Not all is perfect atop AL East

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It was supposed to be an epic series: Yankees vs. Rays. The two best teams in baseball locking horns in a four-game series with the AL East lead at stake.

And after four games, we’re back where we started, with Tampa Bay’s blowout victory on Thursday preserving a split of the series and keeping the Rays a 1/2-game behind the Yankees in the AL East race.

Both teams are going to the playoffs (sorry Red Sox, but you’re not going to catch ’em), and the only thing left to be decided is which team gets to have home-field advantage against the Texas Rangers in the first round, and which team has to face the Minnesota Twins as the AL wild card team.

If we learned anything from this series, it’s that both the Rays and Yankees are flawed, and it’s time to rethink the idea that the AL East powers are indeed the two best teams in the AL. They still might be, but the argument to include the Twins in the discussion is getting stronger, as Minnesota (16-4 in September) suddenly possesses the best record in the league.

You want reasons for concern? Let’s take a look:

On the Yankees side, pitching appears to be an issue. CC Sabathia, so brilliant last week in a duel with David Price, labored terribly on Thursday, walking three and allowing 10 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. Price wasn’t much better, as both aces seemed intent on bolstering the unusual Cy Young case of Felix Hernandez, but at least Price was able to wiggle out of danger, allowing just three runs in six innings despite putting 12 runners on base.

While I wouldn’t worry too horribly about Sabathia – or Andy Pettitte for that matter – it is legitimate to be concerned about the rest of the staff, a mix that includes the inexperienced Ivan Nova, recently struggling Phillip Hughes and the enigma that is A.J. Burnett.

And despite having Mariano Rivera anchoring the bullpen, what about the rest of the crew? Aside from Kerry Wood, none of them got through this series unscathed, and Javier Vazquez – who tied a record by hitting three straight batters on Thursday – is hardly reliable. Luckily for the Yankees they have a dangerous collection of bats, because they are probably going to need them.

On the Rays side of things, the concerns are more varied. There is certainly some problems with the starting pitching. James Shields and Wade Davis have compiled mediocre seasons, and the occasionally brilliant Matt Garza, who no-hit Detroit on July 27, has also been frequently horrible. In his last four starts, he has managed to go no further than 5 2/3 innings, and has allowed at least six runs in each of his last three outings.

On the offensive side of things, the Rays face another dilemma, as their feast-or-famine offense has to be driving their small but loyal fan base nuts.

The Rays rank 12th in the AL in batting average and eighth in slugging percentage, lead the league in strikeouts and have been no-hit twice this season. Yet they also lead the AL in walks and are second only to the Yankees in runs per game.

Rays blogger Jason Collette breaks down the situation nicely here. The whole post is worth a read, but the bottom line is that the Rays make up for a lot of deficiencies with their speed, not only stealing bases but also taking the extra base at a higher rate than other AL teams. They also have hit into fewer double plays than anyone, and it’s not even close.

That being said, little slumps are magnified in a short playoff series, and if the hot-and-cold Rays hit a chilly stretch, a playoff stay could be brief.

Both the Yankees and Rays are dangerous without a doubt, but as this week’s series showed, both teams are also flawed. And when you consider that the Twins are 50-18 since the All-Star break (.735), and the Rangers will feature not only a powerful lineup, but Cliff Lee at the top of their rotation, assuming an all-AL East ALCS is a risky proposition.

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Settling the Scores: Saturday’s results

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Denard Span #2 of the San Francisco Giants, right, is congratulated by Roberto Kelly #39 after hitting a two-run home run during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on September 24, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Amid the clash and clatter of division races, wild card nail-biters, and postseason finishes, the Giants and Padres played a baseball game.

It wasn’t a particularly brilliant game — Madison Bumgarner surrendered five runs and a season-high three homers over six frames, while the bullpen blew a one-run lead in the seventh — but it served its purpose in the end. Denard Span’s 10th inning home run cemented the Giants’ 82nd win of the season, scooting them half a game up in the wild card standings and keeping the Dodgers from clinching the division.

Granted, the Dodgers only need one more win (or, alternatively, a Giants’ loss) to lay claim to the division title, and it’s almost certain that they’ll take the NL West on Sunday. A division title may be out of reach for the Giants, but they’ll still face fierce competition from the Mets and Cardinals for a wild card spot heading into the last week of the season.

Here are the rest of the box scores from Saturday’s games. Keep an eye out for Dustin Pedroia‘s grand slam, Josh Reddick‘s grand slam, and Hunter Renfroe’s first career home run.

Royals 7, Tigers 4

Cardinals 10, Cubs 4

Rangers 5, Athletics 0

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 0

Red Sox 6, Rays 4

Orioles 6, Diamondbacks 1

Nationals 6, Pirates 1

Marlins 6, Braves 4

White Sox 8, Indians 1

Reds 6, Brewers 1

Angels 10, Astros 4

Phillies 10, Mets 8

Twins 3, Mariners 2

Giants 9, Padres 6 (10 innings)

Dodgers 14, Rockies 1

Dodgers move within a game of division win

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Josh Reddick #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers (R) celebrates with Yasmani Grandal #9, Adrian Gonzalez #23, and Justin Turner #10 after all score on Reddick's grand slam home run in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   The Dodgets won 14-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, the Nationals staked their claim in the NL East and the Red Sox secured a postseason berth. Today, the Dodgers stand on the cusp of their fourth consecutive division title, with only Tyler Anderson and Ty Blach in their way.

Any combination of a Dodgers win and Giants loss will secure the NL West for Los Angeles, who missed their opportunity to clinch last night despite a 14-1 drubbing at Dodger Stadium. In the end, it came down to the Giants, who pulled off an extra-inning victory against the Padres and delayed the Dodgers’ playoff revelry for another day.

In lieu of starter Rich Hill, whom manager Dave Roberts intends to reserve for next weekend’s set against the Giants, the Dodgers will go to right-hander Brandon McCarthy on the mound. It’s been a rough year for McCarthy, who has not made a regular season start for the club since August 13, when he left the game with stiffness in his right hip after 1  innings. According to Baseball Injury Consultants, the 33-year-old missed 179 days on the disabled list in 2016, due in large part to a prolonged recovery from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2015.

Thankfully for the Dodgers, their fallback is a good, old-fashioned offense. They’ve outscored their opponents 46-23 in the last week and are currently riding a five-game winning streak after taking back-to-back series against the Giants and Rockies. Should they win on Sunday, they’ll face off against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS on October 7.