Angels lock up their ace; Verlander, Tigers on verge of breaking away
The Angels extended Jered Weaver for five years at a similar price to A.J. Burnett
Justin Verlander can get to 20 wins this week as he aims to put away the Cy Young
The NL West Giants-D-backs battle is the only playoff race in doubt every day
Five Cuts on American League happenings ...
1. The latest example of a superstar never getting to free agency. Angels ace Jered Weaver agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, according to SI.com's Jon Heyman.
Weaver, who started the All-Star Game, leads the AL with a 2.10 ERA, a season after leading the league in strikeouts with 233. The right-hander was the Angels' first-round pick in 2004 and would have been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
By signing him, the team locks up one of the best starters in the game without having to compete with other teams for his services. By comparison, Weaver will make just a few dollars more on this deal than the Yankees' A.J. Burnett is making on a free-agent contract signed three seasons ago and substantially less than Cliff Lee will make on the Phillies' lefty's five-year deal signed this past offseason. The durable Weaver, who hasn't missed a start since 2008, seems an excellent bet to retain his skills and stay healthy throughout this five-year contract.
2. A key week in the AL Cy Young race. Weaver may lead the league in ERA and tax bracket, but he's not the best pitcher in the AL this year. That's Justin Verlander, who will start twice this week in his quest to put away the AL Cy Young Award. Verlander, who leads the AL in strikeouts, innings pitched, starts and wins, as well as stathead totem Wins Above Replacement, goes to Tampa Bay and Minnesota in an effort to reach 20 wins -- he has 18 -- by the end of August.
The Rays are one of the few teams to give Verlander grief this season: his ERA of 9.00 against them this year is twice what it is against any other team, and he has fewer strikeouts against them, two, than against any other team he's seen this year.
3. How the Central will be won. Verlander's race to the Cy Young Award may be all the drama we get down the stretch in Detroit. The Tigers, who'd watched their lead slip to 1 1/2 games after losing two of three to the Twins last week, rode a sweep of the Indians over the weekend -- capped by Austin Jackson gunning down the tying run at the plate to preserve an 8-7 win Sunday -- to stretch their edge over the Tribe to 4 1/2 games.
Jackson's base-runner kill helped Jose Valverde escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam and convert his 37th consecutive save this season. The Tigers have fended off a series of challenges by the Indians, and after a trip to Tampa Bay get seven games against the Twins and Royals to stretch their lead before six more against the White Sox and Indians. That week may represent both teams' last shot to keep the Tigers from making September a coronation.
4. An uninspiring hunt for October. The AL Central is just the latest domino to fall. From late July, when more than half the teams in MLB could claim a reasonable shot at the postseason, we're down to just 12, and a number of those are barely hanging on. The Brewers have stretched their lead in the NL Central to 8 1/2 games over the Cardinals, the Rangers are up four on the Angels after that lead was six a few days ago, and neither wild-card race is worthy of the word.
Only the NL West, where the Diamondbacks have lost five straight and the Giants lost two of three to the Astros, is in doubt every day. No doubt the low-tension pseudo-races in the AL and NL East divisions will be used as an excuse to force through a second wild-card, but the solution, as ever, isn't more playoff teams, but fewer ones. All a second wild card will do is make winning the worst division more valuable than winning the best one.
5. This week's playoff preview. With so few races to track, we can take a peek ahead to the postseason this week, as the Red Sox trek down to Arlington to play the Rangers in what could be an AL Division Series preview. The Rangers haven't quite run away in the West since bolstering their bullpen at the trade deadline, as Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have combined for a 3.56 ERA in 17 2/3 innings -- and four of the team's eight losses since their arrival.
The Red Sox don't much care who's pitching: they're first in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, second in runs and homers, and have three of the top four position players in the league as measured by Wins Above Replacement (Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez). The Sox are the best road team in baseball at 39-25.