There is a NASCAR Sprint Cup feel to Major League Baseball on Sunday, with all of the games on the final day of the season scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Eastern Time and so many issues unresolved, and so many X factors in play. Let's take a closer look:
To be decided: the American League West race.
The X factor: The Texas Rangers' bullpen.
As the Rangers crumbled Saturday and suffered perhaps the most stunning loss of the 2015 regular season despite a parade of nine Texas pitchers over nine innings, there had to have been a sinking feeling among team staffers over this concern: Who the heck is going to pitch Sunday if help is needed behind Cole Hamels?
Shawn Tolleson, the closer, has worked in five straight games, and when he was summoned in the ninth inning Saturday, he had nothing on his fastball, allowing back-to-back homers to Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun.
Sam Dyson, the Rangers' primary setup man, has also pitched each of the past five days. Rookie Keone Kela pitched Saturday but reportedly told the staff he has elbow discomfort. In Sam Freeman's past three outings, he has allowed two homers and a walk. Jake Diekman has worked two of the past three days but presumably is an option Sunday.
The Rangers desperately need Hamels not only to pitch well on Sunday — to pitch them to the division title — but also to go deep into the game.
The Rangers might need Hamels to get all the outs on Sunday, writes Evan Grant.
To be decided: the second AL wild card, among the Astros, Rangers and Angels.
The X factor: Garrett Richards, who will start for the Angels on three days' rest, and as with the Rangers and Hamels, the Angels need Richards to get them into the latter stage of the game to save a tired bullpen — and we don't know how tired Richards will be. He has made one start on three days' rest in his career, and he threw five scoreless innings.
To be decided: Home-field advantage for the AL wild-card game. The Yankees need to win a game to clinch, or hope for a Houston defeat.