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Most of the time, the last section of this column – “This week, watch for…” – is usually an educated guess at what I think are intriguing matchups, big rivalries, interesting pitchers, or something off-the-wall that might be entertaining. Last week, I expanded the section from its standard three to five, with a number of great series on the docket. As it turns out, the weekend was all that and more.
Five different series had the potential to have a big impact on division and playoff races, and impact they did. This week’s column will look back at those five series, the result, and what it means in the long run.
1) AL East – Red Sox @ Yankees – Yankees 4, Red Sox 0
Watching the carnage in the Bronx this past weekend, I almost forgot the last five years had occurred. While Big Papi was busy discussing what supplements he did or did not inject into his body in 2003, the Yankees were busy making all of New England feel like it was 2003, sweeping the Sox right out of New York. Even more impressive was they way they did it – stellar starting pitching, lights-out bullpen, and clutch hitting from the middle of the order. After missing the playoffs entirely last year for the first time since the 1994 strike, the Yankees have swung the balance of power back down I-95. Even if they’re still 8-4 against New York with another six games remaining, the Red Sox suddenly became a lot more concerned with Tampa Bay and Texas than New York, especially with an upcoming week that features three with Detroit and then a visit to Arlington to play the aforementioned Rangers.
2) AL Central – Twins @ Tigers – Tigers 2, Twins 1
Sure, the White Sox are the bigger challenger to the Tigers right now, but the Twins had a shot to put some added pressure on both Detroit and Chicago. Instead, they coughed up a chance on Sunday to steal a series in Mo-town, blowing an early 3-0 lead and giving up two in the 8th to fall 8-7. The loss gives Detroit a 5.5-game lead over Minnesota in third, with Chicago in second only three back of the Tigers. As the White Sox proved last year (and this division has proved many times this decade), no lead is really safe in the AL Central, so this series had a lot less impact in the playoff race than the one in New York, outside of the Twins missing a shot at picking up a crucial game in the standings. Chicago didn’t fair much better, dropping two of three to Cleveland, so Detroit managed to increase their lead over both teams. They question now is how fast Jake Peavy can get onto the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, and how close the division is when he gets there.
3) AL West – Rangers @ Angels – Rangers 2, Angels 1
Texas needed to make a statement and make one they did, knocking off LA in two of three, including a 7-0 drubbing in the rubber match. Texas easily could have had all three, if not for clutch hitting from the Angels and the back thereof from the Rangers in a 3-2 loss on Saturday. Texas now has a trip to Cleveland before returning home for a crucial weekend series with the Red Sox, a team with whom the Rangers are now tied in the Wild Card standings. Meanwhile the Angels now find themselves with only a 3 and a half game lead over the Rangers. The bright side is they hold that same edge over the Red Sox too, as well as a 6.5-game lead over Detroit, meaning that they still have plenty of control over a possible playoff spot and right to homefield. Any more weekends like this past one, however, could put that number two seed in serious jeopardy.
4) NL East – Marlins @ Phillies – Marlins 3, Phillies 0
The less-hyped sweep occurred in the NL East, where the Marlins, fresh off a good spanking at the hands of the lowly Washington Nationals in D.C., turned right around and repaid the favor to the division-leading Phillies. The Fins clearly displayed to the rest of the league what some already suspected – even with the addition of Cliff Lee, the Phillies’ pitching is still suspect. The Marlins doubled their offensive output each game – 3, 6, 12 – and leave Philly only 4 game back as opposed to 8 or 10. Couple that with Atlanta taking the last three of a four game set from the Dodgers in Los Angeles to put themselves 4.5 games back, and suddenly the Phillies are feeling the heat. The Phillies will face those Braves in Atlanta this weekend after three against the Cubs at Wrigley, so the formerly comfortable lead could shrink to none at all if the defending champs don’t turn it around. As for Florida, we’ll just put it this way: 1997, 2003… 2009?
5) NL Wild Card – Cubs @ Rockies – Rockies 2, Cubs 1
The Dodgers dropped three of four to Atlanta, the Reds took two of three from San Francisco, and the Rockies have taken advantage of both events by getting back to even with the Giants by taking two of three from the Cubs thus far. Both Colorado and San Fran are even within striking distance of LA, only 5.5 games back in what was once a seemingly forgone division championship for the Dodgers. The Rockies actually lost the game their best starter – Jason Marquis – threw, yet still managed to officially stamp themselves as in it for the long haul (much to my chagrin). Meanwhile the Cubs missed a chance to tie for the Wild Card lead and instead sit two back of the western duo, as well as two back in the NL Central, with one game left in Denver on Monday night. It leaves eight teams within five games of a playoff spot, meaning the next nearly two months of baseball will be packed with tough, pressure-filled games in the NL as all four postseason spots now seem up for grabs.
As mentioned earlier in this column, the Marlins have won the World Series in both decades they have existed, 1997 and 2003. In the six years between the two titles, the entire 25-man roster was overhauled. Only four players managed to be on the 40-man roster for both championships – two active and two retired. Who are they?
Last week’s answer: Don Baylor is the only player to play in three consecutive World Series with there different teams: 1986 Boston Red Sox, 1987 Minnesota Twins, and 1988 Oakland Athletics.
2009 Playoff “Dead List”
May 25 – Washington Nationals
June 1 – Colorado Rockies
June 8 – Baltimore Orioles
June 15 – Arizona Diamondbacks
June 22 – Kansas City Royals
June 29 – Cleveland Indians
July 6 – Oakland Athletics
July 15 – San Diego Padres
July 27 – Pittsburgh Pirates
August 3 – Cincinnati Reds
August 10 – Toronto Blue Jays
I’m not totally ready to kill the Mets yet (though losing three of four to San Diego probably warrants it), so we’ll go with a team that, in my mind, is better than New York but simply in a much less advantageous playoff position. They started out well, but Toronto is simply suffering from what I like to call “AL East-itis,” i.e. they reside in the same division with the Red Sox and Yankees. Even with Boston’s stumble last weekend, Tampa Bay is right behind to leap into that Wild Card spot, so it’s sayonara for the Blue Jays.
This week, watch for…
1) Dodgers @ Giants (8/10-12)
2) Red Sox week (vs Det, 8/11-13; @ Tex 8/14-16)
3) NL East weekend (Phi @ Atl; Col @ Fla)
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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