Teams set to rise and fall in pressure of playoff push

Updated: August 31, 2009

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Mariano Rivera remains the rock-solid presence at the back of the Yankees' bullpen.

With the final month of the regular season now upon us, let's take inventory of the division races and see which teams' stocks are going up as we head down the stretch and which teams' stocks are about to dive:

American League


They are the team to beat in the American League East right now. They have a relentless offense, greatly improved defense and good starting pitching. Not to mention Mariano Rivera leads a very good bullpen. Stock up



The pitching staff is second in the American League in ERA (4.13, trailing only Seattle). With its improved starting pitching from last year, and its greatly improved defense, this team will definitely win the AL Central. Stock up



This offense might score 200 more runs than it did last year. The Angels will not fall down offensively in the postseason this year, as they did last year. Their pitching is getting healthier by the day. They will definitely win the AL West. Stock up



The AL wild card is tight right now, but the Red Sox are going be the team standing at the end, and it's because their pitching is improved with the emergence of Clay Buchholz (2-0 over his past three starts) and a lineup that is, right now, the best it's been all year. Stock up



They're not going to make the playoffs, but the way they have improved their pitching and their defense (and done it with so many good young players), you really have to like their future. Stock down on Texas' chances at making the playoffs, but stock up on its future. Stock down



I thought all along Tampa Bay was going to win 90 games and finish in third place in its division, and I still feel that way. The Rays' bullpen has hurt them lately, and that bullpen is a big reason why they got to the World Series last year. James Shields (9-10 with opponents hitting .275 against him) has been a big disappointment. The future is still very bright for the Rays. But they won't be making a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. Stock down



They've had too many injuries to their starting rotation to make the playoffs. I've learned never to underestimate the Twins because of the way they have come back several times this decade to win when I didn't think they could, but it will be harder this year with three-fifths of their rotation either injured or in the bullpen. Stock down



They are not making the playoffs. When they needed to play well the past 10 days, they failed. Getting Jake Peavy back for September would have been a huge boost, but now it seems unlikely that he will be a major factor down the stretch because he just can't seem to get healthy. And now they've moved Jim Thome to the Dodgers and Jose Contreras to the Rockies. Stock down


National League


This team can win the World Series again if closer Brad Lidge gets his act together. If he can find something close to what he had last year, he will be all right. The Phillies have everything else: great power, great defense and more than adequate starting pitching. Stock up



The Cardinals are as good a team as there is in the National League. There probably isn't another team with a 1-2 pitching combination as good as Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and a 3-4 hitting tandem as good as Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. They are a lock for the NL Central. Stock up



The Dodgers are going to win the NL West. The question is do they have enough to get by Philadelphia or St. Louis to get to the World Series for the first time since 1988? At this point, even with the late-night additions of Thome and Jon Garland, the Dodgers just don't have enough to pull it off. Stock up



This rotation is quite good -- right now, it is second in the majors in ERA (3.55), trailing only the Dodgers. No team wants to see them in the playoffs when they can start Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito in a short series. I believe the Giants and the Rockies are the teams to beat in the NL wild-card race. It will probably all come down to their final series against each other in September. Stock up



Despite losing five games in a row, the Rockies are the co-favorites for the wild card because of how impressive they have been at fighting their way back. I give the Giants a slight edge over the Rockies because of San Francisco's pitching. Plus, the Rockies have had trouble scoring runs over the past five games (three runs or fewer in four games, and two or fewer in three of them). Stock down



The Braves' starting pitching will keep them above .500, but they are not going to beat San Francisco or Colorado because they just don't score enough runs. Stock down



The Marlins are another team with a very bright future, but they are a little too young and they don't have enough defense to make it to the playoffs this year. Stock down



I picked the Cubs to go to the World Series this year, and now they probably won't even make it to the playoffs. Their offense has been mysteriously bad all year, and they've had too many bullpen issues to overcome. Stock down


This final month of the season is the most exciting time of the year. Something is going to happen that is going to make us slap our foreheads and ask, "What was that?!" I can't wait to see what it is.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 30 | Aug. 27 | Aug. 26 | Aug. 25 | Aug. 24

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Carlos Pena, TB38WashburnTop 1: 0-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Joe Mauer, MIN26FloydBot 3: 0-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Adam Lind, TOR26HollandTop 4: 3-1, 0 Outs. Grand Slam.
Nick Swisher, NYY22GuthrieTop 3: 2-2, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Monday's homers


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BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Fernando Vina, Tim Kurkjian
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Fernando Vina, Tim Kurkjian

BBTN MINUTE: RACE TO THE FINISH

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Jarrod Washburn, who is still trying to find his way since joining the Tigers from the Mariners at the trade deadline. Washburn gave up eight runs in 5 2/3 innings in an 11-7 loss against Tampa Bay.

Jarrod Washburn (2009)
Seattle Detroit
W-L 8-6 1-2
ERA 2.64 6.81
HR allowed 11 11
Runs in 1st two innings 4 13
Starts 20 6

WEB GEMS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Andy PettitteAndy Pettitte flirted with a perfect game against the Orioles at Camden Yards. He retired the first 20 batters he faced before an error and a single ended both the perfect game and the no-hitter. Pettitte ended up allowing two hits over eight innings in a 5-1 win for the Yankees.
WORST
Derek Holland• There wasn't much pitching in the Blue Jays' 18-10 win against the Rangers. Toronto led 11-0, then nearly squandered it all as Texas closed to 11-10 before the Jays pulled away again. The worst pitching line? That would go to Rangers starter Derek Holland -- three innings, seven hits, 10 runs.

ON DECK: TUESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Red Sox at Rays, 7 p.m. ET

With Scott Kazmir off to the Angels, Andy Sonnanstine makes his return to the Rays' rotation. Sonnanstine struggled before being optioned to Triple-A Durham on June 29, going 6-7 with a 6.71 ERA. Jon Lester hasn't been involved in many decisions lately; he is 1-0 with five no-decisions since July 25.

White Sox at Twins, 8:10 p.m. ET

While his team has struggled lately, John Danks has not. The White Sox lefty has won his past three decisions and is coming off a month in which he went 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Jeff Manship, who has made five relief appearances this season, will be making his first career start.

Giants at Phillies, 8:10 p.m. ET

A sweep of the Rockies has the Giants tied for the NL wild-card lead with the Rockies. (Both San Francisco and Colorado trail the Dodgers by six games in the NL West.) The Giants face the wildly inconsistent Cole Hamels on Tuesday. After starting the season 4-5, Hamels won three consecutive decisions in July. Everything was fine, right? Well, Hamels went 0-3 with 4.91 ERA in five August starts.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Brad Penny Brad Penny is set to sign with the Giants, just in time to join the team's rotation for San Francisco's postseason. Penny has had a disappointing season thus far, going 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA for the Boston Red Sox before being released on Aug. 26.

Penny used his fastball often with the Red Sox. But his second-most-used pitch, his curveball, was his big problem. His performance with the fastball was right around the league average, but his curveball ranked as one of the worst in the majors.

Penny is expected to take Joe Martinez's spot in the rotation, which means he could make his debut for the Giants on Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers, who are league average in terms of hitting the curveball.

Brad Penny
Curveball performance (2009)
MLB rank*
BA .386 90
SLG .675 90
Miss pct. 10.6 89

* Of 90 qualified pitchers (min. 200 curveballs thrown)

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes