Time: 07:05 P.M. EST Venue: Nationals Park WASHINGTON -- There will be plenty of raw emotion at Nationals Park on Friday when the Miami Marlins begin a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. The series opener comes a day after a memorial service in Florida for Jose Fernandez, the ace of the Marlins who died in a boating accident Sunday. Among those on hand for the Thursday service was Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who grew up in the Miami area and like Fernandez has Cuban heritage. Gonzalez started at home Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks and was tagged with the loss. The starting pitchers Friday will be Nationals right-hander A. J. Cole (1-2, 5.09 ERA) against Marlins right-hander Andrew Cashner (5-11, 5.13). Cole has never faced Arizona. Cashner, who last opposed the Nationals in 2015, is 2-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 11 games (six starts) against them. Washington (93-66) enters play Friday with a two-game edge over the Los Angeles Dodgers (91-68) in the race for the home-field advantage in the National League Division Series. The NL East and NL West champions will face off beginning Oct. 7. The Dodgers own the tiebreaker after going 5-1 against Washington this year. The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks 5-3 Thursday in a light rain. If the game had been rained out, Arizona may have had to return to play Monday if the game had a bearing on the home-field edge." We just feel fortunate we got the game in," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm glad we got the game in. It was a blessing we got the game in." Cole was ejected Sunday in Pittsburgh when he threw a pitch behind Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang. That led to Major League Baseball suspending Cole for five games, but he appealed the penalty. Cole will be making his eight major league start of the year. He made his big league debut in April 2015 but spent most of the 2016 season at Triple-A Syracuse, where he went 8-8 with a 4.62 ERA in 22 starts. Washington's Bryce Harper is 4-for-6 in his career against Cashner. Harper has been out since Sunday with a sore thumb but could see action this weekend. Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth is 6-for-10 against Cashner. Washington MVP candidate Daniel Murphy (buttocks strain) is not slated to start during the series, though he could see action off the bench. Baker said he hopes to get Murphy healthy for the postseason. Miami (78-80) was eliminated from playoff contention with home loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday. The Marlins were off Thursday as they attended the Fernandez service." It was tough to have a lot of emotion out there," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after the Wednesday defeat. "I know our guys were trying. We owe that to the Cardinals and Giants (who are chasing the Mets in the NL wild-card race). Our guys did the best they possibly could, but it was a tough game to play." Marlins standout Martin Prado echoed those thoughts." It's going to take a long time for our Fish family to recover from this," he said of losing Fernandez. "It's a devastating loss for everybody. I feel sorry for his mother and family because Jose was one of the biggest reasons why they came to America."
Time: 07:05 P.M. EST Venue: Citizens Bank Park PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Mets are in the position every team would like to be in when on the playoff bubble come the end of September. They control their own destiny with three games to play. Win at least one of three in Philadelphia, and their season will continue beyond the weekend. The Mets (85-74) sit atop the wild-card standings, one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants (84-75) and two ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals (83-76). The Mets entered Thursday -- an off-day for them -- with their playoff chances at 98.6 percent, according to FanGraphs." If we win, we'll be fine," outfielder Jay Bruce said, according to NJ.com. "We can't worry about what everyone else is doing." The Giants host the Dodgers over the weekend while St. Louis hosts Pittsburgh. In a perfect world, the Mets will have clinched a playoff spot before Sunday and will be able to save rotation stud Noah Syndergaard for the wild-card game." We want to go as far as we can," manager Terry Collins said, according to the New York Daily News. "If it means saving him to get us to the next round, we certainly got to consider it." Home-field advantage in the wild-card game could also make Sunday's game not a must-win to get into the playoffs, but a must-win to play at Citi Field. Collins would then need to make a decision on what to do with Syndergaard." When you play in front of our fans, it's an advantage," Collins said. "They are excited. They are loud, they get after it in the stands. (I) think it would be great to play at home. When that decision comes, it's going to be a tough decision to make." The Mets come to Philadelphia winners in five of seven, including three of four over the Phillies last weekend. They just took two of three from Miami during an emotional three-game series following the death of Jose Fernandez. Friday's game in Philadelphia (7:05 p.m. EST) features Alec Asher (2-0, 1.66 ERA) on the mound for the home team against Robert Gsellman (3-2, 2.56) and the Mets. After a players only meeting Wednesday, the Phillies lost their sixth in seven games Thursday in Atlanta. As another losing, rebuilding campaign winds down to its end, the theme of the weekend will be saying goodbye to Ryan Howard. The longtime Phillies slugger is playing in what are very likely his final games in a Phillies uniform. Manager Pete Mackanin earlier in the month said he would play Howard -- who has spent a lot of the season coming off the bench -- all weekend to give him a proper exit. Howard hit a grand slam in Atlanta earlier in the week, his 24th home run of the season, one behind team leader Maikel Franco." I want him to go out gangbusters," Mackanin said in an interview earlier in the week on SportsRadio 94.1 WIP in Philadelphia. "He hit that grand slam last night, which got us up to a good lead, and he's been swinging the bat well, much better the second half of the season. I certainly want him to shine the last three days of the season and hopefully the fans will get to see a good performance from him." A few good performances could potentially help the Phillies spoil their rivals' playoff hopes. Or, at least make them play their play-in game away from Citi Field.
Time: 07:05 P.M. EST Venue: Yankee Stadium NEW YORK -- The Baltimore Orioles eliminated two of their pursuers Thursday night in Toronto. Now the Orioles head to Yankee Stadium to open a three-game series against the New York Yankees looking to further solidify their wild card spot on Friday night. The Orioles (87-72) begin the series tied with Toronto and holding a 1 1/2-game lead over the Detroit Tigers (85-73) for the second wild card. The Seattle Mariners are one-half game behind Detroit. By virtue of their 4-0 win over the Blue Jays on Thursday, New York and Houston were eliminated from playoff contention a year after those teams met in the wild card game. Baltimore has won five of its last six games after getting swept in a four-game series by Boston last week. The latest win featured Ubaldo Jimenez allowing one hit in 6 2/3 outstanding innings along with run-scoring hits by Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo." All of the guys, they know what we are playing for and everyone is doing their parts, especially the last two games," Jimenez said." Over 162, momentum is going to come and go," Wieters said. "But once you start getting closer to the playoffs, momentum is big." The Yankees essentially fell out of contention with a disastrous 3-8 road trip that saw them get swept in a four-game series at Fenway Park two weekends ago. They have won four straight starting with Monday's 7-5 win in Toronto and were mathematically alive until there was one out in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday." It's not what we wanted," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's pretty quiet in there. Probably the quietest I've ever seen after a win. I think guys realize it came to an end tonight. It's difficult. There were some good things that happened, but again we fell short and we didn't have a successful season." CC Sabathia allowed one run and four hits in 7 1/3 innings in his last start of the season Thursday." You obviously want to have a chance to play," Sabathia said of being eliminated. "We had our chances but fell short." While Sabathia is returning next season, first baseman Mark Teixeira is retiring and Friday could be one of his last games. Teixeira has split time with Tyler Austin, but Girardi said the 36-year-old would play Friday. After that, Girardi will check with Teixeira about the next two games. Yovani Gallardo (5-8) starts for the Orioles on Friday. He is 2-7 with a 5.50 ERA in his last 13 starts. Gallardo is coming off one of his better outings as he allowed two runs and six hits in six innings of last Friday's 12-inning victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gallardo last faced the Yankees on Aug. 26 in New York and was ripped for eight runs and six hits in 1 1/3 innings of a 14-4 loss. He is 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA in five career starts against New York. Michael Pineda (6-11) will start for the Yankees and makes his 100th career start. Pineda has made a career-high 31 starts this season and is 6-11 with a 4.68 ERA in those starts. Pineda has yet to get a decision in five starts this month but has a 1.68 ERA while compiling 34 of his team-leading 202 strikeouts in those games. Pineda last pitched Sunday in Toronto, when he allowed a run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against Baltimore this season. In his career, he is 4-2 with a 3.73 ERA in 11 starts against the Orioles. The teams have split the 16 meeting, with the home team winning 11 times. Baltimore won three series at Camden Yards while the Yankees have taken five of eight meetings in New York.
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Fenway Park BOSTON -- The Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox have something at stake this weekend in the final three regular-season games of David Ortiz's career. For the Blue Jays, their playoff life is on the line as beginning Friday with Toronto's Marco Estrada facing 22-game winner Rick Porcello. For the Red Sox, who clinched the American League East in New York on Wednesday night, there's the matter of home field advantage in the playoffs. The series is not as critical for the Red Sox as it is for the Blue Jays, but playing extra home games at Fenway Park, where Boston is 46-32 this season, would be a bonus they can still earn. Toronto dropped two of three to the Baltimore Orioles in Canada, putting the teams in a flat-footed tie for the two wild card spots. Detroit is 1 1/2 games behind while Seattle is two back." Boston is a tough place to play but our guys play pretty good there," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Thursday night's loss. "I'm not worried about our guys. We've got our backs up against the wall but we're a good spot. It won't be easy, it's not supposed to be easy up here." Said Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman, who took the loss Thursday: "The team mentality has never changed, not once. We're fine. We're fine." The Red Sox, swept in the three-game series in New York, will honor Ortiz on Friday night and Sunday. They have a magic number of one for elimination (behind Texas) for the top spot in the AL, but come in a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for what would be home-field advantage in that matchup. Boston owns the tiebreaker with Cleveland but does not with Texas." It's important. I think anyone who looks at home field advantage, it's pivotal,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "It's something that we're continuing to strive for but we needed to give some guys a day off their feet given what we've come through, particularly the number of road games that we've played over the past six weeks. We go back home. We're looking forward to finishing out against Toronto." Farrell rested several of his starters and removed Ortiz after two at-bats following the pregame Yankee Stadium ceremony in his honor. He will likely play his guys Friday night and see what happens from there." We know that there's going to be three days off next week in which to recharge some," Farrell said before Thursday night's game. "Still the importance of winning and maintaining our daily approach is priority number one." How that might affect how deep a starter goes in the upcoming games might be looked at a little more close but still we feel it's imperative to at least secure as much home field advantage as we can." Porcello comes into the game with a 22-4 record and a serious candidate for the Cy Young Award. He is 3-0 against the Blue Jays this season, but 7-7 with a 5.07 career ERA against the Jays. Two of their sluggers have hit him as Jose Bautista is 15-for-36 with three home runs and Edwin Encarnacion 13-for-37 with three homers. But Michael Saunders is 1-for-16, Melvin Upton Jr. 1-for-9, Troy Tulowitzki 3-for-15 and Russell Martin 3-for-20. Estrada (9-9), who has allowed only one earned run in 14 innings in his last two starts, is 2-2 against the Red Sox this season and 4-4 with a 4.15 ERA in his career. He has done a good job against some big Boston guns with Xander Bogaerts going 2-for-19, David Ortiz 3-for-19 (two homers) and Mookie Betts 2-for-13 against him. Dustin Pedroia is 7-for-19 and Hanley Ramirez 5-for-16.
Time: 07:35 P.M. EST Venue: Turner Field ATLANTA -- It once looked like the Detroit Tigers would be catching a break by ending the regular season with an interleague series against the Braves in Atlanta, even if it meant no designated hitter. The Braves, though, no longer resemble the ballclub that seemed guaranteed to lose more than 100 games in the final season at Turner Field. The Tigers -- fighting for an American League wild-card spot -- will instead face an Atlanta team that has won 10 of its past 11 games and is 35-34 since the All-Star Game. Large crowds will be on hand to say good-bye to the Braves' home for the past 20 years and the team wants to put on a good show." We kind of feel like have something to play for, too," Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. "I wouldn't say players talk about being spoilers. It's more looking forward to good games that mean something. We want to win these games, too. We're playing like we're a half-game out in the wild-card." The Tigers, though, obviously have the most riding on the series and now have the prospect of an extra game on Monday if needed after being rained out at home against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. The good news for Detroit is that there is little chance of rain in Atlanta this weekend. The Tigers (85-73) are 1 1/2 games in back of Toronto and Baltimore in the race for the two wild-card spots in the American League. Rookie left-hander Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59 ERA) was pushed back by the rainout to start the series opener on Friday night, with Jordan Zimmermann (9-6, 4.88 ERA) now going on Saturday. Ace Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.10 ERA) will pitch on Sunday. The Braves will start Matt Wisler (7-12, 4.86 ERA) in the series opener, followed by rookie Aaron Blair (1-7, 8.02 ERA) and Julio Teheran (6-10, 3.10 ERA) -- the team's All-Star Game representative. The Tigers will have to adjust their lineup for the series with the absence of designated hitter Victor Martinez from the cleanup spot. The veteran switch-hitter can't play the field because of his knees and will be limited to pinch hitting." That's the way it is," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who is glad to at least have third baseman Nick Castellanos back from his broken hand. Martinez's absence puts extra importance on Miguel Cabrera, though. The first baseman is hitting .423 with two homers and 11 RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak, and has a .352 average with 18 homers and 52 RBIs in his past 62 games. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman had his hitting and on-base streaks come to an end Thursday against Philadelphia at 30 and 46 games, respectively. He batted .384 during his hitting streak, which was the longest in the majors since 2011. Dan Uggla set an Atlanta franchise record by hitting in 33 straight games that year. The on-base streak was the longest by a Brave since Gary Sheffield set the Atlanta record of 52 games in 2002. The Tigers are 12-5 against interleague opponents this year, while the Braves (66-92) are 6-11. The teams have played 18 times, with Detroit winning 12 times. The Tigers have a .621 winning percentage against the National League since 2006. The Tigers-Indians game will be made up on Monday in Detroit if it carries postseason implications, either for Detroit in the wild-card race or Cleveland for postseason seeding. The Tigers could end up playing five games in five days in five different cities. After the game in Atlanta on Sunday, they could have to play the makeup game on Monday, then possibly go to Baltimore to play a wild-card tiebreaker against the Orioles on Tuesday, then a wild-card game on Wednesday and the AL Division Series on Thursday." I'm aware of it," Ausmus said of the five-games-in-five-days possibility. "But one thing at a time. If that's the scenario, that's a good thing. It's a good problem to have."
Time: 08:05 P.M. EST Venue: Globe Life Park in Arlington With the best record in the American League at stake, the Texas Rangers send Yu Darvish to the mound Friday night to start a three-game home series against Tampa Bay to close out the regular season. The AL West champion Rangers (94-65) are sitting in good shape to lock down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston (92-67) and Cleveland (91-67) are still in the mix, but Texas can clinch with one win against the Rays (66-93) at Globe Life Park. Darvish (6-5, 3.53 ERA) is making his final start before the AL Division Series. The 30-year-old right-hander is slotted to pitch the second game of the playoffs behind Cole Hamels." I'm very much looking forward to it," Darvish said. "I pitched in one postseason game and that was it. It's going to be on the bigger stage, and I'm looking forward to pitching in it." Darvish appears to be hitting his stride at the right time. He's struck out 30.8 percent of batters faced (101 of 328) since the All-Star break, the second-highest mark in AL and fourth in the majors. He made his only postseason start in the 2012 AL Wild Card game against Baltimore, allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings." I feel like I'm a better pitcher now, mentally and mechanically," Darvish said. "I have been trying a lot of stuff, and my last outing gave me more confidence. I'm happy where I am at." Darvish earned the win Sept. 24 in Oakland, a 5-0 victory. He worked seven innings, allowed two hits and struck out nine. The Rangers are going with a four-man rotation in the postseason, though manager Jeff Banister hasn't named the starters behind Hamels and Darvish. The likely favorites are Colby Lewis and Martin Perez, who will close out the regular season against Tampa Bay." We look at all different scenarios, weigh the pros and cons," Banister said. "We just feel that four guys, given where we are at and the pitchers that we have, I think that's the best scenario for us." The Rays send Matt Andriese (8-7, 4.34) to the hill in the series opener. The right-hander has allowed two or fewer runs in his last three starts after struggling throughout August and the first half of September." He's done a really nice job," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "When he was put back in the rotation he probably wasn't as efficient, wasn't consistent with his pitches, but over the last couple of starts he's really pitched ... well. Both the changeup and the curveball have played huge. He's got a better feel for his off-speed now." It's been a long season for Tampa Bay, but Cash is looking forward to the environment this weekend." We expect to see some big crowds there, which will be good," he said. "It's always fun to play in front of those crowds, and they are playing for something because that home-field advantage means a ton."
Time: 08:10 P.M. EST Venue: Coors Field DENVER -- There will be more focus on personal achievements than collective success when also-rans Milwaukee and Colorado begin a season-ending series Friday. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has hit 40 homers, two shy of the career high he reached last year when he tied for the National League lead. He leads the NL with one more homer than Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee's Chris Carter. And with a major league-leading 131 RBIs, Arenado has set a career high, surpassing his major league-leading total of 130 RBIs last year." I was just happy to show that I could do it again," Arenado said. "I think there were a lot of people questioning whether I could do it again. So getting 40 homers again, and driving in those runs, all of that has meant a lot to me." Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu is in a tight and unusual race with Washington's Daniel Murphy for the NL batting title. Murphy, who is hitting .347, hasn't played in the field since Sept. 17 due to a strained buttocks. He has been limited to two pinch-hit appearances since then, the last on Sept. 20. It's doubtful he'll appear in any of Washington's final three games and any activity will be limited to pinch-hitting. Meanwhile, LeMahieu is hitting .349 and didn't play the final two games at San Francisco when the Giants started Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Manager Walt Weiss will do what he can for LeMahieu. In 2014, he didn't play Justin Morneau in the next-to-last game of the season and then used him as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning in the final game when Morneau was certain to win the batting title." We'll play it by ear," Weiss said. "I've taken a lot of heat for something like this, with Morneau, and I'll fall on the sword, for sure, for DJ. When it comes down to sitting out an at-bat or two, whatever it looks like, I'm willing to do that to get him the batting title. Winning a batting title doesn't take one day, the last game of the season. It takes six months." First baseman Carter has reached career highs in homers (39) and RBIs (92). He needs one homer to become the sixth Brewers player in franchise history to hit 40 or more homers in a season, joining Richie Sexson and Prince Fielder, who each had two such seasons, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and Ryan Braun. Brewers third baseman Jonathan Villar, who leads the majors with 60 stolen bases, hit his 19th homer Wednesday. He needs one homer to become the fourth player in history to hit 20 homers and steal 60 bases in a season and first since Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson with Oakland in 1990. The others to reach the 20/60 plateau are Hall of Famer Joe Morgan with Cincinnati in 1973 and 1976 and Cincinnati's Eric Davis in 1986. The Brewers and Rockies went nearly five months without playing each other before the Brewers swept a three-game series in Milwaukee on Aug. 22-24. The Brewers just dropped two of three games at Texas, giving them four losses in their past five games. The Rockies are coming off a 1-6 road trip that left them with eight losses in their past 10 games. Left-hander Brent Suter will start for the Brewers, taking the place of Tyler Jungmann, who suffered a hip injury in his last start. Suter is 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 13 games, one start. Since making his major league debut in that start Aug. 19 at Seattle and giving up four runs in 4 1/3 innings, Suter has made 12 consecutive scoreless relief appearances totaling 12 1/3 innings with two walks and 10 strikeouts. Suter is a finesse pitcher with deception in his delivery that helps his mid-80s fastball play up, as does the speed variance he gets with a curveball in the low 70s. The first of Suter's relief appearances was against the Rockies on Aug. 23, when Suter gave up two hits and a walk but left the bases loaded when Nick Hundley lined to second to conclude a scoreless inning. He threw 15 pitches in two innings in his last outing Sunday, the first time in five appearances Suter has reached double digits in pitches thrown." I'm just looking to give the team a good five-six innings at least and try to keep them in the ballgame, do my best to end the season on a good note and hopefully get us a win," Suter said. Rockies starter Chad Bettis, who is 13-8 with a 4.92 ERA and leads the team in wins, gave up seven runs, five earned, in 4 2/3 innings Saturday at Los Angeles and was the loser as the Dodgers trampled the Rockies 14-1. It was Bettis' first loss in five starts dating from Aug. 22 at Milwaukee when he gave up four runs, three earned, in five innings and lost 4-2 to the Brewers. The Rockies are 20-11 in games started by Bettis, who is 6-2 with a 3.86 ERA since the All-Star break in 13 starts, 10 of which the Rockies have won.
Time: 08:10 P.M. EST Venue: U. S. Cellular Field CHICAGO -- Carlos Rodon hopes to wrap up his second big league season no worse than his first as the Chicago White Sox open a season-ending series with the Minnesota Twins on Friday. If the 23-year-old left-hander earns his ninth victory in his 28th and final start of 2016, it would match the win total from his rookie season. It would also complete a successful late-summer rebound from the 2-8 record he owned on July 31 after giving up five runs on eight hits in a 6 1/3-inning outing during Chicago's 6-4 loss to the Twins. Entering Friday, Rodon is 8-10 with a 4.08 ERA. He went 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in five August starts, and he is 3-2 with a 4.80 ERA over five starts in September. The White Sox (77-82) have won seven of his past 10 starts. In his most recent start, Rodon delayed the Cleveland Indians' American League Central clincher with a superlative outing Sunday. He threw eight scoreless innings and struck out a career-best 11 in the White Sox's 3-0 victory. He gave up two hits and walked three." That was the best I've seen him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Strike one was the biggest thing, and it was with authority. It was placed well. After that, it just seems like he got better as the game moved along. A couple of guys get on, he seems to turn it up in key situations in the middle of the game, late in the game. He just had it all." Rodon is 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA in six career games (five starts) against the Twins, including 2-1 with a 4.32 ERA in four starts against them this season. Minnesota (57-102) snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday with a 7-6 victory over the Kansas City Royals. The Twins, who come into the series with 10 losses in their last 12 games, will send out right-hander Tyler Duffey (9-11, 6.18 ERA) for the 26th and final start of his second big league season. Duffey beat the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts over seven innings." I finally found a good rhythm to keep me composed, to keep from pulling off the ball," Duffey said after the game. "I located a lot better today. Got behind a couple times, but defense bailed me out, had some good plays in the outfield and scored enough to win." He is 0-1 with a 4.63 ERA in two career starts against the White Sox. In his lone appearance against them this season, he took the loss on May 8 after allowing three runs in seven innings. Duffey spent most of the season in the Twins' rotation before being sent down to Triple-A Rochester in late August. He rejoined Minnesota when rosters expanded earlier this month. The series continues Saturday afternoon as Minnesota left-hander Hector Santiago (12-10, 4.87) meets White Sox righty James Shields (6-18, 5.82 ERA). Shields has the second-most losses in the American League behind Tampa Bay's Chris Archer, who beat the White Sox on Thursday go close his season at 9-19. Ventura said Thursday that ace left-hander Chris Sale (17-9, 3.21) would start the season finale Sunday against Twins lefty Jose Berrios (2-7, 8.61). The White Sox have outscored the Twins 88-71 through 16 matchups this year. The teams have split the past 10 games after Chicago won the first six.
Time: 08:15 P.M. EST Venue: Busch Stadium ST. LOUIS -- Back in April when the season started, it was easy to expect the Pirates' season-ending trip to Busch Stadium meaning something for both Pittsburgh and the St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, all Pittsburgh can do when it closes the season is play the role of spoiler against a Cardinals team trying to make its sixth consecutive National League playoff appearance. St. Louis starts the Friday night series opener fresh off the year's most controversial win, a 4-3 decision Thursday night over the Cincinnati Reds that was decided by Yadier Molina's two-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning. Molina's one-hop liner shouldn't have scored Matt Carpenter, though, because the ball hit off signage beyond the left field wall. It should have been a ground-rule double, but third base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball in play and the Reds didn't challenge fast enough after the fact." Biggest win of the year," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "and tomorrow night's the biggest game of the year. Can't wait." St. Louis (83-76) is two games behind the New York Mets (85-74) for the NL's top wild-card spot and a game in arrears of the San Francisco Giants (84-75) for the second spot. The Giants close the season with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, while the Mets finish with three at Philadelphia. The Cardinals will have the matchup advantage in the opener against the Pirates as St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez (15-9, 3.15 ERA) will face raw but talented Pittsburgh right-hander Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.91). Martinez is coming off a 3-1 loss Sunday night at the Chicago Cubs that saw him work six innings and give up two runs on six hits and four walks while fanning six. Martinez is 3-5 with a 4.01 career ERA against the Pirates, and 1-2 this season in three starts. Glasnow will make his fourth career start. His first occurred July 7 in St. Louis, where he pitched decently for 5 1/3 innings but lost 5-1 as Adam Wainwright stifled Pittsburgh for seven innings. The hard-throwing Glasnow can touch the mid to upper 90s with his fastball but has experienced command issues at times. The Pirates (78-81) reached the playoffs the past three seasons, but they fell victim to injuries and inconsistent pitching this year. They will have to sweep the series to avoid their 21st losing season in 24 years. Pittsburgh will be without left fielder Starling Marte (back) for the weekend and might be without shortstop Jordy Mercer (forearm) as well." We're going to play all the men that are capable of playing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Marte has been unplugged. Mercer might not be able to go. You saw a couple of throws he made across the diamond (Thursday). ... That's basically all he's got." Pittsburgh leads the season series 9-7, having won five of the seven games in St. Louis. The Cardinals are 35-43 at Busch Stadium, clinching their first losing mark at home since 1999. The Saturday game will match Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl (5-4, 4.25) against a pitcher to be determined. St. Louis will use Wainwright (13-9, 4.67) in Sunday's regular-season finale opposite Ryan Vogelsong (3-7, 5.00).
Time: 08:15 P.M. EST Venue: Kauffman Stadium KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Cleveland Indians are in a strange predicament after their game Thursday at Detroit was rained out. While the Indians have already clinched the American League Central, they are still contending for the best AL record and home-field advantage. The Tigers are still in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the playoffs. But after a four-hour plus delay with more than six inches of rain pouring on the field, the game was called. It will be made up Monday in Detroit if necessary for postseason ramifications. While the Indians close out the regular season (maybe) with three games this weekend in Kansas City, they could wind up playing Monday." I think we'd like to talk to everybody Monday," Indians manager Terry Francona said about picking the 25-man playoff roster. "We're supposed to have an optional workout but we might be here playing. We'll try, for the players' sake we'll try to have decisions made so we can tell everybody what's going on." The revised rotation has left-hander Ryan Merritt making his first major league start Friday at Kansas City. He was slated to start Thursday. Right-handers Trevor Bauer, Saturday, and Josh Tomlin, Sunday, will remain in their slots. Right-hander Adam Plutko was originally scheduled to start Friday, but Merritt will replace him." If we were to play Monday, that would actually be a better day for Tomlin to pitch, because it gets more closer, less time in between (starts)," Francona said. "But if we don't know, we're not going to gamble on it. We'll see. Unless we knew we'd probably have a bullpen day. If they went into their game Sunday and they weren't sure there was going to be a game, we're not going to hold Tomlin out. We've got to worry about ourselves." While the Indians know they are in the postseason, the 2015 World Series champion Royals are aware they will not be in the playoffs for the first time in three years. They were mathematically eliminated on Wednesday. The Royals have been riddled by injuries to key players this season, including All-Stars Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Wade Davis and Lorenzo Cain missing significant time. If they were healthy all season, the Royals might be back in the postseason." There is really no playing the what-if game," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It doesn't do you any good." The Royals will start right-hander Yordano Ventura for the series opener Friday. Ventura has won three of his past four decisions at Kauffman Stadium, where he is 7-4 with a 4.31 ERA and opponents batting .248 off him. Ventura gave up 10 hits, matching a season high, in four innings in a no-decision against Detroit in his previous start. Ventura is 5-2 with a 3.56 ERA since Aug. 1. Prior to that, he was 6-9 with a 4.88 ERA. Merritt went 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts with Triple-A Columbus. He has made three relief appearances with the Indians, allowing one run and three hits over six innings. Merritt, 24, was a 16th-round draft pick in 2011 out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, where he was a junior college All-American.
