BOB’S AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD-CARD PICKS: YANKEES AND...

The battle for the two wild-card playoff berths in the American League will result in a whole lot of otherwise meaningless games becoming very meaningful in the remaining weeks of the regular season.

Entering Tuesday, an amazing nine teams are within five games of each other in the race for the league’s two wild-card playoff berths.

Here are my picks in order of preference,

1--Yankees – By far the best run-differential (+111) among the nine wild-card contenders. The only other team on this list with a plus run differential is Texas...A pretty good lineup top-to-bottom. Figure to benefit from the return of all-star second baseman Starlin Castro and maybe first baseman Greg Byrd...I wouldn’t bench slumping rookie slugger Aaron Judge, but I’d drop him in the lineup from No. 3 to No. 7 or No. 8. He batted fifth Tuesday night in the win over Detroit...Decent starting pitchers in Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray but I don’t trust CC Sabathia, do you?...Deep bullpen is a major asset. Return to top form by Aroldis Chapman would be a bonus...Wild-card probability: 55 percent.

2—Los Angeles Angels – A different team with Mike Trout back from injury. 20-14 since his return, including 10-3 in the last 13 games...Manager Mike Scioscia is good at maximizing the talent on his roster...Seldom beat themselves...Second in allowing the fewest runs among the teams on this list...Wild-card probability: 25 percent.

3--Texas Rangers – Have outscored opponents 634-606 (+28)...Might regret trading starting pitcher Yu Darvish...Can definitely hit but pitching depth is the big question mark...Wild-card probability: 25 percent.

4—Kansas City Royals – A dangerous and relatively well-balanced team...Core group has won many meaningful games in the past...Wild-card probability: 25 percent.

5—Baltimore Orioles – I like the power-laden lineup, particularly at Camden Yards, and the bullpen...Shortstop Tim Beckham has been a huge addition (.416 batting average, 5 HRs, 12 RBI in 21 games since being acquired from Tampa Bay...I hate the starting rotation (how could you not) and lack of team speed...Tigers at home (37-26) and pussycats on the road (24-39)...Wild-card probability: 20 percent.

6—Seattle Mariners – I can’t figure this team out. Should be better...Good lineup...Injuries have compromised the effectiveness of the starting rotation...Fair bullpen...I wouldn’t be shocked if they suddenly get hot but I can’t say that is likely...Wild-card probability: 20 percent.

7—Minnesota Twins – A team of the future...13-4 in the last 17 games to improve to 65-60...Loaded with young talent, particularly in the outfield (Rosario, Buxton, Kepler)...Suspect starting rotation behind Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios. Do you trust Bartolo Colon?...Verrrry suspect bullpen...Wild-card probability: 10 percent.

8—Tampa Bay Rays – Give them credit for again performing above what critics expected...Probably lack the punch to beat out the teams above them on this list...Many Rays fans are irate over the trade of Tim Beckham to Baltimore and who can blame them...Wild-card probability: 10 percent.

9—Toronto Blue Jays – Injuries and disappointing performances have undermined this team throughout the season...Weak middle relief pitching...Not likely to overcome deficiencies to post a run of big wins down the stretch...Wild-card probability: 10 percent.

SPRAYING BASEBALL HITS (AND MISSES) TO ALL FIELDS

Slugger Cody Bellinger (34 HRs and 79 RBI in 101 games) and pitcher Alex Wood (14-1, 2.41 ERA) going to the 10-day disabled list probably means the Los Angeles Dodgers won’t win a record 117 games this regular season (they’d need to go 29-10 in the rest of the season) and erases any chance Bellinger had of being league MVP. He’ll have to settle for Rookie of the Year.

The two longest HRs in Major League Baseball this season were hit by New York Yankees: Aaron Judge 495 feet June 11 and Gary Sanchez 493 feet Tuesday night.

I’m not discounting red-hot Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox) catching slumping Aaron Judge (Yankees)  for AL Rookie of the Year.

The Rochester Red Wings, who entered 2017 as the only team in the 14-team International League coming off four straight winning seasons, have clinched a fifth-straight winning season.

Tim Melville on Monday night for Minnesota became the 24th pitcher to pitch for the Twins and the Red Wings this season. That’s a lot.

SAM DARNOLD COULD BE THE BIG PRIZE IN NFL TANK WAR

The Associated Press 2017 Associated Press College Football All-America First Team was announced Tuesday. USC’s Sam Darnold is the quarterback.

Darnold is the early favorite as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft and the top prize in a potential War of the Tanks between the Jets and maybe western New York’s favorite team.

REMEMBERING ROCKY MARCIANO’S 49-0 RECORD...

One reason I wouldn’t mind seeing Floyd Mayweather suffer an upset loss to Conor McGregor in Saturday’s night’s “superfight” is that it would prevent Mayweather from breaking Rocky Marciano’s undefeated pro boxing career record of 49-0.

