Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So Many Things to Talk About - Part 2 - Baseball Wild Card Races

The Astros are relevant again! True, it's not due to any fault of their own, but because the Cardinals were a game out of the Wild Card entering play last night, suddenly all eyes are on Houston and their 104 losses. But we'll get to them in a minute. We had 4 HUGE games last night with both the American and National League Wild Card races sporting one game leads entering play.


Like the Astros, the Orioles are in last place in their division and came into play last night with a record of 67-92. The O's have nothing to play for right now, but have successfully been a major thorn in the Sox side down the stretch. Heck, in EVERYONE'S side. Over the past 2 weeks, Baltimore took 2 of 3 from Tampa, 2 of 3 from the Angels, 3 of 4 from the Sox at Fenway, and 2 of 4 from the Tigers including beating Justin Verlander in his quest for Win #25. So against 4 of the AL's top teams over a two week stretch, the Orioles emerged 9-5. Not bad for the team with the third worst record in the American League. Anyhow, last night they faced Josh Beckett and despite falling behind 1-0 and 2-1, the O's battled back. Matt Wieters solo home run in the 2nd tied the game at 1 and Chris Davis's rbi single in the 5th tied the game at two. Then came the 6th inning. With 2 outs Chris Davis doubled home Vladimir Guerrero to make it 3-2 and then Red Sox killer Robert Andino - the same guy who hit a bases loaded double off of Jonathan Papelbon at Fenway just last week - hit one to the wall in center that Jacoby Ellsbury had in his glove, but couldn't hang onto as he slammed into the wall. The result? A three-run, inside-the-park home run. 6-2 Orioles. Andino has 35 runs batted in this season. 9 of them have come against Boston Red Sox pitching.
Photo Credit: thestar.com/sports
Boston would not recover, but not for lack of chances. Boston loaded the bases with one out in the 8th, but Pedro Strop fanned Jarrod Saltalamacchia and got Marco Scutaro to hit a ground ball to short to end the threat. Then in the 9th Orioles closer Jim Johnson gave up an rbi single to Dustin Pedroia and then had runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out and Adrian Gonzalez at the plate, but Gonzalez flew out to left for the second out, and then Johnson fanned Jed Lowrie to end the game. Orioles 6, Red Sox 3. And the lead down to half a game. Beckett goes 6 innings in the loss allowing 6 runs on 7 hits while walking 4 and fanning 5. Not the big game start we've gotten used to seeing from Beckett over the years. Could Tampa tie things up?
Photo Credit: zimbio.com


Speaking of big game starts, Big Game James Shields took the hill for the Rays last night, and despite falling behind 2-0 early, he battled all night and came within an out of notching his 12th complete game of the season in leading the Rays to a 5-2 win over the Yankees. Shields was coming off of back to back road losses in Boston and in New York, but came up big when the Rays needed him most.
Photo Credit: zimbio.com

B.J. Upton delivered a two run double in the third to tie the game up and Johnny Damon tied Lou Gehrig with his 2721st career hit when he singled home Upton and the Rays would never trail again. Kelly Shoppach padded the lead with his 11th home run of the season, and Damon drove home Upton again with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2 Rays, and now we're all tied up in the AL.
Photo Credit: zimbio.com

The Rays are in much better shape than Boston right now, and not just because they've been playing better baseball. With two games remaining, the Rays will be throwing Jeremy Hellickso,n who is 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA in September, and David Price who hasn't won but has a 3.03 ERA this month. Boston, on the other hand, starts Erik Bedard tonight - in Bedard's only last start in the last 3 weeks he lasted just 2 2/3 innings against the Orioles - and most likely Jon Lester on short rest - Lester has lost 3 straight starts allowing 16 runs in 13 2/3 innings during that stretch. And God help Boston if they need a one game playoff. Then they're looking at Tim Wakefield or John Lackey throwing in the biggest game of the season. Tampa? They can start a rested Matt Moore who fanned 11 Yankees in 5 innings in his first big league start last week.


