Pennant Watch: Friday, September 29
Today's edition comes early as I will be busy tomorrow and would be unable to post it until the late afternoon.
To recap last night:
One Is The Loneliest Number
The Yankees league lead remains at one, thanks to the Orioles' Daniel Cabrera, who one-hit the Yanks in a 7-1 Baltimore win. Lucky for New York, one of their division rivals was willing to lend a hand - Toronto beat Detroit for the second time in three games.
There's Some Magic Left In The Old Baggy Dome
On an emotional night in the Twin Cities, with Brad Radke returning from injury in what might be his final start at home, the Twins pulled out a come from behind win over the Kansas City Royals. They scored in the 9th to tie the game, then in the 10th to win. The Twinkies are now tied with Detroit for the AL Central lead.
As for Kansas City, this was their 100th loss of the season, and to no one's surprise, they earned it in heartbreaking fashion.
Football's Return To Los Angeles A Success!
Wait, that's not true. But you'll forgive me for getting confused as to what sport the Dodgers and Rockies were playing that let them post a 19-11 final. This was an important win for the Dodgers, who remain a game back of San Diego for the West lead, but now have a 1.5 game cushion in the wild card race. Speaking of which...
Rain Postpones Philadelphia's Collapse
The Phillies-Nats game was postponed for...a while. It was supposed to start around 7 local time; now it's 1:40 in the morning, and they're just beginning the 8th inning. Washington leads 3-1, and if they hold on, they will almost certainly end the Phillies' post-season hopes.
I'm still rooting for Philly. If Major League Baseball has any flair for the dramatic, Philadelphia will soon take the lead on a Ryan Howard home run that knocks the power out of RFK Stadium.
Houston, paced by a gutty performance from ace Roy Oswalt, won for the 9th game in a row. Oswalt did what he had to, going seven innings to give the bullpen a rest, before Miller and Qualls pitched the 8th, and Brad Lidge the 9th to earn the save.
Meanwhile, in East St. Louis, the Brewers hammered on Cardinals starter Jason Marquis, and jumped out to a 9-1 lead after 4 innings. The Cards, for the second night in a row, scored 3 in the 8th, making the final score a bit more respectable. I tell you, if MLB would just let the games start in the 8th inning, the Cards would have nothing to worry about.
Anyway, the short of it is this: With 3 games left, St. Louis leads Houston by 1/2 game.
Playoff Picture: American League
We're not concerned about Oakland, since they're pretty much locked into opening on the road against the AL Central winner. The three teams jockeying for positioning are all at home; New York hosts Toronto, Minnesota gets Chicago, and Detroit gets Kansas City (hello sweep!)
With a one-game lead, New York will have to lose 2 of 3 to have any chance of giving up home field. In the Central, Detroit holds the tie-breaker over Minnesota, so if they finish with identical records, the Twinkies will open up the playoffs in the Bronx.
Playoff Picture: National League
With the Mets still the only team to clinch, things are considerably more complicated. Of the teams in contention, only St. Louis plays at home, hosting Milwaukee. Houston goes on the road to Atlanta, Philadelphia to Florida, San Diego to Arizona, and Los Angeles to San Francisco.
In the race for the Central crown, Houston needs to win one more game than the Cardinals do over the next three. The half-game lead, as predicted in this space, could allow the Cards to back in to the division title.
San Diego is all but assured of a playoff spot, since they will have a three-game lead over the Phillies any minute now. Their lead in the division is only one game, and they could easily cough that up. Los Angeles has a two-game lead in the wild card, which should be safe, and it will be interesting to see how hard they chase the division crown if they officially clinch a playoff spot today.
Philadelphia's playoff hopes hinge on three potential scenarios:
1. They sweep the Marlins, and the Padres get swept by the D-Backs, dropping them into a tie (and possibly a three-way tie with Los Angeles). This would give the Phils the chance to play a tie-breaker game for the wild card spot.
2. They take 2 of 3 from the Marlins, and the Dodgers get swept by the Giants, or they sweep the Marlins, and the Dodgers win one of three, putting the two teams in a tie. In the latter scenario, we would have a three-way tie if the Padres also get swept.
3. They sweep, and the Dodgers get swept, allowing them to leapfrog LA and claim the wild card spot.
Given that, I'll let you decide how the Phillies' playoff chances are looking.
Game of the Day
Houston at Atlanta. Roger Clemens makes his last start before his inevitable abbreviated retirement, unless the Astros can make the playoffs. Roger has a mixed record in big games, but it's imperative that he comes up big here. His counterpart who will attempt to pull the upset? Rookie Chuck James, who sports a 10-4 record, and 3.94 ERA. Stranger things have happened.