Setting the scene for a wild weekend (cont.)
The Twins: A horrible loss to the Royals on Friday, 8-1, could have been much more horrible had the White Sox not lost, too. So the Twins remain a half-game up in the Central with two games to play.
The team's biggest concern has to be winning Saturday. They'll send Glen Perkins (12-4, 4.50 ERA) to start. But Minnesota has to be a little concerned with the outing Friday night by Francisco Liriano, too. The young lefty was 6-0 in his first 10 starts since returning from his minor-league rehabilitation start, with a 2.05 ERA. The Royals slammed him for 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings Friday.
That won't matter, though, if the Twins falter in the next couple of days.
The White Sox: Almost as bad as the Twins' loss was Chicago's, their fourth straight, this one to the Indians, 11-8. The Sox, swept by the Twins earlier this week to fall that half-game back, now will turn to the battered Javier Vazquez to keep their hopes alive. Vazquez, remember, responded to some prodding from manager Ozzie Guillen last week in Minnesota by lasting all of four innings.
If the ChiSox lose Saturday and the Twins win to take a 1½-game lead, the Sox would have to win Sunday, hope for a Twins' loss Sunday and then win a makeup game Monday against the Tigers, in Chicago. That would force a one-game playoff with the Twins on Tuesday.
The Angels: After snagging the best record in the league with Tampa Bay's loss, Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted for the division series that starts on Wednesday, enabling him to possibly throw John Lackey and Ervin Santana twice each in the best-of-five series. Lackey was shelled by the Rangers in probably the worst outing of his career Friday. He'll be fine when Game 1 rolls around Wednesday.
Stud of the Day
Where has this Seth McClung guy been? The Brewers' big right-hander might have saved his team's season on Friday by pitching four scoreless innings and giving up just one hit against the Cubs in the Brewers' 5-1 win.
McClung, gunning for a spot on the postseason roster, used a biting mid-90s fastball to confound the Cubs, striking out six and walking just one. It was the 37th appearance of the year for McClung, by far his longest in relief (he's also started 12 games) and, by far, the most important. What's more, he coaxed a catcher's interference call on the Cubs' Koyie Hill that started off the Brewers' three-run rally in the seventh that sealed the win.
Dud of the Day
The Mets need their leadoff guy to lead. Jose Reyes went 0-for-5 in Friday's loss to the Marlins, topping it all off by grounding into a 3-6 double play to end the game. In his last seven games, Reyes is hitting .188 with a .257 on-base percentage.
Quote of the Day
"We didn't blink and then all of the sudden, we're a game back in the wild card. We've done this to ourselves. We dug ourselves a hole. Now it's up to us to dig ourselves out of that hole." -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel
Is Ryan Howard the NL's MVP for a fantastic September in which he's pushed the Phillies to the brink of the NL East title? Howard is hitting .349 this month, with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 23 games. The man who's known for his whiffs has struck out only 20 times in that stretch. He has more homers and more RBIs -- 48 and 146 -- than anyone in the game. It'd be difficult for me to overlook St. Louis' Albert Pujols for MVP. But you have to see what Howard has done, especially lately, and think long and hard about it.
The Mets used four pitchers to get three outs in the sixth inning of Friday's loss to the Marlins. That kind of says a lot, doesn't it?
Jeff Samardzija still makes Piniella nervous, you can tell. I think the Cubs' skipper wants the hard-throwing rookie in his bullpen for the postseason. But I don't think Piniella clearly trusts him yet.
Think Piniella has been taking it easy this week with, for the Cubs, largely meaningless games against the Mets and Brewers? Did you see him chew out first base coach Matt Sinatro for sending rookie Matt Hoffpauir to second on a throw home on Friday? (Hoffpauir was thrown out.) It wasn't clear whether Hoffpauir went on his own or whether Sinatro sent him. But Sinatro was hearing about it from Piniella, one way or the other.
And, finally, a quick side note: Before the season began, thinking Pujols' elbow would finally blow up and the Cardinals' pitching would be as bad as everybody thought it might be, I foolishly predicted St. Louis would have the worst record in the NL. It was a bold prediction, sure, as most silly predictions of that sort should be. I thought it had at least an outside chance to be close.
Well, as we know now, it wasn't. Pujols has lasted all year long and might well be the league's MVP. The Cards got unexpectedly good years from pitchers Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, outfielders Skip Schumaker and, especially, Ryan Ludwick. They won't make the postseason, but they could finish with as many as 86 wins. It was another brilliant coach-up job by manager Tony La Russa and his staff.
Some people never let you forget your stupid predictions, though. So, to TUCK! over at The Hardball Times, who has pounded me all year long with e-mails (in a nice way); you were right, bub. I was wrong.
After a two-dinger game against the Rays on Friday, Gary Sheffield of the Tigers needs one more to become the 25th player with 500 career home runs.