If ever there was a time to tread lightly when it comes to prognosticating Major League Baseball games, it’s the final week of the season. On the one hand, you’ve got teams where players are already booking their first off-season fishing trip because they know they have no chance at the post-season. On the other hand, there are clubs like the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals that have confirmed their playoff positions.
These clubs are more worried over the next handful of days that no one gets injured and their pitching rotation is lined up just right than whether they actually win or lose. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t games worth watching carefully. So let’s look at 2015’s final week of the MLB season:
A game that matters: The Houston Astros came in to this week holding on to the slightest of leads in the competition for the American League’s second wild card qualifier slot. As the cliché goes, the club has everything to play for. As a result, look for the Astros to get the better of the Mariners when they face them in Seattle on Tuesday. Beyond having more at stake than the eliminated Mariners, Houston also has a favourable pitching matchup. Mike Fiers gets the assignment for the Astros and he has been rock-solid for Houston since being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers on July 30.
On Aug. 21 he threw a no-hitter, and he’s currently in the midst of a three-game quality start streak. (A quality start occurs when a pitcher throws six innings or more and allows three runs or fewer). In fact, Fiers has thrown a quality start in five of his past six outings. An additional advantage for Houston is the fact that Vidal Nuno is pitching for Seattle. Like Fiers, Nuno switched teams mid-season. Alas, Nuno hasn’t been as strong a contributor for his new club. He has been a swingman (starting some games and relieving others) and has put up a 4.18 ERA. You also shouldn’t expect him to go deep into games. He’s only thrown more than 4 1/3 innings once this month.
Young stud: Beyond the teams still battling for a shot at the post-season, the other type of game to look for at this juncture is one with a starting pitcher who has something to prove. Typically, this game features a young gun, who is particularly keen to end the season on the right note. That type of game will take place on Thursday when the Miami Marlins should win at home against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The pitcher in question is Jose Fernandez. The talented 23-year-old right-hander missed most of this season as he rehabilitated following arm surgery. Since his return, he’s been pretty unbeatable, putting up a 6-0 record and a 2.91 ERA. But his last outing was easily his worst of the year; on Sept. 25, he allowed six runs and nine hits in five innings of work against the Atlanta Braves. No doubt, Fernandez will be motivated to finish the year a perfect 7-0 against an out-of-the race Rays.
Game Score: Our final check-in of the season with the Bill James’ Game Score stat takes us to Washington, D.C. On Thursday, the Nationals should claim a home victory from the Atlanta Braves. As any reader of this column knows by now, the Game Score looks at recent and historical performances and distills a pitcher’s likely performance down to a single number. Any number under 50 suggests a less-than-quality start, while a score above 70 means you should expect a dominant performance.
In this game, the Braves send Ryan Weber to the pitcher’s mound. He tallies a 45 for this game. In contrast, Stephen Strasburg gets the nod for Washington and has a 72. One caveat here: pitching assignments often change this late in the final week so be sure to double check the starters before taking any advice.