kinsler cabreraWhen we checked in last week, the Los Angeles Angels had a firm hold on the top American League Wild Card spot while the red-hot Kansas City Royals had surged themselves into the second spot. Since then the Royals have knocked the Detroit Tigers out of the top spot in the AL Central division while the Angels have added a game to their lead. The Seattle Mariners have propelled themselves back up into the second Wild Card slot after taking two of three from the Detroit Tigers who now sit half a game out.

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.

Los Angeles Angels | 72-50, +5.5 GB
It was a short week for the Wild Card leaders as they had a two-game series in Philadelphia in between a couple of off days. Los Angeles won both games against the lowly Phillies before taking two of three from the Texas Rangers over the weekend. The restructured bullpen continues to be a strongpoint for the club with Huston Street in the closer role. However he did blow the save in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers, but the pair of runs he allowed were the first he’s given up in an Angels uniform after 12 scoreless outings previously.

On the offensive side of things, superstar Mike Trout has been struggling of late as he’s recorded just two hits in his last 27 plate appearances — albeit one of those was a two-run home run — but the more publicized slump is the one belonging to Josh Hamilton. After striking out seven times in the first two games in Texas, manager Mike Scioscia described the slugger as “not the same player” he was when he was a Ranger. On the year Hamilton owns a .753 OPS and a 114 wRC+, which isn’t all that bad, but he has just eight home runs and 35 runs batted in. The 33-year old has always been a streaky hitter with a relatively free swing, but if he could get things going with the bat the lineup would become that much more potent. Not to mention the fact he’s being paid to perform like he did in his peak Ranger years.

Seattle Mariners | 67-56, —
The M’s have been red hot of late after sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays and taking two of three from the Tigers, and for the moment, hold sole possession of the second Wild Card slot. The offense has had a coming out party of sorts as the M’s scored 19 runs in three games against the Jays and 17 in three games against the Tigers. Robinson Cano has swung a hot bat and hit a pair of home runs in the past week while Kendrys Morales has finally woken from his half-season slumber and picked up a pair of doubles and homers in the Toronto series. Kyle Seager and Chris Taylor have continued their consistent play and Trade Deadline pick-up Chris Denorfia has contributed seven hits in his last five games as well.

Pitching continues to be the true strength of the club and the staff’s ERA now sits at 2.97 — the AL West leading Oakland Athletics have the next best mark with a 3.17 ERA. James Paxton had another strong outing on Friday going six innings while yielding a single run on five hits and isn’t showing any signs of rust after missing most of the season. The M’s elected to start Roenis Elias at Triple-A this week but he was re-called for Monday’s start in Philadelphia with James Jones sent back down to Tacoma.

[pullquote]The Cleveland Indians currently sit five games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card race but have lost five of their last ten games and are starting to look like a long shot. They’ll face the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros this week.[/pullquote]

Detroit Tigers | 66-56, 0.5 GB
Things haven’t been so nice in Motown lately as the Tigers now find themselves a game and a half back of the Royals in the AL Central and on the outside of the playoff picture entirely on Sunday night. The team split a four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates before losing two of three at the hands of the Mariners. An MRI revealed that Justin Verlander has been dealing with some shoulder inflammation after he was pulled after just one inning in his last start. The right-hander isn’t expected to spend any time on the disabled list and could start as soon as Friday if a Tuesday bullpen session goes well, but he’s been struggling throughout the year and his velocity has been done.

Offense hasn’t necessarily been Detroit’s issue — though they were outscored 17-7 in the Seattle series — their bullpen has continued to be the problem. Joakim Soria is on the disabled list with an oblique strain but is expected to return to action in the next week or so. Closer Joe Nathan has continued his up-and-down play and after finishing Wednesday’s game against the Pirates he made a pair of gestures to the home fans that caused some controversy– he has since apologized. Athletics cast-0ff Jim Johnson was re-called prior to Sunday’s game and allowed three runs, though just one was earned, in his Tigers debut.

