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Yankees still can't catch Jays in AL East; O's collapse almost complete

Yankees still can't catch the Blue Jays in the AL East, while the Orioles' collapse almost complete

Amid a night of compelling contests, the most notable action on Sept. 1 took place exactly where you’d suspect, in the American League East, where the division race remains the most exciting in baseball. That said, a former contender suffered yet another humiliation that appears to have quashed their playoff hopes a month ahead of schedule.

Despite blown save, Blue Jays hold off Yankees with walkoff

What do the Yankees have to do to gain ground on the Blue Jays? Over the weekend, New York swept the Braves by a combined score of 38–11 without gaining a game on division-leading Toronto. On Tuesday night, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 3–1 despite Boston starter Rick Porcello striking out a career-high 13 men over eight impressive innings, rallying behind Michael Pineda’s first quality start of the second half (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K). Meanwhile, Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna blew his first save in 17 chances since taking over the ninth inning for Toronto in late June, giving up a game-tying home run to Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes (Gomes’s second of the game) with one out in the top of the ninth, followed by a triple by centerfielder Abraham Almonte.

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Everything seemed to be going New York’s way, but Osuna stranded Almonte, and Brett Cecil and Mark Lowe worked around a one-out Francisco Lindor double in the top of the 10th (Lindor’s second two-bagger of the game following an eighth-inning shot aided by this fantastic slide). That sent the game to the bottom of the 10th with Cleveland righty Bryan Shaw on the mound for his second inning of work. Dioner Navarro led off with a single. Kevin Pillar flied out to Almonte. Then Ryan Goins hit a hanging 1–0 slider into the rightfield seats for a 5–3 Toronto win. The home run was just Goins’s fifth of the year, the eighth of his major-league career (in 640 plate appearances) and his first walk-off hit of any kind in the majors, and it kept the Yankees 1 1/2 games back in the East for yet another day.

Forced into full-time duty at second base by the reoccurrence of rookie Devon Travis’s left shoulder injury, the 27-year-old good-field/no-hit Goins has now hit .324/.448/.493 with three home runs in 87 plate appearances over the team’s last 26 games, 23 of which he has started, all but two at second base. That’s a fluky performance to be sure, but it’s almost unsurprising coming from the Blue Jays, who have now gone 25–6 (.806) since adding Troy Tulowitzki to their lineup on July 29 and whose only consecutive losses over that 31-game span came at the hands of the Yankees in mid-August.

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That answers the question I asked up top: What do the Yankees have to do to gain ground on the Blue Jays? Beat them head-to-head. Their next chance to do so will come via a four-game set in the Bronx from Sept. 10 to 13.

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Orioles' collapse nears completion

On Aug. 19, the Orioles beat the Mets 5–4 on a walk-off home run by rookie leftfielder Henry Urrutia. That raised their record to 62–57 (.521), placing them just a half-game behind the Angels in the race for the second wild-card spot in the American League. With their +70 run differential and strong showing over the preceding three weeks—they were 16–8 since July 25 having lost consecutive games only once over that span—they were a strong contender for that spot. The next morning, Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds gave them a 33.6% chance of reaching the playoffs.

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They have since gone 1–12, their 12th loss in that stretch coming Tuesday night by a score of 11–2 at the hands of a Rays team that had scored that many runs just three other times this season. Of greater concern, however, is Baltimore’s total. Over those last 13 games, they have averaged just 2.7 runs per game and scored more than three runs in a game just once, in their only win over that span. The once-hot Chris Davis, whose two-run homer in the ninth inning accounted for all of the Orioles’ scoring Tuesday night, has hit .186/.286/.349 over those 13 games, Tuesday’s homer included. MVP candidate Manny Machado has hit .204/.259/.296. Adam Jones has hit .224/.255/.306. Matt Wieters, who has appeared in just one Orioles win since Aug. 10, has hit .150/.209/.175. Non-waiver trading deadline reinforcement Gerardo Parra has hit .159/.178/.273 across those 13 games and has found himself riding pine against lefthanded starters such as Tuesday night’s winner Drew Smyly.

The Orioles’ record falls to 63–69 (.477). They are now sixgames out of that second wild-card spot, behind not only the team occupying that spot, the Rangers, who swept them over the weekend, but the Twins, who swept them in four games the previous weekend, the Rays, who clinched their current series against Baltimore with that win on Tuesday night, the Angels and Indians and tied in the loss column with the White Sox, who lost to Minnesota on Tuesday night. With their series-opening loss to Tampa Bay on Monday night, the Orioles’ playoff chances fell below 1% Tuesday morning (to 0.9% to be exact). After Tuesday’s loss, they’ll be even lower. The season is still a long way from over, but Baltimore looks done.