Those who like drama (or watching trainwrecks), you've got your wish.
The Red Sox, after failing to contact Vaughn Eshelman and Joe Hesketh, had Terry Francona close his eyes, spin around, and point to Erik Bedard, who went out and almost got through the fourth inning before having to be rescued by Alfredo Aceves, who probably should have started one of the recent games, but then he couldn't have pitched 6 1/3 innings over the last three games back-to-back-to-back. Daniel Bard decided to be September Daniel Bard (0-4, 11.70 ERA) and even Jonathan Papelbon decided to make it interesting by putting the tying run on second base before recording the final out in an 8-7 victory over Baltimore.
Tampa, facing a Yankees B-squad lineup that featured Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, found themselves with runners on second and third, no outs, and down 3-2 in the top of the 6th at the Trop. Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson intentionally walks Jorge Posada to load the bases surely in an effort to get Russell Martin to ground into a triple play. Martin did (STRATEGY!), Matt Joyce hits a three-run homer off of former Rays closer Rafael Soriano, and Tampa remains tied with Boston for the AL Wild Card with a 5-3 win thanks to a sequence that had it taken place in Moneyball everyone in the theater would have rolled their eyes at the same time.
Over in the National League, the Cardinals tied for the NL Wild Card lead by going all CPU cheat on Houston, coming back from 5-0 and 6-5 deficits to win 13-6. During the game, Cards manager Tony LaRussa managed to use nearly every player on his 40-man roster, so it's quite possible St. Louis had 11 or 12 players on the field during the game. Memo to Tony - you can't have this kind of fun in the American League.
Meanwhile, the Phillies beat the Braves again, 7-1, after knocking around Braves starter Derek Lowe for five earned runs and six hits in four innings of work. I know Lowe hasn't exactly been great this season, but his 0-5 record and 8.75 ERA in 5 September starts makes it seem like he thinks he's still in Boston. Not Lowe's fault (entirely, at least): Atlanta only managed four hits all game, and their lone run came from a Martin Prado solo shot off Kyle Kendrick in garbage time in the 9th.
So here's what we've got.
- Same matchups as last night; Boston's in Baltimore, Tampa hosts the Yankees, the Phillies are in Atlanta, and St. Louis takes on the Astros in Houston.
- According to coolstandings.com, Boston stands a 59.1% chance of coming out of this with the AL Wild Card over Tampa, while St. Louis now is 61.3% likely to take the NL Wild Card over Atlanta. No other team is playoff eligible - the Angels and Giants were disposed of a few days ago.
- Boston has a rare moment of pitching relief with Jon Lester going tonight, however Lester is coming off his worst start of the season (2.2 IP, 8 ER vs. NY) and has lost three straight. Baltimore counters with Alfredo Simon, which sounds like a bad pasta dish at a cheap Italian place.
- The Rays throw David Price at the Yanks, who counter with Dellin Betances. Price hasn't been dominant in September, but he did pitch well the last time he pitched against the Bombers (8 IP, 1 ER on August 12th). Betances pitched most of this season in AA, and is one of the top pitching prospects in their system. He struggled a bit in four starts at the AAA level (0-3, 5.14 ERA, 15 BB in 21 IP), and in his only major league appearance (against Tampa, in mop-up duty) faced seven batters, walking four of them and hitting one.
- Atlanta will at least have their best veteran starter going for them tonight as Tim Hudson faces Philadelphia. Atlanta is 3-8 in their last 11 games, but Hudson has two of those wins. The Phils are starting Joe Blanton in his first start since going on the DL in May. While it might seem like Philadelphia is layoff off of the Braves, they do have something still to play for - if the Phillies win tonight it will be their 102nd win, a franchise record.
- In contrast, Houston - in route to their worst record in franchise history - sends ex-Phil Brett Myers to the mound to face St. Louis and Chris Carpenter. While Myers' numbers don't look good this season, he's probably the best starter Braves fans could hope for the Cardinals to face, going 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA his last four starts. Carpenter started off a little rough but has been better in the second half.
- In the AL, the Yankees are the #1 seed, but that's the only thing that is set in stone. Texas is a game up for the #2 seed, but Detroit holds the tiebreaker so if they won and Texas lost, Detroit would be the #2 seed and host Tampa/Boston, with Texas visiting the Bronx. If Texas wins tonight, they host Boston/Tampa, and Detroit visits New York. Despite the wild card team having the weakest record of the four AL playoff teams, the #1 seed Yankees wouldn't play them because both Tampa and Boston are in the AL East and MLB rules prevent teams from the same division playing in the divisional series.
- It's even more complex in the NL. Philadelphia, like the Yankees, have the #1 seed set. Milwaukee has a one-game lead over Arizona for the #2, but Arizona holds the tiebreaker so if they win and Milwaukee loses, Arizona will host their NLDS series. Who they would host depends on who wins the wild card. If St. Louis wins it, they play Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Arizona play each other. However, if Atlanta wins it, Philly would host the #3 seed and Atlanta would travel to the #2 seed due to the "same division" rule mentioned earlier.
Of course, it's a little anti-climatic to have playoff hopes hinge on the performance of teams with nothing to play for. In an ideal world (at least from a baseball fan's perspective), all four teams would win (or lose), and we'd have two one-game playoffs, head-to-head, for the right to move on. If that happens, we'll discuss that tomorrow.