The Braves led the Wild Card by 10 1/2 games on the morning of August 26, but after a 7-1 loss to the Phillies earlier this evening and the Cardinals’ 13-6 win over the Astros just moments ago, we’ll head into the final day of the season all tied up.
The Braves appeared as lifeless as the sparsely attended crowd at Turner Field tonight. Derek Lowe was touched up for five runs over four innings while the offense could only muster four hits. Their only run scored via a solo home run by Martin Prado in the bottom of the ninth inning. But that’s a minor footnote in their fourth straight loss and their 12th in their last 17 games.
Meanwhile, Roy Oswalt was solid in his playoff tuneup, allowing just three hits over six shutout innings while striking out four and walking one. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence all homered in win No. 101 for the Phillies, which ties a franchise record. It looked like a forgone conclusion prior to their recent eight-game losing streak, but they can still establish a new club record with a win in tomorrow’s season finale.
As for the Cardinals, it appeared as though they were in a lot of trouble after Jake Westbrook gave up five runs over just 2 1/3 innings, but they fought back to tie the game in the top of the fourth inning. The Astros took the lead back when Jimmy Paredes grounded into a double play in the bottom of the fifth, but the Cardinals pulled ahead for good thanks to a four-run top of the seventh, including a go-ahead two-run triple by Ryan Theriot. Allen Craig added a three-run blast in the top of the eighth to officially put the game out of reach. While it was a very different game early on, the Cardinals outscored the Astros 13-1 over the final six innings.
The Braves are scheduled to throw Tim Hudson tomorrow against Joe Blanton in what will likely be a bullpen game for the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter to the hill against Astros’ right-hander Brett Myers. If the Braves and Cardinals are still tied at the conclusion of tomorrow’s action, we’ll see a one-game playoff Thursday night in St. Louis.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.