Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays’

To the Would-Be Victors Come the Would-Be Spoilers

The Seattle Mariners may have been on a bit of a tear of late, but they’re not exactly looking for a postseason shot that they’re just not going to get. However, read carefully: the Mariners have the single most tough schedule in the American League to come down the stretch of the stretch.

The New York Yankees and their minions love to say, no matter how the Yankees might be struggling lately, that the road to the Serious still goes through the south Bronx. But for the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Texas Rangers, the road to the postseason is going through Seattle: 21 out of the Mariners’ coming final 24 games will be played against those clubs. The lone set with no postseason prospect involving the Mariners is a three-set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

And the Mariners won’t necessarily be pushovers, either. They might be dead last in the American League West (67-71, with only a vague hope of reaching .500 if at all) but since the All-Star break they’re tied for the second-best jacket in the circuit with 32-20, even if they did kind of fatten it at the expense of Kansas City, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

And it gets even more delicious when you factor in that it won’t only be the Blue Jays who have to deal with Felix Hernandez, who’s already thrown four shutouts in his last ten starts including his perfect game. Including the regular season’s final day, when—if he works on his regular rest—the Angels would have the pleasure of figuring him out, possibly with a wild card spot on the line for Mike Scioscia’s troops.

So who else really gets to play spoiler down this stretch? First, the American League:

Los Angeles Angels—One more slump, however, and the Angels go from possible wild-card sneak-ins to spoilers alone. They face the third-toughest AL schedule behind Seattle and Oakland. Six games to come against the Rangers, four against the A’s, and three each against the Central-fighting Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. On the other hand, they also face six games with the Mariners . . . over their last nine games on the season. If the Angels are going to be fated as spoilers after all, their time is sooner than you or they might think.

Boston Red Sox—On scheduling paper the Red Sox have the fourth toughest AL schedule to come. Six games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and the Empire Emeritus. That’s on paper only. In reality—don’t exactly bank on this year’s Red Sox becoming last year’s Orioles. Since The Big Deal they’ve gotten worse instead of better and it doesn’t look like anything can help them now. Which is another good reason to dump Bobby Valentine post-haste. He can’t even get them to muster up for playing for pride anymore.

Toronto Blue Jays—They have four against the Orioles, seven against the Yankees, and three versus Tampa Bay. Sorry, Yankee fans—the road to this postseason just might be going through Toronto or Boston, though right now Toronto looks like the heavier stretch to pave.

The National League’s prospective poisoners aren’t looking at quite the kind of roads the AL spoilers-in-waiting face. The league’s toughest schedule to come belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are fighting for a postseason berth still. But the second-toughest belongs to the Miami Marlins—who look at this writing and probably for the rest of they way as though the only thing they could spoil would be their fans’ lunches or dinners. The road to the National League postseason isn’t going through southern Florida this time.

As for the rest of the league?

New York Mets—They’ve been looking a little better since busting out of their last free fall with an 8-3 record over their previous eleven games. They still face six games with the Atlanta Braves, three with the Washington Nationals, and a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are still clinging to postseason hopes and just might get a chance to have the Mets throw them over the stern. Unlike the Red Sox, the Mets are playing for pride now and have the right manager under whom to do it. Terry Collins is what the Red Sox only thought Bobby Valentine would be, the difference being Collins learned from the past and hasn’t been swatting flies with atomic bombs or betraying his players no matter how no-nonsense he is with them.

Milwaukee Brewers—They’re facing four with the Nats and three each against the Braves, the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.

San Diego Padres—Don’t laugh; the Friars just took two out of three from the Dodgers and have three more to play against them. That’s in addition to three games each with the Cardinals and six with the San Francisco Giants.

Further spoiler alert: At least a few of the aforesaid contenders (we’ve already mentioned the Angels in this context, alas) could be reduced to spoilers themselves by the time at least one of the current candidates gets to them.

A Slip of the Hip Sinking the Yankee Ship?

Make that a slippage to the point where the Baltimore Orioles—yes, those Baltimore Orioles—are one game behind the Empire Emeritus. In the American League East standings. The Orioles helped themselves there Monday by shutting out Toronto, but the Yankees held the door for them falling to Tampa Bay, 4-3, when Robinson Cano faltered in the bottom of the eighth on maybe the key play of the game.

And it’s no ordinary faltering if Cano wasn’t kidding about a barking hip as he went for the play and he, too, goes down on sick leave.

Roberts—Scoring on the turn of Cano’s hip?

Chris Gimenez, the batter in question with a man on second and the game tied at three, didn’t exactly shoot the grounder like a torpedo along the top of the Tropicana Field rug. The journeyman Gimenez came back up from the minors Saturday and carried a .203 major league average this year into Monday’s game. Not exactly a stick to strike fear into a Yankee heart even if he did swat home a run with a single off CC Sabathia in the Tampa Bay second.

Now, Cano shaded toward the pad with Gimenez batting righthanded, and the Rays’ rook cued it toward the hole. It’s a ball to which Cano normally gets, by trot or dive. Not this time. The ball danced under Cano’s downstretched glove and into the outfield. It rolled slow enough for Ryan Roberts, the man on second, to cross the plate like a commuter barreling his way to catch the downtown express the minute the doors begin closing. Except that now the doors may be closing on the Yankees’ postseason possibilities.

“I had it there,” Cano told reporters after it was over. “It was just my left foot just came up, and I just felt my left hip a little bit. Right when I tried to bend, my left foot just came straight up and I felt my hip. It will be hopefully just nothing bad. It’s just tight right now. Hopefully nothing bad or anything. Let’s see how it feels tomorrow.”

If Cano’s split more than his infinitives, the Yankees are the next best thing to dead ducks.

He looked suspect enough in the top of the same inning, when he couldn’t break out of the box in customary fashion when he hit a liner Tampa Bay third baseman Kelly Johnson couldn’t handle. He dropped and fumbled the ball like a tight end surrounded tighter by barreling defencive backs, then threw way off line toward first base. And he still beat Cano thanks to the Yankee second baseman’s rickety start out of the box.

On 18 July, the Empire Emeritus had a ten-game AL East lead. Eleven days later, the lead remained 7.5. Coming into Tampa Bay after dropping two of three to the Orioles in New York, the Yankee lead was down to a pair. Now it’s a game. And their coming schedule has about a 50-50 chance of allowing them breathing room. Following this week-opening set with the Rays, they get to play the Orioles again in Baltimore. And this year’s Orioles don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”

Saunders—Shutting out the Jays while the Yanks fed the Rays . . .

By the time they leave Baltimore for a three-set with what’s left of the Red Sox in Fenway Park, the Yankees might discover that even slapping the Red Sox silly in three straight won’t help them much. On paper the Orioles have the tougher immediate schedule—two more with the Blue Jays, that four-set hosting the Yankees, then a showdown with the Rays, and a weekend in Oakland against an equally surprising collection of Athletics, who just might be the hottest team in baseball at this moment and could keep that status by that weekend. (Their upcoming schedule is no siesta, but they don’t exactly seem worried, either.)

But these Orioles are made of hardier stuff. The Yankees have been done in by injuries and too many lineups filled with scrubs and utilities, not to mention a pitching staff that’s beginning to show age and vulnerabilities up and down. The Orioles took two of three from the Yankees as July turned to August. Since then, they’re 20-9, and the Yankees are 15-15. They rode a castoff named Joe Saunders (cast off by the Arizona Diamondbacks a couple of weeks ago; once cast off by the Los Angeles Angels in a deal for Dan Haren) and three bullpen bulls to a three-hit shutout Monday, and they’re closer to the Yankees in the East than anyone’s been since June.

What if if the beginning of the end for these Yankees truly might come off a journeyman .203 hitter, toward the turn of a hip on a ground ball slip?

The Yankees aren’t used to losing pennants or being denied chances for them thanks to surrealities beyond their control. It’ll take just as long for Yankee-watchers and Yankee-haters alike to think of anything like that striking them down. Imagine that. The Yankees and their minions experiencing life according to the pre-2004 Red Sox.