By Matt Straub
Hey, hurting teams’ playoff chances is fun, let’s do it again!
Sorry, I was trying to fire myself up for another interleague series, which I hate. Tonight the Red Sox do battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I know there’s a week of interleague play where teams face rivals from the other league and it’s really exciting. I can live with Yankees-Mets, Rangers-Astros, those kinds of matchups. And I understand how much money those series make, so I can’t really argue against them at this point, even if I still say they ruin what made the World Series the most special of all the sports championship series, its uniqueness. If the Angels and Dodgers play in the World Series, well, we’ve seen it before, so it’s just another set of games. The Yankees and Dodgers have played, the Sox and Cubs, there are no longer any matchups we haven’t seen.
I didn’t mind interleague play as much when it was limited to the middle of the season, but now that it’s required for the entire year because of Houston’s move to the AL, it is throwing a monkey wrench into the postseason.
It’s September, and thanks to the second wild card, the division races matter again. Baseball has usually done a great job of having divisional matchups at the end of the year, ensuring games which directly affect the races, but because of the required interleague play, someone has to be left out. So while the NL Central has a big matchup this week between the Brewers and Cardinals, the Pirates, who are in the mix for the division and wild card sports in the NL, are playing…the Red Sox.
If Boston was in the divisional race in the AL East, this series would be an even bigger waste. The NFL does a great job of putting teams from the same division against each other late in the year when the games matter most, and baseball often does the same thing. (Hang on, I’m waiting for lightning to hit me for saying the NFL did something right, I’m not sure we’re allowed to say that these days, OK back to the column.) This series, however, lacks drama, and it’s a shame to have this going on in September.
Since it’s on the schedule, however, let’s break it down.
For the Pirates, this is for the season. For the Red Sox, it’s another chance to mess up the year of another team. Playing spoiler isn’t fun, as you’d rather be playing for something, but it’s better than nothing. Red Sox-Astros would be even worse this week, for example.
Red Sox (66-84, eliminated from the postseason)
at Pirates (79-70 1.5 games up on 2nd NL WC)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
Anthony Ranaudo (3-2, 5.40) vs. Charlie Morton (5-12, 3.84)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Clay Buchholz (8-8, 5-19) vs. Francisco Liriano (5-10, 3.53)
Thursday, 7:05 p.m.
Brandon Workman (1-9, 5.27) vs. Gerrit Cole (9-5. 3.92)
Playoff Picture: The Pirates are in the midst of a huge playoff push as they try and build their franchise into perennial contenders like they were in the early 1990s. They’re still in the division race, just three behind St. Louis in the loss column heading into tonight, and very much in position to at least grab a wild card and get one shot to play in the postseason. With so many teams in the NL picture, losing games to a bad Red Sox team is not something the Pirates can afford. For Boston, playing spoiler is all that’s left.
Momentum: The Red Sox actually looked good against the Royals, knocking them off their perch and leaving them to scramble for a playoff spot. The Pirates, who many thought were out of the race a while ago, have won eight of 10 after being swept by the Cardinals to save their season.
Who’s Hot: If you still believe wins are a good measure of a pitcher’s success, check out the Pirates. Morton and Liriano have both been solid, even though they’re both well below .500. It’s easier in the NL because of the antiquated rule eliminating the DH and causing the early removal of pitchers, but it’s still strange to see. Suffice it to say, Boston is not facing below average pitching. On offense Josh Harrison and the underrated Neil Walker are hitting very well of late, and former Yankee Russell Martin is on fire. Liriano is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in his last three starts. In Boston, Xander Bogaerts is back to the player we thought he could be, hitting .400 this week, with Mookie Betts right behind. The future might be bright after all, and Daniel Nava continues to show why he deserves to be back next year, though he likely won’t since Boston has a glut of outfielders.
Who’s Not: For Pittsburgh, former Met Ike Davis went 1-of-9 in four games last week and Gaby Sanchez hit just .250. Morton, while much better than his record, has been bad in his last three outings. For Boston, Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-16 over the last seven days and might be playing himself out of town. Will Middlebrooks, who both stinks and has angered the organization, is even more likely to be gone after another bad week and Christian Vasquez went 0-for-14, though I still think he’s the catcher of the future.
Looking Ahead: The Red Sox get back to divisional play, where they should be, against Baltimore, though the Orioles will probably have won the East by then.