Tonight, perhaps the most impactful series of the Mariners’ 2014 season kicks off at Safeco when James Paxton faces off with Jason Hammel in the first of three against Oakland. While this takes center stage in the minds of all M’s fans, scoreboard watching inevitably creeps into the minds of everyone associated with a contender this late in the year.
Five other teams remain in contention for an AL Wild Card spot: Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Toronto, and New York all began the day within four games of that last postseason berth. Depending on how the few days turn out, the standings could look very different than they do now, and the once-indomitable A’s could find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture.
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The second-biggest AL series of the weekend takes place at Comerica, as the Indians look to close the gap between them and both the Tigers and division-leading Royals. After tonight’s Carlos Carrasco–David Price matchup, the Indians throw a couple disappointing young starters (Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer) against Kyle Lobstein and Justin Verlander.
While the home Tigers will be favored in each game, the Indians spent Thursday sweeping a doubleheader against Minnesota in which Carlos Santana hit a pair of homers. Look for Detroit to take two of three, with the Indians putting up at least six runs in their lone victory.
Staying in the AL Central, the Royals carry a 0.5 game lead over Detroit into the last three of four against Boston. After losing the opener, 6-3, Yordano Ventura will attempt to right the ship against Allen Webster, after which Rubby De La Rosa will face veteran Jeremy Guthrie and former Cardinal Joe Kelly will go against Jason Vargas.
Aug 8, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) walks out to protest a call during the third inning against the San Francisco Giants at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City is the darling of the season, and a home series against the dreadful Red Sox should be a chance to extend the lead, so despite last night’s defeat I expect Ned Yost‘s crew to come back and win Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to take the series and establish their staying power over the last two and a half weeks.
Toronto has fallen off everyone’s radar after failing to keep up a rabid First Half pace, but though their divisional chances are all but gone with Baltimore’s recent run, they sit just 3.5 games back of Detroit. After wiping the floor with the abysmal Cubs by an aggregate score of 28-3 in three games, the schedule turns AL East-heavy, with series against the Rays, Orioles, and Yankees on the docket. The Jays are scheduled to throw J.A. Happ, R.A. Dickey, and young stud Marcus Stroman against Nate Karns, Jeremy Hellickson, and Chris Archer.
The Rays’ own surprise playoff dreams were dashed long ago, but Joe Maddon will have his guys ready to play spoiler, and the Rays could easily win the series. I would take Tampa on both Friday and Saturday, with Stroman bailing out his ball club in the finale.
Finally, the Yankees are at Camden Yards for a four game in three day (Friday doubleheader) stretch against the O’s. Game 1 today was a duel between Brandon McCarthy and Kevin Gausman that needed extras to see its first run. The Yankees put up the first score on a solo shot from Chris Young, but the O’s responded with two in the bottom half to win, both coming on a walk-off Jimmy Paredes double.
Tonight, Bryan Mitchell will make his first big league start for the Bombers against Bud Norris, followed by Shane Greene vs Miguel Gonzalez and Hiroki Kuroda vs Chris Tillman on Sunday night. Given Baltimore’s double-digit lead in the East, the Yankees will be by far the more desperate team. Expect the Yanks to pick up the Friday nightcap and the Sunday showcase behind a solid Kuroda outing, bringing them even with Toronto.
If all goes according to these predictions and the Mariners take two of three at home, the Monday morning standings will look like this:
1. Kansas City 83-65
2. Detroit 82-67 (1.5 GB)
3. Cleveland 77-71 (6.0 GB)
AL WILD CARD
1. Detroit 82-67
1. Oakland 82-67
3. Seattle 81-67 (0.5 GB)
4. New York 77-71 (4.0 GB)
4. Cleveland 77-71 (4.0 GB)
4. Toronto 77-71 (4.0 GB)
While this would still leave the Mariners in the third spot, missteps from either Detroit or Oakland would either open the door or at the very least keep the M’s close as they travel to face the now unstoppable Angels. In addition, this would solidify Seattle’s position in third, putting some room between them and those chasing them.
Obviously the ideal result for the Mariners would be sweeps from the Red Sox, O’s, Indians, and Rays in addition to a 3-0 end to the Safeco homestand. The best case scenario standings look like this:
1. Kansas City 80-68
2. Detroit 80-69 (0.5 GB)
3. Cleveland 79-69 (1.0 GB)
AL WILD CARD
1. Seattle 82-66 (+1.5 G)
2. Oakland 81-68
3. Detroit 80-69 (1.0 GB)
4. Cleveland 79-69 (1.5 GB)
5. Toronto 76-72 (4.5 GB)
6. New York 75-73 (5.5 GB)
So while the main focus of all M’s fans attention should be the showdown in Seattle, keep an eye on the rest of the league. A little help from Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore could go a long way towards making the team’s last 14 games, 7 of which are against the Halos, much less pressure-packed.