Wild Card Fever: All about positioning

Wild Card voodoo. - Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

As the Royals remain in the thick of the Wild Card race, a look at the key games for Monday.

It is the second week in September. Every game is valuable. I'm still writing about the Royals.

Amazing, isn't it? Here we are, 19 games left in the 2013 season and the Royals are not only still above .500, they are still within striking distance of playing in October.

Your current, up to the minute (as of Monday morning at least) Wild Card standings, including the postseason odds from Baseball Prospectus:

Team W L PCT GB %
Texas 81 61 .570 +3.0 89.8
Tampa Bay 78 64 .549 ---- 67.9
Cleveland 76 66 .535 -2.0 20.5
Baltimore 76 66 .535 -2.0 10.6
NY Yankees 76 67 .531 -2.5 6.9
Kansas City 75 68 .524 -3.5 1.8


Tampa edged Seattle yesterday to keep just a bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the field. Texas won and the Yankees walked off on a wild pitch against the Red Sox. Cleveland and Baltimore both lost.

This is a key week as the bottom four teams face each other and the leaders play other teams that appear to be locks for October baseball.

New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
CC Sabathia vs Chris Tillman

Sabathia has been pretty great since joining the Yankees, but this year has seen his strikeout rate fall (7.55 SO/9) and his walk rate increase (2.64 BB/9). More troubling is an increase in his home run rate to 1.3 HR/9, which is well above his career rate of 0.8 HR/9. His HR/FB rate is a career worst 14.5 percent, so there's perhaps some reason to think he's been snakebit in the long ball department, but his fly ball rate has been creeping higher the last couple of seasons and he's lost nearly three mph off his fastball since 2011.

Tillman doesn't have swing and miss stuff, but has a shiny ERA and 15 wins. Someone will tell you he's a good starting pitcher. Ignore them. Tillman is a fly ball pitcher in a park that's rather home run friendly. His 1.41 HR/9 is the fifth highest among starters. The good news for the Orioles is the Yankees 125 home runs on the year is lower than every team in the American League that doesn't play in Kansas City. Although 20 of Tillman's 27 home runs allowed have come at Camden Yards. I'm so conflicted.

This is the opening game of a four game series.

Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians
Ervin Santana vs Ubaldo Jimenez

The Royals return to the scene of one of their low points of the season when they travel to Cleveland. Remember, this is where they dropped three in a row just ahead of the All-Star break. They have come up against Jimenez four times this year. He owned them in a start back in April, but the Royals have knocked him around in a couple of his other starts. In 21.2 innings this year against KC, Jimenez has a 3.74 ERA and has allowed just one home run.

Santana is coming off his third worst start of the year according to Game Score. The good news is, in his two starts that graded lower, he bounced back in his next outing to provide a quality start for the Royals.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Texas Rangers
Gerrit Cole vs Yu Darvish

Pittsburgh, since clinching a "non-losing" season has dropped four in a row. The Rangers won for only their second time in September on Sunday. So someone has to win.

Or as I prefer to look at it: Clint Hurdle vs Ron Washington in a battle of managerial wits.

The only reason I mention Texas here is I'm not convinced, despite their overall lead, that they can hang on to their Wild Card. This would be great news for the Royals as opening up another Wild Card spot only enhances our chances to move forward. Texas collapsed last year. They can certainly do it again. And don't forget, the Rangers come to Kansas City in a week and a half. This could get much more interesting.

It's no secret the Royals need help. Here's who you should root for tonight:

-- The Royals. Duh.
-- The Yankees. I know, I know. Don't worry. Tomorrow we will root for Baltimore. We need these two teams to split their series. If neither team can gain ground, it's better for us.
-- The Pirates. I'm not so caught up in their chase for a winning record, but if Texas can stumble down the stretch, that would be a very good thing.

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