With five weeks left in the season and the division seemingly decided (the Tribe is 6 games back of Detroit, so it's not a mathematical impossibility, but it's a real long shot), but the Wild Card race still wide open, I thought it'd make sense to replace the AL Central Week in Review with one that looks at the current Wild Card contenders.
AL Wild Card standings through Sunday, August 25:
Tampa Bay and Oakland are each very much still in the running for their respective divisions' title, with Tampa Bay 1 game behind Boston and Oakland 2.5 games behind Texas. I haven't included the division leaders in this post, but if you want the short version, the Red Sox and Rangers both went 4-2 last week, same as the Tigers, who hold the AL's best record and largest lead. You may also notice that the Kansas City Royals are nowhere to be found below. They were right in the thick of things recently, but they've lost 7 of 8 and fallen 7 games out of the last playoff spot, which (as far as I'm concerned) means they're out of it.
Cool Standings (used by ESPN) now projects 88 wins the the Indians, and gives them a 33% chance of making the playoffs, Baseball Prospectus projects 88 wins, with a 37% chance of making the playoffs, and Fangraphs projects 87wins, putting them 2 games back of the second wildcard. All of those figures are big improvements from a week ago.
Tampa Bay Rays (4-2)
The Rays were in Baltimore during the week and had David Price on the mound for Monday's opener. He was not as his best, as he allowed 12 hitters to reach base. He managed to limit the damage though, and gave up just 2 runs. Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce each homered, and Tampa Bay won 4-3. On Tuesday the offense put up 7 runs on 15 hits, and Alex Cobb provided 6 solid innings in anther victory for the Rays. Jeremy Hellickson had a rough go of things in Wednesday's finale, as he was chased in the 5th inning after allowing 4 runs. The bullpen allowed only 1 hit the rest of the way, but the bats couldn't mount a comeback and Tampa Bay fell 4-2.
The Rays returned home to host the Yankees over the weekend. Chris Archer pitched 7 strong innings Friday, and Jose Lobaton, Longoria, Joyce, and Ben Zobrist each homered in an easy 7-2 win. Price made his second start of the week Saturday and lasted 6 innings, giving up a pair of runs. Longoria homered, one of 3 hits for him on the night, and Tampa Bay was again victorious. Longoria added his fourth home run of the week Sunday, and the newly acquired David DeJesus had 3 hits from the leadoff spot, but the rest of the lineup totaled just 1 hit, and in the 11th inning the Rays lost 3-2.
Player of the Week: Evan Longoria (.360/.385/.880, 9 H, 4 HR, 6 RBI)
Player of the Weak: Desmond Jennings (.095/.269/.095, 4 strikeouts)
Oakland A's (2-4)
The A's began their week by hosting the Mariners. Jarrod Parker was sharp on Monday, he pitched a complete game while giving up only 1 run, striking out 8 along the way. Brandon Moss hit a 9th inning blast that gave Oakland a 2-1 win. Rookie Sonny Gray took the mound Tuesday, and continued his strong August by going 7 innings and allowing just two runs. Josh Donaldson and Nate Freiman both homered in the 1st inning, helping to build what was still a 4-2 lead when Gray departed. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook combined on an 8th inning implosion though, and the A's lost 7-4. Wednesday's rubber match got off to a good start for Oakland, but it didn't last, and they fell 5-3.
It was then off to Baltimore for the A's. Coco Crisp and Moss each homered early, and after falling behind, Oakland rallied to reclaim the lead in the 5th. Cook had his second rough appearance of the week though, and the A's fell behind again. This time there was no comeback, and they lost 9-7. Parker made his second fantastic start of the week Saturday, again allowing just 1 run, this time going 8 innings. Crisp's second home run in two days put Oakland ahead in the 9th and Grant Balfour closed things out in a 2-1 win. Gray was the starter Sunday, but he didn't have the same stuff he'd been working with earlier in the week. He was chased in the 4th inning, having given up 6 runs, as the A's fell 10-3.
Player of the Week: Jarrod Parker (2 starts, 17.0 IP, 1.06 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 13 K)
Player of the Weak: Josh Reddick (.125/.176/.125, 8 strikeouts)
Cleveland Indians (5-1)
The Indians were in Anaheim to finish off a 9-game road trip, looking to recover from a frustrating series in Oakland. The Tribe used a 4-run 4th inning (capped by a Lonnie Chisenhall HR) to pull ahead Monday, and Zach McAllister pitched well in a 5-2 victory. Tuesday night's game saw Carlos Santana tie things at one in the 7th inning, before both offenses went into a funk. It was the 14th inning before a 2-run shot by Drew Stubbs put the Indians ahead. The bullpen provided 8.2 shutout innings in a 4-1 win that took 5:17 to complete. With the bullpen so heavily taxed, it was important that Justin Masterson make it fairly deep into Wednesday's game. Sure enough, he went 6.2, allowing just 1 run. Nick Swisher hit a 2-run HR and the Tribe won 3-1, completing their first sweep in Anaheim since 1999.
The Indians returned home to host the Twins for the weekend. Ubaldo Jimenez struck out 10 Friday night, giving up only 2 runs, but neither the offense or the bullpen was much help in a 5-1 defeat. The bats woke up for Saturday's contest, with home runs by Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis leading the charge in a 7-2 win. McAllister went 7.1 innings, that's three straight strong outings for 'Rough and Ready.' On Sunday is was Scott Kazmir's turn to pitch well; he struck out 8 and gave up only 1 run in 6 innings. The infield made 4 errors (and could have been charged with as many as 7), but the pitchers worked around them, and an 8th inning HR by Stubbs put the Tribe ahead, and they held on to take the series.
