Playoff contenders go head-to-head; AL Cy Young candidates toe the rubber
By Chad Thornburg
The Tigers and Orioles will continue their battle for a Wild Card spot today when they wrap a three-game series at Comerica Park. Baltimore tentatively claimed sole possession of the second Wild Card spot with a win Saturday, but the two teams will be back at it in this afternoon's finale with a marquee pitching matchup between Justin Verlander and Chris Tillman.
This is far from the day's only bout with major playoff implications. Control of the AL East is again up for grabs in Toronto, where the first-place Red Sox have just a one-game lead. In other Wild Card action, the Yankees, looming just behind Detroit and Baltimore, will try to extend their seven-game winning streak against the Rays in New York, and the Astros will take on the NL-leading Cubs in Houston. In addition to these standings-altering contests, four AL Cy Young Award candidates -- Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Verlander and Aaron Sanchez -- will take the hill throughout the day.
And the best place to catch all the action is MLB.TV.
MLB.TV Premium is only $20.16 for the rest of the 2016 stretch run. 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.
Here's what to watch for throughout the day (all times in ET):
Verlander, Tillman star in clash of Wild Card contenders: BAL@DET, 1:10 p.m.
The Orioles and Tigers conclude their head-to-head series today amid the tightest pennant race in baseball. Baltimore won Saturday's game, fending off Detroit for at least one more day in its pursuit of a Wild Card spot.
The Tigers will have their ace, Verlander, on the mound. The former Cy Young winner reached 200 strikeouts in his last start, something he hasn't done since 2013. The right-hander has made 11 consecutive quality starts and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in a start since June 26.
Tillman, recovering from right shoulder bursitis, will come off the disabled list to oppose Verlander in his first action since Aug. 20. Tillman was 15-5 with a 3.76 ERA prior to the injury.
Stat that matters: Batters are chasing on 50 percent (317-of-634) of Verlander's pitches on two-strike counts this year, which ranks sixth among qualified starting pitchers.
Astros take on Arrieta, Cubs: CHC@HOU, 8:05 p.m.
The Astros continue their playoff hunt against the National League's top team, working their way through a stretch of 13 games against teams in first place. Today's finale against the Cubs brings yet another opportunity to keep pace in a hotly contested AL Wild Card race.
"We know what's ahead of us. It's a race to as many wins as we can get," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Saturday's 2-1 win at Minute Maid Park. "I don't care if we're playing a last-place team right now or a first-place team. There's a sense of urgency that our guys feel they need to win."
The Astros draw a tough assignment in Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who is 10-2 with a 2.99 ERA on the road this season. Right-hander Mike Fiers starts for Houston. He's 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 26 1/3 innings vs. the Cubs.
Stat that matters: This is Arrieta's first career appearance against the Astros, the only team other than the Cubs he has yet to face in his seven-year career.
Sox, Jays compete for control of AL East : BOS@TOR, 1:07 p.m.
The most competitive division in baseball will be on the line today when the Red Sox and Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays can force a tie atop the AL East with a win in the crucial series finale. The Red Sox won the opener, and the Jays snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory Saturday.
"Obviously you want to win every game you play in, but the magnitude of these games has a sense of meaning more," Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "The finish line is getting close and you're playing against teams that are ultimately going to dictate whether you are in the playoff hunt or out of the playoff hunt."
Aaron Sanchez will start for the Blue Jays. The right-hander has pitched his way into the Cy Young conversation as the anchor of Toronto's rotation. Clay Buchholz goes for Boston. He's been much improved in the second half, posting a 2.95 ERA in 15 appearances (three starts).
Stat that matters: Barring any potential playoff meetings between these clubs, this will be David Ortiz's final game at Rogers Centre. His 40 home runs at the Toronto ballpark are second only to Fenway Park (219).
Yankees try for eighth straight win: TB@NYY, 1:05 p.m.
The Yankees enter play Sunday as one of the hottest teams in baseball, riding a season-long seven-game winning streak. New York is now just one game outside the AL Wild Card picture and will try to move into a tie for the second spot in today's series finale against Tampa Bay.
The Yanks will look to Luis Cessa to keep up their winning momentum as the righty makes his fifth career start. Cessa hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous four outings. The Rays will send Matt Andriese to the mound. He's still seeking his first win since rejoining the Tampa Bay rotation on Aug. 2; he's 0-5 with an 8.47 ERA in that span of seven starts.
Stat that matters: The Yankees have won each of Cessa's first four starts. He's 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA since joining the rotation.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers get the Mosaic View -- split screen or quad, available on PC or Mac only. That always comes in handy, especially when scoreboard-watching looms. MLB.TV Premium and MLB.TV Single Team subscribers both enjoy HD and both will get real-time highlights and player stats automatically loaded moments after they occur (only for the game you are watching with MLB.TV Single Team, and for all games with MLB.TV Premium).
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.