- BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRABy Mark Simon, ESPN Research
There is little hope left for the Angels to win the AL West. Any glimmer that remains requires them to sweep Oakland on the road this weekend. The Athletics have put themselves in a nice position heading into the final 10 days of the season, thanks to an MVP-caliber performance from Frank Thomas, and they can nail down the AL West with two victories.
The Angels will be playing with a lot of desperation, but in this case that may not be enough. Oakland would be very happy to wrap things up with a couple of pressure-packed wins, then have a week to rest for their first-round playoff series. Remember, though, a couple of seasons ago when the A's and Angels played a winner-take-all, best-of-three series to end the regular season. A similar series could emerge in a week if the Angels can pick up some wins and some momentum.
ANGELS AT ATHLETICS: WEEKEND PITCHING PREVIEW Friday: Jered Weaver (11-2, 2.15 ERA) vs Barry Zito (16-9, 3.91 ERA)
Both teams open with their ace, though the veteran one is struggling a bit right now. Weaver has been as good as advertised. The key to his success is that right-handers are batting just .168 against him, with two home runs in 208 at-bats. Since 2004, Zito is just 3-6 in September. He has a 7.50 ERA with 16 walks in 18 innings in three September starts this season (and a 1-1 mark).
Saturday: John Lackey (11-11, 3.73 ERA) vs Joe Blanton (16-11, 4.74 ERA)
Lackey is 1-5 with a 5.91 ERA in August and September, after going 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA in July. He's 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA against Oakland for his career. Remember that his big-game experience includes a win in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. We've documented previously that Blanton might be baseball's luckiest pitcher this season. He's somehow 8-3 since the All-Star break despite opponents hitting .321 against him.
Sunday: Ervin Santana (14-8, 4.57 ERA) vs Dan Haren (14-12, 4.01 ERA)
Haren needs one win both to surpass his 2005 win total and to move above the .500 mark for his career (he's 34-34). However, he's only 5-6 at home this season. Santana is 5-6 on the road, though his ERA is 6.44 as compared to Haren's 3.51 ERA at home. Santana does have this going for him: He is 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA in his brief career against the Athletics.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS • The Angels have been one game better than Oakland in the season series in each of the last two seasons, going 10-9 against them. This season the teams have split their first 12 games. • Vladimir Guerrero hit .400 against the Rangers and .355 against the Mariners, but has hit only .239 this season against Athletics pitching. The AL team that best held Guerrero in check this season is the Twins, against whom he batted just .148. • Oakland can feel comfortable going to closer Huston Street, who has converted his last six save chances overall and is 5-for-5 in save tries with an 0.73 ERA for his career against the Angels. On the other side Francisco Rodriguez is 5-for-5 in save chances against Oakland this season, and 2-0 with 23 saves and an 0.30 ERA overall since the All-Star break. • The Athletics have folded in September/October over the last two seasons, with a 26-35 mark in those two months, but this year, they have been a perfectly respectable 12-7, good enough to maintain their large AL West lead throughout the month.PICKS FOR THE PLAYOFFSBy John Kruk, ESPN
We're only 10 days away from the end of the regular season, and the races are still tight in the AL Central and the NL West and for both wild cards. So who do I think will make the playoffs? Here are my picks and why:Mets left-hander Tom Glavine, who will be pitching in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, tells "Cold Pizza" that winning never gets old.
New York Mets: No-brainer since they are already in the postseason. This team needs Pedro Martinez, though, to advance in the playoffs. He's their ace and gives them a certain swagger when he's on the mound. They need him to reach back and find some of that magic to have any shot at making the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This team has the ability to get on amazing runs and just decimate teams. They can hit and pitch and play good fundamental baseball, and that's why they are going to barely hold on and win the NL West title.
St. Louis Cardinals: This is another easy one since every competitor within the division has fallen off the face of the earth due to either poor pitching, injuries or dead bats. The Cardinals were able to overcome a season in which they played a good bit without Albert Pujols; also, their supporting cast didn't have the type of stellar seasons that manager Tony La Russa expected from them.
Philadelphia Phillies: That's right, I'm going against my own pick of just a couple weeks ago and saying the Phillies will make the playoffs via the wild card. The Phillies and San Diego Padres have very similar pitching, but what separates them is that the Phillies can flat-out hit, while the Padres have issues in their lineup. That's going to be the difference down the stretch and in the one-game playoff that I think will happen between the two teams.American League
New York Yankees: Yawn, next ... see "Mets, New York." This team also will rely heavily on their pitching and bullpen to propel them to a late October showing.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are the most fundamental team in baseball, and that's why they were able to withstand losing one of their best pitchers and their entire outfield at one point during the season. This team is amazingly resilient, and they are going to overtake the Tigers and win the AL Central.
Oakland Athletics: I don't know how they've managed to be on the cusp of the playoffs, and I'm pretty sure they don't know, either. Oakland's bats came alive in the second half of the season, and the A's are now in an excellent position with their young pitching. They are going to be fun to watch in the playoffs because of their patient approach to hitting and also because it's going to be fun watching Frank Thomas continue his hot streak.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are getting in because someone has to make the playoffs via the wild card. The White Sox dug themselves too deep a hole to dig themselves out of. That's why they won't make the playoffs, and the Tigers will be in the postseason dance instead.NEWS AND NOTES• Grady Little is five wins away from becoming the fourth Dodgers manager since 1900 to win at least 85 games in his first season at the helm. Charlie Dressen was 97-60 in 1951, Walter Alston 92-62 in 1954 and Tom Lasorda 98-64 in 1977.
