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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 28, 2011 at 9:42 AM

High drama (but not in Seattle) for Game 162

We’re conducting a poll on the best baseball movies. I’ll be posting my top 10 later today.

On Sept. 2, the Rays lost 3-2 to the Orioles, their fourth loss in five games, to fall nine full games behind the Red Sox in the wild-card race, with just 25 games to play.

On Aug. 24, the Cardinals lost 9-4 to the Dodgers, their seventh loss in nine games, to fall 10 1/2 games behind the Braves in the wild-card race, with just 31 to play.

It seemed hopeless for both teams at those junctures, but fate — and two momumental fades — have left the MLB season hanging in the balance on the last (scheduled) day of the season.

SInce Sept. 2, the Red Sox have totally collapsed, going 7-17, the second-worst record in the American League over that span behind only the horrid Twins (4-20). The Rays, meanwhile, have gone 16-8, leaving both with 90-71 records heading into today’s finales. The Red Sox managed to hold off the Orioles yesterday, 8-7, despite the fact that their starter, a guy named Erik Bedard, couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. The Rays used a triple play and a huge three-run homer in the seventh from Matt Joyce to beat the Yankees, 5-3.

Tacoma’s Jon Lester will face the Orioles, and Alfredo Simon, on three day’s rest tonight in Baltimore. Lester is 0-3 with a 10.24 ERA in his last three outings, but is 14-0 lifetimes against the Orioles in 17 starts, including a 7-0 mark at Camden Yards. Here’s how crazy things are for the Red Sox: There’s even speculation they could swing a trade to get a starting pitcher for a possible one-game playoff with the Rays on Thursday. Like, perhaps, Bruce Chen.

The Rays, meanwhile, will send All-Star David Price to the mound in Tampa Bay — where pennant fever induced a half-full attendance of 22,820 last night, pretty pitiful — to oppose Phil Hughes.

The Braves, meanwhile, are also in collapse mode, having gone 11-19 since the aforementioned Aug. 24 date, and have dropped their last four, including a 7-1 defeat to the Phillies last night in Atlanta. That opened the door for the Cardinals to pull into a tie, which they did with a 13-6 win over Houston in Houston. The 101-win Phillies will send Joe Blanton to the mound tonight against Tim Hudson, while the 105-loss Astros will start Brett Myers against Chris Carpenter.

If ties still exist after tonight, here’s the scenario for a one-game playoff on Thursday, with home fields determined by their head-to-head competition this year: Red Sox vs Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg at 1:07 p.m. Pacific TIme, and/or Cardinals vs. Braves at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, 5:07 p.m. Pacific Time. The game(s) would be televised on TBS.

That’s not all that’s on the line today with playoff implications. The Brewers and Diamondbacks are still fighting it out for the second-best record in the National League, which will determine playoff matchups and home fields. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel breaks it all down. In the AL, the Tiger and Rangers are still jockeying for the second-best record in the American League. Arizona and Detroit hold the tiebreakers. Here is a good rundown of everything at stake today.

A couple of other down-to-the-wire races: One point separates Jose Reyes (.336) and Ryan Braun (.335) for the NL batting title. Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp are tied for the home run lead with 38, with Albert Pujols one behind (keep in mind that all playoff games to break a tie are counted as regular season games, and the stats included in a player’s season total). In the American League, Curtis Granderson (119) is one ahead of teammate Robinson Cano for the RBI crown, with Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez two back. Granderson’s 41 homers are two behind Jose Bautista of Toronto.

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