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Scoreboard Watching 2021: Tracking the Wild Card rivals’ final series

The AL Wild Card race is very much wild, so we break down the games that you might want to scoreboard watch.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, we have made it: the penultimate day of the 2021 regular season is upon us. And while our eyes will primarily be glued to the Yankees/Rays matchup this afternoon (and tomorrow), there are plenty of other matchups that will determine the shape of the AL Wild Card race — and thus the Yankees’ 2021 destiny. And so, in the spirit of our regular series preview, let’s take a quick dive into the six matchups to keep an eye on this weekend.

Today: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays, 3:07 pm ET

The Baltimore Orioles aim to return to their spoiling ways after losing the first game of the final series last night, as they send staff ace John Means (6-8, 3.32 ERA, 4.39 FIP) to the mound. The 2019 All-Star has been excellent in the month of September, allowing just nine runs in 29.2 innings (a 2.76 ERA), including 6.2 scoreless innings at the Phillies on September 20. Believe it or not, this will be Means’ first outing against the Blue Jays this season, as he has somehow avoided the potent Toronto lineup in his first 25 starts.

Rookie Alek Manoah (8-2, 3.35 ERA, 3.96 FIP) will get the ball for Toronto, making his 20th start of the season. Since allowing six runs on five hits in five innings against the Athletics on September 3rd, Manoah has been lights-out, posting a 2.49 ERA in his last four starts; additionally, he has surrendered just two home runs in that span, although he has hit four batters as well. He has not faced the Orioles since going up against them in back-to-back starts at the end of June, in which he was battered for five runs in 3.1 innings in the first before rebounding to allow only one unearned run in six innings the second time around.

Today: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals, 4:05 pm ET

Rookie Josiah Gray (2-2, 5.85 ERA, 5.88 FIP) will make his 13th start of the season. Acquired as part of the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal, the 72nd overall pick in the 2018 draft has been underwhelming since the start of September, allowing 21 runs in 24 innings and posting a 23/15 K/BB rate. He did, however, earn the win in his last two outings, surrendering only 5 runs in 11 innings.

At time of writing, Boston had not named a starter, although FanGraphs expects Tanner Houck (1-5, 3.80 ERA, 2.77 FIP) to get the ball. While Houck has shown the potential to be an impact starter down the road, his rookie season has been a bit of a mixed bag — he’s flashed potential in the rotation and dominated out of the bullpen, but has struggled when asked to work deep into games. With injuries and ineffectiveness plaguing Boston’s bullpen, it remains to be seen what the Red Sox pitching situation will look like today.

Today: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners, 9:10 ET

Rookie Jhonathan Diaz (1-0, 3.12 ERA, 3.85 FIP) makes the second start of his career (third overall appearance) in tonight’s late-night matchup — well, late night for us — between the Angels and this season’s apparent protagonist, the Mariners. Coincidentally, his last outing also came against the Mariners, in which he held the Seattle offense to one run on three hits in seven innings in relief behind the injured Jaime Barría, striking out four and walking one.

Going up against him will be former Mets top-10 prospect Chris Flexen (14-6, 3.67 ERA, 3.82 FIP), albeit not one acquired in the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz trade. A valuable innings eater — he leads the team with 174.1 innings — he has been equally capable of putting together top-flight performances as he has of allowing four or five runs.

Tomorrow: Orioles at Blue Jays, 3:07 pm ET

Baltimore will finish their season with left-hander Bruce Zimmerman (4-4, 4.66 ERA, 5.22 FIP) on the mound in a game that will either mean everything or nothing for the Toronto Blue Jays. The rookie starting pitcher has had an up-and-down time in the Majors so far, following up a disastrous seven-inning cameo in 2020 with a middle-of-the-road first half that ended abruptly due to biceps tendinitis and a severe ankle sprain. He returned from the IL on September 28th, allowing just one run on two hits in four innings as Baltimore took the opener of a three-game set with the Red Sox.

With their season potentially on the line, the Blue Jays will send out big free agent investment Hyun Jin Ryu (13-10, 4.39 ERA, 4.00 FIP). The back-to-back Cy Young finalist, who is halfway through a four-year deal signed prior to the 2020 season, has struggled mightily for much of the season, posting a 5.37 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 20 starts since June 4th. More recently, since shutting down the Yankees for six innings on September 3rd, Ryu has not gotten past the fourth inning, including a seven-run shellacking in 2.1 innings by the “vaunted” Orioles lineup on the 11th.

Tomorrow: Red Sox at Nationals, 3:05 pm ET

Very likely, Boston’s playoff hopes will rest on this one game; not surprisingly, they have lined up Chris Sale (5-1, 2.90 ERA, 3.83 FIP) for the final day of the season. The first of the 2020 Tommy John surgery trio — alongside Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard — to make his return (and the only one to truly return as a starting pitcher), Sale has reminded the league why he went to seven straight All-Star games and was top-six in the Cy Young voting for seven consecutive years. He’s not unhittable — the Rays tagged him for five runs, albeit four unearned, on September 6th, and the Orioles scraped three runs off him on September 28 — but he’s one of the league’s highest-paid pitchers for a reason.

Washington has not yet named a starting pitcher at this time.

Tomorrow: Angels at Mariners, 3:10 pm ET

Rather than sending out Shohei Ohtani, the Angels opted to shut his arm down and give rookie Reid Detmers (1-3, 7.11 ERA, 6.53 FIP) his fifth start of the season. The 10th overall pick in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft flew through the Angels farm system this year, making his Major League debut on August 1st against the Oakland Athletics. He was roughed up in his first two outings, giving up 11 runs on 13 hits in 9.1 innings, but settled down in his next two, surrendering only 4 runs in 10 innings. It’s unclear how many innings he will go, as he has not pitched in a Major League game since August 21st after missing time following a positive COVID-19 test.

With their season potentially on the line, the Mariners will turn to trade deadline acquisition Tyler Anderson (7-10, 4.41 ERA, 4.26 FIP between the Pirates and Mariners). While Anderson has given Seattle stable innings over the last two months of the season, they better hope that his performance Sunday goes better than his previous outing against the Angels, as he was unable to record an out in the third on September 25th (his final line on the evening was nine runs on nine hits, walking one, allowing one home run, and striking out none).