Rays just don't know anything about quitting
In pursuit of Wild Card, Tampa Bay brings eight-game winning streak into weekend
THREE UPRays: The Rays have the lowest average attendance in baseball and one of the smallest payrolls. Yet they don't seem to care. They keep plugging away. If there is a team that the workingman should love, it's the Tampa Bay Rays. On Sept. 18, after losing four in a row and seven of eight, the Rays were 6 1/2 games back of the second American League Wild Card spot and fading fast. Manager Joe Maddon decided it was time to relax. He made all pregame work optional and canceled on-field batting practice at home, telling the players they did not have to be dressed until 6 p.m. for home games that start at 7:10. The next night, Tampa Bay beat Boston, 13-3, and then, on Sept. 20, trailing the Red Sox 4-1 going into the ninth, the Rays pulled out a 7-4 win thanks to B.J. Upton's three-run walk-off home run.
They went into Friday's game in Chicago with an eight-game winning streak.The fact that the pitching staff has a 2.38 ERA in those eight games isn't surprising. The Rays lead the AL with a 3.23 ERA for the season. But the offense, which ranks 12th in the AL in average (.241) and 11th in runs scored (671), has shown life, leading the AL during its streak in runs (58) and average (.312). They've hit 15 home runs. Carlos Pena, hitting .201 for the season, has hit .333. Jose Molina is hitting .529, Jeff Keppinger .500, Luke Scott .400. This isn't anything new to the Rays. Remember, they won their final five regular-season games last year, including a sweep of the AL East-champion Yankees in the final three games to catch and pass Boston for the Wild Card. Mets: Yes, it's been a lost season for the Mets, who are 72-84 and 23 games out of first in the National League East. But R.A. Dickey is a different story -- he's given the Mets a reason to smile. Dickey, 37, is a feel-good story. He won again on Thursday, becoming the Mets' first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first pitcher who relies primarily on a knuckleball to win 20 games since Joe Niekro of the Astros in 1980. Big deal? Yep. Dickey is a guy who has spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues, but had never won more than 11 games. He came into the season with a 41-50 big league record. Dickey had been let go by Texas, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Seattle, and two years ago, at the age of 35, he opened the season in the Minor Leagues. What's more, Dickey is a guy who was a first-round Draft choice of the Texas Rangers in 1996 and was offered $810,000 to sign, but the offer was withdrawn and he wound up signing for $75,000. Seems that on the afternoon that the Rangers made the big offer to the right-hander out of the University of Tennessee, the Rangers' team doctor was in the clubhouse, saw a picture of a pitcher on the cover of Baseball America and marveled that it appeared the guy was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The guy was Dickey, who it turned out was born without the ligament. Tigers: Detroit has rattled off a four-game winning streak and managed to take a two-game lead in the AL Central on the Chicago White Sox, who go into the weekend having lost three in a row. While the Tigers are finishing up on the road at Minnesota and Kansas City, the White Sox will spend the weekend hosting the hot Rays before traveling to Cleveland for the final three games of the regular season. The bad news for Detroit is that Max Scherzer, 10-1 in his previous 13 starts before a two-inning outing last week, is not going to start in the final six games because of shoulder fatigue. The good news is that the Tigers have gotten a quick lift from Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez. In his past two starts, Fister threw his first career shutout against Minnesota and struck out an AL-record nine consecutive batters against Kansas City. On Tuesday, Sanchez threw a three-hit, 2-0 victory against Kansas City, which was the win that lifted the Tigers into a first-place tie with the White Sox, and it came two days after Detroit was swept in a doubleheader by Minnesota. THREE DOWN Indians: Manny Acta became the second manager relieved of his duties this season on Thursday, when Cleveland inserted bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. into the interim managerial role. There's speculation that the Indians acted a week before the season ended because they don't want to lose Alomar, who figures to be on several managerial search lists. Terry Francona, Torey Lovullo and John Farrell, all with Cleveland ties, also are in the rumor mill. While Acta was done no favors by the Indians, who lost 24 of 29 games in August, as much as anything he could have been a victim of false expectations, which in part were fueled by Cleveland's start to 2012. After a 5-3 victory against Detroit and Justin Verlander on July 26, the 50-49 Indians were only 3 1/2 games out of first in the AL Central. They promptly lost 11 in a row and later added losing streaks of nine and six games. The Indians head into the final six games in danger of finishing last for the first time in 21 years. Adding to frustrations, this is the second successive year the Indians faded down the stretch. It was in July last season when Cleveland was so sure it could win its division, the club acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from Colorado. The two former first-round picks they gave up, Alex Miller and Drew Pomeranz, have not distinguished themselves with the Rockies, but that doesn't offset the disappointment over Jimenez. Jimenez is 13-21 with a 5.43 ERA in 42 starts with Cleveland. This year, he leads the AL with 17 losses and 16 wild pitches, and has walked 95 batters in 176 2/3 innings. Should that really be a surprise? Jimenez became a hot topic in the first half of 2010 when he not only threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history but was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 18 starts. That, however, might have been a blip on the radar. In his 161 other big league starts, he is a combined 55-65 with a 4.30 ERA. Cubs: Chicago is a solid No. 2 in the Draft standings. Swept by Colorado in a three-game series, the Cubs now have a three-game lead on the Rockies for the second selection. The Draft order is in inverse order of the final records for this season. Houston has the first pick locked up. The Cubs, at 59-97, have the edge on the Rockies, who are 62-94. The Cubs need to at least split their final six games to avoid the third 100-loss season of their history, the first since the 59-103 campaign of 1966. The Cubs also were 59-103 in 1962. Their third-worst season ever was 64-98 in 1980, which this year's Cubs are primed to surpass. The Cubs finish the season with three games in Arizona and three at Wrigley against the Astros.
Colorado's sweep of the Cubs leaves the Rockies needing to win only once in their final six games to avoid the first 100-loss season of their existence. If that happens, the NL will avoid having three 100-loss teams. There hasn't been a league with three 100-loss teams since the AL in 2002, when Tampa Bay and Detroit both lost 108 and Kansas City lost 100.White Sox: Adam Dunn has played 1,716 big league games and has never been to the postseason, the most games of any active player who hasn't made it. For the bulk of this season, there was reason to believe Dunn would finally get his chance this year. The White Sox, though, are in a late-season free-fall. It's not just that the White Sox woke up Friday morning in second place in the AL Central, two games back of Detroit. It's not just that the White Sox have lost eight of their last nine games. It's the games they have lost. Yes, they were swept in three games in Anaheim by the surging Angels and then on Thursday lost the first game of a four-game series with Tampa Bay, but with the postseason at stake, they also lost two of three to both Cleveland and Kansas City. And they have scored only 22 runs in those nine games. The White Sox offense has gone flat. They have hit .176 with runners in scoring position in their past 21 games. In Thursday's 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay, they had the bases loaded with nobody out in the fourth and fifth innings against James Shields and scored just one run in each inning -- neither with a hit. Dayan Vicideo was hit by a pitch in the fourth and Paul Konerko grounded into a double play in the fifth.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.