Wild Card races going down to the wire

MlbHlSq160 games played, 2 more to go. Fans of the Braves, Cardinals, Rays and Red Sox are being put through the wringer by their teams and the tension could be at its height on Tuesday night in the States.

The results from Monday’s games have left the Red Sox and Rays locked together in the American League Wild Card race, while the Braves hold a one-game lead in the National League over the Cardinals.

Atlanta could clinch the NL Wild Card tonight with a victory accompanied by a St. Louis loss, distilling the excitement down to one league on Wednesday. 

However, it’s just as likely that the NL Wild Card will still be up for grabs, so we might yet have another full day of nervous excitement.

The MLB schedulers have inadvertently produced a fascinating climax to the season.  In both Wild Card races, we have a team ending the regular season with a series against the best team in their league, accompanied by a team playing one of the weaker sides.

In the case of the National League, the race-leading Braves are the team with potentially the toughest task. 

Atlanta are hosting the Phillies, holders of the best win-loss record in baseball this season and fuelled by a desire to enter the postseason on the back of some good performances following a recent eight-game losing streak. Their rivals in the Wild Card race, the Cardinals, are matched-up with the team with the worst record in baseball: the Washington Nationals.

Put the two cases together and logically you would expect the Cardinals to take full advantage; however we all know that sport and logic often sit at odds with one another. 

You could even argue that the Cardinals are in a more pressurised position than the Braves.   With the greatest of respect to the Astros, St. Louis knows that the Wild Card is there for the taking.  To see the Braves lose on Monday, only to then slip up against Houston must be especially demoralizing. 

The roles are reversed in the American League.  Here, it’s the chasing Rays that are ending the regular season against the New York Yankees, while the Boston Red Sox face the lowly Baltimore Orioles.

One again, the win-loss records counted for little on Monday night as the Red Sox continued their miserable September form with a 6-3 loss, while ‘Big Game’ James Shields pitched the Rays to a victory over the Bronx Bombers. 

All of which leads us to the Tuesday night games. 

The Red Sox will send veteran Erik Bedard to the mound at five past midnight UK time in what the MLB.com ‘Probable Pitchers’ guide describes as a “playoff audition”.  If Bedard flunks his lines, as he did last time out against the Orioles, the ‘Red Sox 2011 Postseason Show’ may be a production that never actually opens. 

Just five minutes later, the Rays’ rookie Jeremy Hellickson will come out of the dugout at Tropicana Field ready to face the Yankees, while the much more experienced Derek Lowe takes the mound at Turner Field for the Braves. 

And then at 01.05 BST, the Cardinals will begin their game against the Houston Astros.  Right-hander Jake Westbrook gets the start for the Red Birds knowing that he could either pitch his team into a great position, or pitch them out of contention.

Us neutrals will hope that Tuesday’s games set up a thrilling final day on Wednesday, with the potential of a tie-breaker game or two on Thursday just for good measure.

ESPN America is showing the Yankees-Rays game from midnight. All of the action is available to MLB.TV or Gameday subscribers at MLB.com.

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2 Responses to Wild Card races going down to the wire

  1. Joe Cooter September 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    There have never been two one game playoffs held in the same year. Usually, there has only been one tie breaker held at a time because things usually take care of themselves. However, this could be the year where a tie breaker is needed in Both Leagues, which would probably mean that the Braves and Cardnails would play in the afternoon on Thursday while the Rays would host the Redsox in the evening. However, anything can happen between now and tomorrow night so whatever happens happens.

    Having said all that, I think the collapse the Sox have under gone has been worse that that of the Braves. On Monday August 29th, the Sox were in First place in the American League East with a record of 82 wins and 51 Losses. New York was in second with a record of 80 and 52, while the Rays were in third with a record of 73 and 60. On September 1st the Sock were still in first place with a recor of 83 and 53 while the Rays were nine games back. Since then the Roof has caved in to the point where the Rays tied them last night.

    How bad has it been for the Red Sox? They haven’t won back to back Games since August 27, when they swept a double header against the A’s while New York had a double header rained out because of Hurricain Irene. The next day, Irene hit New York and New England, and the Sox haven’t been the same since. If I were superstitious, I would blame the Sox collapse on the Storm. However, I’m smart enought to realize that the storm isn’t the reason for the sox collapse. The true culprit seems to be an offensive slump that happened to occur at the same time the pitching went into a slump. Usually a team can get by with poor pitching if their offense is going good. Or they can survive with good pitching if the hitting slumps. A team can not survive a slump by both. This is what seems to have occurred with the Red Sox.

    Will they manage to pull it together and win the Wild Card? I’m not really sure. Will they lose it in a one game playoff? Who knows. That is what is going to make the next two days really fun.

    Btw, should the sox manage to complete their collapse, I think John Henry would really love it should Everton beat Liverpool on Saturday.

    • Matt Smith September 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

      Hi Joe

      Yes, the Red Sox have certainly made it interesting. Looking at the numbers, their pitching has really let them down of late. Still, if they can get through then essentially the slate is wiped clean. I wouldn’t put it past them from going on a good run, although they would be facing the Rangers in their ALDS and they will be very tough to beat.

      Should be a very exciting couple of days and the postseason is shaping up well too.

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