Yes, it was a big week for the Dodgers, Padres and Phillies. Yes, we finally watched the White Sox wither and the Tigers and Twins emerge. But last week wasn't just about defining playoff races.
Here on Baseball Today, it was about defining playoff pitching rotations -- at least for the Mets and A's, who watched Pedro Martinez and Rich Harden, respectively, pitch games that were at least encouraging heading into October.
Martinez threw four strong innings before faltering in the fifth, leading Steve Phillips to say the pressure's only getting higher for his Game 1 start next week: "It's absolutely critical because if you lose Game 1 at home of a five-game series, you have to win three out of four, with two of those games coming on the road. It becomes very, very difficult to do, and a real challenge for the Mets."
Meanwhile, Harden struck out seven but in only three innings for Oakland, meaning he still could make a huge difference in the AL Division Series, according to Buster Olney: "You're looking at a situation of where Harden can start Game 4 of a playoff series basically close to full strength. When you look at him at the back end of that Oakland rotation, that's a pretty good group."
From revamped aces to restructured races, we covered it all last week on Baseball Today, the Fastest 15 Minutes in Baseball and the sport's most popular podcast. Here are more of last week's highlights -- including this week's upcoming schedule, our hotly contested Crystal Ball standings and the best of our listener mail.
Remember, send us your comments about pennant races, MVP races and our race to the top of the iTunes standings, and we'll get the best insights on the air.
Quotes Of The Week
Monday, Sept. 18: Tim Kurkjian
On the Tigers and Twins: "What's happened here recently is now we've seen the holes in the Tigers, and losing [Placido] Polanco maybe now for the season was a huge loss. But mostly we see that they don't have a thumper in their order that really scares other teams. ... These are the things you have to have down the stretch, where you can look at your star players and say, 'Justin Morneau, we need you to get a couple of knocks here,' and he goes out and does it. That's what the Twins haven't had in their recent playoff years."
Tuesday, Sept. 19: Gary Gillette
On the Dodgers' playoff hopes: "It's good for baseball if the Dodgers are a prime-time club again, just like it's good for baseball if the Yankees are a championship-caliber team. It's good for baseball if the Dodgers are healthy, vibrant and drawing people on the road and drawing headlines 365 days a year."
Wednesday, Sept. 20: Jerry Crasnick
On the Padres' win after Monday's crushing 11-10 loss: "Guys said, 'Look, we're not going to let this bother us. We'll come back from it,' and they did. I think it was important for them to come back quickly. As the Dodgers' [loss Tuesday] points out, baseball momentum can sometimes be overrated."
Thursday, Sept. 21: Steve Phillips
On the Dodgers' flaws: "The Dodgers have a good team, but they're not a flawless team. On offense, they can be challenged at times to score runs. They end up needing the big hit oftentimes -- they just don't tend to add on runs when they score."
Friday, Sept. 22: Buster Olney
On the Chronicle/BALCO reporters getting jail time: "This is part of how reporters get information -- through the use of anonymous sources. If that standing for reporters is compromised by what happens in this case, then I think that certainly you're not going to get the same kind of information. Anonymous sources will be more reluctant. That being said, this is such a specific instance, where you have the credibility of the grand jury testimony according to rule of law at stake, it's not entirely applicable to a reporter getting a quote from a scout or a general manager. It's not going to jeopardize that, necessarily. But this is a huge case."
Best Listener Mail
(To contribute a comment for the show, click here.)
"Listening to you today talk about home-field advantage in the playoffs, I wondered if you had considered the irony of the Minnesota Twins. The Metrodome has given them an incredible home-field advantage this year and in several playoff series in recent years. However, it was only a long-in-coming plan to replace the 'Dome that saved the team from relocating or extinction. So in a few years, the team will have a brand-spanking-new stadium, presumably a more secure future in Minneapolis, but very likely less of a home-field advantage."
--Chris (London, Ontario)
"Thanks for talking about the Cardinals and, in particular, the closer situation. Certainly, [Jason] Isringhausen has been a valuable and above-average closer for most of the last few years, but in recent months -- most likely due to the injury -- he was extremely unreliable and yielded a crushing string of walk-off blown saves. He blew 10 on the year in 43 chances, and did not inspire much confidence among us in Cardinal Nation. So while it's possible Adam Wainwright or Braden Looper will experience a meltdown, they inspire more confidence at this point in spite of their less-decorated "closer" pedigrees. They have pitched better than Izzy this year, especially recently."
--Will (Bloomington, Ind.)
"Will your show continue over the offseason? I would love at least a weekly show covering the Hot Stove rumors!"
--Tom Albanese (Wisconsin)
NOTE: We've gotten many letters like this. Plans are not set, but you probably can expect a non-daily show during the winter to cover awards, trades and free-agency news ...
Crystal Ball Standings
We're getting down to the wire in our Crystal Ball contest, where Rob Neyer retains his slim lead over hard-charging Steve Phillips. (Note how Neyer took the week off to keep his head strong down the stretch.) If Chris Carpenter hadn't coughed up six runs in eight innings Thursday, Phillips would have snuck into the lead.
All three of our veteran soothsayers went 2-1 last week, and given that we're going to count postseason records -- someone alert the Elias Sports Bureau -- the title remains up for grabs. Feel free to listen to each Crystal Ball segment and e-mail us your own predictions. Anyone who does better than our guests for the week combined will get shouted out here.
Alan Schwarz is the host of ESPN.com's Baseball Today and the senior writer of Baseball America. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," can be ordered on Alan's Web site.