Next stop, October
The Yankees became the fourth and final postseason qualifier for the American League on Wednesday. All that's left to do is sort out the playoff matchups. At this point, the most likely first-round scenario is Yankees-Indians and Red Sox-Angels. This quartet will play out the regular season with varying objectives to get ready for next week's action. The Angels must get a few things fixed. They've slumped since clinching the AL West and figure to go as far as John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar can carry them. The Red Sox have gotten their big bats healthy. Now, Boston just needs to make sure it doesn't fall off in the final days and lose its season-long hold on first place. The Indians have their two aces ready and hot at the right time. They need to get over the mental hump and avoid being intimidated by facing the Yankees. New York simply wants to maintain its status as baseball's hottest team.
|Who's hot: The Indians' top two starters -- C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona -- will need to come up huge, particularly if the Yankees are their first-round foe. Sabathia is 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his last five starts, and Carmona is 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his last five starts. That's as good a duo as there is in the majors.|
|Who's not: Paul Byrd is 1-2 with a 7.15 ERA in his last four starts and may have pitched his way out of a postseason assignment. The Indians could go to Jake Westbrook in a Game 3 scenario.|
|Outlook: The Indians went 51-29 at Jacobs Field this year, so securing homefield advantage is significant. It can be done with a good showing against the Royals (they're 9-6 against K.C.) this weekend.|
|Who's hot: John Lackey has closed strong, posting a 2.17 ERA in his last four starts. He'll be called on in the postseason as much as Mike Scioscia can put him to use. Remember: Lackey has big-game experience after winning Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie.|
|Who's not: The Angels have gone cold since clinching and might be a little worried about Kelvim Escobar, who's given up 12 runs over 9 1/3 innings in his last two outings.|
|Outlook: Break out the ThunderStix! The Angels finished 54-27 at home this year and would like as many home games as possible in October. That home mark matches their 2002 home record. The problem for the Halos is they've struggled with the A's (7-9) and finish in Oakland.|
|Who's hot: David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are producing. Ortiz is 9-for-19 with seven RBIs in his last four games and seems to have enough in the tank to get through the postseason. Ramirez is 4-for-5 in two games since returning from injury.|
|Who's not: Jason Varitek has slumped in September, hitting .219. But the captain did come through with a big home run in Tampa Bay when the Red Sox clinched their playoff berth.|
|Outlook: Boston closes at home with the Twins and shouldn't see Johan Santana, so clinching the AL East in the next day or two is a very reasonable order. Securing the best record also remains a strong possibility.|
|Who's hot: Robinson Cano is hitting .383 with 11 RBIs in his last 11 games, including a home run and five RBIs as the Yankees clinched in Tampa Bay. Perhaps the skills from his double-play partner, Derek Jeter (13-game hitting streak), are rubbing off on him.|
|Who's not: Forget the Joba Rules. Joba Chamberlain is going to be needed every day. Luis Vizcaino has been shaky lately, allowing nine runs in his last seven innings.|
|Outlook: The Yankees will make sure their regulars are ready for the playoffs, regardless of where they stand in the AL East race. The four remaining games likely won't be of great significance.|
The playoffs are almost here. Keep an eye on these players in the American League. They could mean the difference between glory or sorrow this postseason. Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels
Everyone looks at Vladimir Guerrero as the key to the Angels' offense, but Chone Figgins is the core of this team because he represents everything Mike Scioscia preaches as a manager. Scioscia brings a National League style of ball to the American League (getting on base, running the bases well, going from first to third on a base hit), and Figgins exemplifies that. He's a team player who's willing to play multiple positions. Figgins has a hardworking attitude, and no matter where Scioscia puts him in the field, he always seems to deliver. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees
