The Lineup: East Coast Style

At Bat: It has been one week since Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria returned to the lineup after missing 85 games with a partially torn left hamstring. Since his return, all the Rays do is win win win. They have now won seven straight games with Longoria’s bat back in the lineup and find themselves tied with the Baltimore Orioles atop the AL Wild Card standings and just five games behind the division-leading New York Yankees (68-47).

The Rays pitching has kept them in the race to October with Longoria sidelined half the season and are in a prime position now to reach the postseason with many doubters, including myself, saying they had no chance. Tampa Bay possesses a strong duo in James Shields and David Price to lead their rotation and a solid back end with Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Fernando Rodney currently leads the league in saves with 37 and Joel Peralta is second with 28 holds.

If the Rays pitching has carried them this far without Longoria it’s scary to think what they’ll do with him back in the lineup on an everyday basis. As a blogger for a Chicago-based sports website, I am a little concerned about the Chicago White Sox chances with this surge Tampa Bay has all of sudden found. At this very moment, I would have to say the Rays are a playoff team, as well as the Los Angeles Angels, meaning the White Sox must win their division to secure a playoff spot. That’s easier said than done when you have a team just a couple of games behind you in the division that can go on a 15-game winning streak. What to take from this: don’t start buying your playoff tickets just yet Chicago.

On Deck: At the time of publication, the Washington Nationals are sitting in first place in the NL East with a 5½ game lead over the Atlanta Braves. Secondly, the Nationals are the best team in Major League Baseball with a 72-44 record. The Cincinnati Reds trail them by 2½ games. By all means the Nationals are a playoff team, even when Stephen Strasburg is shut down in mid-September (that article will be posted when he nears his 160 allotted innings pitched).

Let that be stated again: The Nationals are a playoff team and leading the majors in wins. In 2008 and 2009 they totaled 59 wins in each season and only won an additional 10 in 2010. They finished a half game under .500 last year and are now leading the league? The turn-around is hard to fathom and also very similar to the Arizona Diamondbacks a season ago. In 2010 the D-backs finished last in the NL West at 65-97. One year later they won the division by eight games at 94-68 over the then-defending World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants.

The Nationals can win the division series without Strasburg, but it will be very hard to go any further without their young ace in the rotation. However, I would not write off the Nationals until they are eliminated because Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez can pitch the lights out of hitters and reach the World Series. The question becomes how far the offense can carry them in postseason play, when you have to see an opponent’s ace potentially three times in one seven-game series.

In the Hole: History was made in Toronto Monday night, and the victims were sadly the White Sox. Chicago continues to be unable to provide their ace Jake Peavy any run support as his only offense came off of two Adam Dunn solo home runs. If you cannot give your two aces the support they deserve how are you going to last in the final weeks of September and October?—if they are to reach October.

Back to history. With the game tied 2-2 after nine innings, free baseball was in store for the fans and it was a good deal for those lucky enough to have stuck around. In the tenth inning Blue Jays relief pitcher Steve Delabar took the mound and made history for not only the MLB, but also the Jays’ franchise.

Delabar completed the rare and first ever extra-innings feat of four strikeouts in one inning. He got Dayan Viciedo to strikeout swinging first, then got Tyler Flowers to swing at a full-count pitch for his second strikeout, but the ball got past his catcher, Jeff Mathis, and Flowers took first.

But it didn’t matter, as both Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza went down swinging for the Blue Jays’ first-ever recorded four strikeouts in one inning and the league’s first in extras. Sad to say this might be the highlight of the Jays’ season this year.

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