Pulse: Lighter Monday not lacking in impact
Rays move atop AL Wild Card race; Reds hang tough in NL Central
For the runaway division leaders, it's all about booking tickets to October and popping champagne corks as soon as possible. For the clubs wrapped up in races and all the Wild Card wannabes, every day is about today and every moment is about now.
That was what we heard through the September stethoscope as the Pulse of the Postseason continued its steady cadence on a Monday in the Major Leagues that was a tad light on scheduled games but heavy on final-month drama.
Atop the American League Wild Card race, the Tampa Bay Rays nudged their noses in front as the Rangers continued to reel. In the still-simmering National League Central, the two leaders, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, lost their games while their closest pursuer, the Reds, won theirs.
In Detroit, the defending AL champion Tigers' victory over the Mariners cut their magic number in the AL Central to seven, while the chasing Royals kept hanging on.
Out West, the division-leading Dodgers and A's both dropped games, making them wait at least another day to trim their magic numbers.
And in our nation's capital, where the Braves could have cut their magic number to two by beating the Nationals in Washington, the events at the Navy Yard mere blocks from Nationals Park led to a postponement of the game and a most unfortunate but realistic reminder.
"Nobody is thinking about baseball. Baseball is a game," Braves pitcher Scott Downs said. "You look at the real-life perspective when things go on. [Playing a game is] the last thing I want to do or any team wants to do, especially when something is going on five minutes down the road.
"You've got to tell your families how much you love them. They come to work and a tragedy like this happens. It's hard to put into words. You just kind of got to go about your day and have their thoughts and prayers in your mind."
That sentiment resounded for the Nationals and everyone else in baseball.
Everyone be safe.- Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) September 16, 2013
Im Sad to hear the news about Washington , my Prayers are with the victims ! god Bless you !!! world Peace !!!!- Miguel Cabrera (@MiguelCabrera) September 16, 2013
Baseball will go on. It always does. There will be a split doubleheader on Tuesday, and the Braves can become the first team in the Majors to clinch a playoff berth by sweeping the Nationals. Chances are they'll be ready to play, as will the Nationals, who still have a shot at an NL Wild Card slot. Both teams will join the rest of baseball in honoring the victims before playing ball.
Meanwhile, the other races will continue, too, shaped by Monday's games.
The Rays have been searching for offense everywhere, and they found it Monday at the right time. Tampa Bay beat up former Rays pitcher Matt Garza, the nifty Trade Deadline pickup by the Rangers from the Cubs, and Rays starter Alex Cobb threw eight innings and struck out 10. The 6-2 victory put Tampa Bay one game up in the Wild Card slot, with the Rangers still a half-game up on Cleveland.
Both teams had been struggling going in. The Rays left this one hoping those countless innings of futility were over.
"We've had a lot of bad baseball luck," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Our geometry hasn't been good with line drives. We need to keep fighting through that 'til we start missing folks. Overall, the approach has been pretty good."
The same could be said of the Royals, who did what they had to do Monday and deprived Cleveland the chance to pull ahead of Texas for the second available Wild Card position by beating the Tribe, 7-1. Now Kansas City finds itself only 2 1/2 games out of the Wild Card mix along with the Yankees, looking up at the Orioles (two games back) and Indians but another hard day's work closer to October.
Kansas City starter "Big Game" James Shields, who went six innings and fanned 10 on Monday, lived up to his moniker yet again, flourishing on the late-season stage as he has in the past.
#Royals win 7-1! James Shields earns his 12th win of the year, number 99 for his career. KC pitchers record 17 strikeouts, a season-high.- Kansas City Royals (@Royals) September 17, 2013
The AL East was inactive on Monday, but the NL Central was as frantic and confusing as ever. Naturally, Monday's games did little to provide much clarity to the situation.
Pittsburgh almost got no-hit by San Diego's Andrew Cashner, who was perfect through six, and lost, 2-0. The Cardinals didn't fare much better in the run-scoring department, losing, 6-2, to the Rockies. So another day, another day tied at the top, but Cincinnati, who has become a bit forgotten in the division race, let it be known that it's still a player.
