Wild race brewing in AL, Strasburg loses some of his buzz

Perhaps there’s going to be more drama that expected in baseball’s final month - and the Orioles have a chance to determine the American League’s wild card.

It’s likely, and not unexpected, that the American League West will be decided on the final three games when the Texas Rangers play the Los Angeles Angels.

But, now, there’s a possible wild card race brewing in the AL.

Even though time is against them, the Tampa Bay Rays came to Baltimore Monday night trailing the Boston Red Sox by 3½ games in the American League’s wild card race. The Rays finished off a home sweep of Boston 9-1 on Sunday. They’ve picked up up 6½ games in the race since Aug. 8.

The Red Sox have lost 10 of 13. The best news for the Rays: After their three games in Baltimore, they start a four-game series Thursday in Boston.

The Orioles play the Rays three times and the Red Sox seven times before the season ends.

The Red Sox have problems. They are counting on pitcher Josh Beckett to come back from an ankle injury. John Lackey isn’t pitching well. Kevin Youkilis and Erik Bedard are hurt. The bullpen has questions getting to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.

The Rays’ blueprint for the season has worked about as well as could be expected. Their young rotation has kept them in the race and their rebuilt bullpen has done a good job, although Kyle Farnsworth has elbow issues. They need their offense to be more productive than it has been for most of the season.

It’s a long shot, but if the Rays do make the postseason, they would be the fifth team to come back from a deficit of at least six games with 20 or fewer games remaining. The others are the 2007 Philadephia Phillies, the 1995 Seattle Mariners, the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1951 New York Giants.

* Detroit’s Justin Verlander is the top candidate to win the American League’s Cy Young Award, but whether or not he deserves to be considered for the AL MVP is an issue that will be debated between now and November. Pitchers should be considered, but not in a year when Toronto’s Jose Bautista, New York’s Curtis Granderson, Texas’ Michael Young and Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez are putting up legitimate MVP numbers. Also, where would the Tigers be without Miguel Cabrera, their run-producing first baseman?

* For the first time in Stephen Strasburg’s career, he was just another Nationals pitcher Sunday. The press box wasn’t overflowing and the crowd at Nationals Park wasn’t packed and didn’t have the usual buzz of anticipation.

* Closer Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is on the verge of 600 career saves. It’s hard to believe he was a starter that the Yankees almost traded him to Detroit. And, it’s also hard to believe that his best pitch, the cutter, was discovered in 1997 while playing catch in the outfield with Ramiro Mendoza, who suggested to Rivera that he try to throw the pitch in a game.

* Former Orioles pitcher Adam Loewen, the team’s former No. 1 draft pick, is back in the majors as an outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays and Sunday, he hit his first big league home run in the Blue Jays’ 6-5 win against the Orioles. The Blue Jays like his quick bat, gap power and the fact that his home runs have increased each year. Defensively, he has a strong arm, and can play all three outfield positions as well as first base. The Blue Jays say Loewen has made improvements on defense.

* The Nationals’ rookie pitcher, Tommy Milone, hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues against the New York Mets. Then, when he batted in his second start against the Astros, he saw a first-pitch fastball. Don’t the Astros read scouting reports?

* A couple of years ago, Ryan Madson of the Philadelphia Phillies struggled as a closer when Brad Lidge went down with an injury. Now, thanks to better command and more confidence, Madson has grown into the job. He has 30 saves. The Phillies’ only worry going into the postseason is whether their lineup is vulnerable to left-handed pitching.

* Teams are happy if they can get one solid player a season to develop into big league talent. But the Los Angeles Angels have developed three players that are going to be around a while: Outfielder Mike Trout, catcher Hank Conger and first baseman Mike Trumbo, whose power has made him a top candidates to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

* The Nationals’ Jayson Werth is getting time in center field during the final month after playing in right field all season, giving the team another option for 2012. The difference between the two? Werth says balls tend to curve away in right field but they come right at an outfielder in center. “But I am comfortable at either position,’’ Werth says. “It takes time to adjust to center field, but if I am not banged up, I can play there.’‘

* The Houston Astros are finishing a long season, but there will be excitement this week when they play the Phillies at home. Former Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt will make his first start as a visitor in Houston Monday night. Also, former Astros outfielder Hunter Pence will be in the Phillies’ lineup.