On Sept. 8, the Boston Red Sox led the Toronto Blue Jays by a game and the Orioles by two, setting up what appeared to be a three-team race in the American League East, the most intriguing in baseball.
It didn't happen.
Since then, the Red Sox have ripped through the AL East, building a lead and, after finishing a four-game sweep with a 5-3 win at Camden Yards Thursday, leaving the Orioles to battle for a wild card spot.
With nine games remaining, the Orioles have pitching and hitting issues. Chris Tillman lasted five outs Thursday. Kevin Gausman has a sore intercostal muscle and needs rest. The starters for this weekend's series are Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley and Dylan Bundy.
With the pitching and hitting issues, the Orioles fit in with the rest of the AL wild card contenders.
Seattle ranks second in the league in runs for September, but the Mariners have scored only 16 runs in their last seven games. And the Astros, Orioles, Yankees, Tigers and Blue Jays are in the bottom third for September runs with the Blue Jays last.
The Astros, coming off a 5-1 trip where they picked up 2 1/2 games, have the most questionable rotation. Collin McHugh has had a September turnaround, but Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are on the disabled list and Doug Fister and Mike Fiers aren't pitching well. McCullers could be back early in the postseason and Keuchel late.
So that leaves reliever Chris Devenski as their MVP. The Astros win with just enough starting pitching. Devenski pitches two or three innings and turns it over to a stingy bullpen that has Luke Gregerson, Wil Harris and Ken Giles. If the Astros get to their bullpen, they'll be fine.
That's not true with Detroit, which has Cleveland and Kansas City on its schedule. The Tigers bullpen is wobbly and their rotation is as well. Justin Verlander is typical Verlander this year.
But Jordan Zimmermann has little chance of coming off the disabled list in time to help. Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey are struggling. Rookie Michael Fulmer has September fatigue.
It's amazing the Yankees are even in the conversation, but it's not going to be easy given that their best pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, who leads the league with a 3.07 ERA, is going to miss at least one start because of a forearm strain.
The Mariners figure they have to play .800 ball in the final days to make the postseason, starting with their series this weekend in Minnesota, where they will start James Paxton, former Oriole farmhand Ariel Miranda and Taijuan Walker. The three have combined for a 3.61 ERA during September.
After Minnesota, the Mariners play in Houston and finish at home with Oakland.
The Blue Jays have moved R.A. Dickey to the bullpen. They've set up their rotation so that Marco Estrada, who is battling a bad back, J.A. Happ, who has cooled in September, and Aaron Sanchez pitch their final three games in Boston.
Toronto plays the Orioles next week in Toronto. They lead the season series 9-7. If they are tied, head-to-head records determine home-field advantage for the wild card game.
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