By Kyle Soppe
With 8-10 games left to be played, we take a look at the big series this weekend, and their playoff implications. The race for both the AL and NL wild card spots has tightened up, so instead of picking one series to preview, here is a brief rundown of the 4 teams playing for their postseason lives.
Toronto Blue Jays @ Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have used a September surge to get within shouting distance of division rival Boston in the race for the wild card. The Rays have used dominating pitching to make their move, while Evan Longoria provides the timely hit. Youngster Desmond Jennings is a terror on the base paths, and manager Joe Madden uses his skills in an aggressive manner. Obviously the Jays have nothing to play for, but their top two pitchers (Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow) are expected to face the Rays this weekend. That is a tough break, but the desperation of the Rays should propel them to a series win. Even with the Toronto aces, Tampa has the pitching advantage in every matchup. The Rays should score a handful of runs per game this weekend, and with the way their starters are pitching, that should be more than enough to take at least 2, if not all 3.
Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees
An interesting series in which the playoff bound Yanks have nothing to gain, while the Red Sox have everything to lose. In the midst of a September swoon, the Red Sox have simply been awful in all facets of the game. They are 1-6 against the Rays this month, allowing a double digit wild card lead to be trimmed to 2.5. The Sox catch a break, as AJ Burnett (if you want to know how I feel about him, visit the “Playoff Push” podcast at the bottom right of this page) is the scheduled starter for Saturday’s matinée. Charlie Manuel said he “owed it to the game of baseball” to play his starters in games that will affect the playoff race, and I think Joe Girardi will have a similar approach. Don’t expect the Bronx Bombers to roll over this weekend, even with their postseason tickets punched. Mo Rivera won’t throw two innings, and CC won’t throw 120 pitches, but the powerful lineup figures to be assembled, in an effort to keep the BoSox out of October. Conspiracy Theory – The Yankees are only 4-11 against the Red Sox, while they are 8-6 against the Rays. Neither is impressive, but one would think that the Yanks would rather see Tampa in the postseason. Could this be little extra motivation for New York to try to win these games? That being said, Red Sox are in desperation mode, and will take 2 of 3.
Chicago Cubs @ Saint Louis Cardinals
The Redbirds are making a late push behind their stud Albert Pujols. Number 5 has been hot, and finally is batting over .300 for the year. When he goes into “Machine” mode, there isn’t a scarier or more imposing hitter in all of baseball. The Cardinals have won 12 of 14 keeping their opponent at four runs or less in nine of those contests. On top of a great rivalry and playoff implications, the Cubs are believed to be the front runner in the Pujols sweepstakes. The Cardinals need to be flawless to catch Atlanta, and they are simply a much better team than the Cubbies. Matt Holliday should be back in action, while Lance Berkman appears to be finding his stroke. Chris Carpenter has rediscovered his form, and is now the foundation to a patchwork rotation. I could very easily see the Cubs mailing it in a week or two early, especially with talented, but often unfocused, Starlin Castro as the teams leader. If the Cardinals don’t make the playoffs, it will be because The Braves hang on, not because the Cards implode. Saint Louis sweeps in front of a packed Busch Stadium.
Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals
Clearly, not only the Boston Red Sox are capable of making things more interesting than they need to be. The Braves have squandered their wild card lead (down to 1.5 games), and need to rebound quickly if they want a crack at that NL crown (that some columnist predicted would be in Atlanta this year). This collapse would be the biggest of all time in the final month of the season, surpassing the Angles who blew a 7.5 game lead in 1995. Consistent batting has been the major flaw all year for the Bravo’s. They have struggled against the middle to top tier pitching, scoring four or less runs 13 times in September already. They are a rather pedestrian 33-28 since the all-star break, and have been dealing with injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Both pitchers figure to be healthy come October, but will their team be playing? The Braves catch a tough break, as Steven Strasburg will take the mound for the series opener on Friday. I think Strasburg pitches well in front of the bright lights, and will come out victorious on Friday night. After the prodigy, the Nats are very limited when it comes to their rotation. Chien-Ming Wang (3-3 4.51) and Ross Detwiler (2-5 3.76) are projected to start this weekend, and it’s hard to imagine either beating a team that needs both games. Braves offense finds a way to score runs, and takes 2 of 3, but that means dropping another game to the Cardinals.
The Sox don’t know who will start Sunday’s game. They tried to acquire a guy who from the Mets to stand on the mound Sunday and do an Iron Mike impersonation. Tim Wakefield starts Saturday. I am a fan of Wakefield, but he is 45 years old. Last year he 140 innings. The season before that he tossed 129. He is at 150 for this campaign. gulp
Love the rally cap image.
MAN THE LIFE BOATS!