MLB Playoff Picture: Oakland’s In; St. Louis On The Brink

The American League playoff field is complete, as the Oakland A’s clinched the final wild-card spot and still have a shot at winning the AL West. The A’s beat the Rangers last night 4-3 in front of their home wins. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals moved to the brink of closing out the National League field, with a 4-2 win in Cincinnati. The Cards now lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games with two to play, as the MLB playoff picture comes into sharp focus.

Oakland’s centerfielder and leadoff hitter Coco Crisp has swung a good bat in the latter part of this season, reawakening offensive potential that was first seen in him in Cleveland in 2005, before he regressed into being a defensive specialist. Crisp had two hits last night, scored the game’s first win and had a key RBI later on, as the A’s jumped on mediocre Texas starter Martin Perez. We noted in yesterday’s post that Texas does not have Yu Darvish or Derek Holland lined up to pitch in this series. Ryan Dempster, scheduled for the Wednesday finale, has been inconsistent. Therefore, it behooves the Rangers to clinch the AL West tonight, lest it come to a winner-take-all battle on Wednesday night.

St. Louis sent Jaime Garcia to the mound and had every reason to be happy with the lefthander’s work as he pitched 6.2 IP and gave up just two runs in Cincinnati. But they were surely surprised at his bat. Garcia hit a home run to the tie game 1-1 early on and the Cardinals never trailed again. Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday each had two hits, while Allen Craig delivered a clutch RBI double that gave St. Louis a lead it never relinquished. The Cardinal clinching celebration was at least delayed when Aaron Harang threw six sharp innings for the Dodgers and bested Matt Cain in a win at San Francisco. The Dodgers got a home run from Andre Ethier and a couple hits from Adrian Gonzalez.

Two division titles were put on ice last night. Detroit, as expected, took care of business in Kansas City and won the AL Central. Miguel Cabrera’s 44th home run was a part of a five-inning barrage in the sixth that wrapped it up. Cabrera now leads the American League in all Triple Crown categories, something that hasn’t been done since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. And even though Washington lost to Philadelphia, Atlanta could not capitalize and lost to Pittsburgh, ensuring the Nats would win the NL East. Atlanta can now focus on hosting Friday’s NL wild-card game.

Monday was a good night for New York. The Yankees started by beating up on Boston 10-2, under a massive offensive barrage in the second, where they hit four home runs and scored nine times off Clay Bucholz. Then they got help from Tampa Bay, who beat Baltimore 5-3 behind seven strong innings from Alex Cobb.

And even the Texas loss worked in the Yanks’ favor. Thanks to New York’s winning the head-to-head series over Texas, they hold the tiebreaker for homefield advantage if it comes down to those two teams. Both are 93-67, so the AL’s top seed likely comes down to tonight when the Yanks send David Phelps to face Jon Lester. With the Red Sox pitching Daisuke Matsuzaka in tomorrow’s finale, and a Triple-A lineup behind him, Tuesday is the only game the Red Sox can realistically hope to win.