Monday, September 25, 2006

Pennant Watch: Monday, September 25

We're T-minus 7 days from the end of the regular season. For the final week of the season, Sports Matters will be providing daily updates on the pennant races as Major League Baseball heads into the playoffs.

Detroit Ends 19 Year Funk
For the first time since September of 1987 (or to put it another way, my first month of Kindergarten), the Detroit Tigers have clinched a playoff spot. Also of importance, their sweep of the Royals, and the Yankees' struggles against Tampa Bay have vaulted them into first overall in the league; they hold a 1/2 game advantage over the Yanks. They also hold a 1 1/2 game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, so they still have a lot to play for. In any case, welcome back to the big time, Detroit Tigers.

Two Is The Magic Number
For both the A's (AL West) and Twins (AL Wild Card), who can both clinch tonight with a win and a loss by the teams that are chasing them. With leads of 6 and 5 1/2 games, respectively, neither team should be in too much trouble, though it might be a bit concerning for Oakland fans that they failed to close out the division at home against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels will try to keep their slim pennant hopes alive at home against Texas, while the Oakland Athletics of Oakland-Alameda County head north to Seattle looking to reverse their fortunes. They're riding a 15-game winning streak over the Ms, so I say things are looking up.

As for the Twinkies, they host the bottom-feeding Kansas City Royals, fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, which clinched that team's spot in the playoff round. Can they perform a similar favor for Minnesota? Likely. Despite playing the Twins relatively tough (they've won 6 of 15 meetings so far), I don't see them taking more than 1 in the baggy dome. 3 of 4 in this series should be enough to cement Minnesota's trip to the playoffs.

After sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals at home, the Houston Astros have quietly established themselves as a stalking horse in the NL Central. With a 3 1/2 game deficit, and a mere 7 games to make it up, things aren't looking good for the Astros, but they might just manage to make this week a little bit more interesting than we had originally expected. They have a huge makeup game in Philly today, then they go on the road to play Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Despite a losing record on the road, it's not completely improbable that the 'Stros could come back. The Pirates, a solid 41-34 at home, will be more of a challenge than people expect, while Atlanta isn't a very good home team, and has nothing (but pride) to play for.

The Cardinals host the Padres starting tonight, who are looking to extend their divsion lead over the idle Dodgers (who are 1 1/2 back in the west, and 1/2 a game behind the Phils for the wild card). Even with a dud of a series against San Diego, St. Louis should be safe, since they close with 4 at home against Milwaukee, the 4th worst road team in the majors. Then again, we all thought that the St. Lunatics would have closed it out by now, so who knows?

Game of the Day
Houston at Philadelphia. Both teams need a win to keep pace/hold on to their leads. Houston sends unproven Matt Albers to the hill, while the Phillies look to the 4-0 (despite his 5.47 ERA) Randy "Teen" Wolf to keep their hot streak going.


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