Friday, September 23, 2011

MLB Wild Card Races - Tonight's Matchups


Ok, so here's where we stand with less than a week to go during the regular season. The reeling Red Sox are clinging to a 2 game lead over Tampa Bay and suddenly out of nowhere the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever they're called now) are back in the mix, trailing by just 3 games.

Boston's magic number to clinch the wild card outright is 5 meaning the number of games that Boston wins plus the number of games that Tampa loses can't be more than 4 the rest of the way for the Rays to have a chance. That being said, some HUGE games coming up. Let's take a look at what's on the slate tonight:

BOSTON (88-68) vs NEW YORK (95-61)
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The Sox leave the friendly confines of Fenway Park to take on the AL East Champion New York Yankees. The Sox have won 11 of 15 from New York this year including 3 game sweeps in the Bronx in May and again in June. However, as we've seen lately this is a different Red Sox team, one that just dropped 3 of 4 at home to Baltimore. The Sox will be sending Jon Lester to the mound tonight against their hated rivals. The 27 year old lefty leads the team in wins with 15, and if they ever needed a win it's right now. Lester is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA against the Yankees this year, but has won just once in the month of September and is coming off back to back losses to Tampa. He'll be opposed by veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia. The 35 year old Venezuelan has pitched well in his first year in New York going 11-8 with a 3.77 ERA, his lowest ERA since back in 2001 when he was with Seattle. Garcia has struggled this month though going winless in 3 September starts with a 10.95 ERA and has not pitched beyond the 5th inning in any of those games. Garcia is 0-2 against the Sox this year with a 6.92 ERA in 13 innings.

TORONTO (79-77) vs TAMPA BAY (86-70)
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Tampa Bay snapped a 3 game skid with a 15-8 thumping of Bartolo Colon and the Yankees yesterday. After scoring just 4 runs in the first 3 games of that series, the bats finally woke up, and Rays fans will just have to hope they stay that way as they return to the Trop for their final six games. Tampa has played well against the Blue Jays this year winning 10 of 15 including 5 of the last 6. David Price will get the ball for the Rays having already beaten Toronto 3 times this year in 4 starts. He's tossed 30 1/3 innings against the Jays this year allowing just 20 hits - good for a .187 batting average - and striking out 35 while posting a 2.08 ERA. Toronto will counter with Brandon Morrow, a former reliever with big strikeout numbers but just a 10-11 record and a 4.98 ERA. Against the Rays Morrow is 1-2, but has struck out 22 hitters in just 17 innings of work while only allowing 14 hits.

OAKLAND (70-86) AT LOS ANGELES (85-71)
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The Angels suffered a crushing extra inning loss last night in Toronto blowing a golden opportunity to close to within 2 games of the wildcard leading Sox. It marked the league-leading 13th time this year that the Angels had lost on a walk-off. Now they head home to take on the A's, but don't be fooled by Oakland's record - Oakland is 9-7 against the Angels this season. The Angels will send their ace Jered Weaver to the mound tonight in search of his 19th win of the season. He'll have to get through Oakland's Gio Gonzalez, the A's leader in wins with 14, to get it though. Gonzalez has already beaten the Angels 3 times this year in 4 tries and has a 2.10 ERA against them, but Weaver is 3-0 in his 4 starts against the A's allowing just 4 runs in 29 2/3 innings. Something's got to give. The Angels really can't afford to lose this one tonight with Weaver on the mound. Queue the rally monkey.


In the National League, Atlanta has a two game lead over St. Louis for the final playoff spot. The Cardinals really shot themselves in the foot yesterday though as they took a 6-2 lead into the 9th against the Mets and wound up losing 8-6. So what could have been just a one game deficit stays at two.

Like Boston in the AL, Atlanta's looking at a magic number of 5, but the Cardinals are looking at a much easier schedule down the stretch facing the lowly Cubs and Astros in their final two series. This undoubtedly puts even more pressure on the Braves to win. Here's a look at tonight's matchups:

ATLANTA (88-68) vs WASHINGTON (76-79)
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Atlanta owns an 8-7 edge in the season series against Washington and they'll have their work cut out for them tonight as they'll be taking on Stephen Strasburg and his 1.29 ERA. The hard throwing righty has allowed just a pair of runs and hasn't walked a batter in 3 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. The Braves will counter with veteran Tim Hudson who struck out a season high 10 hitters over 8 shutout innings in his last outing. Hudson in 3-1 against Washington this year with one of those wins coming just 3 weeks ago. Strasburg, who is still in search of his first win since July of 2010, faced Atlanta once last year and took the loss in a 5-2 game. He lasted 6 1/3 innings allowing 3 earned runs while fanning 7. 

CHICAGO (69-87) vs ST. LOUIS (86-70)
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Chris Carpenter has allowed just 4 earned runs in his last 24 innings of work most recently throwing 8 shutout innings on the road in Philadelphia in a 5-0 win. He's made just two starts against the Cubs this year going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA, but allowed 20 hits in just 16 innings of work. He was just 1-3 against Chicago last year as the Cubs accounted for a third of his losses on the season. The Cubs will counter with Ryan Dempster as they'll look to play spoiler and keep their biggest rivals out of the postseason. Dempster is winless in 4 September starts and against St. Louis on the year is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA.

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