With just one game separating the wild-card leaders and runners-up entering Monday's action, both leaders lost, but only one runner-up, the Rays, capitalized on that opportunity to pull into a tie for the final playoff spot in their league. It didn't hurt that the Rays were facing something less than the Yankees' best, including a pitcher making just his second major league start and working with a 65-pitch limit. Meanwhile, the only other team that remained alive for a wild-card berth before Monday night, the Angels, were eliminated.
The Yankees will try to piece together another game out of their bullpen on Wednesday, giving the Rays an excellent chance for a win behind David Price, and, given
Boston's season now depends on Tuesday starter Erik Bedard, who failed to pitch out of the third inning in his return from a knee injury last week, and possibly Jon Lester working on short rest on Wednesday after going 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA over his last three starts. The Red Sox reportedly tried to trade for the Mets' Chris Capuano to have him start against the Yankees this past Sunday, and
If that sounds familiar, it's because the Braves were in a nearly identical situation last year. With two games left to play, the Braves held a one-game lead in the wild card, were hosting the Phillies for the season's final series (of which they dropped the first game), and were scheduled to face both Oswalt and Hamels. The difference being that last year it was the Padres who were threatening Atlanta, and Oswalt and Hamels both pitched in the season finale for just three combined innings. This year, however, with Lee set to pitch Game 2 of the Division Series, Oswalt and Hamels will both make normal starts in this series, which will make it significantly more difficult for the Braves to repeat as the NL's wild card, despite the considerable advantage of having a one-game lead with only two left to play.
The Cardinals have been as hot as the Red Sox have been cold. Monday's loss was just their ninth in 30 games dating to Aug. 25, but of those nine losses, just two have been charged to a starting pitcher (both to Jake Westbrook, who will start Tuesday). In their previous two losses, which came against the Mets on Thursday and the Cubs on Friday, the bullpen allowed 11 runs in the eighth and ninth innings alone. This performance wasn't nearly as egregious as the 'pen allowed just one 10th-inning run on a Brian Bogusevic double off Dotel and a pair of bunts after five scoreless innings of relief. Really, Jaime Garcia's poor start (4 IP, 4 R) was the real culprit here, but the fact remains that, with the Braves ripe for the picking, the St. Louis bullpen has lost three of the Cardinals' last five games, a win in any one of which would have them tied for the wild-card lead right now.
That leaves the Rays, Red Sox, Braves, and Cardinals as the only teams whose postseason fates have yet to be determined. The Braves could clinch the wild card on Tuesday with a win and a Cardinals loss, but the AL wild card will go down to the season's final day, if not beyond.