All that’s left in the American League is for the six playoff teams to jockey for seeding, and we got some more clarity on that front yesterday. The top four seeds are now locked in, with just the final two slots to be decided ahead of the postseason tournament. That said, we had a bit of bonus pennant race business on Monday, as the Astros hosted the Phillies as the latter pushed to end their playoff drought. Let’s go through it all:
Baltimore Orioles 1 (82-78), Toronto Blue Jays 5 (91-69),
Toronto came into this game needing just two more wins or Seattle losses to sew up home-field advantage in the Wild Card round, and they took care of business on their end, downing Baltimore 5-1 in a rain-shortened game. Toronto had the bases loaded with the top of the eight before the game was finally called.
José Berríos posted a strong outing to end his regular season, pitching six innings of one-run ball, striking out five and walking three. But the right-hander finishes the 2022 campaign with a 5.23 ERA and one of the worst overall statistical resumes of any starter in baseball this year, and in his previous two starts, he gave up a combined 11 runs across 7.1 innings. It remains to be seen if Toronto envisions a role for their erstwhile ace in the playoffs.
The Blue Jays made Berríos’ rare quality performance stand up by knocking 10 hits and three walks against Oriole pitching. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his 32nd homer of the year off Dean Kremer, and Whit Merrifield went 3-for-3 with a couple RBI. While their pitching depth remains suspect, the Blue Jays’ offense looks strong entering October, and any lineup with featuring Vladito, George Springer, and Bo Bichette will be tough to navigate across a playoff series.
Tampa Bay Rays 3 (86-74), Boston Red Sox 4 (76-84)
Tampa is in the business of jockeying for position in the AL bracket, as it will slot in either the five or six seed as a Wild Card. Their chances of moving up to number-five took a hit with their close loss to Boston, but it’s debatable whether climbing up a rank is even in the Rays’ best interest.
The fifth seed would mean a trip to Toronto to face the Blue Jays, and a date with Houston if they advanced. It’s quite possible that the route offered to the sixth seed, through Cleveland and then the Yankees, is slightly less menacing.
In any event, the Rays played to win against the Red Sox and came up short. Tampa started Tyler Glasnow, who looks like he could be a weapon as he returns from Tommy John surgery. Glasnow got stretched out to 64 pitches and fired 3.2 shutout with seven strikeouts. He sat around 97 mph with his fastball and touched 99. The right-hander probably isn’t ready to turn over a playoff lineup three or four times, but the Rays will surely find a dangerous way to utilize him during a postseason series.
Kevin Herget followed Glasnow and got hit hard, for four runs across 4.1 innings. Tampa had a 3-0 lead entering the sixth, but Christian Arroyo doubled two home, and Kiké Hernandez followed with a game-tying double of his own. Rafael Devers, 3-for-3 on the night, nudged Boston in front with a sac fly in the seventh.
It was just enough for Rich Hill, who managed six innings of three-run ball while allowing just three hits. John Schreiber, Ryan Brasier, and Matt Barnes provided quality relief work to close out the win for Boston.
Cleveland Guardians 2 (90-70), Kansas City Royals 5 (65-95)
The Guardians continue to play out the string, locked into the third seed as the AL Central champs. On the other side, an also-ran Royals team actually had more to play for. Beloved veteran Zack Greinke made his final start of the year, and possibly his last start in the majors, and propelled KC to one more win.
The 39-year-old doesn’t have anything flashy left in the tank, rarely able to crack 90 with his fastball, and generally viewing missing bats as a thing of the past. But even so, Greinke can still find his way through a lineup, and he managed to scatter seven Cleveland hits across six solid innings, allowing just two runs despite recording only one strikeout.
Drew Waters, a well-regarded outfield prospects, had a big day to help make sure Greinke’s effort stood up. The game entered extra-innings tied at two, and Waters strode to the plate with two on. He smashed his fifth homer of the year to provide the winning margin.
The Royals could bring back Greinke for another year, as both sides have expressed interest in a reunion. If that doesn’t materialize, it was nice to see Greinke close things out with a quality, winning performance.
Seattle Mariners 3 (87-72), Detroit Tigers 4 (58-102)
Seattle had to win if they wanted to keep chasing Toronto for the fourth seed. They fell to Detroit, meaning they’re now dancing with Tampa to see who gets the fifth or sixth seed in the AL tournament.
The Mariners sent out young right George Kirby for this one, as he auditions for a playoff role on the Seattle staff. He struggled, giving up four runs on six hits and three walks in four innings, with Javy Báez getting Kirby for a homer in the third. Kirby will in all likelihood feature in Seattle’s postseason plans, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the third starter behind Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray, or if Logan Gilbert would get the ball in a potential winner-take-all Game 3 in the Wild Card round.
Seattle entered the fifth down 4-1, and was able to claw back thanks to an Adam Frazier RBI single and Julio Rodríguez RBI double (good to see J-Rod back healthy and hitting). But the comeback fizzled there, and the Mariners now lead the Rays by 1.5 games entering the season’s final two days.
Houston Astros 0 (104-56), Philadelphia Phillies 3 (87-73)
One of the final playoff races left came to an end with a shutout Philadelphia victory. The Phillies just had to take one game from Houston in this final series, and Aaron Nola ensured it would get that win immediately, taking a perfect game into the seventh to carry the Phillies back into the postseason for the first time in 11 years. (The Angels and Tigers are just tied for the longest drought at eight.)
Nola retired the first 20 batters he faced, and he needed to, with Philly clinging to a 1-0 lead. Back-to-back singles from there prompted former Yankees coach Rob Thomson to go to his bullpen, and Jose Alvarado came on to fan Kyle Tucker to end the threat. Alvarado would go on to pitch a perfect eighth, while the Phillies added on with solo homers from Bryson Stott and Kyle Schwarber. Zach Eflin pitched the ninth for his first-career save in what was the most prominent game the Phillies have played since 2011.
The Astros are locked into the top seed and have nothing to play for, but they still trotted out a lineup full of stars, and the Phillies mowed them down to secure their playoff berth. Congrats to them.