AL West drama headlines what to watch for on final day of MLB season
The final day of the 2015 major league regular season is upon us, and a full half of the 14* Games 162 starting simultaneously at 3:05 p.m. ET on Sunday could have some impact on how the postseason stacks up. Among the things on the line on Sunday are the American League West title, the second AL wild-card spot, the top seed in the AL playoff field and home-field advantage in both wild-card games, while the possibility still exists that we could have a Game 163 on Monday to determine either the AL West champion or second AL wild-card team.
*Due to a rainout in Atlanta on Saturday, the Braves and Cardinals will play an entirely irrelevant doubleheader on Sunday, inflating the schedule to 16 games, with Game 1 Atlanta scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET.
Here’s a quick look at what was decided on Saturday and what is at stake on Sunday.
- The Twins were eliminated after a 5-1 loss at home to the Royals.
- Having beaten the Diamondbacks on Saturday, the Astros cannot be eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. They have not clinched a playoff berth, but they are guaranteed at worst a chance to play a tie-breaking game for the second wild-card spot on Monday.
- The Dodgers clinched the second seed in the NL and thus home-field advantage in their Division Series matchup with the Mets by beating the Padres 2-1 behind Zack Greinke’s 19th win (8 IP, 1 R, 8 K) soon after the Mets were no-hit by Max Scherzer in the nightcap of their double-header against the Nationals. Greinke, incidentally, finished the season with a major league-best 1.66 ERA.
On the line on Sunday
The Rangers have already clinched a playoff spot and needed only a win or an Astros loss to clinch the AL West on Saturday, but blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning against the third-place Angels then watched the Astros beat the Diamondbacks 6-2. The Rangers can still clinch with a win or an Astros loss on Sunday, but if they lose and the Astros win, the two teams will have to play a tie-breaker in Arlington on Monday to determine the division champion, with the loser then having to play the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. It’s thus still possible for the Astros to win the West, but they’d have to win both Sunday and Monday to do it.
AL Wild Card
The Yankees have already clinched one wild-card spot, but after being swept in their double-header in Baltimore on Saturday, they could still wind up playing the Wild Card Game on the road. That’s because the lost their season series to both the Rangers (2-5) and Astros (3-4), both of whom might yet tie them at 87 wins. Before we get to that, however, there’s the matter of their opponent to worry about.
The Astros’ fate is largely dependent on the result of the Rangers-Angels game. If the Rangers beat the Angels on Sunday, the Angels will be eliminated and the Astros will be a wild-card team. If the Angels beat the Rangers, the Astros will have to play a Game 163 tie-breaker on Monday. The Angels, meanwhile, need to beat the Rangers and have the Astros lose to survive past Sunday.
If the Angels win, meaning the Rangers lose, and the Astros also win, the Angels will be eliminated, but the Astros and Rangers will be tied at 87 wins and will have to play a one-game playoff in Arlington on Monday to determine the AL West champion. The loser of that game will play the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, which would take place at Yankee Stadium if the Yankees win Sunday, or in Texas if the Yankees lose Sunday (thus finishing with 87 wins, as well).
That is the only scenario in which Houston could miss the postseason entirely and the Angels could make it. The Angels would thus need to beat the Rangers, Astros and Yankees on the road on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, respectively, to make the Division Series, and even that will only be possible of the Astros lose to the Diamondbacks on Sunday.
If the Rangers and Yankees both win, the Astros will play the Wild Card Game in New York regardless of what they do on Sunday. If the Rangers win and the Yankees lose, the Astros result will determine home-field advantage in the wild-card game, with a Houston loss on Sunday putting the wild-card game in New York and an Astros win on Sunday putting it in Houston.
AL Top Seed
Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna blew a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth against the Rays on Saturday, turning it into a 4-3 loss via a walk-off bases-loaded single by Tim Beckham with two outs in the inning. With that, Toronto failed to keep pace with Kansas City, which won earlier in the day and now holds a one-game lead for the top seed in the AL with one game to play. This race isn’t over, however, as the thrilling four-game set these two teams played in Toronto around the non-waiver trading deadline gave the Jays a 4-3 advantage in their season series and thus the tiebreaker should the Royals lose and the Blue Jays win on Sunday. If that happens, the Blue Jays will have the top seed and will host the winner of the Wild Card game in the Division Series while the Royals host the AL West champion. If the Royals beat the Twins or the Jays lose again the Rays, however, the Royals will host the wild-card winner and the Jays will host the AL West champs.
NL Wild Card
The Pirates and Cubs clinched playoff berths more than a week ago, but the Pirates have yet to clinch home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game, thanks in part to their 3-1 loss to the Reds on Saturday and the Cubs’ 1-0 victory over the Brewers. This is yet another case where the team that enters Sunday’s action trailing owns the head-to-head tiebreaker (11-8 in this case) and thus can claim home-field advantage by finishing tied with the team ahead of them. If the Pirates lose again and the Cubs win, the NL Wild Card Game will take place at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. However it will take only a Pirates win or a Cubs loss to assure that the game will take place at PNC Field for the third year in a row. Wherever it’s played, the winner of that game would open the Division Series in St. Louis on Friday.
With all of that in mind, here’s a quick look at the pitching matchups in the seven games that matter on Sunday, all of which, again, will start at 3:05 p.m. ET and will be streaming free on MLB.tv, which can play up to four games simultaneously on your web browser (bandwidth permitting).