Washington is back in a lofty position in the polls. But the 10th-ranked Huskies' staying power will be tested Friday night. Washington will play host to No. 7 Stanford on Friday night at 9 p.m. ET in the first matchup of top 10 teams at Husky Stadium in 19 years. The outcome could go a long way in determining the Pac-12 North and which team moves on as the league's favorite to get to the College Football Playoff." It's awesome, no question about it," said Washington coach Chris Petersen." Stanford's an awesome program. I'll start with that -- program. This isn't just an awesome team. They've had an awesome program here for a while now. They know how to do it right and play good football, win championships. So it's a great opportunity for the kids, and for everybody playing in a game like this." The Huskies (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) played a soft non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State before surviving a road game at Arizona, 35-28 in overtime Saturday night. Stanford (3-0, 2-0) is much more battle-tested, having defeated Kansas State, USC and UCLA. The Cardinal, too, was taken to the brink last week, scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 24 seconds left and adding a fumble return for a score on the final play in a 22-13 victory at the Rose Bowl. Coach David Shaw was pleased how new starting quarterback Ryan Burns reacted to the do-or-die final drive after struggling for much of the game." There is no substituting the environment he was in," Shaw said after Monday's practice. "Not playing a great game ... and coming back with a chance to win at the end of the game, you can't duplicate that." And you can't duplicate what we're going to face this week: Top 10 opponent, in their house. It's going to be loud. You're not going to be able to hear a thing. I think that environment, you don't know how you're going to respond until you're in it." Stanford has won 15 of its past 16 games and has tied a school-record by winning seven consecutive Pac-12 road games. The Cardinal has won three of the past four conference championships. Stanford also has won seven of the past eight meetings against Washington, including 31-14 last season. Cardinal star running back Christian McCaffrey gained 109 rushing yards and 112 receiving yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, in that game. McCaffrey, by his standards, had an abnormally quiet game last week with 138 rushing yards and no touchdowns against UCLA. But Washington yielded 308 rushing yards in its overtime win over Arizona, including 173 to quarterback Brandon Dawkins. The Huskies' defense, led by safety Budda Baker, cornerback Sidney Jones and linebacker Azeem Victor, is tied for the national lead with 13 takeaways. They are 15th in scoring defense, allowing 14.5 points per game. The Stanford defense, fueled by defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, is allowing 12.0 points per game against a tougher schedule. Washington quarterback Jake Browning is third nationally in passing efficiency (194.9), with 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He didn't play in last season's loss to Stanford because of injury. Shaw said he is worried about Washington's offensive speed, which includes receiver John Ross, tailback Myles Gaskin and tailback Lavon Coleman, who was an unlikely hero with a career-best 181 yards against Arizona." Speed everywhere," Shaw said. "Their running backs have speed. Their receivers have speed. It used to be that you had to worry about that No. 1 guy (Ross) running by you. Now it's a bunch of guys." Stanford likely has more speed that it gets credit for, as McCaffrey is not the only weapon on offense. Wide receiver Michael Rector has 4.4 speed, receiver Trenton Irwin had a team-high seven catches last week against UCLA and backup running back Bryce Love had five carries for 51 yards. He has been working his way back from injury and should be close to 100 percent this week, Shaw said. The Cardinal won't have receiver Francis Owusu, who suffered a concussion last week. This will be the first top 10 matchup in Seattle since No. 7 Nebraska beat the No. 2 Huskies 27-14 in 1997. Washington, earlier this month, reached the top 10 for the first time since Nov. 4, 2001. Are the Huskies all the way back?Friday's spotlight game will begin to really tell the tale." I just want everyone to enjoy college football and be all in," Petersen said. "Players all in, fans all in, coaches, everybody ... all in."
Time: 09:40 P.M. EST Venue: Chase Field PHOENIX -- Arizona and San Diego enter the final series of the regular season in search of smaller victories, unfortunately about all that is left to accomplish in a down year for each. Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura, whose credentials as a leadoff man were questioned following his offseason acquisition, enters the three-game series with a career-high 201 hits. Segura has a commanding nine-hit lead over Colorado's DJ LeMahieu and the Dodgers' Corey Seager in an attempt to lead the league in that category, and he is five hits from tying Luis Gonzalez's franchise record of 206 hits set in 1999. The only way the D-backs (66-93) can avoid a disappointing last-place finish in the NL West is with a sweep. The Padres (68-91) have won nine of the first 16 meetings while outscoring the D-backs, 92-69. San Diego rookie right fielder Hunter Renfroe looks to continue his final-week binge in his first appearance at Chase Field, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. Renfroe, who was promoted when the minor league season ended in the third week of September, has home runs in three of his last four starts, and his work in the first two games of the recently completed Los Angeles series was particularly memorable. Renfroe had two homers and seven RBIs in a 7-1 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday, book-ending his night with a three-run homer in the first inning and a grand slam in the eighth. The most impressive line in that night's box scores:Two-out RBIs: Renfroe 7. He had four RBIs the next night on a two-run single in the first inning and a two-run homer in the third in the Padres' 7-6 victory. He had a single in the final game of the series and is hitting .360." I love Hunter Renfroe's even-keel demeanor," said Padres manager Andy Green, who was Arizona's third base coach in 2015. Arizona rookie right-hander Braden Shipley, 4-5 with a 5.26 ERA, will make his 11th major league start Friday, his third against the Padres this season and his first against them at Chase Field. He has given up nine runs in 9 2/3 innings in the previous two starts. San Diego is expected to start right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose 14-year, 11-team trek through the majors includes a brief stop with the Diamondbacks. He threw a 149-pitch no-hitter for Arizona at Tampa Bay on June 2, 2010. Jackson, 5-6 with a 5.77 ERA, will be remembered as part of the package the D-backs received in a three-team trade in the winter of 2009 that sent eventual Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the Tigers. The D-backs also landed Ian Kennedy from the Yankees, who received Curtis Granderson as their major piece. Jackson beat San Francisco in his last outing, and seven of his 12 starts for the Padres have been quality starts. Segura has been a bright light in his first season with the Diamondbacks, out-shining bigger-name offseason acquisitions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, neither of whom will take a turn in the final series. With three singles in a rain-shortened 3-0 victory at Washington on Wednesday, Segura reached 200 hits and became the 14th player in major league history to have 200 hits, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in the regular season. Others on that list include Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero. Jacoby Ellsbury was the most recent addition, when he had 212 hits, 29 homers and 51 stolen bases with Boston in 2011. Segura singled in three plate appearances Thursday before leaving in the seventh inning with cramping in his rib cage." We're hoping it's OK so he can continue his quest for Gonzo's record," Arizona manager Chip Hale told reporters.
