Two days left: here’s where it stands

40 Comments

For those of you too busy watching football or something silly like that last night, here’s where we stand with two days left in the regular season.

Nine of the ten playoff teams are known: the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Rangers and Athletics will represent the American League. The Nationals, Braves, Reds and Giants will represent the National League.  The final slot in the NL will come down to the Cardinals and the Dodgers, but more on that in a second. Here’s how it all breaks down:

American League

  • The Yankees won and the Orioles lost last night, giving New York a one game advantage in the AL East race with two to play. The loser will be the wild card winner;
  • The Athletics beat the Rangers last night, clinching a playoff spot and pulling to within one game of the AL West lead. They play two more head-to-head, with the loser settling for the other wild card slot. The A’s win eliminated both the Angles and the Rays from playoff contention;
  • The Tigers win over the Royals gave the AL Central title to Detroit. The White Sox were eliminated from postseason consideration.

National League

  • The Nationals lost to Philadelphia, but the Braves loss to Pittsburgh gave Washington the NL East crown. Atlanta will host the wild card game on Friday.
  • St. Louis and Los Angeles each won.  The Cardinals win clinches at least a tie for the second NL wild card. If they win one of their last two games — or if the Dodgers lose either of their last two — St. Louis will be the wild card representative.  If the Cards lose two and the Dodgers win two, it’s a tie, and the teams will play a one-game playoff on Thursday to determine who plays the Braves in the wild card game on Friday.
  • The Reds and Giants have already clinched their respective divisions.

Triple Crown and MVP race

Miguel Cabrera homered and went 4 for 5 in last night’s game, giving him sole possession of the home run lead to match his lead in the batting and RBI race.  He currently leads Mike Trout — who also had a huge game last night — .329-.325 in the batting title race, has one more home run than Josh Hamilton and ten more RBI than Hamilton.

As far as the MVP implications, the Angels being eliminated from the playoffs may sway a few more voters to go with Cabrera for the MVP than otherwise would. If I had to bet money on it right now, I say that Cabrera will win the MVP whether he wins the triple crown or not.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.