the Mariners to 84-75. They're now two games behind the A's for the second wild-card spot and have an elimination number of two. They head back to Safeco Field to host the Angels, against whom they're 9-7 this season, for the final three games of their season.
As for the Indians (83-76), they were idle, but with Oakland's loss, they remained alive. To get into the playoffs, they need to beat the Rays in three straight games in Cleveland, Oakland needs to lose all three of its games with Texas and Seattle needs to lose at least one game. That could produce a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot, the stuff of which Team Entropy's dreams are made. If the Indians lose, the A's and Mariners can still tie for the second spot to force a Game 163 tiebreaker via one of two combinations: either Oakland going 1-2 and Seattle 3-0, or Oakland going 0-3 and Seattle 2-1.
5. NL Central still in play
Beyond determining the top seed between the Nationals (93-65) and Dodgers (91-68), all that remains to be decided in the Senior Circuit is the winner of the NL Central race with the loser taking a wild-card spot. While the Cardinals (88-71) were idle on Thursday, the Pirates (87-72) gained a half-game in the standings by walloping the Braves 10-1 in Atlanta behind seven shutout innings and 10 strikeouts from Edinson Volquez, and homers from Travis Snider and Neil Walker. They now trail the Redbirds by one game with three to go and will head to Cincinnati — which owns a 10-6 advantage on them this year — for their season-ending series, while the Cardinals travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks, whom they swept in a three-game series in St. Louis earlier this season.
If the Cardinals and Pirates wind up with the same record through 162 games, they will play a Game 163 tiebreaker in St. Louis because the Cards hold an 11-8 edge on the Bucs in the season series. The loser of that game would then play the Giants in the Wild Card game, with home field advantage for that contest determined without consideration for that extra game.