(CBS Local)- The calendar has changed over to September and with it, the final month of the marathon that is the MLB regular season is upon us. Teams across the league are jockeying for the final few playoff spots, hoping to earn their berth to October baseball.
While the loser of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants’ fight for the N.L. West division crown will clearly hold homefield advantage and one of the two available Wild Cards in the league, the second team is far from certain. In the American League, a pair of East division teams and long-time rivals hold the final two spots but there are still three other teams lurking.
In this week’s edition of the Baseball Report, we take stock of where things stand in each league’s chase for the Wild Card and call attention to a pair of young players making historic marks in their first MLB seasons.
Taking Stock Of Wild Card Races
The Los Angeles Dodgers sit in first place in the N.L. Wild Card by an almost mathematically insurmountable 13.5 games. But, behind them, things are much more feisty. Their fellow N.L. West counterparts, the San Diego Padres, hold the second spot but, with a record of 73-64, the door is far from shut. Four other teams stand within 4.5 games of the second spot entering Tuesday’s play: the Cincinnati Reds (73-66, 1 GB), Philadelphia Phillies (71-66, 2 GB), St. Louis Cardinals (69-67, 3.5 GB) and New York Mets (69-69, 4.5 GB) are all within striking distance with a good couple of weeks.
The Padres have the most difficult remaining schedule in the league by virtue of playing in the West division. San Diego has 10 games left against the Giants, 6 against the Dodgers, 4 against the Braves and 3 against St. Louis, all of whom are in the playoff chase. The Cardinals stretch isn’t much easier with games left against the Brewers (7), Dodgers (3), Padres (3), Reds (3) and Mets (3). Of the group in the hunt, the Phillies actually have the easiest remaining schedule, and easiest remaining schedule in the league. Joe Girardi’s group has the Braves (3), Brewers (2) and Mets (3) left but outside of those games, they have 17 games against the Orioles, Pirates, Cubs, Rockies and Marlins. The Reds are right behind them though with three games each against the Dodgers and Cardinals and a pair of games with the White Sox. But their other 15 games left are against the Pirates, Nationals and Cubs.
On the American League side of the ledger, the New York Yankees lead the rival Boston Red Sox by just half a game in the Wild Card chase. As fun as it would be to see them play a one game winner-take-all Wild Card matchup, it’s not a sure thing just yet. The Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s are all within 3.5 games of the Sox for the second spot.
The A’s, looking to make their fourth straight postseason appearance, have the toughest road to get there. Oakland has 6 games left against the Houston Astros, 3 against the A.L. Central leading Chicago White Sox and 7 left against Seattle. Those games against the Mariners could determine which team still has a shot at the postseason. The Blue Jays road is just slightly behind Boston in terms of the easiest slate left. Toronto has six games each remaining against the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays but they also have seven games left against both the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins.
All of that build up is to say with just under a month left, things are far from certain in either league in terms of those final few spots.
Rays’ Phenom Ties Mickey Mantle
The Tampa Bay Rays have an 8.5 game lead in the A.L. East so their berth into the playoffs seems secure barring an epic collapse down the stretch. There are many reasons for the team’s success this season, not the least of which is the play of rookie shortstop Wander Franco.
The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic entered the year leading all of the major top prospects lists and was expected to make an impact as soon as the Rays decided to call him up. He’s done that and more, chasing history for a player his age in the process.
With his triple in his first at bat against the Red Sox on Monday afternoon, Franco extended his on-base streak to 36 games, tying New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle for the second longest streak by a player 20 years of age or younger. The streak is the longest in American League history by a player of that age and trails only Frank Robinson, who reached safely in 43 straight games as a 20-year-old for longest mark in league history.
After extending the streak Monday, Franco told reporters through an interpreter that it felt “pretty good” to be on the same list as Mantle.
“That was a great game, and it’s pretty good to be [on] the same list as names like Mickey Mantle,” Franco said, courtesy of MLB.com. “He’s a superstar, and I’m glad I was able to achieve this.”
Franco is earning the superstar mantle in his own right, slashing .290/.349/.475 with seven homers and 36 RBI in 59 games since being called up.
Rangers Pitcher Makes History
Franco isn’t the only young player making history. Texas Rangers starter A.J. Alexy made his own mark on Monday night as he went six innings while giving up just one hit in leading the Rangers to a 4-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
The start made it 11 scoreless innings to start Alexy’s MLB career during which he has allowed just two hits. The righthander went five innings allowing one hit against the Colorado Rockies in his debut on August 30, a 4-3 win for the Rangers. As a result, the 23-year-old is the first pitcher in modern MLB history to go at least five innings while allowing fewer than two hits in his first two career appearances.
A former 11th round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2016 MLB Draft, Alexy was sent to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade at the trade deadline in 2017. Alexy wasn’t expected to make this kind of an impact, MLB.com rates him as the 22nd best prospect in the Rangers pipeline with four pitchers ahead of him. The young starter has been a bright spot towards the tail end of another long season in Texas, with the Rangers mired in last place in the American League West with a 49-88 record and eliminated from playoff contention for the fifth straight season.