Wild Card contenders jockey for position in tonight's games
By Matt Kelly
Over the next five weeks, the Blue Jays and Orioles will play a combined 51 of their 64 remaining games against American League East opponents.
With the East race simply too close to call right now and postseason positions on the line, each ensuing series for these teams will become their new most important series of the season. That starts tonight in Baltimore, when the Blue Jays come into town clinging to a slim two-game lead over the Red Sox and a three-game cushion on the Orioles.
While the Orioles are within a sweep of regaining a slice of the AL East lead, there's also plenty of playoff suitors right behind them who will also be in action Monday. In Kansas City, two of baseball's hottest teams aim to take a step closer to completing their turnarounds. Meanwhile, the National League Wild Card race features equally captivating matchups in Queens and Chicago.
It's a new week, which means new opportunities to watch all of these playoff chases unfold on MLB.TV.
MLB.TV Premium has returned with the same features as last year, and is only $49.99 for the rest of the season. This package has the best value and provides access to more than 400 devices and a free subscription to the MLB.com At Bat Premium app (a $19.99 value). It offers the best picture quality ever -- a new 60 frames per second -- for supported devices. Monthly signups for MLB.TV Premium are now underway as well for $24.99.
The new MLB.TV Single Team package is also available as a $39.99 yearly subscription. You can watch a single team's live out-of-market games in full HD.
Here's what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Jays, Orioles fight for East supremacy: TOR@BAL, 7:05 p.m.
The Orioles were able to salvage Sunday's series finale against the Yankees, but the weekend's first two games -- in which New York hung a combined 27 runs and 36 hits on Baltimore -- exposed the club's most glaring flaw: lack of starting pitching.
Left-hander Wade Miley was acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline from Seattle to eat up innings, and that skill will become very important down the stretch for a club that has seen its starters contribute an AL-worst 702 2/3 total innings this season. Miley, however, has recorded an out in the sixth inning just once in his first five starts with Baltimore.
"We're at that stage of the season where it's about results," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Miley recently. "Obviously, [he's] got a pretty good feel about what he has to do to be successful. Obviously, [he] hasn't been getting results here we hoped to get lately, but he's got a track record for bouncing back."
Toronto, meanwhile, is riding high for a couple reasons. First, the Blue Jays strung together back-to-back come-from-behind victories on Saturday and Sunday to complete a sweep of the Twins. Second, the sluggers are heating up, as Josh Donaldson rolled to the first three-homer day of his career and Jose Bautista recorded his first three-hit game of the season in Sunday's 9-6 victory.
Stat that matters: While the Blue Jays have a slight 7-6 edge in their season series with the Orioles thus far, they have lost two out of three in each of the 2016 series in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This is despite Toronto outscoring Baltimore, 30-28, in those six road contests.
Red-hot Yankees, Royals collide in KC: NYY@KC, 8:15 p.m.
When the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline struck at 4 p.m. ET on Aug. 1, it was hard to envision either of these teams would be still fighting for a playoff spot four weeks later. That was before the Yankees and Royals combined to go 34-17 this month, however, making this week's series in Kansas City suddenly relevant as a potential early "knockout" round for this pair of fringe Wild Card contenders.
The Yankees hold a 3-1 edge in the season series so far, and a New York offense that has averaged six runs per game over the last 10 days will try to figure out a Royals offense that entered Sunday with an incredible staff ERA of 2.53 in the month of August. In four career appearances against New York, the Royals' Monday starter, Dillon Gee, has recorded a 3.04 ERA and 0.975 WHIP while holding the Bronx Bombers to a .204 batting average.
Stat that matters: Yankees manager Joe Girardi flip-flopped his rotation order before Sunday's game, sending left-hander CC Sabathia out to face an Orioles club that struggles against southpaws, and saving right-hander Michael Pineda for Game 1 against Kansas City. The Royals are batting .255 with a .692 OPS against righties this year, far worse than the team's .283 average and .771 OPS against lefties.
Jose, Fish, take on Mets in Queens: MIA@NYM, 7:10 p.m.
Miami enters Monday just 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the chase for the second NL Wild Card, while New York sits a game behind the Marlins. The opener for this series was originally billed as a matchup of Cy Young Award contenders Jose Fernandez and Jacob deGrom, but with Mets manager Terry Collins deciding to skip deGrom's turn in the rotation, it's become closer to a matchup of David and Goliath.
Home cooking did the trick for Fernandez in his last start Wednesday, when he snapped a four-game winless streak by shutting out the Royals over seven innings to improve to 10-2 with a 1.91 ERA this year at Marlins Park. Fernandez made history in the process, setting a new Marlins franchise mark by recording his 210th strikeout of the season.
"That's all fun, the strikeouts," Fernandez said afterward. "But you've got to win ballgames to get to the playoffs. That's what we want as a team."
Visiting mounds have not been as kind to Fernandez, however, as he is just 3-5 with a 4.42 ERA. The Mets have work to do against the star right-hander, as Fernandez has gone 2-0 in three starts against New York this season while holding them to a .206 average.
Replacing deGrom on the mound for New York will be Rafael Montero, set to make his first Major League start of 2016 and the 10th start of his career. Montero's Minor League resume this year has been mediocre at best, as the Dominican right-hander has gone 8-8 in 24 starts between Double-A and Triple-A with a combined 1.59 WHIP.
Stat that matters: Miami outfielder Christian Yelich is batting .404 (19-for-47) against the Mets this season with three doubles, a homer and seven RBIs. Yelich, who has built a reputation for avoiding infield popups, has homered 15 times out of 56 fly balls hit against right-handers for a 26.8 percent HR/FB ratio that ranks sixth out of 200 qualified position players in the Majors.
Pirates knocking on the Wild Card doorstep: PIT@CHC, 8:05 p.m.
Streaking at the right time, the Pirates have reeled off four straight victories to improve to 15-10 in August and position themselves just a half-game behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card. Now, they'll have to overcome their biggest tormenters -- Jake Arrieta and the Cubs -- to maintain their momentum.
The Cubs own a decisive 9-3 edge in one of the most anticipated season series on the baseball calendar this season -- including a 5-1 advantage in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Arrieta, who helped Chicago knock Pittsburgh out of last year's NL Wild Card Game, has gone 3-1 in four starts against the Bucs in 2016 while holding them to a .493 OPS. Pittsburgh hopes to build upon its last matchup against Arrieta on July 8, in which they roughed up the Chicago ace for six earned runs in a cathartic 8-4 victory at PNC Park.
This was another game that was supposed to feature a marquee pitcher's duel, but rookie Steven Brault will now take the mound for the Pirates after Gerrit Cole was scratched to get a second opinion on his right elbow. Brault will make his third Major League start of 2016, having limited opponents to four combined earned runs in his previous two starts.
Stat that matters: Keep an eye on how the Pirates fare against Arrieta's curveball. The Bucs hit .750 against Arrieta's breaking ball in their victory on July 8, as opposed to when they went hitless against the breaking ball in his first two starts against them this season.
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Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.