Staying up to date on the battles for all the various MLB playoff spots is a full-time job that requires daily attention -- and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this space, for the rest of the season.
The big news: Loads of it. Yankees and Orioles both win monumental extra-inning games. Tigers win, White Sox lose. Angels and Tampa Bay both win to stay within shouting distance of the second wild card. We are looking at a wild last week and a half in the American League.
The little news: Texas loses 1-0 to Seattle despite eight hits and getting the leadoff man on in each of the first three innings. The Rangers simply cannot put away a division that is essentially being handed to them. They still lead by four games in the West, and you figure that time will simply run out on everybody else.
Who is in: It’s mayhem in the AL. The Yankees lead Baltimore by a game in the East. The White Sox lead Detroit by a half-game in the Central. The A’s lead the Angels by 2½ in the race for the second wild card. The only reasonably secure lead is the Rangers’ aforementioned four-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
Quirky manager move: The Texas Rangers, you probably know, lead all of baseball in runs scored … and by almost more than 30 runs. They’re doing this even with Michael Young having a dismal year; that’s how deep this lineup is -- Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, David Murphy, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, on and on. They’re first or second in the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging, hits and total bases.
On Saturday night, they were facing a fairly weak Seattle team and its 23-year-old starter Blake Beavan. And Beavan, up to this point in the season, had a 4.88 ERA and one of the lowest strikeout percentages in baseball; the league was slugging .480 against him. So, what happens when Kinsler led off the game with a single? Right. Andrus tried to sacrifice bunt. In the first inning. In an American League game. Against an eminently hittable young pitcher. With the league’s highest-scoring team. A bleeping sacrifice bunt.
I have to admit to turning the game off at that point. Michael Young -- whom WAR ranks as the player having the second-worst year in baseball behind Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur -- was hitting third, so I determined that Rangers manager Ron Washington must have had one of those bad days we all have, the kind of day when our compasses are off and we just keep making comically bad decisions. “No, I can’t explain exactly why I put the remote control in the refrigerator …”
When I woke up and saw the Rangers had lost 1-0, I thought: Well, yeah, of course they did.
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This Yankees-Orioles thing is now reaching "Indiana Jones" proportions. Are you kidding me? The Yankees win their seventh in a row in 14 innings? The Orioles win their sixth in a row in 12? The Yankees come back from a four-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th on a Raul Ibanez home run? The Orioles win their 16th straight extra-inning game sparked by a double from 57-year-old Jim Thome? This race is getting so ridiculous and so wonderful that you almost want them both to play one boring game just to prove that this is real life.
By the way, Ichiro Suzuki got three more hits. He is now 14 for his last 19. When you go 14-for-19, even this late in the season, it will send your batting average skyrocketing. Ichiro was hitting .269 for the year. Now he’s hitting .284. He hit .261 for the Mariners in more than 400 plate appearances. He’s now hitting .343 for the Yankees.
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Well, it’s official: Miggy Cabrera now leads the American League in all three Triple Crown categories. And the Tigers are now a half game behind the White Sox. The MVP race, which once seemed like a lock for Angels’ phenom Mike Trout, is now looking more and more like a potential rout for Cabrera. Even Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire weighed in. Lots of thoughts on Gardy’s take and a breakdown of the American League MVP race tomorrow.
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The big news: Reds clinch! Giants clinch! Nationals reduce magic number to six in the East.
The little news: Good day for the Cardinals in the race for the second wild card. St. Louis wins in 10 -- huge, game-tying home run for Carlos Beltran in the ninth -- and everybody else loses. Milwaukee. Los Angeles. Philadelphia. The Cardinals lead by 2½ games now.
Who is in: Reds, Giants, Nationals are in. Braves’ magic number for wild card is three. Only race left is the only race that has been ongoing for a while, the race for the second wild card, and even that race is losing steam. Oh, and the overall best record in the National League is in play -- the Reds now trail Washington by only a half game.
The Pirates Movie: Pittsburgh lost again to the Astros. That makes a two-game winning streak for Houston -- a rare thing, the Astros only have two other two-game winning streaks since the start of July -- and it means that the Pirates are now three games under .500. Pittsburgh has not had a winning record since 1992. And it’s looking, more and more, that after teasing the world for five months, it’s not even going to make a run at a winning record this year.
Quirky statistic: Roy Halladay had the worst start of his career on Saturday night. He went just 1 2/3 innings -- first time in his career he did not pitch at least two innings in a start -- and he gave up seven runs, all of them earned, allowed five hits, three walks, a homer … it was a disaster. This whole season had been a disaster. Halladay’s ERA is now 4.40 -- this from a guy who in the previous 10 years was 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA. Halladay has had injury troubles all year, and he admitted after Saturday’s game that he’s been feeling spasms behind his shoulder, which I have to say sounds horrible. He still wants to make his last two starts because he, 1) is a gamer, or 2) has completely lost his mind. I’m thinking that at this point the Phillies should shut him down for his own good.
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San Francisco -- according to the latest park factors -- is the worst hitting ballpark in baseball. Or, if you’re a glass half-full person, it’s the best pitching ballpark in baseball.
• The Giants’ offense averages 3.75 runs at home … 5.2 runs on the road.
• The Giants’ pitching staff has a 3.06 ERA at home … 4.35 on the road.
• The Giants have hit 28 home runs at home (TWENTY EIGHT!) and 67 on the road.
• The Giants’ pitchers have allowed 51 homers at home and 80 on the road.
You get the picture. AT&T Park cuts off offense … you know, it’s like offense at AT&T Park just drops right in the middle … it’s like you’re just going along having a pleasant rally when all of a sudden AT&T Park just disconnects the run scoring …
Except for Buster Posey.
Yes, Posey’s home run numbers are suppressed by the park. He has hit 18 home runs on the road this year and only seven in San Francisco. But he’s also hitting .343/.419/.511 in AT&T Park. And since July 1? He’s hitting .372 at home, his on-base percentage is .459 and he’s slugging .611. Well, Posey’s been killing it everywhere for the last three months. The National League MVP race seems wide open. That’s what everyone’s saying, anyway. There are arguments, and pretty good ones, to be made for Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen (as the best overall player in the league), Ryan Braun (leads league in homers and slugging), Yadier Molina (career offensive year to match his brilliant defense and shutdown arm) and others. What’s interesting, though, is that of the three division-leading teams in the National League -- the Nationals, the Reds and the Giants -- only Posey really stands out as an MVP candidate.
I’m of the belief that the best player should win the MVP award -- “best” and “most valuable” are synonymous to me. The rest feels like creative accounting. But, let’s face it, my opinion doesn’t matter. The award has a history: It generally goes to a good player on a winning team who has played well late in the year. Posey is having just about as good a year as anybody in the league, he’s been better in the latter half of the season, and his team is going to the postseason. I could be wrong, but I have this feeling that Posey will win the MVP in a runaway. I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. He’s having an incredible year.