The Texas Rangers will have outfielder Nelson Cruz back from a 50-game suspension as they host the Tampa Bay Rays in a winner-takes-all tiebreaker to decide the American League’s final wild card playoff berth.
The Rangers and Rays both finished Major League Baseball’s regular season with 91-71 records, one game behind the Cleveland Indians in the race for the AL’s two wild card spots. Wild card berths are given to the two non-division winners in each league with the best records.
Texas closed the regular season with seven straight victories, including a 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels yesterday after the Rays had beaten the Toronto Blue Jays 7-6. The Rangers host the Rays tonight at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, with the winner advancing to a one-game playoff against the Indians two days later in Cleveland.
“We’re playing really good baseball, and the guys are excited,” Cruz said yesterday in a statement from the Rangers.
Cruz was leading the Rangers with 27 home runs and 76 RBI when he was suspended by MLB for the rest of the regular season on Aug. 5 for his connection to Biogenesis of America LLC, the Miami-area clinic accused of supplying players with banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said it will be manager Ron Washington’s decision whether Cruz starts today’s game, which is scheduled to begin at 8:07 p.m. New York time. Cruz hasn’t played since Aug. 4, when he hit a home run in a win against the Oakland Athletics.
The Rays will start left-handed pitcher David Price, who went 9-8 with a 3.39 earned-run-average this season after winning last year’s AL Cy Young Award. Price is 1-2 with a 10.26 ERA in four career starts at Rangers Ballpark.
Cruz has a .429 batting average against Price, going 9-for-21 with three home runs and five runs batted in.
“He’s one of the game’s best pitchers, but for some reason Cruz sees the ball well off Price,” said MLB Network analyst and former All-Star reliever Dan Plesac. “He should, and probably will, be in that lineup.”
The Rangers will counter with 22-year-old rookie left-hander Martin Perez, who is 10-5 with a 3.55 ERA in 19 starts this season. He went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in his final 11 starts of the regular season.
MLB’s last unscheduled tiebreaker was in 2009, when the Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in 12 innings to win the AL Central Division title. The previous year, the Twins lost to the Chicago White Sox 1-0 the day after the end of the regular season. In 2007, the Colorado Rockies topped the San Diego Padres 9-8 in 13 innings to claim a playoff spot in the 163rd game of the season for both teams.
The Indians clinched the first of the AL’s wild card spots yesterday with a 5-1 win over the Twins. It was the 10th straight victory for Cleveland, which finished the regular season with a 92-70 record after going 68-94 a year ago.
“To be a part of the resurrection -- 94 losses to 92 wins -- this year has been so awesome,” said Nick Swisher, who joined the Indians during the offseason after spending the four previous years with the New York Yankees.
The winner of the AL wild-card game in Cleveland will advance to a best-of-five-game series against the Boston Red Sox (97-65), who have home-field advantage throughout the postseason after finishing with the AL’s best record.
The Athletics meet the Detroit Tigers in the other AL division series. Both are scheduled to start Oct. 4.
The Pittsburgh Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds on Oct. 1 in the National League’s wild card game. The winner advances to face the St. Louis Cardinals two days later in the opener of a best-of-five series.
The Atlanta Braves play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the other NL division series, which starts Oct. 3.