Not only were the Yankees eliminated on Wednesday, but with the Rays and Indians both prevailing, the Orioles and Royals were likewise ruled out of the wild card chase, leaving only the Rangers in position to possibly overtake the top two in the hunt.
The up-to-the-minute standings:
All three teams have a full slate remaining. The Rays finish up their series with the Yankees on Thursday, while the Indians and Rangers begin four-game series. The Indians will travel to Minnesota, and the Rangers will host the Angels. The Rays finish up with three games in Toronto.
The schedule, which has been very kind to Cleveland of late, doesn’t seem to particularly favor any of the teams this weekend. The Twins are the weakest of the opponents, but it helps that they’ll be at home. The Indians are just 37-40 on the road this year, compared to 51-30 at home. They’re 9-6 in 15 games against the Twins.
The Rangers are an impressive 11-4 against the Angels. They’re 42-35 at home.
The Rays are 10-6 against the Blue Jays and 38-39 on the road.
All things considered, one probably has to prefer the chances of the teams currently in the drivers seats. The Rangers aren’t playing well enough to make a four-game sweep seem at all likely, and if they merely go 3-1 against the Angels, they’ll be lucky to gain the ground needed to force a one-game playoff.
The Rangers found themselves in a 5-1 hole after three innings against the Athletics on Monday, but scratched out some runs in the middle innings. That allowed them to enter the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by only one run, 6-5, facing A’s closer Ryan Madson.
Adrian Beltre, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, stepped to the plate with a runner on first base and two outs. He was the Rangers’ last hope to keep the game alive. The veteran third baseman swung at Madson’s first pitch, a 96 MPH fastball, and drilled it to left-center field for a walk-off two-run home run.
Beltre now has nine walk-off home runs in his career. While the 37-year-old isn’t quite the offensive dynamo he was even two years ago, his numbers are still respectable. He’ll head into Tuesday’s action batting .281/.334/.468 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 392 plate appearances.
Outfielder Jay Bruce was the catalyst in the Reds’ 7-5 victory over the Giants on Monday night, drilling a pair of two-run home runs. It’s good timing for the Reds, as the trade deadline is six days away. The Reds might prefer to get a prospect or two for Bruce rather than pick up his $13 million club option for 2017 or buy him out for $1 million and let him walk into free agency.
It was only a year ago that it seemed like the Reds would have to settle for next-to-nothing to get rid of Bruce. He posted career-lows across the board in 2014, including a .654 OPS and 18 home runs. He improved last season, returning to 26 home runs, but came with an uninspiring .729 OPS.
This year is another story. Bruce is currently hitting .272/.326/.564 with 23 home runs and a league-best 77 RBI. He’s on pace to set career-bests in a lot of categories if he’s able to stay healthy.
Bruce was honest about his resurgence, though, admitting that he doesn’t know why he’s so much better this year as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving. You’re never settled. You’ve never got it. You’ve never figured it out. It’s like a puzzle that never has all the pieces to it. You might get close and feel pretty good about your progress, but you never are going to have the puzzle put together.
Bruce, who welcomed a child into the world back in April, also discussed the difficulties of hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors once again.
It’s harder this year. I have a family I have to focus on now. Logistically, it’s much more intricate. I know the skit. I know how it goes. But it will be nice when it’s passed because we’ll have a plan of attack on whether my family is staying where they are in Cincinnati or elsewhere.
This is a point of view that is not often covered. This time of the year can be very difficult for players who may be traded, as they await a phone call that could send their lives into upheaval. It may mean being away from their families for three months. It means living out of a hotel room or finding a place to live on very short notice. Even Bruce’s comments about his success this year are illuminating about the mental strain of the game.
As usual, great reporting by Buchanan. His full article is worth your time.