AL Wild Card race heating up in final stretch

With nine days left in the regular season, the American League wild-card race is heating up.

The Tampa Bay Rays lead the Cleveland Indians by a half-game for the first wild card, while the Indians lead the Texas Rangers by a half-game for the second wild card. Those three teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, as the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals are 2½ games behind the Indians, and the New York Yankees are a half-game behind the Orioles and Royals.

What have you done for me lately?

After losing 13 of 17 from August 25 to September 11, the Rays righted the ship and have won six of their last nine games. That includes a pair of walk-off wins in extra innings in their last three games.

The Indians have been trending in the right direction in September. They’re 13-6 this month after trailing the second wild card -– the Rays at the time -– by 4½ games entering September. The Indians are trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007, when they lost in seven games to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.

Entering September, the Rangers were two games ahead of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. The Rangers were 3½ games ahead of the next-closest wild card team –- the Rays. But the Rangers are 4-14 in September, on the verge of a potential collapse. They haven’t strung together consecutive wins since August 26-28. The Rangers are trying to reach the playoffs in four straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

What’s ahead?

The Rays have three home games left against the Orioles, followed by a pair of three-game road series against the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

The Indians certainly have the easiest schedule remaining based on opponent win percentage. The Indians, who face a pair of last-place teams and a fourth-place team, have two home games against the Houston Astros, followed by two home games against the Chicago White Sox, and then a four-game road series with the Minnesota Twins.

The Rangers have two more crucial road games at Kansas City, a three-game home series with the Astros, and they end the season with a four-game home stand against the Los Angeles Angels.

Other MLB notes from Friday

Alex Rodriguez hit his 24th career grand slam, breaking a tie with Lou Gehrig for the most grand slams in Major League history.

Alfonso Soriano is the third player in Major League history with at least 16 home runs for an American League team and a National League team in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Manny Ramirez in 2008 and Mark McGwire in 1997.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had won 163 straight games when leading by three or more runs in the ninth inning or later. They hadn’t lost a game in that situation since July 2009, according to Elias. But the Pirates blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds, snapping their streak.