Mayweather, now 40 years old, is coming out of retirement for this spectacle. He last fought 714 days ago. But he is a Hall of Fame boxer and reportedly is in tip-top shape. McGregor is not a boxer. He’s a terrific UFC fighter. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t consider McGregor to be a legitimate boxing opponent for Mayweather and I don’t think he has a chance.

Marciano was 31 years old and the world heavyweight champion on Sept. 21, 1955, when he faced challenger and light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore at Yankee Stadium. Moore scored a knockdown in the second round but 4-to-1 favorite Marciano scored two knockdowns in the sixth round and a third in the eighth round before winning via knockout in the ninth round. It as his seventh and final title defense.

After that fight, Marciano said he had been bothered by a back issue. On April 27, 1956, he announced his retirement to spend more time with his family.

Marciano briefly pondered ending his retirement in 1959, after Ingemar Johansson dethroned Floyd Patterson.  Rocky thought he could beat Johansson and trained for one month before deciding to stay retired. He never again seriously considered a boxing comeback.

As a boxer, Marciano and Mayweather didn’t have much in common besides their perfect 49-0 records. Mayweather is considered one of the all-time greatest defensive fighters. Marciano was far more aggressive. He always was the aggressor. He was relatively small for a heavyweight – 5-10 and around 185 pounds – but he had exceptional power, desire and a solid chin.

Marciano was killed in a small-plane crash August 31, 1969 – one day before his 46th birthday.

Rocky is the only pro boxing champion to retire undefeated. Mayweather will be trying to join him and top him Saturday night.

1999 RHINOS SURVIVE ANOTHER U.S. OPEN CUP SCARE

The 1999 Rochester Rhinos will for at least one more year remain the only non-Major League Soccer team to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since MLS teams began competing in the open tournament in 1996.

The 2017 U.S. Open Cup championship match will be Sept. 20: New York Red Bulls (MLS) at Sporting Kansas City (MLS), 9 p.m., on ESPN2/ESPN Deportes.

In the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, Sporting Kansas City (MLS) beat the San Jose Earthquakes (MSL), in a 5-4 penalty kick shootout after a 1-1 tie after overtime, August 9, and the New York Red Bulls (MLS) defeated FC Cincinnati (USL), 3-2 in overtime, Aug. 15. FC Cincinnati, inspired by a home crowd of 33,250 at Nippert Stadium, led 2-0 before the Red Bulls rallied to win.

SHORT SHOTS

Houston Astros sparkplug Jose Altuve is the Hickok Belt Award athlete of the month for July. He hit .485 with 21 RBI for the month. He outpolled golfer Jordan Spieth and swimmers Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledeky. Previous 2017 monthly winners were Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Russell Westbrook, Sergio Garcia, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Twelve players on the team knelt in protest when the National Anthem was played before Monday night’s game. Well, the Cleveland Browns are leading the NFL in something.

I continue to be amazed at how the “unscripted” final match on WWE’s Monday Night RAW almost always ends at exactly 11:08 p.m.

The Rochester Rhinos are home Saturday, 6:05 p.m., versus Saint Louis FC.  With 10 games remaining in this USL regular season, the Rhinos have 9 wins, 5 losses and 8 ties. The Rhinos are averaging 2,219 fans per home game, 21st in the 30-team USL. The league’s average crowd is 4,328.

The North Carolina Courage, formerly the defending National Women’s Soccer League champion Western New York Flash, continue to lead the 10-team NWSL with a 13-5-0 record, including 8-2 at home, where they are averaging 4,095 fans through 10 home dates. The team averaged 3,868 last season at Rochester’s Capelli Sport Stadium.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

 Wednesday, August 23

Jusif Nurkic (23)...Seth Curry (27)...Jeremy Lin (29)...Darren Collison (30)...Natalie Coughlin (35)...Rex Grossman (37)...Kobe Bryant (39)...Hugh Douglas (46)...Jeremy Schaap (51)...Rik Smits (51)...Jeff Manto (53)...Julio Franco (59)...Mike Boddiker (60)...Ron Blomberg (69)...Ed Barnowski (74), who was a Red Wings pitcher and then a Red Wings general manager. Rick Springfield (68) and Barbara Eden (86) are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, August 24

Tyler Ennis (23)...Anze Kopitar (30)...Arian Foster (31)...Kevin Kolb (33)...Brett Gardner (34)...Michael Redd (38)...Rafael Furcal (39)...B.J. Waszgis (47)...Tim Salmon (49)...Ken Priestlay (50)...Reggie Miller (52)...Cal Ripken Jr. (57)...Mike Shanahan (65)...Vince McMahon (72).

Friday, August 25

Caris LeVert (23)...Angela Park (29)...Adam Warren (30)...Justin Upton (30)...Gary Matthews (43)...Marvin Harrison (45)...Robert Horry (47)...Albert Belle (51)...Nate Odomes (52)...Cornelius Bennett (52)...Oddibe McDowell (55)...Rollie Fingers (71). Rachel Ray (49), Billy Ray Cyrus (56), Gene Simmons (68), Regis Philbin (66) and Sean Connery (87) are invited to the birthday party.