Sunday, September 9, 2012
Winners and losers of the weekend
By David Schoenfield
Somehow, it seems the American League playoff race got even crazier over the weekend. Let's recap with winners and losers.
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays' pitching staff The Rays completed a vital six-game homestand against the Yankees and Rangers by taking two of three from each team. Against the Rangers, the Rays held the majors' highest-scoring offense to five runs in 30 innings and a .141 average over three games. James Shields threw the two-hit shutout gem in Sunday's 6-0 victory, walking nobody and striking out eight. When Shields is on, he can be as tough as any pitcher in the game. His outing works out to a Game Score of 91, just the 16th start of 2012 of 90-plus, and Shields owns two of those 16 starts.
"Obviously, September baseball is huge, and getting any kind of win is big," Shields told MLB.com. "But against that lineup, as far as I'm concerned, that's the best hitting lineup in the big leagues, one through nine. Not to mention they have a lot of guys on the bench who can swing it, too. That's a good hitting team over there. They can do some damage any time."
James Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays are now just two games back from the AL East lead.
After hitting .194 with one home in June, Upton has been a key to the Rays' second-half playoff surge and delivered the third three-homer game in Rays history on Sunday, hitting solo shots off Roy Oswalt in the first inning and Martin Perez in the fourth and sixth innings. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .266 with 14 home runs, 12 doubles, 14 steals and 37 RBIs in 53 games. While Joe Maddon would undoubtedly like to see Upton's on-base percentage to be higher than .308, he and Desmond Jennings (who had the day off on Sunday) are starting to click a little better as a 1-2 punch at the top of the order, combining for 70 runs in the second half.
The Rays did receive a scare when David Price missed Saturday’s start because of shoulder stiffness, but he’s expected to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday and start Friday or Saturday against the Yankees. Rookie Chris Archer replaced Price and looked awesome, striking out 11 and allowing two runs in seven innings, flashing a 97-mph fastball and deadly slider. He had some command issues at times at Triple-A, but in three major league starts he has 25 strikeouts and four walks.
"We're just trying to keep that momentum going, trying to feed off of each other," Shields said. "It was nice to give that bullpen a little breather today after a couple of extra-inning games. This is what we're here to do -- pitch well and win ballgames."
The Rays remain one game behind Baltimore and Oakland in the wild-card race and two games behind the Yankees in the AL East. All games are big this time of year, but the Rays have six huge ones this week: three at Baltimore and three at New York.
Winner: Los Angeles Angels We'd been waiting all season for the Angels to kick it into an extra gear, but other than an eight-game winning streak in late May, the Angels had mostly plodded along at .500. But a perfect 6-0 week against the A's and Tigers (making the Angels 11-1 over the past 12) propelled the Angels right back into the wild-card race, where they are tied with the Rays, one game out.
The Angels haven't allowed more than three runs in a game since in their past 11 games, posting a 1.65 ERA and allowing just 71 hits in 98 innings. The weekend's big win came in Saturday's 6-1 over Justin Verlander -- Mike Trout homered to lead off the bottom of the first -- and Zack Greinke delivered his fourth straight strong start in Sunday's 3-2 victory. Trout homered again in the first. Did we mention that he also robbed Prince Fielder of a home run to end Saturday's game, his fourth robbery of the season?
Loser: Detroit Tigers Getting swept by the Angels essentially wipes out Detroit from the wild-card race. The Tigers are only 4.5 out, but four teams are ahead of them, meaning they'd have to pass three, an unlikely scenario. It's looking like the AL Central title will be Detroit's only path to the postseason.
Loser: Chicago White Sox A 3-3 week at home against the Twins and Royals is not the way to go about winning a division title. The White Sox are 4-9 over their past 13 games but still hold a 2-game lead over Detroit. It's still Chicago's division to lose, but maybe not for long: They host the Tigers for four games beginning Monday. Pay attention to Thursday's marquee matchup: Verlander versus Chris Sale. The Sox appear to be straggling to the finish line, but if they can win three out of four, they may be able to put away the Tigers.
Winner: Oakland A's rookie pitchers
Brett Anderson has been a boost to Oakland's rotation after coming off the disabled list.
After getting swept by the Angels earlier in the week (and outscored 21 to 5), you heard the whispers: This is the beginning of the end for the miracle A's. Instead, the A's went into Seattle and swept the Mariners. Rookie A.J. Griffin beat Felix Hernandez on Friday and rookie Tommy Milone won on Sunday. In between, Brett Anderson pitched his fourth straight gem since coming off the disabled list. He has allowed three runs in four starts and while the A's have relied on rookies all season, Anderson is stepping up as an ace, a late-season addition better than any trade acquisition. Don't give up on the A's but they have another test against the Angels: Four games in Anaheim, with rookies Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and Griffin starting the first three games.
Loser: Jerry Meals With runners at first and third and the Orioles leading the Yankees 5-4 on Saturday, Mark Teixeira grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, although replays showed he beat the throw with a head-first slide. Meals -- you may remember him from last year's Braves-Pirates game -- called him out. "It was not a bang-bang play. He was safe. He was clearly safe," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You hate to lose a game that way, but he missed it." Catcher Russell Martin added, "I didn't really feel like we lost the game. I feel like we got cheated out of it."
To make matters worse, it was Teixeira's first game back since injuring his calf on Aug. 27 and he reinjured it on the play and sat out Sunday's game.
Loser: Nick Swisher While the Yankees did pound the Orioles 13-3 on Sunday to salvage a split of the four-game series and maintain their one-game lead over Baltimore, Swisher went 0-for-4 and is in a 2-for-43 slump. The good news for the Yankees: Curtis Granderson, mired in his own 5-for-43 slump, came off the bench on Sunday and hit a pinch-hit home run followed by a two-run single and two-run double.
Loser: Orioles depth Baltimore suffered a huge blow when right fielder and Nick Markakis broke his thumb when hit by CC Sabathia pitch on Saturday. He'll have surgery on Tuesday and may miss the rest of the regular season. Markakis had hit .335 with a .390 OBP since moved into the leadoff spot after the All-Star break. "September is not an option [for Markakis], so we've got to hopefully play good baseball and make October an option," O's skipper Buck Showalter said.
Winner: Baseball fans With so many teams in it, nearly every game in the American League has playoff implications. Best yet: There remains hope for a seven-way tie with the Yankees, Orioles, Rays, White Sox, Tigers, A's and Angels. OK, so maybe the two AL Central teams are falling a bit of the pace, but that still leaves the other five teams separated by two games, with three playoff spots on the line.