The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers are each on a stretch of playing decent baseball, as last year’s ALCS teams look to again make it to October and go deep. The Tigers split four with the Yankees earlier in the week. I suppose that can be considered modestly disappointing, as they won the first two at home and hit C.C. Sabathia hard in the third game before losing 12-8. But a split with one of the league’s best teams is never a bad thing and it fits into an overall stretch of consistency for Jim Leyland’s team. Texas, after losing the first two games of their series with the Angels early last week, responded by winning the next two and salvaging a split and then taking two of three from Kansas City and Boston.
Detroit is one game out in the AL Central race, trailing the Chicago White Sox and they’re tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot. Both the Tigers and Orioles are only a half-game behind Oakland for the lead wild-card spot, although all three teams have Tampa Bay and Los Angeles closely in the rearview mirror. Texas’ strong run has kept their lead in the AL West at a comfortable 5.5 games over Oakland, and the Rangers are a half-game ahead of New York for the top seed in the American League playoffs. This one of two hotly contested matchups on the AL landscape this week, and we’ll see Justin Verlander pitch Saturday and the struggling Yu Darvish tries to turn it around on Sunday for the Rangers.
Other series involving contenders in the American League…
Oakland-ChiSox: The A’s came up with a couple big-time wins over the Angels earlier this week, including hitting Zack Greinke hard in a 9-8 win in Wednesday’s rubber match. The White Sox missed an opportunity, dropping two straight to Kansas City after taking the series opener. This weekend’s games feature important pitching storylines. Brandon McCarthy makes his return from the disabled list in Friday night’s opener and Francisco Liriano goes for the White Sox on Saturday. As noted above, both teams hold narrow lead for playoff spots, Chicago for the AL Central title. Sunday’s game will get some national attention at 2 PM ET on TBS.
Kansas City-Baltimore: Are the Royals set to play spoiler? After the aforementioned wins over Chicago, KC won the opener of this four-game set in Camden Yards last night. Baltimore’s a hot team though, having won consecutive series over New York and Tampa Bay on the road, then sweeping Seattle earlier this week. Orioles manager Buck Showalter still has to patch together starting pitching though. Zach Britton did not pitch well on Tuesday and was sent back down to the minors. Chris Tillman, on the other hand, has continued to be effective and he gets the ball Saturday night. Baltimore also brought up highly touted third-base prospect Manny Machado, who went 2-for-4 in his major league debut last night.
Tampa Bay-Minnesota: Since the All-Star break, Tampa pitching has been the best in the American League. No surprise there. In that same timespan, the Minnesota offense has been the second-best in the American League. Big surprise there. The Rays are playing well though, having won 10 of their last 15, including this week’s sweep of Toronto and they have Jeremy Hellickson and David Price lined up to pitch the first two games of this series.
Seattle-LA Angels: Los Angeles’ pitching is faltering badly, with a 5.36 ERA in the season’s second half and since missing the chance to take a series from Texas early last week, they’ve dropped key series to Chicago and Oakland, amidst increasing discontent over the work of the bullpen. The offense has produced more runs than anyone since the break, but the Halos are still a game out in the packed wild-card race. This series starts a 10-game homestand where they simply have to get well. It might not start tonight, when Ervin Santana faces Felix Hernandez, but if the Mariners, then the Indians, can’t solve the LAA slide, then this team is really in trouble.
NY Yanks-Toronto: Toronto’s three straight losses to Tampa have effectively buried any longshot hopes the Jays had of making the playoffs. New York is kind of just middling along right now, but still maintains a comfortable 5.5 game cushion in the AL East. What’s not comfortable for Joe Girardi is consecutive starts by Freddy Garcia, Ian Nova and Phil Hughes, like he has on tap in the Rogers Centre this weekend. Nova, in particular, might be pitching for his job after getting hammered in Detroit on Monday night.
In the National League…
Washington-Arizona: The Nats took advantage of a soft spot in the schedule and swept Houston four straight, and keeping Atlanta at arm’s length in the NL East. Arizona survived a four-game series in Pittsburgh where they pulled out a couple wins. Both teams are swinging the bats well, the two most prolific offenses in the National League since the All-Star break, but Washington has done the better job of combining it with pitching. Stephen Strasburg goes Friday night as he pushes closer to the magic 160-inning mark when he’ll allegedly be shut down for the season.
Atlanta-NY Mets: Atlanta’s playing well, and took two of three in Philadelphia, as Ben Sheets’ magic continued with an opening game win over the Phils. Atlanta still leads the wild-card race and won’t have to face R.A. Dickey this weekend. The nation can watch Sheets’ revival on Sunday night when this series gets the ESPN spotlight.
Cincinnati-ChiCubs: What happened to the Reds? No one’s going to stay hot forever, but to go from playing the best ball in the majors, to coughing up three home games and then losing the series opener in Wrigley last night is a pretty extreme swing. Cincy still holds a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central and has ace Johnny Cueto in reserve for Sunday’s finale.
San Diego-Pittsburgh: The Pirates still share the lead for the wild-card spots with Atlanta and have a 2.5 game cushion, along with trailing Cincy by the same margin in the NL Central. But the alarm bells are there with the pitching, which is in the bottom half of the National League since the break. James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard have to turn it around against an anemic Padre lineup this weekend.
St. Louis-Philadelphia: St. Louis is hitting well right now, and split four games at home with San Francisco this week. But the Cards are also pitching well, with the #2 ERA in the National League in the second half. Kyle Lohse puts his 12-2 record on the line tonight against Roy Halladay.
Colorado-San Francisco: The Giants join the Nationals as a pitching-heavy team that’s hot with the bats right now. Nothing would make Frisco feel better though, than a good outing from Tim Lincecum in tonight’s series opener. Colorado created problems for Los Angeles, winning twice against the Dodgers earlier this week and now looks to spread the misery around their divisional contenders.
LA Dodgers-Miami: Los Angeles starts a seven-game road trip after the aggravating losses to Colorado brought an end to a 4-5 homestand. Maybe the road is what Don Mattingly’s team needs. If nothing else, tonight’s start by Clayton Kershaw would be what any team needs. With a four-game set in Pittsburgh looming right after this, Los Angeles needs to right the ship quickly.