The Reds, who are comfortable in the second Wild Card slot, five games ahead of Washington, are now only 2 1/2 games behind the seemingly immovable St. Louis-Pittsburgh division-leading deadlock, in which the second-place team gets the first Wild Card opening. That's hashtag-worthy, to be sure.
One thing in the Reds' favor moving forward? Perhaps it's the right arm of Johnny Cueto, who returned from a lengthy disabled list stint Monday to beat Houston, 6-1, on the strength of five shutout innings with five strikeouts. Don't forget he was their ace and their main Cy Young Award contender while winning 19 games last year. Don't forget his bulldog demeanor on the mound, a snug fit for October.
"We just hope that he continues to be well and continues to get better and his endurance gets better," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's a tremendous shot in the arm, and boost for our team."
Elsewhere on Monday, the 162-game grind continued, but with some end in sight for some teams.
Detroit got a double-digit-strikeout performance from starter Rick Porcello to handle the Mariners, 4-2, and now the Tigers have another Central title within their grasp, possibly within the week.
And even though the Dodgers couldn't beat the D-backs and the A's dropped one to the Angels, all was quiet for the West teams that appear to have strangleholds on their divisions.
Like a metronome, the Pulse of the Postseason will start ticking again Tuesday, and more intensity will be on tap.
We'll see if the Braves can take one or two games from Washington in what figures to be a somber but emotionally charged Nationals Park and if the NL East falls by midnight.
At PNC Park, Pirates starter Jeff Locke will try to duplicate his last start and beat San Diego to take care of business on the way to what he hopes will be a Pittsburgh NL Central crown. Ditto for hot Cardinals starter Joe Kelly, who will attempt to do the same against Colorado.
The AL East-leading Red Sox will be back in action, beginning a series against the Orioles, who can make a lot of Wild Card noise with a big series at Fenway Park. Baltimore comes in hot, having won two of three from Toronto over the weekend.
"It's big," O's reliever Tommy Hunter said. "It takes us into that Boston series with a series victory. We have quite a task ahead of us. We're looking forward to it."
The Yankees are looking forward to facing those same Blue Jays, and they'll get a proper challenge right away at Rogers Centre in the form of Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who's looking for his 13th win of the year.
The Tigers can get closer to AL Central pay dirt with another win over the Mariners, and the Dodgers can move into solid clinching range by beating the D-backs in a game that features 14-game winners Zack Greinke for Los Angeles and Patrick Corbin for Arizona.
More questions might be answered for the A's if they can bounce back against the Angels and near their second straight AL West title, and the same goes for the Reds and for the AL Wild Card teams battling against each other.
We'll see another Royals-Indians affair, and, yes, we'll see the Rangers trying to bust out of a seven-game skid to pull even with the Rays once again as October gets nearer and nearer.
"It's pretty tough right now," Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It looks like nothing is going our way. … I'm getting tired of talking about it. We just have to keep playing. That's the only way we're going to get out of it. Go out and play baseball."
Tuesday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Braves (Minor, 13-7) at Nationals (Haren, 9-13), Game 1, 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Braves (Garcia, 1-1) at Nationals (Roark, 6-0), Game 2, 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Padres (Stults, 8-13) at Pirates (Locke, 10-5), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Yankees (Pettitte, 10-9) at Blue Jays (Dickey, 12-12), 7:07 p.m. Preview >
Mariners (Maurer, 14-8) at Tigers (Sanchez, 14-7), 7:08 p.m. Preview >
Orioles (Feldman, 12-10) at Red Sox (Dempster, 8-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Rangers (Ogando, 6-4) at Rays (Hellickson, 11-8), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Reds (Leake, 13-6) at Astros (Lyles, 7-7), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
Indians (Kluber, 9-5) at Royals (Duffy, 2-0), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
Cardinals (Kelly, 8-4) at Rockies (Nicasio, 8-7), 8:40 p.m. Preview >
Dodgers (Greinke, 14-3) at D-backs (Corbin, 14-6), 9:40 p.m. Preview >
Angels (Richards, 7-6) at Athletics (Gray, 3-3), 10:10 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: Rangers at Rays
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates/Cardinals
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves | Pirates/Cardinals at Dodgers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
2013 postseason schedule
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 1
AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 2
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 3
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 4
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23