Time: 10:10 P.M. EST Venue: Safeco Field SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners' slim chances of reaching the postseason took a hit Thursday night, despite their win over Oakland, but they head into a Friday game against the A's with a remaining shred of hope. Baltimore's win over Toronto gave Seattle (85-74) even less room for error as the Mariners prepare to play their third-to-the-last game of the season trailing the Orioles and Blue Jays by two games in the American League wild-card race." We know we have to win," Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said Thursday night. "That's the thing. There's only three left, and if we don't win our games now, nothing else matters." Seattle did its part Friday night, beating the A's 3-2 despite a shaky ninth inning that saw Mariners closer Edwin Diaz give up three hits and a run before striking out the final two batters to wriggle out of it." It's tough," Diaz said of his ninth inning. "I need to control my emotions and give the team a chance to make the playoffs. We're so close." The A's (67-92) nearly staged a ninth-inning comeback even though they're not playing for anything other than pride." It came down to situational at-bats," manager Bob Melvin said after the latest loss. Oakland will try to regroup behind Friday starter Raul Alcantara, while the Mariners will turn to 24-year-old Taijuan Walker in what could be their final meaningful game of the season. Seattle needs Toronto and/or Baltimore to lose Friday to still have a chance to win an outright wild-card berth, and the Mariners could be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose and both the Blue Jays and Orioles win. Further complicating things is a Detroit team that had a rainout Thursday and sits between Seattle and the co-leaders in the wild-card standings." The way we look at it, we'll play tomorrow's game, and we'll try to win it and pray for a little help," Seattle manager Scott Servais said late Thursday night. The Mariners have their rotation lined up so that veterans Hisashi Iwakuma (Saturday) and Felix Hernandez (Sunday) will close out the season and could be on the mound for the biggest games of the season. But those two won't be a factor if Walker can't deliver on Friday night. The 24-year-old right-hander, having opened the season as the No. 2 starter in the rotation before struggling all the way to a stint in Triple-A, has pitched well over his past four starts after changing his mechanics. He's 3-1 since getting shelled in a Sept. 3 loss to the Angels and will be on the mound for the biggest start of his young career Friday. The Mariners are also looking for more offense, particularly from the middle of their lineup. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager went a combined 2-for-11 Thursday after carrying the team for most of the season. That group also has a chance to become Seattle's first trio since Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez in 1998 to record 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in the same season. Cano is three RBIs shy of 100, while Seager needs to drive in one more run to hit that mark.
Time: 10:15 P.M. EST Venue: AT&T Park SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants hoped the home-field advantage in the final three games of the regular season would work to their benefit in the race with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West crown. Turns out, it won't. That said, the Giants are still glad to be at AT&T Park this weekend. San Francisco needs a series win -- perhaps even a sweep -- against Los Angeles in the three-game set that begins Friday night. But it is not the Dodgers that San Francisco is battling. The Giants (84-75) are sandwiched between the New York Mets (85-74) and St. Louis Cardinals (83-76) in the three-team battle for the two NL wild cards. The Mets lead the Giants by one game, with the Cardinals currently on the outside looking in, one game back of San Francisco." It's exciting," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after his team retained its lead over the Cardinals with a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night. "We wish we were in a better position, but you don't stop fighting." The Dodgers, meanwhile, clinched the NL West last Sunday, and they have little to play for as the series begins. Los Angeles is locked into a first-round playoff matchup with the Washington Nationals, champs of the NL East. That series will open in Washington unless the Dodgers (91-68) can catch the Nationals (93-66) in the overall standings. The Dodgers won the season series from the Nationals 5-1, so they would get home-field advantage in the best-of-five should the teams finish the regular season in a tie. San Francisco staff ace Madison Bumgarner will duel Los Angeles newcomer Rich Hill in the Giants-Dodgers series opener. Bumgarner (14-9, 2.71 ERA) will get a rematch with the Dodgers after he wasn't involved in the decision Sept. 19 at Los Angeles in a thriller the Dodgers won 2-1 by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth. The left-hander shut out Los Angeles on one hit over seven innings that night before getting into a scuffle with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig near first base at the end of the seventh. Bochy chose to pull his standout at that point. The loss was costly for the Giants. They fell six games off the pace in the division and never seriously challenged the Dodgers again. The Giants now find themselves needing to beat their rivals just to join them in the postseason. Bumgarner is 13-9 with a 2.66 ERA in 26 career outings (25 starts) against the Dodgers. The Dodgers initially slotted their ace, Clayton Kershaw, in the Friday game, but they pushed him back to Saturday as a precaution. Kershaw hasn't allowed an earned run in his past three starts, covering 18 innings, as he works his way back into form following a 10-week absence caused by a back injury. He hasn't thrown more than 91 pitches in any of those starts. Getting Kershaw back on top of his game is critical for the Dodgers because, if fully healthy, he would be a possibility to start a potential Game 4 against the Nationals on three days' rest. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts already has announced that his ace will go in Game 1." It's definitely an issue," Roberts said recently of Kershaw's conditioning after the long layoff. "(Pitching him on short rest) would be an honest conversation depending on where we're at. I'm not prepared to have that yet." While Kershaw enjoys his extra day of rest, Hill will get the call Friday. The lefty is 3-2 with a 1.53 ERA in five starts since joining Los Angeles in a trade-deadline deal with the Oakland A's. Overall, he is 12-5 with a 2.05 ERA in 19 starts this year. In two starts against the Giants this year, Hill is 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA, improving his career mark against San Francisco to 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Urban Meyer looks across the field to the other sideline on Saturday afternoon in Ohio Stadium, he'll see several familiar faces. When the Ohio State coach watches the Rutgers defense, he'll see almost a carbon copy of the schemes that his team runs." It's our defense. I mean like exactly," Meyer said. "They do a very good job and their defensive line is much improved and the guys are bigger and stronger and they also stole one of our strength coaches, Kenny Parker, and it looks like it. They're very strong." That's a reason the defense is so similar. Chris Ash was hired