The Braves didn't catch the same breaks that the Rays did when taking on their division leader last night. While Tampa got to face Hector Noesi as the Yankees set their rotation for the postseason, the Braves had to deal with Cliff Lee. Still, Chipper Jones homered in the first, number 454 of his career, the Braves added another run in the second and rookie Randall Delgado cruised through the first three innings. But the Phils starting pecking away as Placido Polanco singled home a run in the 4th, Jimmy Rollins tied the game with a homer in the 5th and then Raul Ibanez singled home the go-ahead run off of Cristhian Martinez  inthet 6th to put the Phillies in the lead. Joe Savery, Michael Stutes, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson did the rest tossing 3 scoreless innings in relief of Cliff Lee and Ibanez added another run scoring single as the Phillies dropped Atlanta 4-2 to cut the NL Wild Card lead to half a game.
Photo Credit: zimbio.com

We've talked a lot about how disastrous this month has been for Boston, but we haven't really hit on what a mess it's been for Atlanta. This month the Braves have endured a 3 game sweep in Philadelphia, a 3 game sweep in St. Louis, and consecutive series losses at home against the Mets, on the road against the Marlins, and on the road against the Nationals. Not good. And now we're looking at what was a massive lead over St. Louis being cut down to just half a game! Setting the stage for... Drumroll, please...


The Houston Astros! Winners of all of 55 games entering play last night, and enduring their worst season in franchise history, Houston hosted the red hot Cardinals with a chance to salvage some dignity by wrecking St. Louis's bid to sneak into the postseason. Matt Holliday gave the Redbirds and early lead with an rbi single in the 3rd, but J.D. Martinez cut down Albert Pujols at home on the play, and the Cards were forced to settle for just the 1 run. The lead would be short-lived though as Wandy Rodriguez sacrificed home Clint Barmes in the bottom half of the third (bunts would be an important theme for the Astros last night) and Jason Bourgeois, batting .480 against St. Louis this year, doubled home J.R. Towles to give Houston the lead. An inning later Matt Downs crushed a Jaime Garcia fastball into the Crawford boxes in left to make it a 4-1 Astros lead. But when you're a team that loses 104 games, no lead is EVER safe. The Cards loaded the bases with nobody out in the 5th, but were forced to settle for just one run scored on a double play ball cutting the lead to 4-2. It stayed that way until the 8th, when ex-Astro Lance Berkman doubled off the left field wall on a 0-2 pitch from Wesley Wright tying the game. St. Louis would get runners on second and third with just one out in the inning, but Enerio Del Rosario was able to pitch out of the jam without any further damage. And that set the stage for the bottom of the 10th. Pinch hitter Brian Bogusevic led off the inning with a double. Jason Bourgeois laid down a bunt (there's that theme again) that another ex-Astro Octavio Dotel was unable to handle putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Enter Angel Sanchez. And what does Houston do? They drop down ANOTHER bunt. And once again Dotel was unable to make a play. Everybody's safe, Bogusevic scores, and the Astros win! And the state of Georgia breathes a collective sigh of relief. Their lead stays at one game for at least one more day.
Photo Credit: zimbio.com


So with two games remaining we have a tie in the AL Wild Card Race, and the Braves are still clinging to a 1 game lead in the National League. Here's a look at today's pitching match-ups:

BOS - (Erik Bedard 5-9, 3.50 ERA) vs BAL (Zach Britton (11-10, 4.44 ERA)
NYY - (Bartolo Colon 8-10, 4.02 ERA) vs TB (Jeremy Hellickson 13-10, 2.90 ERA)
PHI -  (Roy Oswalt 8-10, 3.86 ERA) vs ATL (Derek Lowe 9-16, 4.92 ERA)
STL - (Jake Westbrook 12-9, 4.48 ERA) vs HOU (Henry Sosa 3-5, 4.68 ERA)

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