There’s not much drama regarding who will make the playoffs in the AL this year, with the six participants in the bracket all but chosen (despite the Mariners’ best efforts). But this time of year still means magic numbers, seedings, and clinchings. We saw one division fall yesterday, and with just a few days left in September, we’re getting a clearer and clearer playoff picture.
Toronto Blue Jays 7 (86-67), Tampa Bay Rays 1 (84-67)
Sometimes, modern baseball can be pretty simple. Mash the ball over the fence, win the game. Toronto ran that game plan on Sunday, cruising past the Rays thanks to a quartet of dingers from their sluggers.
Alejandro Kirk opened the scoring with a solo shot off Tampa ace Shane McClanahan, and George Springer followed with a two-run dinger in the third:
Randy Arozarena managed a sac fly for the Rays in the third, but that was all the scoring they could muster. Springer followed with his second homer of the day, and 23rd on the year, in the fifth:
Teoscar Hernández added a two-run shot of his own in the eighth for good measure. The Jays kept their hold on second place in the AL East, a playoff spot all but assured at this point. However, with the Yankees’ victory over Boston, their AL East magic number is two with a potential clincher in a matchup at Rogers Centre looming tonight.
Houston Astros 6 (101-53), Baltimore Orioles 3 (79-73)
This been a competitive series between the AL-leading Astros and the plucky-but-fading Orioles, and yesterday was no exception. It started as a pitchers’ duel, with Cristian Javier pitching six masterful innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out eight. Austin Voth managed five innings for Baltimore, allowing just one run on a Mauricio Dubón sac fly.
But Ryne Stanek couldn’t hold the 1-0 lead in the eighth, and the O’s sent the game to extras. The 10th inning featured a host of former Yankees impacting the game, with former reliever Dillon Tate giving Houston a 2-1 lead on a wild pitch. Yankee legend Rougned Odor didn’t let the O’s go down though, singling home a run in the bottom half to prolong the action.
Houston finally broke things open in the 11th, hanging a four-spot on Keegan Akin. Baltimore could only get one back in the home half, as their minuscule playoff hopes grew even more faint. They sit four back of the last Wild Card with ten games remaining.
Kansas City Royals 13 (63-90), Seattle Mariners 12 (83-69)
Future civilizations likely won’t spend much time thinking about MLB games, and if they do, they probably won’t remember a matchup between a Royals squad playing out the string and a Seattle team that has nearly clinched a playoff spot. But perhaps they should! The Royals staged one of the comebacks of the year to keep Seattle from taking another step toward ending their playoff drought.
Things began with a starting pitching mismatch, Luis Castillo vs. Max Castillo. Kansas City took a 2-1 lead to the fifth, but there, Seattle slammed an overmatched Max Castillo, tagging him for five runs, and adding three more off of Amir Garrett for an eight-spot in the frame. The M’s tacked on two in the next inning to go up 11-2.
Yet a KC lineup that entered play ranked 25th in wOBA went ballistic in the bottom of the sixth. The Royals sent 14 batters to the plate, scoring 11 runs, and could’ve gone even further if Hunter Dozier hadn’t been thrown out trying to stretch to second to end the inning. Michael Massey led the way with four RBI and a homer and single in the frame. When the dust settled, the Royals emerged with a 13-11 lead.
A Luis Torrens sac fly brought the Mariners within one, but they couldn’t respond to the KC onslaught, and fell by a score of 13-12. Luis Castillo was hit for five runs in five innings, and Matt Brash took the worst of it, with four runs allowed in the sixth inning without recording an out. Seattle still has something like a 99-percent chance of qualifying for the postseason per FanGraphs, but this surely isn’t the kind of loss they want to suffer as they try to officially end their historic drought.
Cleveland Guardians 10 (86-67), Texas Rangers 4 (65-87)
Cleveland clinched the AL Central crown yesterday, putting the cherry on top of their second-half sprint for their first division title since 2018. They hung four on Texas starter Cole Ragans in the third and never looked back, cruising to an easy victory and their first division title in four seasons. Aaron Civale earned the win with five innings of two-run ball, striking out seven against two walks. Steven Kwan led the way offensively with his sixth homer, a grand slam, and five total RBI.
On August 5th, Cleveland was 54-52 and in third in the division. As recently as September 8th, they were still locked in a tight battle, in the lead with a 70-65 record, but with both the Twins and White Sox just 1.5 games back. The Guardians have won 16 of 18 since, absolutely blowing Minnesota and Chicago out of the water and ensuring there’d be no drama in the final weeks.