(Reuters) - The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are top seeds in Major League Baseball’s playoffs but they take a back seat on Monday as the postseason line-up will be completed with a Texas-Tampa Bay tiebreaker game.
The Rangers and Rays finished the regular season with 91-71 records, thus forcing a one-game tiebreaker to determine which club travels to Cleveland to play the Indians in a do-or-die, American League wild card showdown on Wednesday.
Reigning Cy Young winner David Price will take the mound for the visiting Rays, while Texas counters with rookie left-hander Martin Perez, backed by the return of slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz, fresh off a 50-game suspension.
“I‘m sorry for my mistake, but I‘m ready to move on,” said Cruz, who belted 27 home runs in 108 games before being banned following MLB’s probe into the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic accused of distributing performance enhancing drugs.
Price, who battled injuries on the way to a 9-8 record this season, has revenge in mind against Texas. The hard-throwing left-hander has a 1-7 career mark versus them and lost all three of his career postseason starts against the Rangers.
“This is the moment I want to be in,” Price said. “I want to be able to relish this moment and go out there and have fun.”
The survivor of the American League wild card drama will win a trip to Boston to take on the AL East champion Red Sox (97-65) in a best-of-five Division Series starting on Friday.
St. Louis (97-65) already knows it will encounter a familiar rival in their Division Series beginning on Thursday, since the NL wild card duel will be between fellow NL Central residents the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, who play on Tuesday.
”This division has been incredibly tough all year and those guys have been with us neck and neck the whole season,’ said Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. “I think it’s fitting that we’re in a match-up with one of them that first round.”
The other National League Division Series will have the West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) traveling to Atlanta to take on the East champion Braves (96-66).
Atlanta, who had MLB’s best home mark this season at 56-25, won their season-series against the Dodgers 5-2.
Still, the glamorous Dodgers, whose new ownership group, which includes former basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building a winner, garner the lion’s share of attention.
“Nobody’s picked us all year anyway,” said Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. “Nobody picked us to win the division; it was the Nationals’ year. So we’ve already been through stuff like that.”
The Dodgers got some bad injury news on Sunday as star center-fielder Matt Kemp was ruled out of the playoffs because of an ankle injury while back-up Andre Ethier was hobbled by shin splints.
“If we don’t have Matt and we don’t have Andre, you’re not as good as you can be,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who still has a formidable one-two pitching punch in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. “We’re still good enough to win.”
The other Division Series in the American League will be a rematch from last year with West winners the Oakland A’s (96-66) hosting the Central champion Detroit Tigers starting on Friday.
Detroit, who beat Oakland in five games last year, boast sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and have a daunting trio of starters in 20-game winner Max Scherzer, former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and ERA champion Anibal Sanchez.
The thrifty A‘s, masterfully operating on a tight budget as chronicled in the best-selling book and movie “Moneyball,” used their formula of strong pitching, high on-base percentage and clutch hitting to repeat in the West.
“We are not going to give up anything to anybody without a fight,” said third baseman Josh Donaldson, who enjoyed a breakout season with 24 home runs and a .301 batting average.
“Every inning, every out, every game, we fight. Whoever we play will know they’ve been in a battle.”
The Tigers (93-69) finished the season with a whimper, losing three in a row to the NL-worst Miami Marlins capped by a no-hitter thrown against them on Sunday by Henderson Alvarez.
“Guys will come back Tuesday with a whole fresh look on a new start to a new season,” manager Jim Leyland said.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue