Eight teams remain in the hunt for two spots in the American League wild game.
The New York Yankees have a three-game lead over the Minnesota Twins for the first spot. Then come the Los Angeles Angels (1.0 game back), Baltimore Orioles (1.5), Seattle Mariners (2.0), Tampa Bay Rays (2.5), Kansas City Royals (3.0) and Texas Rangers (3.0).
In a quick and highly unscientific poll, we asked a combination of five executives and scouts who they thought would emerge with the two wild cards. All five unanimously picked the Yankees, but opinion was split on the second spot with the Twins getting three votes and the Angels and Rays one each.
The Twins seemed to give up on the postseason when they traded left-hander Jamie Garcia to the Yankees and closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals. However, since falling a season-worst four games under .500 on Aug. 5 with a 52-56 record, the Twins have won 15 of 22 to improve to 67-63.
“I think those trades might have been the best thing that happened to that team,” a scout from an AL team said. “They’ve been playing with a chip on their shoulder for the last three weeks, like they have something to prove. I don’t think they are a great team, but they find ways to win and (center fielder) Byron Buxton is starting to play like the superstar everyone thought he could be.”
The Angels’ backer, a scout from a National League team, believes manager Mike Scioscia gives them the edge.
“You look at that team and there’s no way they should be over .500,” the scout said of the Angels, who are 67-65. “It’s all because of the manager. Nobody gets more out of his teams and nobody is a better strategist.”
Though the Rays are a game under .500 at 66-67, they have won six of their last eight games following a stretch of 12 losses in 15 games.
“They’ve weathered the storm,” a scout from an AL team said. “I like their starting pitching and I like their offense. There starters give them a chance to win every night. If they can get the ball from the starters to (closer Alex) Colome, they are tough to beat. They need the bullpen to step up.”
Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, hitting .255/.348/.530 in 66 games. He has also thrown out 24 percent of runners attempting to steal, just under the major-league average of 26 percent.
The 33-year-old’s play has been so impressive that it led to the Rangers trading catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Colorado Rockies on July 30.
Lucroy, who has two All-Star Game selections on his resume, began the season as the starter while the journeyman Chirinos was his backup. However, Chirinos eventually worked his way into splitting duties behind the plate with Lucroy before making him expendable.
Despite his production — including 47 home runs over the last four seasons with the Rangers — many scouts do not perceive Chirinos as a full-time catcher because of his age and lengthy injury history. However, they do feel the right-handed-hitting Chirinos and left-handed-hitting rookie Brett Nicholas could make a good combination behind the plate.
“I love Chirinos’ power, but you have to keep him fresh, especially playing in the heat in Texas,” a scout from an AL team said. “If you limit him to about 100 starts and have Nicholas pick up the rest, the defense would just be passable, but you’d get a good amount of production.”
Unlike some of the more hyped rivalries in baseball, the one between the Rangers and Houston Astros is very real. I’ve heard the disdain in the voices of people in both organizations when talking about the Lone Star Series.
At first blush, the Rangers seem to be making themselves look small for the way they are handling their three-game series with the Astros that begins Tuesday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The series has been relocated from Minute Maid Park in Houston, where flooding has devastated the city and caused the loss of lives.
The Rangers were willing to host the series at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Astros asked, in return, that the three-game series scheduled from Sept. 25-27 between the teams at Arlington be moved to Houston.
The Rangers declined, though, because switching the series meant they would have had a four-city, 12-game, 13-day road trip from Sept. 15-27 before finishing the regular season with a four-game series from Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at home against the Oakland Athletics.
However, an executive from an NL team understands the Rangers’ position. especially since the Rangers are in the muddled wild-card race while the Astros have a commanding 13-games lead in the AL West over the Angels with 32 games to play.
“I know the optics look really bad from the outside,” the executive said. “However, I think everyone understands it from a business point of view. The Rangers have a playoff berth at stake. It’s a billion-dollar industry and missing the playoffs can potentially cost teams a chance to make millions in extra revenue. It’s just a cold, hard fact.”
While this corner suggests FanRag should be the center of every sports fan’s universe, here are three interesting reads from other parts of the writing world:
- Sports on Earth’s Mike Lupica writes that the jury is still out on New York Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge.
- FanGraph’s Ashley MacLennan writes that millennials are not killing baseball.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that Derek Jeter and the new Miami Marlins ownership group face a defining decision on whether to keep or trade right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
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