as Rutgers head coach in December after two years as Meyer's co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Ohio State. Ash took several assistants with him, including Parker. On the Ohio State side, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was the head coach at Rutgers from 2001 to 2011 before moving on to the NFL as the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then landing in Columbus on Meyer's staff this year. But the similarities pretty much end there. The second-ranked Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) will take the field for their homecoming game and Big Ten opener (noon, BTN) with far superior talent to Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), which played a competitive game on Saturday at home against Iowa before falling 14-7. With several coaches who worked last year for Ohio State now at Rutgers, the Buckeyes will take extra precautions to guard against predictable tendencies or tipping signals." This is very serious stuff and we have had that conversation ... in great detail," Meyer said. "We changed most of our defensive signals prior to this and offensively we're being very cautious, also special teams. ... So we've just got to be sharp." Ash downplayed any advantage that being part of the Ohio State program might have this week. After all, the coaches aren't the ones playing." It's not about me knowing all the (Ohio State) players," Ash said. "It's about our players knowing the players and going out and making plays. They are going to have to go out and make the call in all three phases. That's what matters." Compounding the challenge for Rutgers this week is the loss of two of its better players last week. Wide receiver and kick returner Janarion Grant (ankle) and defensive end Quanzell Lambert (knee) suffered season-ending injuries. Ohio State has shown in nonconference games that it's a forced to be reckoned with again this year not only in the Big Ten but nationally. The Buckeyes proved that in the last game before their bye week. They were more than okey-dokey against Oklahoma two weeks ago. The Buckeyes blew the doors off the Sooners in Norman, rolling to a 45-24 win in Norman, Oklahoma, in dominating performance from the outset. Through three games, Ohio State is averaging 56.7 points per game and 545.3 yards in total offense. Quarterback J. T. Barrett has passed for 10 touchdowns with one interception and the Ohio State defense has nine interceptions (four returned for touchdowns) and leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-9. One other stat that makes the Buckeyes even more imposing: They're 14-0 in October since Meyer arrived for the 2012 season. So should there be any concerns about this team going forward?"It's so early right now and you better worry about the next game, the next practice, the next game, and not worry about anything else," Meyer said. "That's my concern is with all the added publicity, press conferences and everybody being told how good they are. I really worry about that." Ohio State, a 37-point favorite, begins nine consecutive weeks of conference play after their bye weekend." Big Ten, that's the real deal," Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said. "There are a lot of good teams in the Big Ten right now. It's one of the strongest, if not the (strongest) conference. We've got a lot of good teams to play. It's going to be a long journey." Barrett is looking forward to getting back out on the field after a Saturday off." If anything, I like how it's going to be straight games so we can try to get into a rhythm and stay in a rhythm going into Big Ten play," he said. "I kind of like that it was earlier. I wouldn't want the bye week to be later because it might mess up the rhythm we had."
After three comfortable, double-digit victories, things begin to get serious for Miami as the calendar turns to October. The 14th-ranked Hurricanes start the month by playing Georgia Tech Saturday in their ACC opener. Kickoff is set for noon ET at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. Both teams will have had extra rest when they meet with the Hurricanes (3-0) coming off a bye week and the Yellow Jackets having played on Thursday night last week. The Jackets lost that game 26-7 to Clemson to fall to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference. Often, the extra time Miami has had to prepare is viewed as a bonus for Tech's opponents, who can use the time to tune up for the Yellow Jackets' triple-option, ground-oriented offense. But though the Jackets are averaging an impressive 216 yards per game rushing for the season, this doesn't look to be the business-as-usual Tech attack under coach Paul Johnson. A huge chunk of that rushing yardage came against Mercer in the second week of the season when the Jackets rushed for 364 yards against the FCS foe. They added 289 against SEC bottom dweller Vanderbilt the next week. Against Boston College, they had only 119 yards rushing and then last week were held to just 95 in the loss to Clemson. Still, Miami coach Mark Richt is respectful of the Yellow Jackets' ground game, no doubt in part because he saw it first-hand every year during his 15-year run at Georgia." Clemson obviously did a very good job and got their numbers down," Richt said of the Jackets' rushing. "But that's a rarity." It was only the fourth time under Johnson, who took over in 2008, that Tech has failed to get at least 100 yards on the ground, and was its lowest rushing total since the last time the Jackets played Clemson and managed only 71 yards on the ground last Oct. 10. The Jackets had just 22 yards of total offense against Clemson in the first half, which ended with the Tigers leading 23-0. To their credit, the Jackets never quit and held the visiting Tigers to a field goal over the final two quarters." We just kind of challenged the (team at) halftime, not to quit, not to give up, something you never want to do," senior center Freddi Burden said. "We kind of took it personal, played a little bit better, but not as good as we should have." True freshman B-back Dedrick Mills ended up as Tech's leading rusher with a career-high 75 rushing yards and a touchdown. In just three games, he has scored five touchdowns to tie for fourth in the ACC in the category. Miami has had a relatively light month to start the season with big wins over Florida A&M (70-3), Florida Atlantic (38-10), and Appalachian State (45-10). Sophomore running back Mark Walton has spearheaded an offense that has produced 816 yards rushing, but he is far from a one-man show. He has rushed for 401 yards in averaging 8.1 per carry, but junior Joe Yearby is right behind with 256 and a 7.3 average. Together they have rushed for 11 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya has thrown three interceptions over the last two games and struggled trying to get comfortable against Florida Atlantic. But he was sharp in the win over Appalachian State, completing 21 of 27 attempts for 368 yards and three touchdowns. That's a good sign for Miami with what is coming up. After the trip to Atlanta, the Hurricanes host Florida State on Oct. 8 and are home again to take on North Carolina on Oct. 15. They have a quick turnaround with a Thursday night date at Virginia Tech on Oct. 20, then finish the month with a trip north to Notre Dame on Oct. 29. Tech, which needs a win to avoid falling to 1-2 in conference play, is at Pittsburgh next for its first true road game. The Jackets opened the season against Boston College in Australia and have been home for their last three games.
