Wild Card race update — September 9th

 The last time we checked in on the American League Wild Card race the Los Angeles Angels were leading the way with the Seattle Mariners holding the second spot, five-and-a-half games back. How things have changed. The Angels have been on a tear the last couple weeks and now lead the AL West by eight games. The Kansas City Royals continue to hang on to the AL Central lead, but the Detroit Tigers are just a single game behind entering Tuesday night’s action.

GB represents how many games the team is behind in the Wild Card race and does not represent where they sit in their respective division races.

Oakland Athletics | 80-63, +1.0 GB
As mentioned at the top, the A’s have faded to some extent since the middle of August and have scored just 198 runs since the All-Star break. Now, many have been quick to surmise the subtraction of Yoenis Cespedes from the lineup as the reason Oakland has struggled to score runs and win games, but hitters like Brandon Moss, Sam Fuld, Coco Crisp, and Alberto Callaspo all of wRC+’s between 45 and 65, so it’s not as simple as that, though it is a factor. Jeff Samardzija has been good but not great for the A’s while Jon Lester has been his usual solid self. It seems that the A’s struggles are more of a situation where everything that could go wrong has. The injury to Sean Doolittle was critical as the bullpen has faltered of late, but he’s expected to return soon. There’s still a very good chance that the Athletics make the playoffs and it’s completely unfair to write them off given the talented roster they boast.

Seattle Mariners | 79-64, —
Despite all the offensive struggles and string of less than royal starts by Felix Hernandez in the second half of August, the Mariners are actually in very good shape heading into the final 19 games of the season. In one month’s time the M’s have made up nine games on Oakland, and yes, you did read that correctly. What’s there to say? Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano have been outstanding of late, Chris Taylor has continued his steady play, and Brad Miller has been red-hot at the dish. Kendrys Morales has even began to show some signs of life. The club also gets Michael Saunders back from an oblique injury that cost him 50 games, but Dustin Ackley — who’s been one of the key contributors over the last couple months — has been battling bone spurs in his ankle and is expected to be out a few more days. For the first time in a long time, the Mariners are a legitimate playoff club.

[pullquote]Aside from the current series with the Houston Astros and the three-game set next weekend, the Mariners will not play a game against a sub-.500 team for the remainder of the year. This includes seven games against the Angels, three against the Athletics, and four against the Blue Jays.[/pullquote]

Detroit Tigers | 79-65, 0.5 GB
Entering the year Detroit boasted an envious rotation with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez and after their addition of David Price at the trade deadline, most were ready to punch their ticket to the American League Championship Series. Not so fast. Sanchez has been hurt, Verlander is still struggling with a sore shoulder, and the pitching staff has some serious holes as the bullpen continues to be an issue. But the good news is that Miguel Cabrera has been red-hot and Victor Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year. If Verlander is able to recapture some of his 2012-13 magic the Tigers will probably be just fine. However, Detroit looks a lot more susceptible than they have in recent memory and currently sit on the outside looking in. Don’t count them out just yet.

Cleveland Indians | 74-68, 4.5 GB
Aided by a pitching performance that will rival King Felix for the AL Cy Young award this year from Corey Kluber, the Indians have surprisingly been able to stay in the race — as much as one considers four-and-a-half games back with just a couple weeks left to be in the race. Manager Terry Francona lead his club to a near-historic run last September that jettisoned the club into a Wild Card spot so it’s still tough to count them out, but they’ll be hard-pressed to recreate that magic. Lonnie Chisenhall has managed a 77 wRC+ since the All-Star break after a phenomenal first half of play, and it appears that the Indians just don’t have enough firepower to make the necessary push to get past the Tigers and Mariners, but are a team to keep an eye on.

New York Yankees | 73-68, 5.0 GB
Give the Yankees credit for trying to make something out of Derek Jeter‘s final season, but it looks like it’s fair to say that they will fall short this year. Although Masahiro Tanaka has made progress, it’s tough to know what one can expect from him in the couple starts he may make before the end of the year. For my money, it’s not worth it and the club should shut him down. Brandon McCarthy has pitched well enough to earn a moderate payday this winter and Michael Pineda has been effective when healthy, but it’s been Hiroki Kuroda that’s anchored the pitching staff, once again. Oh yeah, and that Jeter guy? Among qualified shortstops, Jeter has the fourth-lowest wRC+ at 73, but I will say that it’s a good thing for baseball that he’s able to go out on his own terms after missing 2013 due to injury. Well done, Captain, it’s been a wonderful career.

Toronto Blue Jays | 74-69, 5.0 GB
The Jays have actually been playing solid baseball lately and have won seven of their last ten, but it looks like it’ll be too little too late for the blue birds. Melky Cabrera was lost for the season due to a pinky fracture that required surgery and Brett Lawrie is officially done for the year as well. Despite the scorching bat of Jose Bautista, the offense still lacks much punch behind Joey Bats and Edwin Encarnacion. Catcher Dioner Navarro has began to heat up as well lately, but the club has had to give regular playing time to Danny Valencia and now Anthony Gose. Not to mention the fact the J.A. Happ has been a regular member of the rotation that has for the most part disappointed, again. On the bright side, young stud Marcus Stroman pitched a complete game shutout on Monday night, the first of his career, and needed just 93 pitches to do it. The Jays may have an ace in the making as they begin to turn their thoughts towards 2015, though baseball allows for just enough randomness that there’s still a chance they could make a late push for a Wild Card spot.

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