With the trade deadline passed, it’s time for TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage to do here what front offices around baseball had to decide, and it’s this—who’s a contender and who’s not. I think we can safely narrow the American League field to nine teams.
There are seven bona fide contenders, all within a half-game of at least a wild-card spot coming into Thursday’s games. Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and Texas constitute that field. When you make your playoff picks, it’s tough to decide which two of these teams will not play into the postseason.
I think we have to keep Kansas City and New York on the radar as well. I’m not picking either team to make it, but the Yankees are within 3 ½ games of the second wild-card, and Kansas City is 4 ½ off the pace. After the St. Louis Cardinals of 2011, or the Tampa Bay Rays that same year, those margins are pretty small by comparison.
When it comes to the divisional races, and the three automatic spots in the full round that is the Division Series, I’m going to take a chance and remove Baltimore from that list. They’re 5 ½ games back in the AL East, and while that deficit per se is not unmanageable, the Orioles have two teams to catch. And those two teams happen to have the best records in the American League as a whole. If Baltimore is going to make the Division Series, they’ll have to repeat their 2012 showing and win the wild-card game.
THE WEEKEND SCHEDULE
The hot action this coming weekend is in the AL West, as Texas visits Oakland. Saturday’s game will be part of Fox’s TV coverage and Matt Garza will get a chance to show he’s worth the price the Rangers paid to get him. Texas is four games back, and losing this series really puts them in trouble. Getting swept means we cross them off the list of serious division title contenders.
In the AL Central, both Cleveland and Detroit have chances for sweeps. The Indians will be in Miami, while Detroit hosts the White Sox. I would hope that when the Indians visit the Marlins, the Tribe would feel some type of home-city venom for Miami on behalf of LeBron James leaving the Cavs for the Heat. Just kidding about the players feeling that, but that’s all the juice this series has.
Boston has a tough series against NL West contender Arizona, as the Diamondbacks come to Fenway Park. Jake Peavy makes his first start as a Red Sox for TBS’ national audience on Sunday afternoon. Tampa Bay and Baltimore are also at home, with the Rays hosting the Giants and the Mariners paying a visit to Camden Yards.
Kansas City goes to New York for an interleague series against the Mets, while the Yankees re-visit better days when they go to San Diego. It was here that the 1998 New York Yankees, the best of the Torre-era championship teams, completed a World Series sweep. I’m sure the New York front office is also hoping to get some financial good news in the form of an Alex Rodriguez ban or lengthy suspension in the BioGenesis case.
AMERICAN LEAGUE INJURY REPORT
The big news is that Tampa saw Matt Moore go on the 15-day DL with a sore elbow. For now, the reports are nothing is seriously wrong and it will be a minimum DL stint. The Rays are waiting for Alex Cobb to finish rehabbing from a concussion, and new reliever Jesse Crain to get healthy.
And no one wants good news with regard to its pitchers more than Texas. Colby Lewis is starting his third week of rehab, and Matt Harrison joined him yesterday. Neftali Feliz will start a rehab stint tomorrow.
New York might not get offensive help from A-Rod this year, but Curtis Granderson did begin his rehab stint.