Some quick thoughts on Thursday's results and a look forward to Friday.
At-bat of the night: Can a sacrifice bunt be the play of the night? It can when Jim Johnson chucks the throw into center field, setting up the winning run in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 6-5 win over the Orioles. Or maybe the key at-bat was Brendan Ryan leading off the inning with a base hit. Brendan Ryan and Chris Stewart. Your 2013 Yankees. Somehow it's working.
Pitching performance of the day: All-Star Jeff Locke has struggled of late -- well, struggled isn't quite right. In his past eight starts he'd gone 0-3 with a 6.57 ERA and opponents' batting line of .352/.443/.465. Sure enough, he pitched seven three-hit innings as the Pirates beat the Cubs 3-1. Most importantly, he walked just one, as his control has been awful of late. Whether this outing said more about Locke or the Cubs' offense, I'm not sure, but the Pirates moved into a first-place tie with the Cardinals after the Brewers beat St. Louis.
Most important win: We've been paying attention to the AL East battles this week, but the Indians got a big win in a big way -- 14-3 over the White Sox as Ryan Raburn knocked in five runs. Cleveland had lost their past two games to Kansas City, so this four-game set against the White Sox is a great chance to win three or four. They're 1.5 behind Tampa Bay but as we've pointed out before, they have the easiest schedule the rest of the way of all the wild-card contenders. If the AL East teams beat up on each other ...
Most important loss: The Orioles lost the final three games in their four-game series against the Yankees and now hit the road for a 10-=game road trip to Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay. You feel their season slipping away.
Friday's best pitching matchup: Dan Straily versus Derek Holland (A's at Rangers, 8:05 ET). The free-falling Rangers are 3.5 behind the A's and anything short of taking two out of the three in this series probably spells the end of the division race. It's the final three games against each other in what has been a tight season series -- 9-7 in favor of the Rangers, with each team scoring 66 runs. Holland is coming off three straight shaky starts. Straily doesn't go deep into games so look for the bullpens to play a big part in this game.
Player to watch: Bruce Chen, Royals. He takes on Justin Verlander. Guess who has the better ERA? In 11 starts since moving into the rotation, Chen has a 2.98 ERA while holding opponents to a .205 average. He beat the Tigers on Sept. 8, allowing two runs in seven innings.