So is this it? Is this the collapse that every baseball Nostradamus has been seer-ing since April -- or at least since Magglio Ordoñez's last dinger, 109 at-bats ago? After five straight losses (two to the Twins and a three-game sweep by the White Sox), the Tigers finally are feeling a little pressure in the Central. Our advice: Don't look back now.
Mark Buehrle actually looked like Mark Buehrle on Saturday, and the Sox are starting to look more like themselves. A sweep of the Tiggers (Sox lead the series 9-3) says a lot. "It's not like you're sending a message," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "Good teams don't get messages sent to them." Sent or not, received or not, we all know who's talking.
The AL East leaders dropped two of three to the White Sox, then two of three to the Angels over the weekend, finishing a lousy week by letting a rookie (Jered Weaver) beat them in the Stadium. Still, only the A's have given up fewer runs since the break. The Yanks' next test comes this weekend in a five-game series (overkill!) at Fenway Park.
It takes a lot to out-Yankee the Yanks, but after two big signings last week (Jose Reyes and David Wright) and a juicy back-page gambling and teenage sex-kitten scandal (oh, Paul Lo Duca), the Mets are the talk of the town. Remember when a juicy Mets story was questioning Mike Piazza's sexuality? Welcome to the new Queens Zoo.
Nothing cures the blues quite like a visit from the Orioles. After losing five straight to the Rays and Royals (that alone should cost a team three spots in the PRs), the Sox rebounded with a Baltimore sweep (BOS 11, BAL 1 in '06). Bad news: Jonathan Papelbon's getting hit, Manny's hitting streak is done and the Tigers and Yanks are coming.
The news on rookie Francisco Liriano -- bad elbow, out for the season? -- should scare the pine tar out of Twins fans. If Brad Radke can pick it up and Matt Garza pitches better than he did in his debut, the Twins still have an outside chance. But pitching, especially Liriano, got them back in this thing. Without it -- without him -- they're not the same.
Eric Chavez hit a homer on Sunday, achy forearms and all, Esteban Loaiza hit 95 on the radar gun and the A's are hitting on all their second-half cylinders. They're 20-9 since the break and have a 4½-game lead in the AL West, their largest in nearly three years. Laugh at the division if you must, but the A's pitching is no joke. It's good enough to win in October.
At this point, you have to wish that the Jays would just do ... something. You figured they were done after a seven-game losing streak. But now they've won six of their last eight, and this week they have the dregs of the AL East -- Tampa Bay and Baltimore -- on the docket. Are the Jays contenders? Are they chumps? Do they know? Does anyone know?
Everybody's trying to figure out what's wrong with the Cards, who were swept this weekend by -- somebody check their credentials -- the Pirates. Other than sketchy pitching and a lack of timely hitting, it's hard to pinpoint the exact reason St. Louis has stunk. But the allure is gone. The Cards were 51-29 against the Central in '05. This year? Try 25-30.
How does a team go from 1-13 to 15-1 just like that? Well, in those last 16 games no Dodgers opponent has scored more than five runs in a game. And that happened only twice (both in L.A. wins). In that stretch the Dodgers are giving up an average of 2½ runs a game. The bullpen has allowed only seven runs in 41 1/3 innings. It's called pitching.