Rays fall into tie with Indians for wild card spots, Rangers one back

11 Comments

The AL wild card battle tightened up Friday, with the Rays losing in Toronto and both the Indians and Rangers gaining a game.

The current standings:

Rays: 90-70 (two in Toronto)
Indians: 90-70 (two in Minnesota)
Rangers: 89-71 (two vs. Angels)

The Rays, who had won seven straight, were undone by some sloppy defense in the third and fourth innings, when they gave up all of their runs in the 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays. Evan Longoria committed two of the team’s three errors. Jeremy Hellickson, who was picked earlier this week to make the start, was charged with thel six runs — three of them earned — in his 4 2/3 innings.

Hellickson fell to 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA for the season, and he’s nearly certain to be left out of the rotation should the Rays advance to the ALDS. David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer are their top four now.

The Indians jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over the Twins and held on to win 12-6. Pedro Hernandez was brutal once again for the Twins, with his ERA jumping to 6.83. He lasted six innings in just one of his 12 starts this year. The Indians got a surprisingly disappointing performance from Corey Kluber after all of the early support. He ended up allowing six runs in 5 1/3 innings, yet he got the win anyway.

Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera both had three hits for the Indians, while Carlos Santana went 2-for-3 with two walks and three runs scored.

The Rangers prevailed in another tight one against the Angels, winning 5-3. With the score tied 3-3 in the seventh, Alex Rios singled in Ian Kinsler. Rios went on to steal second and then came around to score on A.J. Pierzynski’s grounder up the middle after Erick Aybar made a nice play to snare the ball, then pulled Mark Trumbo off the bag with his throw. Rios never stopped running on the play and beat Trumbo’s relay home.

Saturday’s action will see all three contenders playing simultaneously in the afternoon after the Angels-Rangers tilt was moved up due to the expectation of some evening storms. The Rangers will throw Derek Holland in their 11 a.m. local-time start, while the Angels will counter with Garrett Richards. Holland, coming off a shutout of the Astros, is 7-6 with a 5.81 ERA lifetime versus the Halos. He gave up eight runs in a loss in Anaheim three weeks ago.

The Indians get to face another pushover in the form of Cole De Vries. He has an 11.70 ERA in his three starts for Minnesota. The Twins lost those three games by a combined score of 41-11. The Indians will use Scott Kazmir.

The Rays-Jays game will feature a Chris Archer-J.A. Happ matchup. Archer is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, but he’s 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against Toronto.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.