Angels at Rangers, Garret Richards (15-11, 3.62 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (12-8, 3.72)
The Rangers’ loss on Saturday means they have to burn Hamels in this game, which would likely push him back to Game 2 of the Division Series if the Rangers make it that far. Richards, meanwhile, is starting this game on three day’s rest, Angels manager Mike Scioscia preferring him over fully rested rookie Nick Tropeano, who turned in a gem against the A’s in his last start (6 IP, 1 R, 11 K), but who doesn’t have a quality start against any other major league team this season. Matt Shoemaker, meanwhile, is currently shut down with a sore right forearm. Hamels gave up six runs in six innings against the Tigers in his last start and has a 3.86 ERA in 11 starts since joining the Rangers.
It’s also important to note here that both bullpens are exhausted. Both teams used eight relievers in Saturday’s game. Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson has pitched five days in a row and was instrumental in the Rangers’ losses each of the last two days. His primary set-up man Sam Dyson has also pitched five days in a row and in six of the last seven days. Long man Chi Chi Gonzalez threw 33 pitches on Saturday. Ross Ohlendorf, pitching or his third day in a row, threw 27 and took the loss.
The Angels, meanwhile, have lost closer Huston Street to a groin injury. Joe Smith has closed the last two games in his place, throwing 20 pitches on Saturday. Lefty Jose Alvarez has pitched in the last four games and five of the last six. Fernando Salas has pitched in the last three games, and long man Mat Latos threw 34 pitches on Saturday, giving up two home runs in the process.
McCullers has pitched well in seven starts since returning to the rotation on August 23, but the Astros haven’t scored more than three runs for him since August. Fellow rookie Ray, meanwhile, has a 2.51 ERA over his last six starts. Watch powerful righty Chris Carter against the lefty Ray. Carter has reclaimed the Astros first base job down the stretch, hitting .359/.405/.923 with six home runs in 43 plate appearances since September 15, including a pair of doubles on Saturday.
The Yankees are limping to the finish line, having lost five of their last six while averaging just 3.2 runs per game. However, Alex Rodriguez is 6-for-12 with four home runs in his career against Chris Tillman, one of those homers coming earlier this year. Rodriguez has hit just .194/.300/.389 since the start of August, but he broke a long homerless streak with a solo shot on Wednesday and the Yankees will need him to lead their attack on Sunday given that Pineda has a 5.08 ERA in seven starts, just two of them quality, since returning from the disabled list.
Cueto has been a disappointment as a Royal, going 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA, but he’s coming off three straight quality starts into this game, which would put him on regular rest for Game 2 of the Division Series. Nolasco, meanwhile, is making his first start since returning from four months on the disabled list. In his only other appearance since being activated, he pitched two innings of garbage-time relief and gave up three runs. Given that the Royals can clinch the top seed with a win, things are looking good for them heading into Sunday’s games.
With two innings pitched, Buehrle will reach 200 innings for the 15th consecutive season, something only a handful of Hall of Famers have ever done before. Buehrle has a 5.65 ERA over his last eight starts and is expected to be left off the Blue Jays postseason roster and to retire after their season ends. Moore’s return from Tommy John surgery has not gone well, but he is coming off three straight quality starts and his velocity has been trending upward, so he may finally be rounding into shape.
Happ has pitched some of his best baseball for the Pirates since being acquired from the Mariners at the non-waiver deadline. Since a poor first outing for Pittsburgh, he has gone 6-1 with a 1.53 ERA over nine starts. He has only lasted past the sixth inning once in those nine turns, but with the Pirates’ strong bullpen, that’s plenty, especially given how low expectations were for Happ when he was acquired. Smith is a 28-year-old rookie righty of little distinction making his seventh major league start and still looking for his first quality start and win in the majors. He has walked 21 men in his first 28 2/3 major league innings. The Pirates, it would seem, are in as good shape as the Royals heading into Sunday needing only to win their game to clinch home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game.
Largely pitching down to expectations, Haren has just two quality starts in ten turns as a Cub, though both have come in his last four starts and seen him throw seven shutout innings. Both also came on the road, all of which is mildly encouraging for the Cubs here. As with Buehrle, this could be Haren’s final major league appearance as he continues to contemplate retirement after the season and may not make the Cubs’ postseason roster. The 22-year-old Lopez, meanwhile, will be making just his second major league appearance coming off a strong debut against the Padres on Tuesday. A second-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2011, he went 12-5 with a 2.26 ERA for Double-A Biloxi before getting the call and relies heavily on a mid-90s fastball that he compliments with a curve and change.
• Bryce Harper and Dee Gordon are in a near tie for the NL batting crown with Harper at .33075 to Gordon’s .33061. Harper also needs one more RBI for 100 on the season and is tied with Nolan Arenado for the NL lead in home runs at 42.
• Clayton Kershaw, who is starting for the Dodgers against the Padres, needs six strikeouts for 300 on the season, a total last reached in 2002 by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Jacob deGrom, who will start fo the Mets against the Nationals, needs two for 200.
• Kris Bryant is at 199 strikeouts, already a rookie record, and will join Davis as the only players this season to strike out 200 times with one more K. He also needs one more RBI for 100, as does teammate Anthony Rizzo.
• Jose Altuve can reach 200 hits if he gets three against the Diamondbacks on Sunday.