• A's 3B Eric Chavez sat out his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, though A's manager Ken Macha said Chavez felt better. Chavez planned to play Friday against the Angels.
• Nearly a thousand disgruntled Orioles fans walked out of Thursday's game at Camden Yards in the fourth inning, culminating a demonstration aimed at team owner Peter Angelos, who has been in charge of the team during its club-record run of nine straight losing seasons.
• Florida 3B Miguel Cabrera sat out for the second consecutive game because of a strained left shoulder.
• Mets CF Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup again. "Just regular banged-up stuff," manager Willie Randolph said. "Nothing major."
PEDRO'S PROGRESSMets ace Pedro Martinez improved upon his last performance, but he still ended up with a loss against Florida. NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES GOOD Lance Berkman put a dent in Chris Carpenter's pursuit of another NL Cy Young Award. The Astros' switch-hitter belted a pair of two-run home runs off the Cardinals' ace in Houston's 6-5 victory. Berkman added a double off Carpenter and now has 43 home runs and 126 RBI for the season. BAD Giants starter Matt Morris found the worst possible time to become the equivalent of a batting practice pitcher. The Brewers pounded Morris for nine runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings on their way to a 9-4 victory that further damaged the Giants' playoff hopes. UGLY White Sox reliever Boone Logan was charged with three runs in two-thirds of an inning ... without surrendering a hit. Instead, he hit a batter and walked two others before he was replaced by David Riske, who promptly gave up a grand slam to Adrian Beltre in the Mariners' 9-0 win. ELIAS SAYS • Two of the criticisms of Alex Rodriguez in Tom Verducci's current article in Sports Illustrated are Rodriguez's poor clutch hitting and his struggle to hit fastballs. At the intersection of those two charges is this amazing statistic: During his three seasons with the Yankees, A-Rod has batted .105 with runners in scoring position against pitchers who averaged at least one strikeout per inning (in the season in question). That's four hits in 38 at-bats, with one home run and 16 strikeouts.
• Johan Santana gave up a first-inning homer to Ryan Garko last Friday night and was taken deep by David Ortiz in the opening frame on Thursday night. It's the first time in Santana's major-league career that he threw a gopher ball in the first inning in back-to-back appearances.
• Anibal Sanchez threw seven innings and allowed two runs, earning a win against the Mets. Sanchez's current streak of ten consecutive starts pitching at least six innings and allowing three or fewer runs is the longest by any rookie in the majors since 2003, when Brandon Webb did that in 13 straight outings.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT"Right now I feel embarrassed. My team should feel embarrassed. People are paying to watch us play, and that was pathetic. If we keep playing like that, they better start packing today."-- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, after watching his team lose 9-0 to Seattle and fall 5½ games behind Minnesota in the AL wild-card race FORWARD THINKING: FRIDAY • Marlins at Phillies, 7:05 p.m. ET: These two teams play each other six times over the final 10 days of the season. The opening game pits a pair of rookies; the Phillies, tied for the NL wild-card lead with the Dodgers, will pitch lefty Cole Hamels (8-8, 4.21 ERA) against Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco (11-9, 4.56)
• Tigers at Royals, 8:10 p.m. ET: The Tigers went from Chicago, to Baltimore, and now to Kansas City within three days. And with an AL Central title on the line, they can't afford any road weariness to affect their play. Struggling lefty Wil Ledezma pitches for Detroit against the Royals' Luke Hudson.
• Pirates at Padres, 10:05 p.m. ET: The Pirates just got done giving the Dodgers fits. Now they can do the same to the NL West-leading Padres, who send Chris Young to the mound. Young (10-5, 3.63 ERA) hasn't lost since Aug. 4.
MVP TRACKER So who's your MVP today? In the AL, do you favor Derek Jeter's consistency or Justin Morneau's production? In the NL, do you prefer Ryan Howard's power numbers over Albert Pujols' overall hitting prowess? SportsNation gives you the opportunity to choose who you believe are the league MVPs on a daily basis. Jeter and Howard have been leading the voting, but they've recently lost ground to Morneau and Pujols respectively. Vote today on your MVP choice. ACE ALERTTony Avelar/AP PhotoRich Harden of the A's was brilliant in his first start since June 4. He struck out seven batters in three innings and allowed one run in Oakland's 4-3 win over Cleveland. RUMOR CENTRAL Halo, Aramis
If Aramis Ramirez opts out of his Cubs contract to become a free agent, the Angels are expected to make a strong bid for the power-hitting third baseman, The Los Angeles Times reports. Cubs GM Jim Hendry said he plans to address Ramirez's contract situation before the season ends, The Chicago Tribune reports. Ramirez doesn't have to exercise his opt-out clause until 15 days after the World Series, but the Cubs would like to know his intentions beforehand.