New York Yankees | 63-59, 3.5 GB
After losing five straight games the Yankees managed to stay in the thick of things by winning their last two games against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday and Sunday. The team did receive some good news today as Masahiro Tanaka reportedly felt fine after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen on Sunday. He’s set to throw another in the coming week but there’s still no time table for when he’d be able to return to the majors, but at this rate it’s possible he could return before the end of September, but it may not be that bad of an idea to keep him shut down for the rest of the season. Shane Green has done a solid job filling a hole in the rotation and turned in another six-inning two-run performance on Saturday.

If the Bronx Bombers want to hang in the race they’ll need to start getting the offense rolling again. Mark Teixeira has been the hot hand in the lineup, but outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury just snapped a four game hitless streak on Sunday. New York has managed to keep pace up to this point so it’d be unwise to count them out yet. It’s also possible they could make another waiver-trade before the end of the month but nothing appears imminent.

Toronto Blue Jays | 61-61, 4.0 GB
If there’s one team that appears to be fading, it’s the Blue Jays. Toronto was swept by the Mariners earlier in the week and lost two of three against the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. Slugger Edwin Encarnacion returned to the lineup on Saturday and belted a two-run home run in Sunday’s loss, but the Jays were actually very productive on the offensive side of things in Chicago — it was their pitching that let them down. Toronto managed to score 16 runs against the White Sox but only won one of the three games; the Sox put 21 runs on the board in the series.

Starter Drew Hutchison was tagged for for seven runs on Sunday and Marcus Stroman gave up five on Friday and failed to complete the first inning of a start for the first time in his young major league career. Veteran Mark Buehrle owns a 6.67 ERA and has been clubbed for a .963 OPS since the All-Star break while failing to complete the sixth inning in three straight starts. Toronto heads to Milwaukee for a two-game set before finishing the month with series’ against the Rays, Boston Red Sox, and Yankees. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they hope to pull off a playoff spot at this point.

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    The optimism is outstanding, but I agree that catching Oakland or the Angels is unrealistic at this point. Sure, anything can happen of course, but it’d take something very dramatic for things to change. Doesn’t take away the excitement though!

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    Catching both Oakland and the Angels is something of a pipe dream since they play each other ten times. It’s almost impossible for both of them to struggle badly enough given those ten games.

    The flip side is those ten games make it very likely the M’s can steal the first wild card slot, assuming they stay hot. I really like the idea of a rocking Safeco in that one off.

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    The trades for Jackson and Denorfia and the effective return of K-Pax have obviously helped the team, as has the contribution of Taylor at shortstop. I really like the looks of him and think he can stick, despite any inevitable slump. Having Walker, Erasmo, Condor and Romero looking good in AAA is something of an embarrassment of riches. I love it.
    The A’s are finally having some pitching problems, despite their trades. In his last three starts Sonny Gray has tossed 16.2 innings, allowed 14 runs (12 earned) on 24 hits, and eight walks, with opponents batting .338 with a .413 on-base percentage against him. Hammel has a 6.75 ERA in seven starts with the A’s, Chavez has been sent to the bullpen, Tommy Milone is now with the Twins, Dan Straily has gone to the Cubs. They will need more than The Shark and Lester to stay on top of the AL West.

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    Paul, I don’t think you are drinking Kool-Aid. Sure, the M’s have had a few breaks this year (such as the unpredicted positive contributions from Young and Elias), but aside from the offense it is a very well-constructed team and is proving that pitching and defense can carry a team in a good direction. If the offense can continue to come close for the rest of the season to producing as it has during the past week, I don’t know why the M’s can’t continue to make gains in the standings. I think the questions are “can the offense keep it going” and “is there enough time”?

    I’ve always thought that good pitching usually beats good hitting. Throw our defense in there, and we’re pretty danged good. Oakland and LAA have good pitching too, but if our pitching and defense can continue to excel, then I think we have a legitimate shot as long as we score enough runs. I think it’s up to the offense to take the team to that next level. And maybe the hitters are starting to show us all what they’re made of! 🙂

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    Would love to see big spending teams like Detroit and the Yankees miss the playoffs!!! How many games back was Seattle in 1995 at this point in their season? I remember the wild card talk and Buhner saying they wanted the division. The way the team is coming together, I still think they have a shot at the division. Maybe I am just drinking the koolaid, but Oakland is fading and I am not sold on the Angels pitching holding up. We get Walker and Saunders to help us soon, and September 1 the rosters expand and we have more guys in Tacoma that can help!

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