Sunday preview: Five things to watch, including Cole Hamels

The Rangers acquired Cole Hamels to win big games, and he'll be pitching Sunday with the AL West division title potentially on the line. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

I was going to suggest that MLB play all the games Sunday at the same time so no team gains an advantage from start times ... and guess what? All the games will begin at the same time! Well done, MLB. Everything starts at 3:05 or 3:10 ET -- except for the Cardinals and Braves, who are playing a doubleheader for some reason -- so tune away from your NFL action because there's still a lot to be decided.

1. Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers. This is why the Rangers acquired him from the Phillies. Well, when Jon Daniels traded for him he might have been thinking more about 2016 than an unlikely surge to the 2015 playoffs, but they got Hamels to pitch in big games. Now they have a big game. The Rangers wanted to save Hamels to start Game 1 of the Division Series but were unable to clinch the division Friday or Saturday, and now have to start Hamels on Sunday against the Angels, as Texas holds a one-game lead over the Astros. Think of the AL West and the second wild card like this:

Rangers: +1

Astros: 0

Angels: -1

Hamels is coming off a six-run outing against the Tigers, although he gave up only one run in each of his previous two games. Most important, the Rangers really need him to pitch deep into the game. Closer Shawn Tolleson and setup guy Sam Dyson have each pitched five consecutive days and Tolleson gave up home runs to both hitters he faced Saturday, so you have to assume he's not available. With a loss and an Astros win, the Rangers could be facing a tiebreaker game Monday and the wild-card game Tuesday. Manager Jeff Banister has some potential bullpen issues if Hamels can't go at least seven or eight innings.

The Angels need a win and an Astros loss to force a tiebreaker for the second wild card. Garrett Richards will start on three days' rest for the first time in his career. He has a 2.90 ERA in six September starts and has given up three runs in two starts against the Rangers this season.

The Astros are in Arizona, where Lance McCullers will start against Robbie Ray.

2. New York Yankees trying to clinch home field for the wild-card game. The Yankees have lost two in a row and are now in danger of having to play on the road in the wild-card game. That will happen if they lose Sunday and the Astros win; the Astros get home-field advantage because they won the season series. And that would presumably mean a matchup against Dallas Keuchel. Yes, Keuchel would have to start on three days' rest, but he's also 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA at home. So the Yankees might want to avoid that. Michael Pineda starts against Baltimore's Chris Tillman.

Oh, and what happens if the Yankees, Astros and Rangers all end up with 87 wins? The Astros and Rangers will play off for the AL West title, but the Yankees would still go on the road, since they also lost the season series to the Rangers.

3. More home-field advantage at stake! The Cubs have won seven in a row so they can still host the wild-card game if they win Sunday and the Pirates lose. The Royals can clinch home field over the Blue Jays in the ALCS with a win or a Blue Jays loss. The Phillies, meanwhile, clinched the league's worst record despite a dramatic run by the Reds the final two weeks.

4. Bryce Harper watch! He homered Saturday to tie Nolan Arenado at 42 home runs for the NL lead. He and Dee Gordon are tied for the batting average lead at .331. Technically, Harper has the lead at .3308 to Gordon's .3306. Harper faces the Mets' Jacob deGrom in a tuneup for his Game 1 start in the Division Series, and Gordon goes against David Buchanan of the Phillies.

5. Clayton Kershaw goes for 300 strikeouts. In his final tuneup before facing deGrom, Kershaw needs six strikeouts to become the first pitcher since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002 to record 300 strikeouts. He probably won't go more than four or five innings, so he'll need to rack up some early Ks to get there.

Honorable mention: Chris Davis leads Nelson Cruz 45-44 for the MLB home run title; Mark Buehrle might be making the final start of his career as there are reports he'll retire after Sunday's game (he's not expected to be on Toronto's postseason roster); it could be Ichiro Suzuki's final game as well if he doesn't find a job next season; Johnny Cueto starts for the Royals; Matt Williams a good bet to get fired as Nationals' manager.