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Padres continue charge

8/31/2006

BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA

By Mark Simon, ESPN Research

Oh, how things change in the course of a week. Not long ago, the Reds were rolling while the Phillies were floundering, but the teams have reversed course over the last seven days.

As we hit the September stretch, a different team looks like the National League wild-card favorite each day. One day, it's the Marlins. Another, it's the Padres, and so on and so forth.

The American League wild-card race has established itself as a two-team competition, but the Twins have to avoid the fast fade that could come after recent losses to Kansas City.

The great thing about baseball is that if you check in with us again at this time next week, we'll probably be reversing course -- yet again.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

NATIONAL LEAGUE

BEST OF THE BEST

By JOHN KRUK, ESPN

All in all, the American League could shake out to have a very good MVP race, and the winner probably will be decided in September. Since it's still August, let's take a look at the race and the players who I believe are the top four in contention.

David Ortiz's numbers have been simply unbelievable. He's been Mr. Clutch in every sense of the word. While I normally believe the MVP should come from the best team, his numbers are so skewed that it doesn't matter the Red Sox aren't likely to make the playoffs.

Of course, the caveat is if he comes back from his health issues. Although he's put up big numbers that could hold up, it would be very difficult to choose him if he misses the rest of the season. In that case, my No. 2 pick is Derek Jeter.

A lot has been made of the Red Sox's injury problems, and while they've only gotten worse as the season has progressed, the Yankees haven't exactly been blessed with great health either. But Jeter has been there consistently -- leading this team and performing day in and day out.

After those two guys, the competition gets a little muddled with Jermaine Dye and Justin Morneau itching to break out of the pack. Dye has been phenomenal over the past week and is willing his team to the playoffs, while Morneau and Joe Mauer are responsible for the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins.

ELIAS SAYS

• Nick Markakis homered in the Orioles' 7-4 win over the Rangers. It was Markakis' ninth homer during August, the highest monthly total by a rookie this season and a franchise record for rookies in any month. The previous record of eight was set by Otis Brannan of the St. Louis Browns in 1928 and tied three times prior to Markakis -- all in 1960. Jim Gentile hit eight homers in June 1960 and again in August, when his rookie teammate Ron Hansen also hit eight homers.

• Jermaine Dye continued to add to his MVP credentials, going 2-for-2 in late-inning pressure situations and scoring the winning run in the eighth inning of the White Sox's 5-4 victory over the Devil Rays. With nine hits in his last 19 at-bats, Dye has raised his LIPS batting average to .367. Prior to 2006, his career batting average in late-inning pressure situations was .203.

• Roger Clemens pitched seven scoreless innings, but once again all he had to show for it was a big fat "ND." The Astros scored in the ninth inning for a 1-0 victory. It was the 17th time in his three seasons with the Astros that Clemens didn't allow a run, but he's won only eight of those games. Clemens' nine no-decisions in games in which he didn't allow a run not only lead the majors over the last three seasons, they're more than double the total of any other pitcher.

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