Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kansas City Stars; Howard's 40 Homers

Players of the Day for Friday, September 18, 2009 American League It's been a while since the Kansas City Royals have played October baseball, and it's going to be at least another year before the lowly Royals get a taste of post-season fun, but they've been doing some damage to other teams in their division lately, Heading into the final two weeks of the season, the goals for the Royals seem to be: a. Avoid losing 100 games (87 currently), b. get out of last place (only a game behind Cleveland), and, c. damage the reputations of as many AL Central teams as possible. On that last count, the Royals seem to be up to the task this September. Since the 8th of the month, they've gone 8-2, including taking 2 of 3 from Cleveland and 5 of 6 from division-leading Detroit. On Friday, they made the White Sox their latest victim, pounding the former division contender into pretender status with an 11-0 whitewash. Leading the charge was starting pitcher Luke Hochevar (left), who hurled the second complete-game and first shutout of his major league career. Hochevar, though only 7-10 with a 5.79 ERA, nevertheless had the stuff to down the White Sox on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 5. Besides handling his young battery-mate behind the plate, catcher Miguel Olivo (right) mashed White Sox pitching for 6 RBI, on a bases-loaded walk, two 2-run homers and a sac fly. A .251 hitter, Olivo went 2-for-4, upping his home run and RBI totals for the year to 23 and 64, respectively, both career highs. National League Ryan Howard blasted his 39th and 40th home runs, putting him in the 40+ homer club for the 4th straight year (out of five that he's been in the bigs), as the Phillies topped the Braves, 9-4, abruptly ending their 7-game win streak and dropping them into third place in the NL East and 4th place in the wild card. Howard went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI. Howard's heroics kept the big man in the hunt for both the home run and RBI title, though a guy named Pujols will probably be taking home most of the iron this fall. Howard trails Pujols by 7 in the dinger category (Mark Reynolds has 42) and his 121 RBI trail only Prince Fielder (126) and Pujols (127). The power struggle won't end with the regular season, however, as both the Phillies and Cardinals are fast approaching clinching their respective divisions. Philly's magic number is down to 8, while the Crds reduced theirs to 6 with a wolk-off homer by Matt Holliday getting them past the Cubs, 3-2. NOTES: It's nice to clinch at home, but the Cardinals will almost certainly make their NL Central crown official on the road. Following their three-game series with the Cubs which ends Sunday in St. Louis, the Cardinals don't return home until October 2nd, for a season-ending three-game set with the Brewers. Prior dates include three games each in Houston, Colorado and Cincinnati. The Phillies also will probably do their celebrating on the road, as they don't return to the City of Brotherly Love until the 28th of this month. Currently in Atlanta, their next stop is Florida for three with the Marlins and then a 4-game stop in Milwaukee. Their magic number is 8. As for pennant races, the closest one is in the AL Central, as the Tigers seem to be struggling to get to the wire after leading the division for most of the season. Detroit has dropped 8 of their last 11, the latest Friday night in Minnesota, where the Twins dumped them, 3-0, closing the gap to just 3 games. Minnesota can get closer as the two teams play Saturday and Sunday in the Metrodome. The Tigers may get a little bit road-weary this week. Following the Minnesota series, they have three games each in Cleveland and Chicago this week. When they return home on the 28th, waiting for them will be the pesky Twins again, for a 4-game series, and if that's not enough, the Tigers close out at home with a three-game series with Chicago, currently 6 1/2 back. Boston is cementing their lead in the wild card - now at 7 games - mostly thanks to the Rangers, who have dropped five in a row. The NL wild card is much more interesting, with the Giants now just 2 1/2 behind the Rockies and the Marlins and Braves trailing by 4 and 4 1/2.

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