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Padres looking to pull away from the pack

9/14/2006

BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA

By Mark Simon, ESPN Research

With little more than two weeks left in the season, both wild-card races remain up for grabs.

The teams chasing the Padres in the National League seem to change every day. For a few hours, it will be the Phillies, then the Giants, then the Marlins -- with the clubs alternating between crushing defeats and amazing victories. The Marlins, in particular, need to get up off the mat over the next few days and try to rebound from a pair of devastating losses.

Meanwhile, in the American League, the Twins are facing some tough news of their own with the loss of Francisco Liriano, which could have a dramatic impact in the AL Central and wild-card showdowns.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AMERICAN LEAGUE

WILD THINGS

By JOHN KRUK, ESPN

Both wild-card races are exciting to me. In the AL, it's down to the Twins and White Sox. Freddy Garcia just pitched a great game for the Sox, and Jose Contreras and Jon Garland are both on a roll. The Twins are in trouble with Francisco Liriano now out for the season. Boof Bonser and Matt Garza will need to deliver for them down the stretch.

The best story in the NL is the way the Marlins are playing right now. I thought they'd come close to setting the record for losses in a season, and now they are just three games out in the wild-card standings. Last year, they thought they had a chance with an excellent pitching staff and with hitters like Luis Castillo, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Miguel Cabrera. This year, they got lucky in some ways with guys like Dan Uggla, but they traded for Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez in the offseason to go along with their core of Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is a heck of a story, and it's fun to watch them play.

The Marlins definitely have a good shot to win the wild card because the other teams in front or tied with them have so many issues. The Padres need to start scoring some runs to keep the other contenders off their backs, while the Phillies need their bullpen to hold it together. The Giants are just hoping that age doesn't catch up to them. At some point, the drudgeries of the season have to take a toll because they are so old ... right?

This is going to be a blast to watch, and I look forward to it.

ELIAS SAYS

• Brad Penny pitched seven scoreless innings to earn his league-leading 16th victory of the season in the Dodgers' 6-0 win over the Cubs. With the exception of the strike-shortened 1981 season, this is the first time in the NL's 131 years of operation that no pitcher won more than 15 games before the second week in September. In fact, there were only two previous seasons in which no NL pitcher won at least 16 games by the end of August.

• The A's avoided a three-game sweep with a 1-0 victory over Minnesota. The Twins haven't swept a first-place team during the month of September since 1989, when they won three games against the Blue Jays at the Metrodome. The A's haven't lost three consecutive games since July 23-25, posting the best record in the majors since then (32-13, .711).

• For the first time since 1993, Craig Biggio was a "healthy scratch" in consecutive games. Biggio is hitless in his last 20 at-bats, equaling the fourth-longest hitless streak of his career. The only time since then that Biggio didn't appear in consecutive Astros games was in 2000, when he missed the final 56 games on the DL with torn ligaments in his left knee.

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