The first part of the National League playoff race is all but set. We officially know who the five teams are that will make the postseason, and all that’s left to be sorted out is who which of the three NL Central contenders will win the division and which two will face off in the wild-card game.
St. Louis 4 Washington 3: Carlos Beltran hit a two-run homer in the fifth to break a 2-2 tie. After seven solid innings from Adam Wainwright, the Cardinal bullpen had what, for them, was a refreshingly good night. After some rough outings of late, manager Mike Matheny used four different pitchers to get the last six outs, even none allowed a baserunner. Extreme measures, but that’s what the St. Louis manager is going to have to do come next week’ s playoffs.
Pittsburgh 2 ChiCubs 1: After a great pitcher’s duel between Charlie Morton and Jeff Samardzija, Starling Marte hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to snap the 1-1 tie. Combined with the Washington loss, this was enough to put the Pirates in the playoffs for the first time in the post-1994 realignment era, when the divisions got smaller and wild-cards were added.
Cincinnati 3 NY Mets 2 (10): With seven sharp innings, Johnny Cueto has the look of a pitcher ready to start the wild-card game, or perhaps a Game 1 of the Division Series. The Reds won it on an RBI single from Shin-Soo Choo.
Given the closeness of all three of these games, it’s too bad a night like this couldn’t have happened with just a day or two left, when there would have been real doubt about who was going to clinch. But tension or not, no one is complaining in Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. Each team is two games back of St. Louis, but they’ve at least got a head-to-head showdown next week in the bag.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD-CARD RACE
It wasn’t the greatest of days for baseball in the Beltway. Washington was formally eliminated, and Baltimore might as well have been, after a devastating 5-4 defeat in Tampa Bay.
The Orioles built a 4-2 lead on the strength of Chris Davis’ 52nd home run of the year, but Tampa rallied to tie it in the seventh and then won the game in the ninth on a solo shot from James Loney. It completed a four-game sweep for the Rays, left the Orioles in a five-game hole and made a rally almost impossible.
But the ugliest part of the last was an injury to Manny Machado. The young third baseman hurt in his leg in a play at first base, and had to be carried off the field in a stretcher. It was reminiscent of the 2012 NFL postseason, when Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III tore up his ACL. We’ll see what the final word on Machado’s injury, but now the two brightest sports stars on the Baltimore-Washington Beltway have suffered brutal leg injuries at the tail end of their seasons.
Tampa has a two-game cushion in the wild-card race. Here’s how the other key games of Monday night broke down…
Kansas City 6 Seattle 5 (12): Luke Hochevar nearly let the Royals’ season slip away, when he gave up two solo home runs in the eighth to allow Seattle to tie the game. Kansas City won it in the 12th and pulled to within three games of idle Cleveland for the final playoff spot. Still a longshot, but KC is breathing.
Texas 12 Houston 0: Alex Rios had four hits and hit a home run in a fourth inning that blew the game open early. Derek Holland went the distance and Texas pulled to within a game of the Indians.
Tampa Bay will start a big series with the New York Yankees tonight. The three-game set is in the Bronx, which makes me wonder why Sunday was billed as Mariano Rivera’s last home game. I guess that was just when they did the festivities. But the Yankees trail the Indians by four games for the last spot, and also have to leapfrog Texas and Kansas City in the process. Suffice it to say, the Pinstripes need to win out.
Baltimore’s last gasp begins at home in Toronto, while Cleveland hosts the Chicago White Sox.
The Rays-Yankees game keys TV’s daily sports agenda tonight, with a 7 PM ET telecast on MLB Network.