<
>

Wild Sunday ahead in AL wild-card race

9/29/2013

After 161 games in 182 days, it comes down to Sunday.

The Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are left fighting for two spots in the AL wild-card race.

We break down each team’s final game below.

Cleveland Indians (91-70) -- Lead Rays and Rangers by 1 game

How they got here: The Indians have been baseball’s hottest team with a MLB-best 20-6 record this month, including nine straight wins. With a win Sunday, they’ll be only the sixth team since 1900 to end the season on a win streak of 10 or more games.

The Indians’ run has come against a favorable schedule of sub-.500 teams. Cleveland has won 13 straight games against teams .500 or worse and is 55-18 (.753) overall against such teams this year. Only two teams in the wild-card era have finished the season with a higher win percentage against sub-.500 teams (1998 Yankees, 1995 Indians).

Sunday’s game: at Minnesota Twins, 2:10 p.m. ET

Who’s starting: Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9, 3.38 ERA) vs. Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54 ERA)

Jimenez has been terrific for the Indians down the stretch with an AL-best 1.86 ERA since the All-Star break.

Two keys have been improved fastball velocity (92.1 mph since the break, 91.4 mph before) and improved control (8.2 percent walk rate since the break, 12.2 pct before).

Matchup to watch: Michael Brantley has a hit in 11 of his past 12 games, including six multihit games. He’s 5-for-15 with three extra-base hits in his career against Diamond and has missed only once in 18 swings.

Tampa Bay Rays (90-71) -- Tied with Rangers; 1 GB of Indians

How they got here: After a seven-game win streak, the Rays have dropped two straight to fall one game back of the Indians into a tie for the second wild-card spot.

Sunday’s game: at Toronto Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m. ET

Who’s starting: Matt Moore (16-4, 3.23 ERA) vs. Todd Redmond (4-2, 3.77 ERA)

Moore has struggled with his control since returning from the DL on Sept. 3. He’s averaged 6.5 walks per nine innings since then, but he’s been able to pitch around trouble thanks to a microscopic .394 opponent OPS with runners on base.

Matchup to watch: Wil Myers is hitting .455 with five home runs on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone this season. That average is the highest of any player in baseball since his MLB debut on June 18. Redmond throws 33 percent of his pitches to righties in the upper third of the zone or higher, the 11th-highest percentage among AL pitchers with 10-plus starts this year.

Texas Rangers (90-71) -- Tied with Rays; 1 GB of Indians

How they got here: The Rangers spent 95 days this season leading the AL West before fading in early September with a 3-13 stretch. However, they’ve won nine of their past 12 games to stay in the wild-card hunt.

Sunday’s game: vs. Los Angeles Angels, 3:05 p.m. ET

Who’s starting: Jason Vargas (9-7, 4.01 ERA) vs. Yu Darvish (13-9, 2.82 ERA)

Darvish is 6-1 with a 3.83 ERA in nine career starts against the Angels with the Rangers winning seven of those nine starts, including all three this year.

Matchup to watch: Mike Trout is one of three players with three career home runs off Darvish (Brandon Moss and Matt Dominguez the others). Trout has faced Darvish 31 times and has swung at the first pitch in only four of those plate appearances. However, those four swings have resulted in three hits, including two homers.