Thursday, September 30, 2010

A-Rod Gets His 30; Lincecum Brilliant as Giants Approach Pennant

Players of the Day for Wednesday, September 29, 2010

American League

The Yankees lost, 8-4, at Toronto, and Alex Rodriguez only had one hit in five at-bats, but it was the accomplishment that mattered. The lone hit by A-Rod happened to be his 30th home run of the season, a 6th-inning solo blast to left, making him the only player ever to hit at least 30 homers and drive in at least 100 runs for 13 consecutive seasons.

He also tied Barry Bonds for the most seasons with 30 homers at 14. The pair are right behind Hammerin' Hank Aaron, who holds the all-time record with 15 seasons with 30 or more dingers.

The accomplishment was somewhat in doubt just a week ago, when Rodriguez was stock on 25, but he smacked five in his last six games to reach the historic milestone. His 123 RBI are second-most in the American League, behind Detroit's Miguel Cabrera's 126.

The Yankees' loss was somewhat inconsequential, as they remained 1/2 game behind the Rays, 2-0 losers to Baltimore, though the Yankees would certainly like to take the division, ensuring home field for at least the first playoff round.

Both the Yankees and Rays have already qualified for the playoffs. The only thing left to determine is which team takes the division and which will be the wild card. They are currently locked in a battle for the best record in the league with Minnesota. The Rays are 94-64; the Yankees, 94-65; Minnesota's record is 93-65. One game separates all three.

National League

Tim Lincecum struck out 11 Diamondback batters, crafting a 3-1 win for the Giants as he improved to 16-10 on the season. The win kept the Giants two games in front of the Padres, 3-0 winners over the Cubs.

After giving up a first-inning run on steven Drew's leadoff homer, Lincecum kept Arizona off the scoreboard the rest of the night, allowing six hits and four walks in seven innings. Brian Wilson worked the 9th, giving up one hit, for his 47th save, tops in the majors. San Diego's Heath Bell is second with 45.

With just four games left to be played, the Giants are in the driver's seat for the NL West crown. San Diego trails Atlanta in the wild card by 1 1/2 games. Atlanta, winners of three straight, has only three games left, but they are all with the Phillies, who have already clinched the East.

Should the Padres miss the playoffs, it will be a monumental collapse for the team that led the NL west for most of the season, but fell apart in late August, embarking on a ten-game losing streak that extended into the first week of September and allowed the Giants to gain.

The Padres and Giants exchanged the lead a number of times down the stretch, but the Giants have wrested control with outstanding pitching and timely hitting.

The Giants play Arizona again on Thursday while the Padres host the Cubs in their series finale. The two teams will decide the NL West in a 3-game series beginning Friday in San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Price Blanks Baltimore, Rays, Yanks Clinch; Bruce Walks-off Astros, Igniting Celebration in Cincy

Players of the Day for Tuesday, September 28, 2010

American League

David Price hurled eight innings of shutout ball at the Baltimore Orioles, assuring the Tampa Bay Rays of a spot in the 2010 playoffs with a 5-0 win at Tropicana Field.

Scattering six hits, Price fanned eight while his teammates scored single runs in each of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings, and two in the 5th. Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena hit solo homers for the Rays who will be making their first appearance in the playoffs since 2008, when they won the AL East by two games over Boston and advanced to the first World Series in the history of the franchise, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.

The win was the 19th for Price, against 6 losses. He threw 113 pitches, 81 of them for strikes.

In Toronto, the Yankees also clinched a playoff berth, as C.C. Sabathia worked a three-hitter for 8 1/3 innings in New York's 6-1 win over the Blue Jays. Sabathia fanned eight and allowed one earned run, improving his record to 21-7.

The Yankees trail Tampa Bay by 1/2 game in the division. New York has four games left to play while the Rays have five remaining. The wins by the top two teams in the division eliminated the Red Sox from post-season contention. Boston lost to the White Sox, 5-4, finally giving up on their slight chances.

National League

Jay Bruce's 9th inning, leadoff home run sparked a celebration in Cincinnati as the Reds downed the Houston Astros, 3-2, clinching the NL Central for the Reds.

Brandon Phillips singled in Orlando Cabrera to tie the game at two in the 6th inning. The two teams battled scorelessly into the 9th until Bruce's heroic shot over the center field wall.

It's the first time the Reds have reached the playoffs since 1995, when Marge Schott owned and badly mismanaged the team. The futility of fifteen years were suddenly wiped away with one swing of Bruce's bat.

Who the Reds will play in the opening round of the playoffs is still up in the air. The Giants took a two-game lead in the NL West with a 4-2 win over Arizona, while the Cubs dropped the Padres, 5-2 in San Diego.

Atlanta holds a 1 1/2 game lead over the Padres in the wild card chase. The Braves have four more games to play, three of them hosting the Phillies - who've already clinched the NL East with the best record in the league - this weekend. The final series of the regular season opens Friday night. Atlanta has one more game with Florida on Wednesday and a day off Thursday.

The Padres face the Cubs twice more at Petco Park before heading up the coast to play the Giants in a final, three-game series that will decide the champion of the NL West. The Giants play Arizona Wednesday and Thursday prior to the climactic showdown.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beltre, Red Sox Refuse to Die; Phillies Clinch on Halladay 2-Hitter

Players of the Day for Monday, September 27, 2010

American League

Even though the Red Sox can only hope to tie the Yankees or the Rays for either the wild card or the AL East pennant, they refuse to go down without a fight.

On Monday, the Red Sox produced their 87th win of the season, a 6-1 victory, courtesy of Clay Buchholz, who limited the White Sox to one run on five hits over eight innings, and the bat of Adrian Beltre, who clubbed a pair of doubles while going 4-for-5 with two RBI and a run.

With both the Yankees and Rays losing, the Red Sox remained alive for at least one more day. They must win all of their remaining games, and either the Rays or Yankees lose all of theirs, in order to tie for a post-season position.

The Yankees took a 7-5 defeat at Toronto, while the Rays floundered against the Orioles, losing 4-0 in Tampa, but remained 1/2 game in front of New York in the division standings.

National League

For the fourth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies are champions of the NL East.

This year may have been their sweetest season, overcoming injuries and an Atlanta Braves team that surprised many but eventually fell in face-to-face combat with the fighting Phils.

Fittingly, it was Roy Halladay on the mound for the first and last outs of the clinching game, hurling a 2-hit shutout over the Nationals for an 8-0 win.

Halladay, who didn't allow a walk, gave up leadoff singles in the 3rd and 8th innings, in between setting down 13 straight. Neither runner advanced past first; Wilson Ramos was doubled up in the third inning and Adam Dunn stood stranded at first as Halladay easily set down the next three batters.

A model of efficiency, Halladay recorded his 21st win against 10 losses with just 95 pitches, 65 of which went for strikes. He fanned six, leaving him one short of the NL lead, currently held by Tim Lincecum, with 220. Halladay is unlikely to pitch any more during the Phillies' remaining six games as he will probably take extra rest before the playoffs.

The victory was Halladay's 9th complete game and 4th shutout, both tops in the league. He also leads in innings and wins, stats that should make him the NL Cy Young winner.

PENNANT NOTES: Cincinnati had the night off, and since the Cardinals didn't feel like rolling over just yet, beating the Pirates, 6-4, the Reds still have one more game to win (or one Cardinals loss) before claiming the NL Central.

San Francisco was idle, but the Rockies fell closer to elimination in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers and the Padres fell one game behind the Giants in the division, painfully losing 1-0 to Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs. Zambrano increased his scoreless stretch to 13 innings with 7 shutout frames against the Padres.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Francouer an Able Addition for Rangers; Votto Still in MVP Hunt as Reds, Phillies Clinch Ties

Players of the Day for Sunday, September 26, 2010

American League

Having already clinched the AL West, the Texas Rangers let their subs have a go at it on Sunday, the result being a scary, 22-hit, 4 home run, 16-9 victory over the Oakland A's.

Mitch Moreland hit two homers and drove in five runs; David Murphy socked a homer and drove in four, but the best performance was by recently-acquired Jeff Francouer, who smacked a home run, went 4-for-6 and drove in four runs.

Francouer was a deft pick-up by the Rangers, who may need some extra help in the outfield or as a DH or pinch-hitter in the post-season. Josh Hamilton, the Rangers' regular left/center fielder, has been sidelined since the first week of September with back spasms, but is expected to make his return the last weekend of the regular season.

In the meantime, Francouer has played exceptionally well, batting .385 with two homers and 11 RBI in ten games. The Rangers will finish the season with the third-best record of the three division winners, which means they will likely end up playing the winner of the AL East - either the Yankees or Rays - in the first round of the playoffs.

National League

The Padres are probably pleased to be see Cincinnati move on past San Diego. Even though the Padres took two of three from the likely NL Central champs, the wins were hard-earned, both by 4-3 scores, but Sunday produced a blowout for the Reds in a 12-2 rout.

Joey Votto, still slugging and vying for the NL MVP award, stroked his 37th home run in the first inning and singled home two more runs in the 8th, as the Reds clinched at least a tie with St. Louis in the division while dropping the Padres 1/2 game behind the Giants in the NL West.

Votto is still in the midst of a triple crown chase which nobody will win. He's batting .326 - second to Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez - his 37 homers are tied for second with Adam Dunn, both chasing Albert Pujols, who smacked his 42nd of the season on Sunday. Votto's 111 RBI are third-best in the league, behind Pujols (116) and Gonzalez (114).
Between these three top sluggers, the MVP vote figures to be one of the closest in memory. Even though Votto may not lead te league in any single category, he will have the advantage of playing for a playoff team, which Pujols and Gonzalez are unlikely to attain.

PENNANT NOTES: The Reds and Phillies are each guaranteed at least a tie for their respective divisions. The Phillies, despite losing on Sunday, also are assured a playoff spot. No team can match their record, even if they lose all of their remaining six games. They need one more win or an Atlanta loss to secure the division, same as the Reds, with the Cardinals chasing.

The Rockies are clinging to faint hope now, losing, 4-2, to the Giants and falling 4 1/2 games off the pace. San Diego has a four-game lead over them for the wild card, with Atlanta also seeking it, 1/2 game behind the Padres. The Rockies have seven left to play, but any combination of three losses or three wins by the Padres or Atlanta would eliminate them mathematically.

In the AL East, the Yankees may have ended the nightmare scenario with a 4-3, 10-inning win over the Red Sox Sunday night. The Sox had taken two straight from the Yanks and remained alive for the wild card, but Sunday's win turned those hopes into despair. The best the Red Sox can do now is tie for the wild card, but the Yankees would have to lose all six of their remaining games and the Red Sox would need to win seven straight, including the final three games of the season, against New York at Fenway, a scenario very unlikely to occur.

With the Yankee win and the Rays falling to Seattle, 6-2, Tampa leads by just 1/2 game in the division.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Texas Clinches on Cantu HR; Tulowitzki Saves Season for Rockies

Players of the Day for Saturday, September 25, 2010

American League

Acquired from Florida on July 30, Jorge Cantu has played only 25 games for the Texas Rangers, but on Saturday, with his first home run in a Texas uniform, he sent the Rangers into the post-season with a 4-3 win over the Oakland A's.

Cantu, playing first base, wnet 3-for-4 at the plate, his 6th inning single driving home a run that put the Rangers up, 2-1. After Texas scored another in the 7th, the A's tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Cantu's 8th-inning, solo blast to center field, off A's reliever Michael Wuertz, provided the winning run, clinching the AL West division for the Rangers.

National League

Colorado's been playing catch-up all season, but after losing five straight this week, it seemed like the magic was gone and the Rockies would spend October watching the playoffs and World Series from their homes on TV.

Down, 9-6, in the 6th inning to the Giants, all appearances suggested the season was about to be over for Colorado, but they manufactured a run in the bottom of the inning and then Troy Tulowitzki put the team - and the season - on his back.

In the 8th, Tulo creamed a double to right, plating two runs to tie the game at 9-9, and then doubled home Carlos Gonzalez with the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th, sending the Giants back to their hotel rooms unhappy and in second place with a 10-inning, 10-9 loss. The Rockies remained in third, four games behind the Padres, but still alive, the losing streak over, with hope for tomorrow and the remainder of the season.

Tulowitzki, having a September to remember, crashed his 27th home run in the fifth inning. He finished the game 4-for-5, with five RBI, putting his total for the month at 40, with 15 homers. His 40 RBI in one month set a new Rockies' record.

The Rockies will look to make their move in the final week of the season with one more against the Giants on Sunday, then three at home against the Dodgers before hitting the road for four games at St. Louis. They'll need either the Giants or Padres to falter in order to reach either the wild card or win the NL West.

PENNANT NOTES: San Diego held off Cincinnati, 4-3, denying the Reds the NL Central for at least another day, and vaulting themselves back into first place in the contentious NL West. They lead the Giants by 1/2 game and Colorado by four. The Reds still have a 6 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals, and a magic number of two.

In the East, the Mets' snapped the Phillies' 11-game win streak with a 5-2 win and Atlanta won, dropping Philadelphia's lead back to six. Their magic number stands at two.

Suddenly without a pitching staff, the Yankees lost their second straight to the Red Sox and 4th overall, falling 1 1/2 games behind the Rays, 9-1 winners over Seattle. The 7-3 Boston win kept faint Red Sox hopes alive. They play one more in New York on Sunday before heading to Chicago for a four-game series with the White Sox. Then they return to Fenway Park to close out the regular season with a weekend three-game series with the Yankees.

Boston trails New York by 5 1/2 for the wild card and needs to keep winning in order to make the final weekend series meaningful. The Sox didn't do themselves any favors losing 2 of 3 to both the Blue Jays and Orioles last week, but they seem to have found new life against the Yankees. In Saturday's win, Jon Lester picked up his 19th win with seven shutout innings. The Red Sox out-clubbed the Yankees in the series opener, 10-8.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lincecum Delivers for Giants; Guerrero Leading Rangers to AL West Title

Players of the Day for Friday, September 24, 2010

American League

Is Vladimir Guerrero entirely responsible for the Rangers winning the Al West? It appears that a case could be made that the trade which sent Guerrero from the LA Angels to the Rangers between the 2009 and 2010 season was the magic potion that put the Rangers over the top.

Texas moved closer to clinching the division with a 10-3 win at Oakland, increasing their lead to eight games over the A's, 10 in front of the Angels, dropping their magic number to two.

Here was a win that was largely Guerrero's doing. He hit his 28th home run in the second inning, putting the Rangers ahead, 1-0. After the A's scored to make it a 2-1 game, Guerrero doubled home three runs in the Rangers' 5-run 7th inning to essentially put the game away. He also singled, going 3-for-5 with 4 RBI and 2 runs.

Batting .303 with 28 homers and 111 RBI, one could easily assume that Vlad was responsible for at least five wins - five wins which the Angels did not achieve. If you take Vlad out of the Rangers' equation and plug him instead into the Angels, subtracting five wins from Texas _ turning those into losses - and adding five wins for the Angels, reducing their losses by the same amount, the two teams would be tied right now.

Five wins? Guerrero was probably worth ten, maybe more, turning his off-season trade into what may go down in baseball history as one of the best/worst deals ever made.

National League

Two time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum hasn't produced the kind of season which would have landed him a third straight Cy Young, but he has come through in the clutch, keeping the Giants in the hunt for either the NL West or the wild card spot.

Lincecum (15-10) twirled a 2-hit gem over eight innings, beating the pesky Colorado Rockies, 2-1, while retaining their 1/2 game lead over the Padres. Lincecum outdueled Colorado starter, Jhoulys Chacin, fanning nine without walking a batter, allowing the Rockies' lone run in the bottom of the 6th inning.

The Giants scored their deuce in the top of the 7th, and Lincecum held the lead until turning the ball over to Brian Wilson, who recorded his 45th save with a perfect 9th inning. Wilson leads the majors in saves, but is just one ahead of San Diego's Heath Bell and Tampa Bay's Rafael Soriano.

Lincecum took over the NL strikeout lead with 220. He currently leads St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay - the league two 20-game winners - by seven.

PENNANT NOTES: San Diego won on Friday, remaining 1/2 game behind the Giants, but improved to 1/2 game ahead of Atlanta in the wild card race. The Braves lost their 4th straight, an 8-3 loss to the Nationals, nearly conceding the NL East to the Phillies, winners of their 11th straight. The Phillies' magic number is suddenly just two, while the Braves have gone - in the short span of two weeks - from leading their division to on the verge of being eliminated from post-season play.

The Red Sox took down the Yankees in the opener of their three-game series, 10-8, while the Rays beat the Mariners, 5-3, putting Tampa back atop the AL East by 1/2 game. Boston closed to within 6 1/2 of the Yankees in search of the wild card. They have five games remaining with the defending world champions and need to win them all in order to have any kind of chance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Braden Halts Rangers on One Hit; Uribe Powers Giants Back Into First

Players of the Day for Thursday, September 23, 2010

American League

Dallas Braden and the Oakland Athletics apparently aren't ready to cede the AL West to the Texas Rangers.

The second-place A's delayed the Rangers' coronation for a another day at least as Braden shut out the Texas team on one hit over eight innings as the two top teams in the division opened a four-game series in Oakland.

Nelson Cruz singled with two outs in the first inning, but Braden set down the next 22 batters in order, not allowing a baserunner until issuing back-to-back walks in the top of the 8th. Braden got out of that situation and finished the inning, then was lifted for reliever Brad Ziegler, who walked one and hit another, but stuck out two to close out the game for a 5-0 Oakland win, drawing the A's to within seven games of the front-running Rangers.

Texas has the magic number at four, so the A's almost need to sweep the series in order to have any shot at all of catching the Rangers in the final week.

National League

As the pennant race winds into the final stretch of the season, the Giants are finding out what kind of team they've got - apparently one without any quit and plenty of heroes waiting to step up.

On Thursday, it was Juan Uribe donning the super-hero cape, belting a pair of home runs, the second of which a grand slam, to lead the Giants to a 13-0 smothering of the Cubs, vaulting San Francisco back into first place in the NL West by 1/2 game over the Padres.

The Giants and Padres have been swapping first and second place in the division for the better part of two weeks now, neither team able to establish any kind of open space.

Amazingly, Uribe did all his damage in one inning - the 2nd - helping to knock out starter Ryan Dempster with a two run shot and then welcoming his replacement - Thomas Diamond - with the grand slam.

The Giants depart Chicago winning two out of three, while the Padres were losing the last game of their three-game series at Los Angeles, falling to the Dodgers, 3-1, after taking the first two.

The Padres next host Cincinnati for three games as the Giants travel to Colorado for a critical three-game set with the Rockies, losers of four straight, now 3 1/2 games behind the Giants.

PENNANT NOTES: The Yankees dropped a 10-3 decision to the Rays, producing a split in their four-game series in the Bronx and leaving the Yankees with a 1/2 game lead in the division.

With the Reds idle, St. Louis won, reducing the Cincinnati lead to 7 1/2 in the Central, thouh the Reds' magic number is still just three. The Phillies and Braves both had the night off. Philly has a six game lead in the division.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oswalt Blanks Braves, Phillies Win 10th Straight; Ortiz Bangs for Boston

Players of the Day for Wednesday, September 22, 2010 American League The Red Sox are probably going to have to live with the fact that they'll have the best record of any team in the AL that didn't make the playoffs. With the Yankees and Rays conspiring against them by beating each other, Boston has been unable to gain ground. Despite beating the Orioles, 6-1, they remain eight games behind the first-place Yankees and 6 1/2 back of Tampa Bay, the current wild card leader. Instrumental in Boston's relative success (they've managed to remain somewhat relevant despite numerous injuries) has been David Ortiz and the potent bat which he carries routinely to the plate. In Boston's Wednesday victory at Fenway Park, Ortiz launched his 31st home run of the season in the 4th inning, driving in three runs and putting Boston - and starter John Lackey - ahead by a 3-1 score. Ortiz also singled home another run for the Red Sox in their 2-run 6th, finishing the night with four RBI, giving him 96 on the year. Ortiz, who got off to his usual slow start, didn't his his first home run until April 23rd and finished the initial month of the season batting .143, with just four RBI. Finally reaching the .200 mark on May 12, Ortiz has played well since, getting his average up to a respectable .261. Boston faces New York six times over the span of the last ten days of the season. Even if Boston were to win all six games, they would still trail the Yankees by two games at season's end. National League It's a safe bet that the Phillies will win the NL East for the 4th straight season, now that they've extinguished the flame that had been burning in Atlanta most of the year. The Phillies won their 10th straight game, completing a three-game sweep of the Braves with a 1-0 win and now lead the division by six games. With just nine games remaining on Philly's regular season slate, their magic number is a solid four. In their Wednesday win, Roy Oswalt dominated from the mound, allowing one hit over seven full innings. Oswalt took perfection into the 4th inning, when Martin Prado doubled with two outs. Unfazed, Oswalt retired the next batter to close out the inning and allowed no more hits and just one walk through seven, fanning eight. Despite pitching brilliantly, Oswalt received no decision, pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 7th, Ryan Madson took his place on the mound and eventually got the win when Raul Ibanez doubled home Jayson Werth with the only run of the game in the bottom of the 8th. Brad Lidge came on for the 9th, and, like Madsen, didn't allow a hit, for his 26th save. Lidge earned saves in each of the three straight wins over Atlanta and appears ready for the playoffs, with eight saves in the month of September. PENNANT NOTES: The Rays got one back in the Bronx, whipping the first place Yankees, 7-2, to pull back to 1 1/2 games back. The Yanks and Rays complete their four-game series Thursday night. In the AL West, Texas downed the Angels, 2-1, in 12 innings, and the A's lost to the White Sox, 4-3, so the magic number for Texas drops to four. They lead the A's by eight games. San Diego took back the lead in the NL West, beating the Dodgers, 3-1, while the Cubs knocked off the Giants, 2-0, giving the Padres a 1/2 game lead. Colorado lost its third straight and have fallen three back. The Reds and Cardinals were both pounded, Cincinnati losing, 13-1, to Milwaukee, and St. Louis finishing on the wrong end of an 11-6 score with Pittsburgh. The Reds still lead by eight games and probably don't have to win any more, as their magic number is down to just three, and the Cardinals have all but thrown in the towel.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Twins Clinch; Santana Denies Rangers; Halladay Wins 20th

Players of the Day for Tuesday, September 21, 2010 American League This hasn't been the Angels' year. As they play out the string, watching as the Texas Rangers take the division title that has been exclusive property of the Angels the past three seasons, the players do their best to delay the inevitable, not willing to go down without putting up a fight. Plenty of that fighting spirit is apparently left in Ervin Santana, who recorded his 17th win of the season with a 2-0 shutout of the first-place Rangers. even though Texas holds a seven game lead over the A's and 8 1/2 over the Angels, Santana delayed the celebration of winning the AL West by at least another day, allowing just five hits and a walk while fanning eight Texas would-be hitters. The win was the third straight for the Angels and got them to within a game of .500, at 75-76. They go for the sweep of the Rangers on Wednesday, still hoping to deny Texas, whose magic number is stalled at six. Coupled with Chicago's loss to the A's, the Twins captured the AL Central with a 6-4 win over Cleveland, becoming the first team in the majors to clinch a post-season slot. Minnesota may still be looking for more wins, as they are just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the league. Having the best record would pit the Twins against the wild card, though it may be a moot point since the wild card will come out of the AL East, and since - according the major league rules - two teams from the same division cannot face each other in the opening playoff round, the Twins are destined to get the wild card team no matter what. Having the best record in the league, however, would assure them of home field advantage should they advance to the championship series. National League Like his 20-win counterpart in the American League, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay wasn't overpowering in notching win #20, just good enough, holding the second-place Braves to three earned runs over seven innings, while his teammates were putting up five against Atlanta pitching. Philly's 5-3 win was their ninth straight, the season-high win streak coming at a nearly perfect time of year, as the Phillies drive toward their 4th consecutive NL East championship. Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer in the 3rd inning and Raul Ibanez accounted for the other two Philadelphia runs with a single in the 6th. After Halladay gave up singel runs in each of the 5th, 6th and 7th innings, he was lifted for Ryan Madsen, who completed the 8th. Brad Lidge came on in the 9th for his 25th save. Halladay allowed seven hits, walked two and only struck out three. Even though the Philly ace has earned wins in his last four starts, there's some reason for concern. He's allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last six starts, dating back to August 25th. Leading the major leagues in innings pitched, at 241.2, the long campaign may be taking a toll. Halladay (20-10) will likely get some time off should the Phillies clinch shortly. Their magic number stands at six. Not only are the Phillies' streaking into the post-season, over the past two games they've done it against their closest pursuer in the division. Atlanta came to Philly with hopes of slicing into the three-game lead, but, after two straight losses, find themselves five games behind and now looking at the wild card as their path to the playoffs. PENNANT NOTES: Cincinnati won their second straight while the Cardinals dropped their second in a row, so, over the course of two days, hope has turned to despair and anxiety to anticipation as the Cards fold and the reds churn toward the NL Central crown. The Reds have a eight-game lead over St. Louis; their magic number is six. In the West, the Giants maintained their hold on first place by 1/2 game over the Padres with a 1-0 win over the Cubs. Buster Posey homered in the top of the 8th for the game's only run. Carlos Zambrano had blanked the Giants for 6 innings, but Matt Cain was equal to the task, shutting out the Cubs for six. Neither starter earned a decision. San Diego breezed past the Dodgers, 6-0, as Clayton Richard scattered eight hits for the complete game shutout. Colorado lost their second straight and dropped back to 2 1/2 games off the pace. In the AL East, the Yankees took the measure of the Rays for the second straight night, beating Tampa, 8-3, and assuring themselves of first place even if Tampa wins the next two games of their four-game showdown series. The Yankees are up by 2 1/2 games over the Rays and have the best record in the majors, with 92 wins and 59 losses.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Granderson Stings Rays; Hamels on the Money for Phillies

Players of the Day for Monday, September 20, 2010 American League With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Yankees and Rays squared off at Yankee Stadium in the first of a four-game set which will go a long way toward determining playoff seeding in the American League. Carrying a 1/2 game lead into the series, the Yankees struck the first blow with an 8-6 victory over the Rays, powered by a pair of homers by center fielder Curtis Granderson. Getting the Yanks on the board first, Granderson smashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the third, and, after the Rays fought back to tie the score at 4-all in the 6th, he delivered the death blow with a three-run shot to right field that put New York up by four runs. Hitting his 20th and 21st of the season, Granderson was a constant irritant to the Rays, driving in five runs, walking twice and swiping a base late in the game. The Yankee win gives them a 1 1/2 game cushion in the division. Even if the Rays finish second, they will, in all likelihood, take the wild card spot into the playoffs. They currently lead the Red Sox by 6 1/2 games for the final playoff position. National League With every game they play, the Phillies look more and more like they will represent the National League East when the playoffs begin. Opening their crucial three-game set with Atlanta, the Phillies won their 8th straight, stopping the Braves, 3-1, as Cole Hamels continues to impress down the stretch. Hamels kept Atlanta's hitters off balance and off the bases, delivering eight strong innings, allowing one earned run on six hits. Picking up his 12th win against 10 losses, Hamels struck out six and walked just one. The Braves struck first, with a run in the second inning, but hilly quickly tied it in the bottom of the inning. After Placido Polanco and Raul Ianez provided go-ahead runs in the 5th, Hamels set about his job in workmanlike fashion, allowing only a 6th inning walk and a leadoff single in the 7th, retiring the next six batters he faced before turning the ball over to Brad Lidge, who delivered a perfect 9th inning for his 24th save. With a four-game lead, the Phillies are looking to take the next two games from the Braves and build an even larger lead, rendering the final three games of the season - in Atlanta - a moot point. After the series in Philly concludes, the Phils host the mets for three, then travel to D.C. for three games with the Nationals before finishing up in Atlanta. PENNANT NOTES: There was limited action in the majors, with none of the contenders in the NL West seeing action. The Cardinals continued to struggle, losing, 4-0, at Florida, while the Reds whipped Milwaukee, 5-2, giving the Reds a seven-game edge. Texas won, but so did Oakland. The lead in the AL West is eight games. Texas' magic number stands at six. Minnesota can clinch at least a tie on Tuesday with a White Sox loss and a win of their own. On Monday, they smacked the Indians, 9-3, while the Sox were being shut out by Oakland, 3-0. The Giants, currently 1/2 game better than San Diego in the West, open a six-game road trip on Tuesday in Chicago. After three with the Cubs, the team will travel for three with the Rockies, who trail by just 1 1/2.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guillen Grand Slam Boosts Giants; Lester Keeps Red Sox in Hunt

Players of the Day for Sunday, September 19, 2010 American League Seven games out with just two weeks left to play, the Boston Red Sox figure to still have a chance at either the AL East pennant or the wild card. The schedule says they have a shot, and the Sox are certain to make the best of it. On Sunday, Boston got past the Blue Jays - a thorn in their collective sides - on the arm of their best pitcher, Jon Lester, who tossed seven innings of shutout ball in a 6-0 Boston win. Lester allowed four hits, walked four and stuck out four, earning his 18th win against eight losses. Both the Yankees and Rays lost, giving the Red Sox a leg up as they prepare for the Orioles, who come into Boston for three games beginning Monday. After a day off Thursday, Boston heads to New York for a weekend three-game series with the Yankees, then on to Chicago for four with the White Sox before returning to Fenway to close out the season with three more against the Yankees. If either the Yankees or Tampa falter this week - Tampa plays four games in New York beginning Monday - the Red Sox will find themselves in the thick of it come October. National League When the Giants went looking for more hitting before the August 1 trade deadline, they didn't find much, but afterwards, they picked up Jose Guillen from the Royals, figuring that if he got healthy, he could provide some spark down the stretch. On Sunday, their gambit paid off in spades, as Guillen smacked a first-inning grand slam and drove in two more with a single in the fifth, sending the Giants to a 9-2 win over Milwaukee and back into first place in the NL West, a spot they've shared alternately with the Padres for much of the past week. Guillen hasn't been carting as robust a bat as they'd like, but he is showing signs of getting into a groove at the right time. His six RBI upped his seasonal total to 77, to go with his 19 homers. San Francisco is looking at a favorable schedule over the final two weeks of the season. They have each of the next two Mondays off, allowing them to adjust their rotation as they see fit. They travel, for three games each in Chicago and then Colorado, before returning home for their final six games - three against Arizona and three with San Diego. If all goes well, with the best pitching staff in the division, and some hitting from Guillen and others, the pennant is theirs for the taking. PENNANT NOTES: While the Giants were victorious, the Padres and Rockies both lost, though it only gives the Giants a slender 1/2 game lead. Colorado has dropped 1 1/2 games back. The Central is still in play. The Reds lost and the Cards won, so Cincinnati's lead is down to 6 games. In the East, both the Braves and Phillies won, making it appear that even if Atlanta can't catch the Phillies, who have a three game lead after winning their 7th straight, they would still be the wild card. Currently, Atlanta's lead is 2 1/2 games over the Padres. The Yankees and Rays both lost, so New York retains a 1/2 game lead in the AL East as the two open a critical four-game set in New York on Monday. Even though both Minnesota and Texas lost on Sunday, it's only a matter of time before they both clinch their respective divisions. The Twins' magic number is four. For the Rangers, six.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sabathia Wins 20th; Tulowitzki on a Tear

Players of the Day for Saturday, September 18, 2010 American League C.C. Sabathia became the first pitcher to notch 20 wins this season, and his doing so kept the NY Yankees in first place. At 9-5, just a little better than ordinary on the road in 2010, Sabathia got plenty of support from his teammates, as the Yanks drubbed the Orioles, 11-3, at Camden Yards. Giving up single runs in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th innings, Sabathia went seven innings, allowing seven hits while striking out four. It was a good enough effort for win #20, the first time Sabathia, who has been one of the most dominant pitchers in either league the past six years, has won 20 games in a season. The big righty is a stunning 11-1 at Yankee Stadium, where he has been nearly untouchable over the past year and a half. Tampa Bay topped the Angels in 10 innings for a 4-3 win, remaining 1/2 game behind New York in the AL East. The two teams will meet for the final time during the regular season when they open a four-game series on Monday. Sabathia is expected to start the final game of the set, Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. National League Troy Tulowitzki is playing an entirely different brand of baseball than everyone else this September and the Rockies are challenging for the top spot in the NL West because of it. The Rockies won again on Saturday, pounding the Dodgers, 12-2, as Tulowitzki collected three more hits over five at-bats, banging out a double and two more home runs, his 4th and 5th of the last three games and numbers 13 and 14 for the month of September. He scored three times and drove in four more runs. Melvin Mora added to the onslaught with a grand slam. Consider Tulowitzki's numbers for the month of September. He's batting .371 (26-for-70) with 14 homers, 37 RBI (13 in just his last three games). More than half of his hits have been home runs. In fact, only seven of his hits have been singles, as he's hit four doubles and triple over that span. Due to his torrid pace at the plate, the Rockies have clambered back into the divisional and wild card races. They trail the Padres by 1 game, with San Francisco sandwiched in between, 1/2 game out. The Rockies are also 2 1/2 behind the Braves in the wild card. PENNANT NOTES: The Al Central and West divisions are pretty much finished. Minnesota won again, while the White Sox lost their fifth straight, putting the Twins 10 up with 14 games to play. Their magic number is five. Texas also won, while the A's lost, dropping their magic number to 5, with a 10-game lead. In the NL East, both the Phillies and Braves were winners, keeping the East at a 3-game bulge for Philly. The Reds upped their lead to seven games over the Cardinals. While they hammered Houston 11-1, St. Louis was losing to the Padres, 8-4.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rodriguez Powers Yanks Past O's; Yadier Molina Paces Cardinals Slaughter of Padres

Players of the Day for Friday, September 17, 2010 American League Even though his team has been in front or close to the top of the AL East all season, the name of Alex Rodriguez hasn't been seen here too often; surprising, since A-Rod is having a very productive season. In the Yankees' 4-3 win at Baltimore Friday, Rodriguez provided all of the offense, with a solo homer in the second inning and a dramatic, two-out, three-run home run in the top of the 9th which erased a 3-1 Oriole lead. With that, and Tampa Bay's 4-3 loss to the Angels, the Yankees resumed control of first place, though only by 1/2 game over the Rays. The home runs were Rodriguez' 24th and 25th of the season, leaving him five short of becoming the first player in major league history to hit 30 or more and drive in 100 or more run in 13 straight seasons. Last year, he had exactly 30 and 100, hitting two home runs and driving in seven runs in one inning of the final game of the season. He'll need another dose of drama to get the five more long balls needed, having just 15 games remaining in the regular season. National League Teams vying for the NL West crown may have to rethink their strategies. The two top teams, San Francisco and San Diego, both took losses on Friday, while the Rockies continued to close in from third place. The Giants were shut out by Milwaukee's Randy Wolf, 3-0, while Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals pounded the Padres, 14-4. Molina delivered four hits in four at-bats, two singles and two doubles, and drove in five runs in the Cardinal rout. It was an explosive offensive performance for a player normally notable for his defense behind the plate. While the two teams ahead of them were stumbling, the Rockies were going about the business of rallying late in the season, getting a 7-5 win over the Dodgers to pull to within 1 1/2 game of the first place Giants. It's the closest the Rockies have been all season. San Diego is in second place, 1/2 game out. Colorado's surge has been sensational. Since August 22nd, they've gone 18-6, but since September 2nd, their record is 12-2. PENNANT NOTES: The Twins and White Sox both lost, so Minnesota remains 9 games in front in the AL Central. Texas lost and the A's beat the Twins, so Texas is back to a 9-game lead in the West. The Phillies and Braves both won, keeping Philadelphia's lead at three games in the NL East. In the Central, the Cardinals still appear to have something left, but despite winning and the Reds losing, still trail Cincy by six. The Cardinals will have to get help from other teams if they hope to catch the Reds, however, as they don't face them head-to-head. Of the 14 games Cincinnati has left to play, only three - against the Padres - are with teams with winning records. The remaining games are against Houston (5) and Milwaukee (6).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Young Powers Twins to 9-Game Lead in AL Central; Giants Take First in NL West, Huff Shines

Players of the Day for Thursday, September 17, 2010 American League For all intents and purposes, the Minnesota Twins wrapped up the Central division title this week, taking three straight from their closest pursuer, the Chicago White Sox. After blasting them by identical 9-3 scores in the first two games of the series, the Twins let them get a little closer, but still managed the sweep with an 8-5 win Thursday in Chicago. Delmon Young was the slugging hero for the Twins, going 3-for-5 with a couple of singles, a two-run homer and two runs. Young's 5th inning shot put the Twins up, 6-2, but the Sox made a game of it scoring three runs before the Twins answered with two more in the top of the 9th. Carl Pavano worked five innings to record his 17th win against 11 losses, and the Twins stretched their divisional lead to nine games while shrinking their magic number down to eight. Young's homer was his 18th, and the two RBI gave him 102 on the year. National League Aubrey Huff went 2-for-4, belted a three-run homer, scored twice and led the San Francisco Giants to a 10-2 win over the LA Dodgers. The fifteen-hit assault vaulted the Giants into first place in the NL West, 1/2 game better than the Padres, who were shut out at St. Louis, 4-0. Huff got the Giants on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first, after the Dodgers had taken a 1-0 lead, when he scored on Buster Posey's double. In the 3rd inning, Huff found the stands with his 25th home run, followed by Posey's 15th. The back-to-back wall-clearings staked the Giants to a 5-1 lead. Starter Jeffrey Sanchez went seven innings for his 11th win against 8 losses. He fanned 13, allowing just four hits and one earned run. San Francisco will try to retain their hold on first place when they host Milwaukee for three games over the weekend. After that they head to Chicago for three with the Cubs, then three at Colorado, who are just 2 1/2 back and in position to vie for either the division or the wild card. The Giants have the good fortune to finish with six games at home, three each against the Diamondbacks and Padres, playing the latter the final three games of the season. PENNANT NOTES: The Yankees, Rays, Braves and Phillies were all idle Thursday night, so no changes occured in either of the East divisions. The Rays lead the Yankees by 1/2 game; Atlanta trails Philadelphia by 3 games. The Cardinals won while the Reds lost, so St. Louis still clings barely to life, seven games behind the Reds. The Rangers lead the A's by 10 games in the AL West, with a magic number of eight. Texas should have things wrapped up by next weekend as they close out their season with 17 straight games against division rivals. They play three games each at Seattle and then at Anaheim, then head up the coast for four games at Oakland. After that, they close out at home. A three-game series with the Mariners is followed by four games with the Angels.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Johnson Belts Yankees; Tampa Back on Top; Tulowitzki Has 7 RBI in Rockies Win

Players of the Day for Wednesday, September 15, 2010 American League Concluding their three-game series in Tampa, the Rays and Yankees set out to determine which of them would be the AL East leader heading into the final two weeks of the season. In a see-saw battle that had the Yankees ahead twice - 1-0 and 3-2) - the final outcome was determined not by any veteran player with pennant race experience, but a free-swinging DH who had played in just 25 games this season and wasn't even in the majors all of 2009. Dan Johnson answered the Yankee leads both times with a pair of two run homers, providing all of Tampa Bay's runs as the Rays took temporary possession of the top divisional spot in a 4-3 thriller. The Yankees scored quickly, getting Derek Jeter home on a Robbie Cano single in the first. The lead would last until the 5th inning, when Johnson stepped to the plate with Evan Longoria aboard and deposited Phil Hughes' offering into the right field seats. After Curtis Granderson put the Yankees back on top in the 7th, 3-2, with a two-run shot of his own, Johnson did it again, crushing another ball deep to right field. Tampa's bullpen managed the rest of the game, with Rafael Soriano picking up his 43rd save of the season. The two teams won't get much rest before meeting again. They begin a four-game series in New York on Tuesday, the 21st. Each of the three games in this series was decided by a single run, so there's likely to be more drama next week as the Yankees attempt to re-take the lead. National League Colorado just keeps coming after NL West leader San Diego. Finishing up their three-game series, the Rockies took the final two games, including Wednesday's 9-6 triumph, a tour de force by Troy Tulowitzki. The Padres hardly knew what hit them before Tulowitzki tied his own career high with seven RBI. The Rockies' star shortstop singled home a run in the first inning, then cracked a three-run homer in the 3rd and another in the 4th, putting the Rockies up 9-2. The Padres' Adrian Gonzalez tried to bring the Padres back with two homers and five RBI of his own, but it proved to be not enough, as Colorado crawled to within 2 1/2 of the division leaders. Later in the evening, the Giants took a 2-1 decision over the Dodgers, closing their gap to just 1/2 game behind San Diego. PENNANT NOTES: Roy Halladay won his NL-best 19th game as Phillies' batters broke out for a 10-5 win over the Marlins, their 4th straight win. With Atlanta losing their second in a row to the lowly Nationals, 4-2, Philadelphia nw appears to be in control of the NL East with a 3-game lead and just 15 games remaining. The Reds won and the Cardinals lost, sending St. Louis 8 games behind Cincy in the NL Central. The Cards have played their way out of contention for either the division or the wild card, dropped 7 1/2 behind Atlanta. Minnesota continued to put an exclamation point on their season, whipping the White Sox again, by a 9-3 score. The Twins now hold a commanding eight game lead in the AL Central and conclude their three-game set at Chicago on Thursday. Texas pushed its magic number down to 8, beating Detroit, 11-7, while the A's were losing, 6-3, in Kansas City. Texas has assumed their largest lead of the season, at 10 games in front.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Murphy Drives Rangers Closer to AL West Crown; Kershaw Shuts Out Giants

Players of the Day for Tuesday, September 14, 2010 American League Replace Josh Hamilton? Hardly, but that's what Rangers' outfielder David Murphy is trying to do. Since the star of the Rangers went down on September 4 with bruised ribs, Murphy has stood in his place, mostly batting third in the lineup, and he's doing a bang-up job. Riding am 11-game hit streak into Tuesday's contest with the visiting Tigers, Murphy led the way with a pair of doubles and his 10th home run of the season, driving in two and scoring twice in an 11-4 Rangers' win. Hamilton was leading the majors in hitting with a .361 batting average when he went down, and is expected back prior to the playoffs. With 507 at-bats, he probably doesn't need any more plate appearances to claim the batting title, but Murphy is doing a good impression. Over the course of his 12-game hitting streak, he's gone 20-for-51 (.392), raising his batting average from .271 to .288. Texas took another step closer to winning the AL West with the victory. They now lead the A's by nine games and have their magic number down to 10, the lowest in the majors. National League It's life or death in the NL West, and the Giants must feel like they've just been executed. Clayton Kershaw hurled a 4-hit shutout over San Francisco Tuesday, for a 1-0 win in which the Dodgers got only one hit and scored the game's only run on an error by Giants' shortstop Jose Uribe. Kershaw faced off against Barry Zito, who took the loss but hardly deserved it. Zito lasted 6 1/3 innings, lifted after he loaded the bases with a hit batsman and two walks and Casey Blake smashed a grounder that Uribe couldn't handle, allowing Reed Johnson to score. Aided by the good fortune, Kershaw continued mowing down one Giant hitter after another. He set down the first ten batters in order, gave up hits in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th innings, didn't walk anyone and never allowed a baserunner past second. Kershaw improved to 12-10, though the victory is a hollow one for the Dodgers, who fell out of contention in August and trail the Padres by 10 1/2 games in the division. Their only satisfaction can come from ruining the Giants' chances. San Francisco trails the Padres by 1 1/2, with Colorado - 7-6 losers to the Padres Tuesday - 3 1/2 back. PENNANT NOTES: Cole Hamels struck out 13 Marlins in just 6 2/3 innings, leading the Phillies to a 2-1 win over Florida and a two-game lead in the NL East, as Atlanta was shut out by Washington, 6-0. The Reds and Cardinals both lost, so the Reds' lead remains at seven games in the Central. The Yankees won in dramatic fashion, on a pinch-hit solo homer by Jorge Posada in the 10th inning, to take an 8-7 decision over the Rays and reclaim first place in the AL East by 1/2 game. Minnesota took care of business with a 9-3 laugher over the white Sox in the first of their three-game showdown. The Sox fell seven games behind the Twins in the AL Central. Minnesota's magic number is 12.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rays Lead AL East on Brignac HR; Lowe Stuffs Nats

Players of the Day for Monday, September 13, 2010 American League In Tampa, the Rays and Yankees got a look-see at what the post-season may be like when they matched up their aces - David Price and C.C. Sabathia - in the opener of a three-game series. Both starters worked eight full innings without giving up a run. Sabathia allowed just two hits, Price, three, before the relievers took over and the game went to extra innings. Leading off in the bottom of the 11th, Reid Brignac, who was inserted at 2nd base in the 10th inning and moved to short in the 11th, delivered a game-winning, walk-off home run to down the Yankees, 1-0. Brignac's shot to right-center was his only hit of the night, in his only at-bat, but it propelled the Rays into first place in the AL East, a position they surrendered back in June and regained for only one day since then. Tampa Bay now leads the Yankees by 1/2 game, but the two teams will meet six more times in the next ten days, a stretch that will almost certainly determine the AL East winner. Even though the Yanks are temporarily out of first place, they hold a seven-game lead over Boston in the wild card race. Whichever team finishes second in the division will almost certainly be the wild card, though they will not meet their AL East counterparts in the ALDS. According to MLB rules, the wild card cannot face a team from the same division in the opening playoff round. National League With the Phillies hammering Florida, 11-4, the Atlanta Braves, trailing the Phillies by one game, needed a win to keep pace in the division and got a superlative performance from Derek Lowe, who pitched eight shutout innings in a 4-0 win over the Nationals. Atlanta scored all of their runs in the second inning, and Lowe made them stand up, as he won his second straight start, improving to 13-12 on the year. Lowe fanned a season-high 12 batters, allowed just six hits and didn't walk a batter. Even though the Braves didn't gain any ground on the Phillies, they helped themselves to a 1 1/2 game lead in the wild card standings over the idle Giants. PENNANT NOTES: Miguel Tejada homered, singled and drove in four runs to pace the Padres over the Rockies, 6-4, ending Colorado's 10-game win streak and taking back sole possession of first place in the NL West by 1/2 game over the Giants, who had the night off. Colorado is 2 1/2 back. Cincinnati won and the Cardinals lost, stretching the Reds' lead in the Central to seven games. Texas, Minnesota and Chicago all took the day off. The Rangers lead the AL West by eight games. Minnesota leads the White Sox by six in the Central. The Twins open a three-game series at Chicago on Tuesday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Konerko, Sox Club Royals; Oswalt Fires Phils into First

Players of the Day for Sunday, September 12, 2010 American League Paul Konerko rocked two homers and drove in five runs, leading the Chicago White Sox past the KC Royals, 12-6. The Royals leapt to a 6-0 lead in the opening inning on a pair three-run homers by Billy Butler and Brayan Pena, but Konerko had already begun gnawing away at the lead in the bottom of the frame with the first of his two, a two-run smash to center. Homering again in the 3rd with Alex Rios aboard, Konerko drove this one to left and the Sox scored two more to tie the game after four. In the 6th inning, Konerko broke the knot with a run-scoring single and scored on Andruw Jones' pinch hit grand slam. Chicago tallied six times in the inning to break the game wide open. Still in hopeful pursuit of the Twins, the White Sox didn't gain any ground on the division leaders, still trailing by six games. A day off Monday leads to a three-game showdown with the Twins beginning Tuesday in Chicago. National League When the Phillies acquired Roy Oswalt from Houston prior to the trading deadline, they knew they were getting a quality pitcher who might help them win their fourth straight NL East flag. After his first two starts, an 8-1 loss to Washington and a 5-4 win over Florida (August 1) in which he didn't receive a decision, Oswalt has been magnificent, winning six of his last seven starts as the Phillies overtook the Braves and snatched away first place in the division. With an assist to the Cardinals, who bombed the Braves, 7-3, Sunday night, Oswalt twirled a 4-hit, complete-game shutout in New York, for a 3-0 win over the Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East. The effort was the culmination of a steady streak for Oswalt, who's allowed eight earned runs over his past 51 1/3 innings, a 1.40 ERA. The Phillies have won all of his last seven starts. The Phillies scored single runs in each of the 1st, 3rd and 7th innings, and Oswalt, who allowed two hits in the opening inning, kept the Mets off the bases and off the scoreboard for the duration, walking one and fanning six. After going 6-12 with the Astros, the 6-1 record he's put up since joining the Phillies has Oswalt close to .500, at 12-13. PENNANT NOTES: The Yankees lost their third straight, 4-1, being swept in Texas by the Rangers, but Tampa Bay also lost, 5-4, to the Blue Jays, so the Rays remain 1/2 game behind. With their 5th straight win and an Oakland loss, the Rangers have reduced their magic number to 12 in the West. In the National League, the Reds lost a game they could have won, allowing three runs in the 9th to the Pirates for a 3-1 loss. The still lead the Cardinals by six games in the Central. Tim Lincecum stopped the Padres in their tracks, 6-1, as the Giants moved back into a tie with San Diego atop the West. Colorado won their 10th in a row, a 4-2 win over Arizona, and are just 1 1/2 back of the deadlock.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thome Passes Frank Robinson, Twins Win; Votto Walk-Off Paces Reds

Players of the Day for Saturday, September 11, 2010 American League Nick Blackburn and Carlos Carrasco put up goose-eggs over 8 and 7 1/3 innings, respectively, and the Twins and Indians' relievers took their scoreless battle into extra innings. In the 12th inning, Jim Thome had seen enough pitches and hammered an 0-2 offering from Justin Germano into the Cleveland bullpen beyond the center field wall for the game's only run. It was Thome's 23rd home run of the season, the 587th of his career, passing Frank Robinson on the all-time list for 8th place. Better yet, after Matt Capps set down the Indians in order in the bottom of the inning, it proved to be the game-winner, as the Twins endured, 1-0. With the White Sox falling to Kansas City, 8-2, Minnesota re-established a six-game lead in the Central, lowering their magic number to 15. The solo shot was Thome's only hit of the night, out of four at-bats, but it was typical for the big slugger out of Peoria, IL, who turned 40 just two weeks ago. Acquired from the Dodgers in the off-season, Thome has proven a worthwhile addition. Of his 68 hits, 41 have been for extra bases and he's driven in 53 runs in just 245 at-bats. National League The Reds don't seem to be worried about the Cardinals any more; while their Central division foes flounder, Cincinnati just keeps winning games. Their 5-4, 10th-inning victory, provided by Joey Votto's walk-off home run, stood in sharp contrast to St. Louis' 12-inning, 6-3 loss to the Braves. Where the Reds are winning, the Cardinals are losing. Cincinnati has been getting the big hits in key situations all season long; the Cardinals have fallen in crunch time. Votto, who still may be entertaining thoughts of a triple crown, smashed his 33rd home run of the season off Pirates' reliever Justin Thomas to lead off the extra frame. The blast put him four behind Albert Pujols (37) and gave him 101 RBI on the season, one behind Pujols. Votto's .320 batting average is good for third-best in the league, behind the Colorado duo of Carlos Gonzalez (.335) and Troy Tulowitzki (.324). Cincinnati's win, coupled with the St. Louis loss, put the Reds seven games ahead in the division. They have just 20 more regular season games remaining; their magic number is down to 15. PENNANT NOTES: The Padres took back first place in the NL West with a 1-0 win over the Giants and lead by a game. Colorado won their 9th straight and trail San Diego by 2 1/2. In the East, Atlanta beat the Cardinals, 6-3, in 12 innings, tying for the lead, as Philadelphia dropped a 4-3 decision to the Mets. The Rays pulled to within 1/2 game of the Yankees, winning their second in a row over Toronto with a 13-1 laugher. The Yankees, meanwhile, have dropped two straight, losing to Texas, 7-6. The Rangers continue to run loose on the lead in the West, leading Oakland by 7 1/2 games. The Rangers' magic number is 14.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rays Win Despite Two Bautista Homers; Tulowitzki, Rockies Win 9th Straight

Players of the Day for Friday, September 10, 2010 American League Against most teams, a seven-run lead is usually safe, but the Toronto Blue Jays are not like most teams, as Tampa Bay found out Friday night. The Blue Jays rallied from an 8-1 deficit on the strength of four long balls, two by AL home run leader Jose Bautista, whose second two-run blast of the contest tied the game in the bottom of the 7th inning. Bautista hit his 45th in the 5th inning after Adam Lind belted a two-run job in the 4th. Catcher John Buck sent a solo shot out in the 7th before Bautista crushed #46. The Jays lead the majors in home runs and continue to play solid baseball. They are, however, stuck in the wrong division, trailing the Yankees by 15 games with both Tampa Bay and Boston also in front of them. Despite the power display by the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay came back to win the game as even Longoria scored the winning run in the top of the 9th, when Yunel Escobar threw wildly to first base, attempting to complete a double play. Longoria had advanced from second to third on the play, and scooted home when the ball sailed into foul ground for the 9-8 victory. Hours later, the Yankees would lose to the Rangers, 6-5, in 16 innings, to lead the Rays by 1 1/2 in the AL East. The Rays are virtually assured of reaching the playoffs for the second time in three years as they hold a 7 1/2 game lead over Boston and Chicago in the wild card race. Toronto added to their home run total, which now stands at 222. With 141 games already in the books, they still need to hit two per game, on average, the rest of the way to tie the 1997 Seattle Mariners for the major league record of 264 home runs by a team in one season. National League Making up for lost time, Troy Tulowitzki has been hammering baseballs all over National League parks. The Colorado shortstop spent the latter half of June and most of July on the DL, but since returning to full health, he's raised his batting average from .306 to .327, challenging teammate Carlos Gonzalez for the batting title. The rest of the Rockies couldn't be happier, as they've won eight straight and now trail the co-leaders in the NL West - San Diego and San Francisco - by just 2 1/2 games. The Giants finally caught the Padres, beating them for the second straight game. The Giants used six pitchers to complete a 1-0 shutout and tie up the division. While those two battled, Tulowitzki was leading the Rockies, going 3-for-3, with a pair of home runs, one of the traditional variety and another an inside-the-park kind. His other hit was a run-producing double. He finished with three RBI and scored four times as the Rockies trampled the Diamondbacks, 13-4. "Tulo" has hit safely in nine of his last ten games, going 16-36 (.444) with 8 home runs and 17 RBI. Gonzalez went hitless for the second straight game following a 16-game hitting streak that led him to the league's batting lead. He was up to .340, but has since fallen to .335. PENNANT NOTES: In the AL Central, the Twins lost and the White Sox won, to Minnesota's lead is back to an even five games. Texas beat the Yankees, lowering their magic number to clinch to AL West to 15. The Phillies and Braves each won, so Philadelphia remains one game in front in the NL East. St. Louis lost to Atlanta while the Reds beat Pittsburgh, 4-3, so Cincinnati's lead in the Central is back up to six games. While the Rays or Yankees will almost surely be the AL wild card, the NL is a bit more complicated. St. Louis looks like the odd team out, as they will probably have to catch the Reds to reach the post-season at all. They trail the Braves - currently the wild card leader - by 6 1/2 games, but San Francisco and San Diego are both a game behind the Braves, with Colorado 3 1/2 back.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Damon Smokes Sox; Rasmus Keeps Cardinal Hopes Alive

Players of the Day for Thursday, September 9, 2010 American League While it may seem petulant and slightly mean-spirited, the Detroit Tigers, themselves all but eliminated from post-season contention, are making sure their AL Central rivals, the White Sox, watch the playoffs from their living rooms as well. Detroit and Chicago completed a four-game series in the Motor City and, after losing the first game, the Tigers came back to win the next three, seriously dampening Chicago's hope of catching the Twins, who suddenly lead the division by six games. Johnny Damon, who turned down trade offers earlier in the season and stayed with Detroit, went 4-for-4 as the Tigers took a 6-3 decision. Damon scratched out four singles, the first of which drove in Detroit's initial run, plating Austin Jackson in the bottom of the first inning. It was Damon's only RBI of the game, but he scored twice, crossing home plate in the 3rd and 7th innings. Detroit isn't done punishing the White Sox just yet. The two teams meet again for the last time this season in a three game series at Chicago, September 17, 18 and 19. National League In the midst of a losing streak a few weeks ago, Colby Rasmus attracted the attention - and ire - of teammate Albert Pujols when he mentioned something about wanting to be traded. Pujols responded that if he didn't want to be in St. Louis, he should go. Well, Rasmus didn't go anywhere, the two may have patched things up, but Rasmus provided starter Adam Wainwright with enough offense to win his 18th game of the year, going 4-for-4 with a pair of homers as the Cardinals stomped the Braves, 11-4. Pujols hit his 37th home run of the season to put the Cards up, 7-3, and after that it became the Rasmus show as the outfielder homered in the 5th, drove in two more with a single in the 6th and hit his second solo homer of the night in the 9th. The win, coupled with the Reds' 5th straight loss, has the Cardinals back in the hunt for the NL Central, just five games behind the Reds and four games behind in the loss column. Cincinnati spent their day losing the 4th straight to the Rockies, who've won seven in a row and have sliced into San Diego's lead in the West. The Giants topped the Padres, 7-3, and trail by just one game. Colorado is just 3 1/2 off the pace as the season winds down to the final three weeks. Idle Philadelphia benefitted from Atlanta's demise, picking up a half game to lead by one in the NL East.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scutaro Homers Twice to Drop Rays; Phillies, Howard Retain 1/2-Game Lead

Players of the Day for Wednesday, September 8, 2010 American League After theYankees won on Nick Swisher's 9th inning, walk-off home run, the Tampa Bay Rays knew they needed to beat the Red Sox again in order to keep the Yankees within a game and a half. Tampa didn't quite get the job done, and the Yankees can thank Boston's Marco Scutaro, as the Red Sox downed the Rays, 11-5, improving New York's lead to 2 1/2 games. Scutaro, batting leadoff for the embattled Boston squad, made the most of his five trips to the plate, collecting four hits, including two home runs (numbers 9 and 10), a double and a single. The scrappy shortstop drove in three of Boston's runs and scored three times as the Red Sox scored in six of the eight innings they needed to bat. Winning over the Rays was a bittersweet victory for Boston, which has been destroyed by injuries to a number of key players. They are more than likely out of any pennant race, trailing the Yankees by nine games, though they do play them six more times, including the final three games of the season, October 1-3, at Fenway. The Red Sox still may have a chance of catching the Rays for the wild card slot. They are 6 1/2 games behind them in that race, though they'll need help from other teams. They do not play tampa Bay any more this season. National League Rarely is Ryan Howard not in the lineup for the Phillies, but he missed a number of key games when he went on the Dl earlier this year. He went down on August 1st and returned on the 21st, but it took the big man a little time to get his swing back into a groove. It was ten games - on August 31 - before Howard hit a home run, but that was like throwing a switch. He's banged out four more since then. On Wednesday, with the Phillies having taken a 1/2-game lead in the NL East over the Braves, Howard provided all the power, going 3-for-5 with a two-run single in the first inning, a three-run homer (#28) in the 4th and another run-scoring single in the 7th. Thanks to Howard's six RBI, the Phillies maintained their lead over Atlanta - who won, 9-3, over Washington - with a 10-6 win over the Marlins. Howard is quickly catching up on the leading power hitters in the National League. His 28 home runs are 5th most, and the 95 RBI has him just five behind Carlos Gonzalez. PENNANT NOTES: San Diego and Colorado won, but the Giants lost, so the NL West has the Padres 2 games ahead of the Giants with Colorado 4 1/2 back. The Reds and Cardinals both lost (Cincy has lost four straight), so St. Louis still trails by 6 games. Texas snapped their five-game losing streak with an 8-1 win over Toronto and lead Oakland by 7 games in the AL West. Minnesota won their sixth in a row and the White Sox fell for the second straight day, increasing the Twins' advantage to 5 1/2 games.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rays Close Gap on Yankees; Carlos Gonzalez on Triple Crown Tear

Players of the Day for Tuesday, September 7, 2010 American League The Slugging Schowalters, otherwise known as the Baltimore Orioles, kept Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia from winning his 20th and the Tampa Bay Rays took advantage, blasting the Red Sox, 14-5, to pull to within 1 1/2 games of the Yanks in the AL East. Belting five homers, the Rays scored two runs in the 3rd inning, four in the 4th, six in the 5th and two more in the 6th inning, crushing Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and two relievers that followed. Carl Crawford, who did not hit one of the five homers, went 4-for-4 at the plate, with three doubles, scoring a run and driving in two. Crawford has been on fire of late, raising his batting average from .294 to .307 with a six-game hitting streak in which he's gone 13-for-22 (.591), including four doubles and two triples. Despite his hot play, the Rays have only gone 3-3, though Tuesday's win has the Yankees looking over their collective shoulders. National League Matt Latos, scratched from his scheduled start on Monday, came back Tuesday with seven strong innings against the LA Dodgers, allowing one run on four hits, fanning ten without walking a batter as the Padres won their second straight, 2-1. The win kept San Diego a game ahead of the Giants, who beat the Diamondbacks, 6-3, and 4 1/2 in front of the charging Colorado Rockies, who topped the Reds, 4-3. Getting the big hit in the first inning was Carlos Gonzalez, who belted a three-run homer off Reds' starter, Johnny Cueto. It was the only hit of the game for Gonzalez, but it was enough for the Rockies to prevail. The three RBI gave Gonzalez 100 for the year, vaulting him past Albert Pujols (97) and Joey Votto (98) into the NL lead. Gonzalez has been nothing short of spectacular of late, riding a 15-game hitting streak to the NL batting average lead at .340. While sportswriters were pondering whether Votto or Pujols could capture the triple crown, it now appears that Gonzalez may beat them both to it. The only category he doesn't lead is homer runs, though, with 32, he's now just three behind Pujols, who has sputtered and hasn't clear the fences since August 27th. The Cardinals have suffered along with their slugger, dropping seven of ten since his last homer. They trail the Reds by six games in the Central. Besides catching the Giants and Padres, all Gonzalez seemingly has to worry about is Atlanta's Omar Infante, who is batting .339, but doesn't have the required plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, though he is expected to achieve that level soon. PENNANT NOTES: With the Braves losing to Pittsburgh, 4-0, and Philadelphia topping Florida, 8-7, the Phillies have finally caught and overtaken Atlanta to lead the NL East by 1/2 game. Minnesota pounded Kansas City, 10-3, and the Tigers hammered the White Sox, 9-1, which upped the Twins' lead in the AL Central to 4 1/2 games. In Minnesota's win, Jim Thome hit his 22nd homer of the season, tying Frank Robinson for 8th place on the career list at 586. Texas lost their 5th straight, but both Oakland and the LA Angels lost, so the Rangres still lead the A's by 7 games and LA by 9 1/2. Their magic number is 18.