Thursday night's game in the Bronx will be remembered forever for the classy way the Yankees sent off Mariano Rivera in style. But lost in the hoopla over Mo was the fact that the AL wild-card-leading Rays took care of business by actually winning the game. As a result, Tampa Bay swept the series and has now won seven straight, lowering its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to two.
Meanwhile, both of the AL's other wild-card contenders kept pace via some late-inning drama. In Texas, the Rangers defeated the Angels on a Jurickson Profar walkoff homer, while in Minnesota, the Indians survived closer Chris Perez's second straight meltdown to beat the Twins. It's not the massive six-team pileup Team Entropy had hoped for, but with three teams separated by a total of two games heading into the final weekend of the regular season, some craziness is still possible.
"Crazy" might be the best word to describe what has happened whenever the Rangers have met the Angels in Arlington lately. Not only was Profar's homer just the second pinch-walkoff homer hit by a player before his 21st birthday (the first came via future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx back in 1928), it was also the fourth straight meeting between the two teams that has ended with a walkoff homer by the Rangers; they did so on July 29-31 via shots by Geovany Soto, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.
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As for the Indians, they led the Twins 6-1 through eight innings, at which point manager Terry Francona handed the ball to Perez, who two nights earlier had blown a save and surrendered the lead against the White Sox by giving up a pair of solo homers. This time, Perez gave up four runs, including a two-run homer to Minnesota catcher Josmil Pinto, cutting the score to 6-5. Francona finally pulled Perez in favor of Joe Smith, who allowed an infield single and a walk before striking out pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia. Aaaand, exhale.
Thus the final weekend sets up with Tampa Bay (90-69) leading the wild-card race by a game heading into a season-ending three-game series with the Blue Jays, against whom it has a 10-6 record this year, in Toronto this weekend. Cleveland (89-70) still has a hold on the second wild-card spot and will continue to play the Twins (against whom it is 10-6), while Texas (88-71) will continue to host the Angels, whom it has beaten 12 out of 16 times.
Looking at the possible entropic scenarios:
• If the Rangers should wind up tied with the Indians for the second wild-card spot, they would go to Cleveland for the play-in by dint of their 1-5 record in the season series. If they're tied for the top spot, that setup would hold for the wild-card game. If they should somehow wind up tied with the Rays for the second spot — going 3-0 while Tampa Bay goes 1-2, or 2-1 while the latter goes 0-3 — they would play host due to their 4-3 head-to-head record.
• If the Indians and Rays wind up tied for the top wild-card spot, the Rays would host the wild-card game due to their 4-2 head-to-head record. If those two teams wind up tied for the second spot — a combination that would take the Rangers going 3-0, the Indians going 1-2 and the Rays going 0-3 — the Rays would host the Indians for a play-in.
• If the three teams wind up tied for the wild-card spot — a combination that would take either the Rangers going 3-0, the Indians going 2-1 and the Rays going 1-2 or the Rangers going 2-1, the Indians 1-2 and the Rays 0-3 — that would set up the complicated tiebreaker scenario I discussed a couple weeks ago, where teams are designated A, B or C and then pick their spots.
Those designations come about via a pecking order that's based upon head-to-head records. Since no team has the upper hand on both others, it comes down to combined head-to-head winning percentages against the other teams in question. In this case, the Indians have gone 7-5 (.583) against the other two teams, the Rays 7-6 (.538) and the Rangers 5-8 (.385). The teams would choose their A, B and C designations in that order, and then Club A would host Club B on Monday, Sept. 30. The winner of that game would get the first wild-card spot. The loser of that game would then travel to face Club C to determine the second spot on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The actual wild-card game — remember that? — would be played on Wednesday, Oct. 2, with the Division Series starting on Friday, Oct. 4.
UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, MLB announced that the tiebreaker sequence had been determined, with the Indians choosing to be Club A, the Rays B — the team guaranteeing themselves the chance to play two road games instead of one home game — and Rangers C. So if it comes to a three-car pileup (so to speak), the Indians would host the Rays on Monday, with the loser traveling to Texas to play the Rangers on Tuesday.
The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds don't reveal the chances of Team Entropy rallying to give us bonus baseball in one form or another, but it does tell us that the Rays have a 97.8 chance of being a wild-card, the Indians a 67.1 percent chance and the Rangers just a 35.2 percent chance. But the fact that so many scenarios are still on the table with three days left in the season means that we can keep the dream alive until at least sometime on Saturday, since the Rangers' elimination number is 3. That's a pretty good run for Team Entropy.
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