Jorge Posada gets the least amount of headlines for everything he's done this year. Not only is Posada the Yankees' pitching coach on the field, but he also has had a great season on offense. Everyone says Alex Rodriguez is the MVP, but Posada -- in addition to putting up big numbers on offense -- has had to deal with the staff. Not to take anything away from A-Rod, who's had a great campaign, but it's less mentally straining to play third base compared to catcher. For Posada to have the offensive year he's had and guide that pitching staff, internally, he has to be considered one of the team's MVPs. A-Rod's stats are off the charts, and Derek Jeter grabs well-deserved headlines as the captain, but Posada has done a great job keeping that staff together while making huge contributions on offense. He's been the emotional stabilizer on the Yankees. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
The rookie easily could have been buried by big league adjustments. At the start of the season, Dustin Pedroia looked like he might not have enough ability to survive at the major league level, but his undaunting work ethic and passion for the game multiply the talent he brings to the field. Pedroia is a very heady player, and despite being one of youngest players on the Red Sox, he is an emotional catalyst for them. He encompasses all the things the Red Sox represent when they are playing well: great defense, good hitting and a passion that matches the fans' intensity. Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians
Travis Hafner is a long-shot X-factor because he didn't have a great year. The two main players for the Indians this season have been Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore. Hafner hasn't put up the same numbers that he did in 2006, although he is second on the team in RBIs. It's strange to think of Hafner as an X-factor, but Cleveland has accomplished so much despite his numbers being down. He's definitely a lightning rod for Cleveland. If he gets hot, he's the kind of player who could carry the Tribe for a month.
|Josh Fogg allowed only five hits over 6 2/3 innings in the Rockies' 2-0 victory over the Dodgers. Fogg improved to 3-0 with a 3.25 ERA in September, and Colorado's franchise-record 10th straight win kept it one game back in the NL wild-card race and just two behind in the West.|
AP Photo/George Nikitin
After 15 seasons with the Giants, Barry Bonds said goodbye to San Francisco fans at AT&T Park.
|Kyle Lohse was sharp in the Phillies' 5-2 win over the Braves. Lohse allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings. He became the first Philadelphia starter to go seven innings since Jamie Moyer on Sept. 14, and the Phils moved within one game of the NL East-leading Mets.|
|Livan Hernandez struggled in the Diamondbacks' 5-1 loss to the Pirates -- Arizona's third straight defeat. Hernandez allowed four runs on 10 hits over four-plus innings and fell to 1-4 at PNC Park.|
|Derrick Turnbow provided no relief in the Brewers' 7-3 loss to the Cardinals. Turnbow gave up three runs on one hit and two walks in just 1/3 of an inning. With four games to play, Milwaukee remains two back in the NL Central.|
A-Rod is proud of what the Yanks have done.
|Jayson Stark says Jimmy Rollins deserves consideration for the NL MVP. Listen|
"This ballclub never stopped believing."
-- Yankees manager Joe Torre after the team clinched its 13th straight playoff appearance
|NEWS AND NOTES|
|• Mets LF Moises Alou extended his hitting streak to 30 games. Alou's streak is a franchise record and the longest in the major leagues since Willy Taveras also hit safely in 30 straight games for the Astros from July 27 to Aug. 27 last season. • Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols became the first player in major league history to have 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first seven seasons.|
|• Cubs at Marlins, 4:05 ET: Chicago's hold on the NL Central lead is becoming shaky. Steve Trachsel (7-10, 4.74) will try to prevent the Cubs from getting swept. Trachsel is 1-2 with a 7.62 ERA in September. Scott Olsen (9-15, 5.88) continues to struggle. He is 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA in his last eight starts and winless since Aug. 5. • Twins at Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. ET: Josh Beckett (20-6, 3.14) looks to pad his Cy Young credentials as Boston surges toward its first AL East title since 1995. Beckett, who leads the AL in wins and ranks fourth in ERA, is 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. Boof Bonser (7-12, 5.09) has gone 4-7 with a 4.78 ERA on the road. • Rockies at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET: Colorado's late-season charge has made them a serious contender. Franklin Morales (2-2, 3.15) hopes to help the Rockies take a step closer to a possible playoff berth. Morales is 2-0 in his last three starts and has not allowed a run over his last 17 innings. Esteban Loaiza (2-3, 5.61) is 0-3 with an 11.25 ERA in his last three outings. • Thursday's complete list of probable starters|