MLB Playoff Race: Orioles & Yanks Tied Again In AL East

The AL East race is back to a dead heat after last night’s dramatic finish in Fenway Park. With Baltimore having beaten Tampa Bay 9-2, attention swung to the Yankees-Red Sox games, and when Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury broke a 3-3 tie in the ninth with an RBI single, the Yanks were back to even with the Orioles, with the Rays still hanging at two games back.

J.J. Hardy was the hero for Baltimore, as the shortstop delivered four hits, including a pair of home runs and five RBIs and the Birds chased Matt Moore early. Matt Wieters came up with three hits for Baltimore, including an RBI single that started the scoring and a two-run double that broke it open in the fifth. But the Orioles can’t escape the injury bug. After losing Nick Markakis for the season with a broken thumb over the weekend, they saw starting pitcher Jason Hammel leave after four innings last night with what appears to be recurring knee problem, one that already had him on the disabled list. Since his return, Hammel has pitched 10 total innings against the Yankees and Rays and only given up two runs.  If he can’t make the four starts he’d be up for over the next 21 games, it’s a significant loss for Buck Showalter’s team.

But speaking of significant losses, it’s looking like now is about the time the Yankees are really starting to feel the absence of Mariano Rivera in the bullpen. Over the course of a long year, a good manager—which Joe Girardi is—can maneuver people around in the bullpen and find ways to close out games. We are, after all, talking about a closer’s role that boils down to getting three outs, maybe three times a week (at most). But in September the magnitude of those three outs increases and David Robertson hasn’t been up to it. He was hammered by Baltimore last Thursday night and beaten by Boston yesterday, each time taking the loss in a tie game. Do the Yankees lose these games if Rivera is on the mound? They probably at least get one win and maybe two.

In the AL Central, Detroit faced some early trouble in Chicago, trailing 2-0, when their stars came up big. Austin Jackson tied with a  two-run homer in the fifth and two batters later, Miguel Cabrera went deep to give the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish. Doug Fister gave seven strong innings in the 5-3 win that ensures that even if they lose tonight, Detroit can still turn to Justin Verlander to salvage a split on Thursday. It’s also worth nothing that DeWayne Wise homered for the White Sox early. Wise, you may recall, was the player the Yankees let go to make room for Ichiro Suzuki. Since the trade, Wise’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage are .330/.486, while Ichiro is on .320/.419. New York didn’t give up much to get Suzuki, but what they had to clear out to make room for him is looking costly.

And in the AL West, Oakland continued to keep a two-game lead for the wild-card push, beating back the Angels 6-5 and ensuring they will win the road series that ends this afternoon. Brandon Moss homered for the second straight game, and Yoenis Cespedes went deep early on against journeyman starter Jerome Williams. The Angels are trying to ride Mike Trout and Tori Hunter, who combined for six hits at the top of the order, but Albert Pujols continues to struggle. He’s managed one single and zero walks in the first two games of this critical series. And the bullpen continues to let the Halos down. Trailing 4-3 in the ninth, Kevin Jepsen allowed two insurance runs to Oakland that proved crucial when his offense rallied in the bottom of the frame. Texas held its lead for first place, tagging Ubaldo Jiminez early and beating Cleveland 6-4, a game that was never really in doubt.

In the National League, the wild-card contenders continue to stumble to the finish line. Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia gave up four runs early in a 6-4 loss to Cincinnati and at 72-69, the Pirates might not even end their odious 20-year streak without a winning season much less make the playoffs. Adam Wainwright was unable to handle San Diego’s offense, as the Cardinal starter gave up five runs in the fourth, with the Padres also winning 6-4. And the Dodgers couldn’t capitalize, as Ian Kennedy outdueled Clayton Kershaw in a 1-0 game that saw just nine combined hit, seven of them singles.

The stumbles of St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles have made a miracle finish possible and now that Philadelphia and Milwaukee have each made it back to the .500 level at 71-71 and are within four games, be assured thoughts of the playoffs aren’t far from anyone’s mind. Cliff Lee gets the ball for the Phils today, a reminder that a team with Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels can get as hot as anyone.