Seven teams - including the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A's - are seeking a spot in Major League Baseball's postseason with less than a month left until the 2013 regular-season ends. (Photo : REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (L) & Stephen Lam (C & R))
With the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs right around the corner, the American League (AL) wild card race is heating up with seven teams - the Baltimore Orioles, the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers - vying for two postseason spots.
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The Texas Rangers and the Rays are holding on to the two wild card spots, with the Orioles 2.0 games behind in the standings, followed by the Indians (2.0 games behind), Yankees (2.5 games), and Royals (4.5 games).
The A's and the Rangers are battling for the AL West division lead with both teams gunning for the division in hopes of avoiding the one-game wild card playoff game that Major League Baseball (MLB) introduced to the postseason last season.
Last year, the Rangers ended up in the wild card game - losing 1-0 to the Orioles - after getting swept by the Los Angeles Angels late in the year, allowing the Oakland A's to win the division. Much like last year, the A's are making a late season run and currently are atop the AL West 0.5 games ahead of the Rangers.
"We got a chance right now to control our own destiny and hopefully get where we want to be," Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson. "That's winning our division."
The Rays currently hold the second wild-card spot, though they are 5.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL division and may have a long-shot at taking the AL East division. The Rays have been on a slide, however, having lost four of the last five games during their West Coast trip, but managed to hold off the Yankees during their three-game home-stand in late-August.
The Yankees have gotten hot since the Alfonso Soriano trade and Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup. The Yankees traded for Soriano on July 26 and has hit 12 homers in 35 games since returning to The Bronx. Soriano had only smacked 17 home runs in 93 games this season for the Chicago Cubs, prior to being sent to New York.
"Each day that ticks off, we got to make up more ground, and this is obviously one of the teams we're chasing and this place has been a tough place for us to win," said Girardi. "But this group has been resilient. I've said it all year long. People have wrote us off a few times, and they find a way to bounce back."
Another AL East team also vying for a wild card slot are the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles finished 3-6 on their nine game trip against playoff contenders as well as lost two of three in Boston, New York and Cleveland.
With the Detroit Tigers running way with the AL Central division, Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals are also vying for the last two wild-card spots. The Indians had gone 1-5 on their road trip to Atlanta and Detroit before stopping their skid against Baltimore.
The Indians joked they had a little help from "Chicken Al" - Cleveland's new lucky charm, a live chicken wearing a Cleveland "C" cape that pitcher Justin Masterson brought to field during batting practice prior to Wednesday game.
"If we get on roll, that's going to be our mascot," said Cleveland right fielder Ryan Raburn. "Whoever is the owner of it, we're going to have to keep that sucker if we keep winning. We're going to have to get him his own locker."
Cleveland manager Terry Francona - who won the 2004 World Series with a Boston Red Sox team that was self-described as a "bunch of idiots" - likes to see his young squad having fun this late in the season, so long no one or farm animals gets hurt. Francona was informed about the prank beforehand and promised "Chicken Al" would be returned safely back to the farm before People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got upset. But he loves the fact his young team is staying loose while in the hunt for a postseason berth.
"I actually love it. Guys are trying to have fun. That's the best way to be a good team," said Francona. "It doesn't mean that we're not taking what we do seriously because we really do. But, yea, it's a good way to come to the ballpark laughing. It's a good atmosphere."
The other team out of the AL Central looking to slide into the wild-card slot are the Kansas City Royals, who have not been to postseason since winning the 1985 World Series. The Royals took a risk at the start of the 2013 MLB season, trading Wil Myers - a Top 50 prospect - to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitcher James Field. The Royals gamble is paying off, with Shields, Ervin Santana, Bruce Chen, and Jeremy Guthrie helping Kansas City finish with an above-.500 record since 2003.
The bullpen has been lights-out, as well, for the Royals, with the help from former No.1 draft pick Luke Hochevar and set-up man Kelvin Hererra, and Greg Holland while making moves to bolster their batting lineup, having added Carlos Pena - released by the Houston Astros in late July - in hopes he finds his 2009 All-Star form and add home run power off the bench.
"Mostly a veteran bat off the bench," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "It's tough on young kids coming off the bench late in games in crucial situations. Veteran players have a better idea of how to do it and he fits that role real nice."
Kansas City schedule may not cooperate with their playoff aspirations, however. The Royals have one of the toughest schedules in the majors, playing 44 games in 44 days since July 30, including four consecutive series against the Tigers and Cleveland.
"Every game is crucial and extremely important," said Yost.