Crowded field for play­off spots as days of pen­nant races re­turn

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

Who says the sec­ond wild card has taken the drama out of base­ball?

With Septem­ber upon us, it seems the en­tire Amer­i­can League is about to em­bark on a chase for the league’s five play­off spots, with di­vi­sion races and the pur­suit of the two ad­di­tional post­sea­son berths as crowded as ever. The days of pen­nant races are back.

The Ori­oles head into Septem­ber with a ten­u­ous hold on a play­off spot, fall­ing into a tie for the sec­ond wild card en­ter­ing Thurs­day’s day off.

They seem to be the only AL play­off hope­ful trending in the wrong di­rec­tion, but just as they’ve de­flected neg­a­tiv­ity all year, they plan to con­tinue to do so now.

“We’ve got a month of base­ball left,” man­ager Buck Showal­ter said.

“We knew Au­gust was go­ing to be tough. We did some good things, but not as many as we would have liked. We have an op­por­tu­nity. There’s a lot of base­ball to be played. Any­body that sells us short doesn’t get the essence of our play­ers. That’s fine. Tonight, 7:05 TV: MASN Ra­dio: 105.7 FM

They’ve been do­ing that all year to us.”

Here’s a break­down of the Amer­i­can League play­off pic­ture, in­clud­ing each team’s stand­ing and play­off per­cent­ages, and the most im­por­tant thing about their stretch run.

Di­vi­sion lead­ers

TORONTO BLUE JAYS (76-57) Where they stand: First place in AL East, two games up on the Bos­ton Red Sox Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 93.9 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 94.2 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: In ad­di­tion to a re­lent­less lineup, the Blue Jays starters have a 3.72 ERA, best in the AL. Toronto has been some­thing of a sleep­ing gi­ant all year, but the team seems plenty awake as Septem­ber hits. CLEVE­LAND IN­DI­ANS (76-56) Where they stand: First place in AL Cen­tral, 41⁄ games up on the Detroit Tigers Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 97.3 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 97.3 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: Six weeks ago, no one in the league would choose its own ro­ta­tion over Cleve­land’s. But only two AL teams have been worse since the All-Star break in that cat­e­gory, and it’s not go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Luck­ily, one of the deeper line­ups in base­ball is help­ing hold a com­fort­able di­vi­sion lead. TEXAS RANGERS (80-54) Where they stand: First place in AL West, 81⁄ games up on the Hous­ton Astros Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 99.5 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 99.7 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: A lineup with the per­fect mix of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence, and a pitch­ing staff led by Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish have built quite a lead. The most im­por­tant thing for Texas is that no one else gets hurt — es­pe­cially on the pitch­ing staff.

Wild-card lead­ers

BOS­TON RED SOX (74-59) Where they stand: Two games up in wild-card chase, two games out of first in AL East Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 86.9 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 84 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: No one has ever doubted their lineup. They have doubted the start­ing ro­ta­tion, but it has a 3.65 ERA since the All-Star break. The stum­bling block could be their bullpen, which has im­ploded with the likes of Clay Buch­holz,