The streak was going to end sooner or later. Still, Florida didn't expect it to end in the fashion it did. The Gators left Neyland Stadium in stunned silence after blowing an 18-point halftime lead in a 38-28 loss to rival Tennessee. The defeat ended Florida's string of 11 consecutive wins over the Volunteers. No. 23 Florida (3-1) will look to regroup on Saturday (noon, ET) when the Gators take on Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. The Gators are hoping their second trip to the Volunteer State will have a better ending than their first." The big thing moving forward is what are we going to learn from this and how are we going to let it affect us," Florida coach Jim McElwain said of the Tennessee loss. "We have a lot of football ahead of us and there's a lot that we can accomplish. It will be interesting to see how we handle people writing us off, jumping off the ship." Vanderbilt (2-2) is coming off a 31-30 overtime win at Western Kentucky. The Commodores are led by a pair of junior standouts -- running back Ralph Webb and linebacker Zach Cunningham." They play disciplined, they play sound," McElwain said. "And I think Cunningham is one of the most underrated players in the league." Florida has plenty to clean up following its second-half collapse. The Gators' normally air-tight secondary allowed Tennessee senior quarterback Josh Dobbs to throw for 319 yards and four touchdowns. A Florida offense that moved the ball effectively in the first half went three-and-out on five second-half drives." They came and took it to us," McElwain said. "That's disappointing. We gave them a lot to cheer about." Meanwhile,Vanderbilt's performance last week was a mirror image of that of Florida. After a poor effort in a 38-7 blowout loss to Georgia Tech, the Commodores found themselves with a meager five yards of total offense and a 7-0 deficit after the first quarter at Western Kentucky. But the Commodores hung around and instead, found themselves victors as a road underdog. Webb scored on a 2-yard run on the last play of regulation, pulling Vandy even for the first time since the opening minutes of the first quarter. After the teams traded touchdowns in overtime, Western Kentucky's pass for a potential game-winning two-point conversion was batted in the air and intercepted, giving the 8.5-point underdog Commodores the 31-30 victory. The key to Vandy's offense was the up-tempo approach it had on the final drive of regulation. With no timeouts left and 1:02 on the clock, quarterback Kyle Shurmur was money, making several nice throws to lead the Commodores down the field to set up Webb's tying run. In overtime, the confidence and rhythm carried over. Shurmur, on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, threw a bullet to tight end Nathan Marcus in traffic for the go-ahead score. Shurmur has shown that he can be effective in that type of offense in games and practices. The question now becomes whether the Commodores want to run it. There are two problems. First, the Commodore receivers had a hard time finding space in the first half. When the Hilltoppers played looser coverage in the final minutes, certainly that helped. Second, the defense has faltered considerably since last year. Dating back to the last two games of 2015, Vanderbilt has given up 486 yards or more in five of those six contests. It may be a good idea anyway. Shurmur was yanked from the opener against South Carolina after a first-half scoring drive and couldn't find a groove once he was re-inserted after a pair of drives. Shurmur missed his first seven passes against Middle Tennessee State, but in a pair of rapid-fire drives to end the first half, he hit 13 of his next 14 throws. Since that 0-for-7 start against the Blue Raiders, Shurmur is 50 of 76 for 541 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Most college football coaches frown on having early bye weeks on their schedule, instead preferring to have them fall in the middle or near the end of the season to help their teams heal up and get refreshed for the stretch run of conference play. But having an extra week off in September probably couldn't have come at a better time for the No. 22 Texas Longhorns, who open Big 12 Conference action on Saturday afternoon (noon on ABC) in Stillwater, Okla., against the Oklahoma State Cowboys (2-2, 0-1) in Boone Pickens Stadium. The Longhorns (2-1, 0-0), who opened the season with impressive back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and UTEP, needed a little extra time to try and find some answers for a defense that surrendered 50 points and 507 yards in a 50-43 loss at Cal on Sept. 17. Texas coach Charlie Strong said it's just a matter of some minor adjustments. He said there are three elements to fix." We've got to get better fundamentally," Strong said. "We got to learn the concepts. ... And then we've got to devise a game plan where we can be successful." Perhaps Strong was being deliberately general. But needing to improve the players' physical and mental approach and the coaches' game planning seems like major improvements are needed throughout the defense. The Texas coach also said he will take a more active role on the defensive side. Asked whether he considered demoting defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, Strong essentially replied that there wasn't time to make that move. And he gave his DC a vote of confidence." We know we've had our issues on defense," Strong said. "I have a lot of confidence in Vance Bedford and I know Vance is going to do a good job. We had a lot of time just to sit down and look at the games that we've played this season and just how much better we could have been." (Bedford) is a professional and I look at his track record. It's not like he all the sudden forgot how to coach defense." Now the Longhorns begin a stretch of nine consecutive weeks of Big 12 action with a trip to Stillwater, where they have won eight straight times. Oklahoma State comes in off a closer-than-the-final-score-indicates 35-24 loss at No. 13 Baylor. While the Longhorns have plenty of holes to fix on defense, the Cowboys will focus on cleaning things up on offense this week. Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Baylor 4-yard line, Cowboys running back Rennie Childs was stuffed early in the fourth quarter with Oklahoma State trailing 28-24. Another chance was blown when another running back, Justice Hill, lost a fumble deep in Baylor territory." I hate it because if you take six or eight crucial mistakes out, we probably played well enough to win the game," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "If you can't take care of the ball, it doesn't do any good to have (a running back) in there. I know (Hill is) a freshman and I understand that, but he has to take care of the football." The missed opportunity early in the fourth quarter at the Baylor 4-yard line did not incorporate the arm or legs of quarterback Mason Rudolph, whose sound performance led to an 11-for-15 ratio on third down conversions. In addition, a field goal could have trimmed the deficit to one point and at least provided the Cowboys some points." I didn't feel like a field goal would win the game," Gundy said. "I thought we had to score touchdowns." He may have been right, though the last score Baylor managed came after the fumble by Hill, when Oklahoma State had 99 yards to work with on defense but could not keep the Bears out of the end zone. Texas will be without senior offensive lineman Kent Perkins, an NFL prospect, for this one. Perkins was arrested for driving while intoxicated on Friday morning and is suspended for the Oklahoma State game. Strong came down almost as hard on Perkins's teammates as the offensive lineman." There was enough of our players wherever you were, enough of you were around, let's look out for one another,'" Strong said he told his squad. "There's a guy that's 300 pounds, how could we lose him?"Texas leads the all-time series with Oklahoma State 24-6, but the Cowboys won four of the last six meetings.
Baylor is looking to start 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference for the fourth straight season when the 13th-ranked Bears travel to Iowa State on Saturday afternoon. At first glance, it would seem Baylor should have nothing to worry about. The Bears opened as 17-point favorites and are playing a 1-3 Cyclones squad that lost at home to an FCS school, Northern Iowa (25-20), and was blown out by both Iowa (42-3) and TCU (41-20) before finally breaking through with a 44-10 home win over lowly San Jose State last week. But this is the first Big 12 road contest for the Bears, who have lost two of the last three times they have visited Jack Trice Stadium." It's always tough going to Iowa State," Baylor quarterback Seth Russell told the Waco Tribune. "They have great fans and a great turnout every year. They have a grass field and we don't play on a grass field a whole lot, so it will be a little different." Baylor lost on its first two trips to Ames, Iowa, under former head coach Art Briles before finally breaking through for a 49-28 win in 2014. A sellout crowd of over 50,000 is expected