Three up, three down: Pitchers provide insight
Up: Ubaldo Jimenez
It's two years later, but the Indians are finally getting what they hoped for when they acquired Jimenez from the Rockies on July 30, 2011. The Tribe is making a push for one of the American League's two Wild Card spots, only a half-game back of co-leaders Texas and Tampa Bay after winning nine of 12 games. And it is Jimenez who has been the catalyst. After Cleveland suffered a 7-2 loss at Baltimore on Sept. 2, the Indians had lost six of seven.
Jimenez took the mound the next day and provided the start of a surge. He's won three starts in a row, having allowed one earned run in 21 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out 22 during the stretch. This is the pitcher the Indians envisioned when they traded a package of players that included former first-round Draft picks Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to the Rockies for Jimenez.
It isn't what they received initially. In his first two seasons and one month with the Tribe, Jimenez was 22-30 in 68 starts with a 4.81 ERA. The Indians were 32-36 in games he started. When they acquired Jimenez in 2011, they were just 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Tigers. Two months later, the season ended with Cleveland 15 games out of first place. The Tribe stumbled to a 68-94 record in 2012.
Down: Yu Darvish
The Rangers aren't waiting until the last weekend to see the AL West slip away. Having opened September with a two-game lead, the Rangers are now 6 1/2 games back of the first-place A's, and even their Wild Card situation is a bit precarious. Texas is 2-11 in September, and after losing two of three at Oakland earlier in the month, the Rangers just completed a six-game homestand that began with being swept by the Pirates and ended with them being swept by the A's.
Texas has scored only 44 runs in the month, second fewest in the AL, but the real problem is the rotation. How bad are things? The bullpen has had only one save opportunity this month, and it converted it. The rotation? It's 1-11 and has a 5.32 ERA. Darvish and Derek Holland are both 0-3 in the month, and neither has won since their first start in August.
Darvish is 0-4 his last six starts, and he has lost to Oakland twice this month. And if that's not concerning enough, the Rangers hit the road this week to face the Rays and Royals, two teams with Wild Card hopes. The A's, meanwhile, don't face a team with a winning record the rest of the way, meeting the Angels six times, the Twins four times and the Mariners three times.
Up: Adam Wainwright
There were concerns in St. Louis two weeks ago. Wainwright, the ace of the rotation, not only lost back-to-back starts against Pittsburgh, but he gave up 15 runs in only eight innings. Exhale. The Cardinals and Wainwright have rebounded. St. Louis has returned to a tie for the National League Central lead -- where it has spent 115 days this season.
The Cards have won seven of nine, moving a season-best 25 games over .500. Wainwright stated two of those recent wins, allowing one run in 15 innings. He had a no-decision in Friday's 2-1, 10-inning win at Seattle, departing a 1-1 game after eight innings. St. Louis won that game on a walk-off passed ball, only its fourth walk-off win of the season. Wainwright worked seven shutout innings in a 5-0 victory over the Pirates on Sept. 7.
The Cardinals are also getting a late-season lift from rookie Shelby Miller, who was 2-0 with a 0.77 ERA in the recent surge, and has seen the Cards win five of his past six starts.
Down: Hiroki Kuroda
The Yankees' hopes of avoiding being left out of the postseason for only the second time in 19 years are fading. Kuroda is 0-4 in his last six starts -- giving up 26 earned runs in 35 innings to balloon his ERA from 2.33 to 3.13. And the latest loss was at Fenway Park over the weekend, which left the Yanks officially eliminated from the AL East title chase. The Yankees are only three games back in the AL Wild Card race, but they have four teams ahead of them and the Royals right behind them in the six-team battle for the two spots.
Closer Mariano Rivera didn't even pitch in Fenway, but he did blow back-to-back save opportunities the previous weekend at Yankee Stadium, where Boston won three of four. And that comes a month after Rivera failed in three consecutive save opportunities. He has converted only eight of his last 13 chances.
The resurgent Red Sox have been a challenge for a Yankees team that has been able to contend despite a season-long battle with injuries that included recently placing Derek Jeter on the 60-day disabled list. Boston finished off the season series by winning 13 of 19 with New York, the first team to win 13 games in a season from the Yankees since the Orioles won 13 of 18 in 1976.
Up: Mark Melancon
After second-half fades the past two seasons, the Pirates are making a statement this year. Not only did they snap their North American sports record of 20 consecutive losing streaks, but faced with adversity, they rebounded to add an exclamation point to their campaign last week.
Swept in St. Louis from Sept. 5-7 -- and outscored 24-10 -- Pittsburgh bounced back by winning six of seven, Melancon getting the final out in five of those victories. He's now 14-for-15 in save situations since stepping in for injured closer Jason Grilli on July 24, and he has a 1.35 ERA.
The Pirates didn't take the easy way out. They went to Texas from St. Louis and stunned the Rangers, pulling off a three-game sweep before returning home to take three of four from the Cubs. As well as allowing the Bucs to move back into a tie for the NL Central lead with St. Louis, Pittsburgh also has an eight-game bulge on the Nationals, who are 4 1/2 games back of the second NL Wild Card with 13 games to play. The Pirates' magic number for clinching a postseason spot for the first time in 21 years is six -- so any combination of Pittsburgh wins and Washington losses equaling that number, and the Bucs are in.
Down: Matt Belisle
The workhorse reliever underscores the struggles of the Rockies, as Colorado just completed its fifth consecutive three-city road trip, losing seven of nine games against NL West rivals San Diego, San Francisco and Arizona, and falling into last place in the division. The Rockies, who led the division for 27 days over the first two months of the season, went a combined 13-35 on those five lengthy journeys, leaving them with a 27-51 record away from Coors Field, needing to win at least two of the season-ending three games in Los Angeles to avoid their worst road record in 10 years.
Belisle, who leads the Majors in appearances and is second in innings pitched over the last four seasons, has given up eight runs and 18 hits in 5 1/3 innings of six appearances in September. He blew two saves on the recently completed road trip in which the Rockies' bullpen failed to protect late-inning leads in the first five losses. The bullpen blew four saves -- Rex Brothers finishing off the two victories but also failing to close out a third. The relievers combined for a 7.56 ERA, allowing 50 hits, five home runs and walking 19 in 33 1/3 innings.
Now comes the question of whether the Rockies can avoid back-to-back last-place finishes for the first time in franchise history. They assured themselves of their 14th losing season in their 21 seasons of existence with Sunday's loss at Arizona, which outscored Colorado, 17-4, the last two games. And it's not going to be an easy final two weeks for the Rockies, who play their final 12 games against teams with winning records. Before ending the season at Los Angeles, Colorado will play host to St. Louis (four games), Arizona (three games) and Boston (two games).
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.