By Sam Soergel
As the Major League Baseball season comes to a close, some teams are making that final push for a playoff spot while others are just trying to keep the spot they currently have. There is a full slate of games this weekend. Let’s take a look at some of the important matchups around the league.
Toronto has opened up a nice three game lead in the East in front of the AL Wild Card leading Yankees. The Jays turned it on in the second half of the season and show no signs of slowing. This weekend they welcome the last place Red Sox to the Rogers Centre. Marcus Stroman will make his second start of the season on Friday against Rick Porcello after missing the majority of the season with an ACL injury. He performed well in his return and should provide a big boost to Toronto’s rotation down the stretch. R.A. Dickey goes against Wade Miley on Saturday and Mark Buehrle will face Rich Hill on Sunday. Look for Toronto’s stellar offense to give the Red Sox’s questionable pitching staff a hard time.
The Yankees have a harder task, facing the NL East leading Mets in the Subway Series. If the Yanks want to gain any ground, chasing the starting pitchers early is key. Three of the Mets’ best pitchers take the mound during the series: Steven Matz on Friday, Noah Syndergaard on Saturday, and, on Sunday night, Matt Harvery faces CC Sabathia on ESPN. Syndergaard has been one of the best rookie pitchers of 2015, and despite missing two months with a torn lat muscle, Matz has been great in his four starts this year. The Mets announced that they will, in an attempt to keep him ready for the playoffs, limit how much Harvey pitches. However, if he throws five strong innings, it could already be too late for the Yankees.
Despite going 3-7 in their last 10 games, the Royals are still running away with the division. Their 10 game lead over the Twins is looking mighty comfortable with roughly two weeks to go. They face the Tigers in Detroit this weekend. Struggling Johnny Cueto pitches Friday. Cueto’s last five starts were not good; he lost all of them and gave up 28 earned runs. He’ll face Justin Verlander, who, after coming off the DL, has shown flashes of vintage Verlander this year. Kansas City will throw Edinson Volquez on Friday and Kris Medlen on Sunday while two members of Detroit’s below average rotation, Matt Boyd and Alfredo Simon, go onto the mound for the Tigers.
This looks like the most competitive division down the stretch. Just this week, Texas passed the Astros after sweeping them. They now hold a two and a half game lead over Houston. The Rangers play the Mariners in Arlington this weekend. Yovani Gallardo will go against James Paxton on Friday. Gallardo has 12 wins and a respectable 3.35 ERA, but has been inconsistent most of the year. Deadline acquisition Cole Hamels pitches Saturday. He is everything the Rangers hoped he would be since coming over from Philly; the Rangers have won his last six starts. Derek Holland, who has been a nice addition to the rotation since coming off the DL, goes Sunday against “King Felix” Hernandez in what looks to be a nice pitcher’s duel.
The Astros face the last place Athletics in Oakland. It’s extremely possible the Astros get a sweep this weekend, but they have been slipping of late. Friday, Mike Fiers, a nice deadline piece for Houston, matches up with Felix Dubront for the A’s. Saturday, Scott Kazmir faces his former teammates and Athletics’ ace, Sonny Gray. Gray has struggled recently, but Kazmir has too. He has not won since August 22. Collin McHugh looks for his 17th win on Sunday against Aaron Brooks.
AL WILD CARD
It looks like the second place team in the AL West will be the second Wild Card, unless the Twins can make up their game and a half deficit. The Twins play three against the Angels at home this weekend. The Angels are only three and a half back from the second wild card, but time is fleeting.
The Mets play the Yankees this weekend and look to build on their 7.5 game lead on Washington, who, while five games over .500, are having a really disappointing season. This was the Nats’ division to lose, and it looks like they have. Even though Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg pitch against the lowly Marlins this weekend, the Mets are not showing any signs of stopping, so time might be up for Washington.
The Cardinals, the best team in baseball, have almost locked up the division. Even though they have struggled recently, they keep finding ways to win. The Pirates are only five back, but they just lost three of four to the Cubs. They also just lost arguably their second best player, star rookie Jung Ho Kang, for the season with a serious knee injury. The Cards go to Wrigley this weekend to face off against the Cubs. Both teams have gotten healthier within the last few weeks, and this looks to be a good series. Matt Adams, Jon Jay, and Randal Grichuk have rejoined the Cards, and the Cubs just got back Jorge Soler. Michael Wacha goes for the Cards on Saturday, and Jon Lester goes for Chicago on Sunday.
The Dodgers play the first Wild Card Pirates in Los Angeles. The mismatch on Friday has possible Cy Young winner Zack Gerinke versus Pittsburgh’s fifth starter Jeff Locke. Stranger things have happened, but a quick look at Greinke’s 2015 numbers (17-3 with a 1.61 ERA) should show the favorite for Friday’s matchup. If facing Greinke is not enough for the Pirates, Clayton Kershaw pitches Saturday night. While the Bucs got to Kershaw last time, he is still Clayton Kershaw, one of the best pitchers in baseball. On Sunday, Pirates’ ace Gerrit Cole will go against Brett Anderson. The Dodgers have a comfy 7.5 game lead over the San Francisco. The Giants could make up so ground, or at least keep pace with the Dodgers this weekend. The Diamondbacks come to AT&T Park this weekend and Madison Bumgarner goes on Friday.
NL WILD CARD
It looks like Pittsburgh will be playing Chicago in the NL Wild Card game. Where will the game be? That’s the only question. After taking three of four in Pittsburgh this week, Chicago is only two behind the Pirates for the first wild card. The Cubs had a hard time with Gerrit Cole, who looks like the Bucs starter for the one game playoff, but Pittsburgh has not been able to figure out probable starter Jake Arrieta, either. The two teams could very well be tied or flip-flopped by Sunday night.
There’s a lot of pennant race action going on this weekend, and the standings could look very different by the end of it.