Next 5 O’s games

TO­DAY: Yan­kees@Ori­oles, 7:05 p.m., MASN Starters: Yan­kees’ Chad Green (2-3, 4.09 ERA) vs. Dy­lan Bundy (7-5, 3.71) SATUR­DAY: Yan­kees@Ori­oles, 7:05 p.m., MASN Starters: Yan­kees’ CC Sa­bathia (8-11, 4.31) vs. Kevin Gaus­man (6-10, 3.73) SUN­DAY: Yan­kees@Ori­oles, 1:335 p.m., MASN, Ch. 13 Starters: Yan­kees’ Michael Pineda (6-11, 5.12) vs. Wade Mi­ley (8-11, 5.43) MON­DAY: Ori­oles@Rays, 1:10 p.m., MASN Starters: Ubaldo Jimenez (5-11, 6.46) vs. Rays’ Jake Odorizzi (9-5, 3.56) TUES­DAY: Ori­oles@Rays, 7:10 p.m., MASN Starters: Yo­vani Gal­lardo (4-7, 5.62) vs. Rays’ Drew Smyly (6-11, 4.94) ON­LINE: Go to bal­ti­more­sun.com/ori­oles for a photo gallery of gold medal­ist He­len Maroulis throw­ing out the first pitch at the IronBirds game Ju­nichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler now man­ning the eighth in­ning. ORI­OLES (72-61) Where they stand: Tied with Detroit for sec­ond wild card, four games out of first in AL East Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 31.7 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 27.4 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: Can this team, for the first time in months, get it­self in step? Spo­radic qual­ity from the Ori­oles start­ing ro­ta­tion isn’t lin­ing up with the spo­radic out­bursts from the flag­ging of­fense, and the re­sult is a team that has gone flat. Like most in their di­vi­sion, they con­trol how they’ll fin­ish. Nine­teen of their last 29 games are against fel­low play­off as­pi­rants. They’ll have to win their way in. DETROIT TIGERS (72-61) Where they stand: Tied with the Ori­oles for sec­ond wild card, 41⁄ games out of first in AL Cen­tral Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 50.4 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 52.4 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: Detroit has pitched its way back into con­tention, with the ro­ta­tion post­ing a league-best 3.49 ERA since the Al­lS­tar break, thanks to young­sters Michael Ful­mer, Daniel Nor­ris and Matt Boyd, plus vet­eran Justin Ver­lan­der. If the Tigers con­tinue that, a wild-card spot is well within reach.

Wild-card con­tenders

HOUS­TON ASTROS (71-62) Where they stand: One game back of sec­ond wild card Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 25.6 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 26.3 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: For a lineup with young stars Jose Al­tuve, Car­los Cor­rea and Ge­orge Springer atop it ev­ery day, the Astros of­fense sure is in­con­sis­tent. They’ll need to fix that and a lot more to make it through a stretch of 13 straight games against Texas, Cleve­land and the Chicago Cubs — all first-place teams. This would qual­ify as earn­ing a play­off spot. NEW YORK YAN­KEES (69-63) Where they stand: 21⁄ back of sec­ond wild card Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 5.3 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 7.8 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: The Yan­kees had their big­gest name, Alex Ro­driguez, re­tire, and traded out­fielder Car­los Bel­tran, starter Ivan Nova, and re­liev­ers An­drew Miller and Aroldis Chap­man. They aren’t sup­posed to be in con­tention, but a ris­ing young core led by catcher Gary Sanchez (11 home runs in 25 games) has the Yan­kees play­ing as if they don’t know any bet­ter. KANSAS CITY ROY­ALS (69-64) Where they stand: Three games back of sec­ond wild card Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 4.3 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 5.4 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: Af­ter four months of medi­ocrity, the Roy­als have got­ten back to their win­ning for­mula — tak­ing close and crazy games, get­ting pitch­ing out of nowhere, hit­ting when they need to and hav­ing a blast do­ing it. Kansas City has won 18 of its past 24 games to spark a play­off push no one else in the AL wanted to see again. SEATTLE MARINERS (68-65) Where they stand: Four games back of sec­ond wild card Play­off odds: Fan­Graphs: 5 per­cent; Base­ball Prospec­tus: 5.5 per­cent The most im­por­tant thing: The Mariners are a long way back, but16 of their last 29 games are against the Los An­ge­les An­gels, Oak­land Athletics and Min­nesota Twins — three of the four worst teams in the AL. Not many teams fin­ish the sea­son with an eas­ier sched­ule than Seattle.

BOB LEVEY/GETTY IMAGES

Marco Estrada’s Blue Jays, first place in the Amer­i­can League East, have a bet­ter than 90 per­cent chance of mak­ing the play­offs.

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