Only one way to reach October (cont.)
Team of the Week
Well, look at the Dodgers, would you? Win eight in a row. Sweep the Diamondbacks. Take over first place in the West. Can it get any better in L.A.? I'd like to hand the NL West crown to the Dodgers right now -- if, you know, there was really a crown to hand to them -- but, remember, this is the West. The Dodgers warmed up for their current eight-game winning streak with an eight-game losing streak (Aug. 22-29). This team, Manny Ramirez or not, has shown it's completely capable of heading south as quickly as it goes north. Get this: That losing streak (.255 batting average), this winning streak (.304). Losing streak (.322 on-base percentage), winning streak (.394). Losing streak (six home runs), winning streak (14 longballs). Losing streak (6.62 ERA), winning streak (2.25). See what I mean? Give 'em credit for beating both Webb and Haren twice apiece during this winning streak. But I'm certainly not yet convinced the Dodgers have turned any corner.
Player of the Week
In six games last week, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier had 13 hits in 20 at-bats (.650), crushed two homers, three doubles and a triple, took seven walks and struck out only three times. His best night came in a 5-for-5 game against the Diamondbacks on Friday, when he had two doubles, a homer and drove in five runs. In 29 games since Aug. 1, when Manny came to town, Ethier is hitting .353 with a .427 OBP, with nine homers as part of his 21 extra-base hits.
Lines of the Week
Carlos Delgado, NYM vs. PHI, Sept. 7
3-for-4, 2 HRs, 4 RBI
Delgado may have saved the Mets' season with two monster home runs off Cole Hamels. The first baseman is hitting .299 with 22 homers and 65 RBIs in his last 65 games.
Chris Young, SDP at MIL, Sept. 7
9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 5 K, 0 BB
The big righty went 7 2/3 innings before allowing a runner -- a home run to Gabe Kapler -- in just his fourth comeback after getting smashed in the face by an Albert Pujols line drive.
Quote of the Week
"I don't know where the offense has gone, I really don't. These guys are trying, so I've got no complaint from that standpoint. But the truth of the matter is, you've got to get it done."
-- Cubs manager Lou Piniella
Series to Watch
The last time the Rays and Red Sox played each other was on June 30-July 2, in St. Pete. The Rays swept the defending World Series champs in three close games. Why does that seem like such a long time ago? On Monday, the two AL East powerhouses meet at Fenway Park with first place on the line. And then, next Monday, they'll play their final three games of the season back in St. Pete. The Rays are 5-5 in their last 10 games. They have lost their last eight games in Fenway. They've never won a series there. Welcome to September baseball, fellas.
So, what to make of the Rays, whose lead in the AL East has dwindled to 1 1/2 games? Well, it's tough out there. After a five-game winning streak, the Rays have lost five of their last six against the Yankees and sizzling Blue Jays. But this is not a collapse. The Rays actually fought back Saturday before succumbing in 13 innings to Toronto. And then they lost 1-0 on Sunday. It's not as if they haven't been in a lot of games. That said, it's not getting any easier. Their next four series look like this: at Boston, at Yankees, vs. Boston, vs. Minnesota. Yikes. Thank goodness for that wild card, eh?
Give credit to the Red Sox, too, who have not lost two in a row since Aug. 16 and 17, against the Jays. Boston is 13-5 since then and is hitting .310 as a team, with a .391 OBP. That lineup, with two MVP candidates in Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, is what's driving the Sox.
The Jays, who have moved past the Yankees and into third place in the AL East, have won eight straight games. Starting with those two wins over the Red Sox, in Boston in mid-August, the Jays are 14-6 with a 2.77 team ERA. Opponents are hitting just .238 off Toronto pitchers during that stretch, with just a .298 OBP. Tampa Bay fans can take some solace in noting that the Red Sox have seven games left against the Jays.
For the stats-aware out there, this should be fun. Sometime Monday night, most likely between 7-8 pm ET, someone will crank out the 250,000th home run in Major League Baseball history. And Sean Forman will be there to log it, both at Baseball Think Factory and at his indispensable site, baseball-reference.com. Sean, clearly, doesn't have anything better to do. And we're grateful for that.
If I'm Ned Yost, I'm not handing the ball to Eric Gagne with anything less than a four-run lead. If then. His last three outings: 3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 2 K, 1 BB, .400 BAA, 1 L, 2 BS.
Think the Blue Jays fall into the too-little, too-late pile? What about the Astros, who were nine games under on July 26 and are now nine games over .500. If you're counting, that's a 29-11 run. They're 10-1 in their last 11, with sweeps of the Cubs and Cardinals in there.
Back on the Red Sox real quickly: Monday night, against Tampa Bay, will mark the 456th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park, breaking the record held for years by Cleveland fans who flocked to Jacobs Field in the mid- and late-90s glory days of the Indians. My guess is that the Sox are going to put this record out of reach for a long, long time.
A lot of the flop-sweat around Chicago's North Side has been because of the injuries to Carlos Zambrano and, possibly, Rich Harden. And, yeah, those are potentially serious setbacks, though the Cubs' pitching depth should at least get them into October. The real concern has to be the lineup. The Cubs have been shut out twice in the past eight games (they're 1-7) and have scored fewer than four runs on four other occasions during that streak. Kosuke Fukudome, who is hitting .196 over his past 20 games (.306 OBP), has not only played himself out of the lineup but way out of the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
At the risk of seeming too Dodgers-centric, did you see Nomar Garciaparra's catch to end Sunday's win over the D'backs? Nomar came in to play third, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, moved to first and then made that fantastic backhand dive. Awesome.
Albert Pujols, .359. Chipper Jones, .358. NL batting title. If anyone cares.