Three days of games to go but a lot yet to be decided. In fact, let's go to the mailbag to help sort out the craziness.
Hey, only three days left and no team in the American League has even clinched a division title! Pretty exciting stuff! Plus, you have to love that [the New York] Yankees and [Baltimore] Orioles have both clinched a playoff spot but can't count coast into the playoffs because of that diabolical wild-card game. But what's the most chaotic result that can happen in the next three days? -- Allan, New York City
Good question. Unfortunately, our dreams of a seven-way tie in the AL ended a couple weeks ago when the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox fell off pace. Still, we could end up with some three-way ties.
1. A's, Angels and Rays tie for second wild card. This can only happen if the Oakland A's lose all three to the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels (Mariners) and Tampa Bay Rays (Orioles) sweep their series. The three teams would be assigned A, B and C designations based on a series of tiebreakers. Team A hosts Team B on Thursday and the winner hosts Team C on Friday. The team that wins the tiebreaker gets to choose its designation: Do you want to play at home or would you rather play one game on the road?
The A's won the season series from both the Angels (10 to 9) and Rays (5 to 4), so they'd get to pick first. The Rays went 9-1 (!) against the Angels, so they get second choice. Which means you'd likely get this scenario: Angels at Rays on Thursday, A's at Angels/Rays on Friday, wild-card game on Saturday. The Angels could end up with this schedule of four games in four days: At Tampa, versus Oakland at home, at Baltimore/New York, back in Anaheim for the Rangers.
2. Orioles, Yankees and A's finish with the same record (meaning a tie for the AL East and a tie for the two wild-card spots). The A's are one win behind so this could happen under various scenarios. This one is pretty straightforward, actually. The Orioles and Yankees would play for the AL East title on Thursday. That game would be played at Baltimore (the Orioles and Yankees tied their season series but the Orioles had a better division record). The loser of that game and the A's would be the two wild-cards. The A's hold the home-field tiebreaker over the Orioles and Yankees.
Note: This same scenario could potentially happen with the Orioles, Yankees and Rangers if the A's sweep the Rangers and win the AL West. The Rangers would own home-field advantage over the Orioles, but the Yankees hold it over the Rangers.
3. Orioles, Yankees and Rangers/A's finish with the same record (tie for AL East plus best record). Follow the same tiebreakers as above to account for No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Got all that? Not too confusing. Or, at least, not as confusing as it could have been.
What a choke by the White Sox! I feel bad for Robin Ventura. Really, I do. Maybe a more experienced manager would have pulled them through! -- Ozzie, Miami
The White Sox have to sweep in Cleveland and hope the Tigers get swept in Kansas City. Seems unlikely considering Chicago is 2-10 over its past 10 games. And even if they do tie, they'd get Justin Verlander in the division tiebreaker game. Perhaps the biggest news to watch from these two teams is Max Scherzer's bullpen session on Monday for the Tigers. A 1-2 punch of Verlander and Doug Fister could be pretty tough, but a 1-2-3 punch with a healthy Scherzer is even scarier.
Wait, just want to make this clear. You're saying all these other teams are scrambling for division titles and wild-card spots and maybe have to deal with tiebreaker games or wild-card games, going all out and unable to fully rest their pitching staffs or lineups while the Tigers will likely get to set their rotation and rest their bullpen? Just because the random distribution of teams put the Tigers in the weakest division in the league, which means they'll make the playoffs despite having just the seventh-best record in the league? -- Jim, Detroit
Wouldn't it be funny if the [Boston] Red Sox prevented the Yankees from winning the AL East? And passed the [Toronto] Blue Jays to prevent their first last-place finish since 1992? That would be quite the accomplishment! -- Bobby, Stamford, Conn.
The Yankees will roll out CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda against Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Red Sox haven't exactly proved to be a spoiler against playoff contenders, going 7-26 against the Yankees, Orioles, Rays, Rangers, A's and Angels since August. It's interesting that this rotation means Andy Pettitte would be in line to start the division tiebreaker game on Thursday (or wild-card game on Friday) with Phil Hughes pitching the wild-card game if the Yankees use Pettitte on Thursday.
Q: Hey, don't forget about the National League! -- Earvin, Los Angeles
Three things to watch in the NL:
1. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 2 games behind the Cardinals for wild-card No. 2 after winning five in a row (Matt Kemp: 11-for-20, four home runs during those five games). They host the San Francisco Giants and draw the following matchups: Matt Cain versus Aaron Harang, Barry Zito versus Chris Capuano and Ryan Vogelsong versus Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers have to look to sweep and hope the Cincinnati Reds beat the Cardinals at least two out of three games. Interesting Cain stat: He didn't get the win against the Dodgers in any of his first 14 career starts against them; but hasn't lost to them in his past seven starts (although the Dodgers have won two of the three Cain starts against them this season).
2. Home-field advantage still up for grabs.
The Reds and Washington Nationals are both 96-63. Even the Giants at 93-66 could tie. Anyway, the tiebreak winners: Nationals over Reds and Giants, Reds over Giants.
3. Nationals' magic number at one to clinch the NL East.
The Nats host the Philadelphia Phillies while the Atlanta Braves play at Pittsburgh. Here's what's even more confusing for the Nationals. Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez pitched Thursday and is scheduled to start Tuesday. Trouble is, they don't know if they'll be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed (let's assume they win the division). Davey Johnson wants to make Gonzalez his Game 1 starter, but if the Nationals finish with the second seed, that game comes on Saturday, which means pitching Gonzalez on three days' rest. Expect Johnson to pitch Gonzalez only three or four innings on Tuesday.
Do you find it odd that everyone keeps saying Miguel Cabrera has carried the Tigers? -- Justin, Detroit
OK, imagine this scenario. Team A has an MVP candidate. Team B has an MVP candidate. Team B wins more games than Team A, despite playing in a tougher division. Let's assume the two MVP candidates are equal in their value produced, even if that may not actually be the case. Does it make sense to give more credit to the player on Team B, just because his team happened to make the playoffs? If this were an SAT question, what do you think the answer would be? -- Mike, New Jersey
I'm confused. Is this a math question or a critical reading question?
What advice would you give for hitting the knuckleball? --Adam, Miami
Don't crowd the plate.
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