Thrilling final weekend

As if the race for the playoffs was not exciting enough on its own, the Cincinnati Reds’ Homer Bailey decided to throw a no-hitter into the mix for the final weekend of the 2012 regular season.

Bailey’s no-no on Friday night, the seventh no-hitter of the season, was a great fillip for a team that could have been forgiven for slightly going off the boil heading into October, with a play-off spot already secured and with their manager Dusty Baker resting from his recent mini-stroke.

As for the team that was no-hit, fans of the poor old Pirates will probably feel it sums up their plight.

Dreams of a miraculous playoff place after going 34-19 combined during June and July have been replaced by a 17-37 August and September and the never-ending nightmare of their miserable losing-season sequence. You would be a hard-hearted baseball fan – or at least a die-hard fan of their opponents, the Reds and Braves – to not hold out hope that the Buccos might just win their final five games to give the long-suffering fans in Pittsburgh a .500 record to cling to over the offseason.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ 12-2 win over the Nationals last night has just about won them the final playoff place in the National League; however things are much less certain in the American League. The five pre-midnight U.K. time games on Saturday all take us into the AL postseason race.

All times are in BST.

18.07. NY Yankees at Toronto (Pettitte – Romero)
21.05. Tampa Bay at Chicago White Sox (Moore – Sale)
21.05. Detroit at Minnesota (Verlander – Walters)
21.05. Seattle at Oakland (Vargas – Straily)
21.05. LA Angels at Texas (Santana – Holland)

Starting at the top, the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 11-4 last night after dropping the series opener 6-0 on Thursday, leavng them one game ahead of the Orioles at the top of the AL East. Andy Pettitte has calmly slotted back into the rotation after his injury absence, while Toronto’s Ricky Romero will be desperate to put in a good performance as his extremely disappointing season comes to an end.

It’s all about the division title in the AL Central, as the loser in the White Sox-Tigers battle will not have a Wild Card spot to fall back on. Detroit has a one-game lead in the standings after losing 4-2 to the Twins on Friday.  They will aim to bounce back from that missed opportunity by sending Justin Verlander to the mound for his final regular season start of 2012.

As for the White Sox, their 3-1 win over the Rays last night firmly keeps them in the race. Today’s game brings together two excellent young left-handed pitchers, although the Rays’ Matt Moore appears to have hit a wall in his last three starts. With Tampa Bay trailing in the Wild Card race by three games, they need Moore to deliver a strong performance today.

The AL West division gets more exciting by the day.  A couple of weeks ago it seemed a given that the Rangers would win the division and the A’s and Angels would be battling for a Wild Card spot. Friday’s results – the Angels beating Texas 7-4 and the A’s getting the better of the Mariners – still leave the Rangers three games ahead in the standings, but with two further games against the Angels and then a three-game set against the A’s to close the season out, Texas knows that they need a precious win or two to make them safe.

All of these games are available to watch live via the MLB.TV subscription at MLB.com, while ESPN America is concentrating on College Football today. 

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