There’s 3 ½ weeks to go in the baseball regular season, as we push forward in the playoff race and to the September 29 conclusion. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage summarizes the landscape, with a look at what happened in the early week, what’s ahead this weekend, what’s up on the injury front and how the bracket would look if the season ended today.
ABOUT LAST WEEK
The Oakland A’s won a big showdown series at home with the Texas Rangers. The A’s took two of three, including hammering Yu Darvish in the rubber match and temporarily pulled even in the AL West, before losing last night and dropping a half-game back. The AL West combatants currently have a five-game cushion in the wild-card race.
Over in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds came up big. Cincy’s been the team that we’re watching the closest, as they’re the only one of the “Big Five” (including Los Angeles, Atlanta, St. Louis and Pittsburgh) in control of the NL playoff race that would seem to be vulnerable.
But the Reds took three of four from St. Louis. Homer Bailey won a 1-0 game, Tony Cingrani came off the disabled list and got a win, and the only loss came in sixteen innings. The Reds are a comfortable seven games for the wild-card and back to within three in the NL Central race.
Cleveland won a tough survival series against Baltimore, with both teams looking to stay in striking distance for the wild-card. A couple weeks ago we looked at the Orioles, as they stood on the verge of a big 15-game run against contenders. That stretch is now over, and Baltimore only went 6-9. Fortunately for the Birds, Tampa has struggled, so they’re still three out. The same goes for Cleveland.
Kansas City and New York both took care of business, with the Royals winning three of four against Seattle, and the Yankees sweeping the White Sox, including a five-run rally in the eighth to win the middle game. The Yanks almost duplicated the feat last night in a series opener against Boston—a six-run rally in the seventh put them up 8-7, before the Red Sox tied it back up and won in ten. Clearly though, this Yankee offense is humming.
And speaking of Boston, the Sawx beat the Tigers twice in three tries at Fenway Park. Both teams remain in control of their division races, each up 6 ½ games.
THE WEEKEND AHEAD
The biggest series on the board is Pittsburgh-St. Louis, with the Cardinals now a game and a half back of the Pirates for the NL Central title. And the National League has another big one with the Dodgers-Reds battle. This one gets some national TV love.
Saturday’s game with Zack Greinke and Mat Latos pitching, will be part of split coverage in Fox, sharing the nation with the Red Sox-Yankees. And Sunday night, LA-Cincy ousted Boston-NYY from the ESPN prime-time slot. Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey will pitch that game for Orel, Krukkie and the national audience.
Cleveland (vs. the Mets) and Tampa Bay (at Seattle) have relatively easy series, although nothing seems easy for the Rays these days. They settled for a split in Anaheim, and lost the finale with David Price on the mound. With neither Price nor King Felix pitching this weekend in the Pacific Northwest, there’s no pitching pizzazz to speak of.
Another series where a contender gets a break is Baltimore’s hosting of the Chicago White Sox. This one began last night and is noteworthy on the national scale, because it’s the reason the NFL opener, of Ravens-Broncos, had to be moved out of Baltimore, denying the Super Bowl winner their usual Thursday night opener.
The Orioles declined to play their game in the afternoon, citing the fact they were coming home off a tough road trip, and the team’s stadiums are next to each other, creating a logistical nightmare if the games would have been simultaneous. Baltimore’s baseball team clearly needs these games, and the tough 3-1 win they got vindicated ownership for standing up to the NFL bullies. The Ravens game should have been moved to Sunday night, rather than the NFL doing a pouty routine and just taking it across country.
We also have the continuation of the Boston-NY Yanks series. Last night’s loss hurt the Yankees. They don’t want Saturday—when David Huff for them against John Lackey—to be a must-win spot and it wouldn’t have been had they won last night. Boston just needs to take care of business behind Lackey to get a split, and also have no reason to fear a Jon Lester-Hiroki Kuroda battle on Sunday afternoon.
Kansas City is hanging tough at 4 ½ out in the wild-card race, but the Detroit Tigers coming to town is not what you want to see. The Royals need James Shields to win tonight’s opener.
In the AL West, Texas is at the Los Angeles Angels, while Oakland hosts Houston.
The most consequential bad news came out of St. Louis, where Allen Craig suffered bad left ankle sprain and is in a walking boot. The Cards have a lot of hitters, but Craig, with his. 457 batting average with men in scoring position, was something special and now his status is in real doubt.
But speaking of something special, the lingering abdominal strain of Miguel Cabrera doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The Tiger star is in and out of the lineup, and it’s becoming apparent the team will have to place rest as a priority over winning a second straight Triple Crown. A strain like that could rob Miggy of his power, and it might not be dramatically better by the playoffs.
On the good news front, Jason Heyward was cleared to resume baseball activities and a late September return seems like for the Braves’ rightfielder—enough time to get back in rhythm for the Division Series.
I swore I wasn’t going to again mention Johnny Cueto or Clay Bucholz until they took the mound in a major league uniform, but that day really does seem to be getting closer. Bucholz made a rehab start, and Cueto has begun throwing in the bullpen.
IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY
(4) Oakland vs. (5) Tampa Bay
(4) St. Louis vs. (5) Cincinnati
(1) Boston vs. Wild-Card
(2) Detroit vs. (3) Texas
(1) Atlanta vs. Wild-Card
(2) Los Angeles vs. (3) Pittsburgh