Wednesday is the final scheduled day of the 2011 MLB regular season and it is set to be a thriller.
The excitement can be summed up simply by looking at the Wild Card standings after Tuesday’s games.
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays both have 90-71 win-loss records. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals both have 89-72 records.
The teams could not be separated in their respective Wild Card race after 161 games. We will find out in the early hours of Thursday UK time if they could be separated after 162.
If not, we will have a single-game showdown on Thursday night to look forward to, although it would probably be best not to be too concerned about that scenario just yet. Recent events have taught us not to get ahead of ourselves.
One team certain to not be thinking too far ahead are the Atlanta Braves. They were never in their game against the Phillies on Tuesday, ultimately losing 7-1. The one positive on the night came in the early stages of the Cardinals’ game against the Houston Astros. The Astros took an early 5-0 lead and gave the Braves hope that their destiny would still be in their own hands on Wednesday.
Those hopes were still alive despite the Cardinals levelling the game with a five-run fourth inning, as the Astros took a 6-5 lead in the fifth inning. That could have been a fatal blow for St. Louis, but they fought back again and won the game 13-6.
On the face of it, that result would seem to have spun the NL Wild Card around 180 degrees. Atlanta were in the driving seat, but not anymore. The Braves are on a four-game losing streak and are facing the team with the best record in MLB, while the Cardinals can take forward the confidence from a stunning come-from-behind victory into a final day game against the team with the worst record in MLB.
In the American League, the Rays and Red Sox finished up where they had started prior to Tuesday’s games.
The Rays came from behind to beat the New York Yankees, turning a bases-loaded triple play in the process. The Red Sox matched the Rays by winning their game against the Orioles 8-7, with rookie Ryan Lavarnway being an unlikely two-homer hero.
Jon Lester will start for the Red Sox on just three days’ rest today. That’s been made possible due to Lester only pitching 2.2 innings last time out against the Yankees, which would be fine if that had been a scheduled strict pitch-limit appearance. Instead, Lester was knocked around for eight runs. Add in his previous two starts (both against the Rays) and he has conceded 16 runs over 13.2 innings in his three appearances leading up to this crucial game.
In contrast, the Rays will send David Price to the mound against the Yankees. Price hasn’t been at his best since striking out eleven Orioles back on 2 September, but he has gone at least six innings in three of his last four games (the one exception being a four inning performance against the Red Sox) so Joe Maddon will be confident that his starter will keep the Rays in the game, at least.
The games involving Wild Card contenders are all taking place in the evening in the States, so it will be a long and nervy night for fans based in the UK.
There are four games taking place during the British evening and one of them is being broadcast live on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra from approximately 21.45 (or whenever coverage of the Cardiff-Southampton game comes to an end).
18.10. Cincinnati at NY Mets (Volquez – Batista)
19.10. Toronto at Chicago White Sox (Morrow – Humber)
20.45. Colorado at San Francisco (Pomeranz – Surkamp)
21.10. Washington at Florida (Strasburg – Volstad)
The BBC schedule states that the featured game will be Rockies-Giants and clearly we will be joining the game partway through.
Co-host Josh Chetwynd promised a “a very, very special guest host” on the Show’s Facebook page and fans of Baseball on 5 will be pleased to hear that it is Jonny Gould. Alongside the Rockies-Giants game, Jonny and Josh will be covering all of the recent events (no doubt including Prince Fielder’s three-homer night and the D-Backs’ unbelievable walk-off win against the Dodgers yesterday) and previewing the rest of the night’s action, with Jonny surely to be pained by his beloved Braves’ recent run of form.
It should be a great way to bring the regular season to a close.