Player of the Week: Carlos Santana (.350/.519/.700, 7 H, 7 BB, 5 RBI)
Player of the Weak: Michael Brantley (.040/.111/.040, 1 for 25... ouch)
Baltimore Orioles (3-3)
The Orioles hosted the Rays to begin their week, a team they were 3.5 games behind and looking to catch. Baltimore collected 15 hits and 4 walks, but went just 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position, left 15 men on base, and lost 4-3. The O's were down 3-2 heading into the 9th, but allowed 4 runs, putting them in too big a hole. Weiters' 9th inning HR would have won the game if the bullpen had given them a scoreless 9th. Instead Baltimore had another loss, and fell into 3rd place in the race for the second Wild Card. Wei-Yin Chen took the mound Wednesday, and kept the Orioles from being swept by going 7 innings and allowing just 2 runs. Adam Jones and Chris Davis each homered in a 4-2 win.
After failing to gain ground on Tampa Bay, the Orioles took a shot at Oakland over the weekend. Bud Norris was hit hard for 7 runs and didn't survive the 5th inning Friday night, but the Orioles rallied in the 7th inning and then held on for a 9-7 victory. Chris Tillman pitched a much better game Saturday, allowing just 1 run in 8 innings, while striking out 9. The offense never got anything going though, and after Darren O'Day gave up a 9th inning home run, Baltimore lost 2-1. The lienup came back to life Sunday afternoon though. J.J. Hardy, Nike Markakis, and Nate McLouth each hit a doubleand a home run as the Orioles coasted to a 10-3 win to take the series.
Player of the Week: Chris Tillman (2 starts, 14.0 IP, 3.21 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 14 K)
Player of the Weak: Brian Roberts (.143/.250/.286, 6 strikeouts)
New York Yankees (5-2)
The Yankees hosted Toronto for four games, including a doubleheader on Tuesday. Robinson Cano had 4 hits in the opener, including the 200th home run of his career, as New York won 8-4. The back end was 2-2 heading into the bottom of the 9th, when Ichiro Suzuki stole third and Jayson Nix drove him in with a single for a 3-2 win. On Wednesday starter Adam Warren exited without recording an out in the 4th inning, but David bleeping Huff pitched 5 scoreless innings, keeping the Yankees in the game, and an Alfonso Soriano HR in the 7th put them ahead for good. Andy Pettitte gave up only 1 run in 6 innings Thursday, as New York finished off a 4-game sweep, which made them 11-3 over the last two weeks, keeping them very much a part of a playoff race many had written them out of.
It was then off to Tampa Bay for the weekend. Hiroki Kuroda (a fringe Cy Young contender) had one of his worst outings of the year Friday night, allowing 7 runs in 6 innings. The offense did little to help and New York lost 7-2. CC Sabathia gave up 3 runs in 6.1 frames Saturday night, not a bad performance really, but the lineup was again of little assistance and the Yankees again went down in defeat. Cano had 3 hits in Sunday's finale, including his 24th home run of the year, and in the 11th inning New York pushed a run across to avoid the sweep.
Player of the Week: Robinson Cano (.414/.414/.724, 12 H, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
Player of the Weak: Mark Reynolds (.105/.227/.105, 8 strikeouts)
Brett Anderson (Oak) - Stress facture in right foot, has not pitched since late-April. Made rehab start Thursday, could return as soon as this week.
Wilson Betemit (Bal) - Out all season with torn PCL in right knee. On rehab assignment now, could return this week.
Bartolo Colon (Oak) - 15-day DL with groin strain. Could return this week.
Travis Hafner (NYY) - 15-day DL with strained right rotator cuff. Could return in 2-3 weeks.
Jason Hammel (Bal) - 15-day DL with elbow strain. Could return next week.
John Jaso (Oak) - Suffered concussion Tuesday. Could return next week.
Derek Jeter (NYY) - Out last 3 weeks with strained right calf. Expected back today.
Desmond Jennings (TB) - Returned on Monday after missing two weeks with fractured finger.
Corey Kluber (Cle) - Out last 3 weeks with sprained finger. Could return next week.
Matt Moore (TB) - Sore elbow, has not pitched since late-July. May return next week.
Ryan Raburn (Cle) - Has not played in a week due to sore left foot. Could return Tuesday.
Josh Reddick (Oak) - Left Sunday's game with sore right wrist, set to be evaluated Monday.
The Week Ahead
Athletics: 4 @ Tigers, 3 vs. Rays
Indians: 3 @ Braves, 3 @ Tigers (those two have the best records in baseball)
Orioles: 3 @ Red Sox, 3 @ Yankees
Yankees: 3 @ Blue Jays, 3 vs. Orioles
The Rays have fairly weak opponents during the week before a big series in Oakland. The A's meanwhile, are tasked with a long series on the road against the league's best team. It will feel strange, but Indians fans should be pulling for the Tigers until the weekend rolls around. The Tribe and Orioles both face very difficult weeks (before battling one another next week). Odds are at least one of them will be out of the race ten days from now, but Cleveland's schedule eases up after that, so if they can find a way through this stretch that keeps them within striking distance, they'll have a decent shot. New York has the easiest slate among these five teams this week, and like it or not (I don't), they're very much in this. I bet they move up the standings this week and pass Baltimore.