Tag:3 to watch
Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm
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3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.


Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.


Posted on: September 18, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 10:21 pm
 

3 to Watch: The doubleheader edition

BOSTON -- The Yankees don't have enough pitching. The Red Sox don't have enough pitching.

The low-budget Rays? They have enough pitching.

Crazy, isn't it?

If the Yankees or Red Sox had Matt Moore, you can be sure he'd be starting a game this week, with both teams faced with doubleheaders and cramped schedules.

The Rays have Matt Moore, the top pitching prospect who has scouts buzzing almost Strasburg-style. And while manager Joe Maddon talks about possibly starting him sometime in these final 10 days of the season, he's not yet listed among the Rays' probables.

While the Red Sox go into a doubleheader Monday with Kyle Weiland and John Lackey as their scheduled starters, and while the Yankees hope that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia aren't running out of gas (or, in Colon's case, stem cells), the Rays have the most solid rotation this side of Philadelphia.

Yes, part of it was drafting high all those years when they were bad (the same way the Yankees got Derek Jeter). David Price was the first player picked in 2007, and Jeff Niemann was the fourth player picked three years earlier.

But the Rays took Wade Davis in the third round, got rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Hellickson in the fourth round and found Moore, the latest phenom, in the eighth round.

Maybe they just make better decisions, or do a better job developing pitchers.

They do it so well that they could afford to trade Matt Garza last winter, and could deal Niemann or Davis -- or even Shields -- this winter. Shields would be the toughest to let go (far tougher than Garza), but he would also bring by far the most back to a team that needs offense and has little money to pay for it.

First, though, the great rotation has brought the Rays back into the wild-card race, and gives them a chance of winning it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. When the Red Sox were rained out on May 17 against the Orioles and rescheduled it as part of a doubleheader this week, they probably figured it would be simply an annoyance as they prepared for the playoffs. Instead, it's a major headache for a Red Sox team struggling desperately to hold onto a wild-card ticket to the playoffs. And this doubleheader, Orioles at Red Sox, Monday afternoon (1:05 ET) and night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park, doesn't help. The worst part: The Red Sox are stuck starting rookie Kyle Weiland, who has yet to win and has made it past the fourth inning in just one of his four big-league starts. In the other game, they'll go with John Lackey, has the worst ERA of any regular big-league starter.

2. The Giants have won eight in a row, to put off elimination and put a little heat on the first-place Diamondbacks. The Giants are still five games out, but they go to Phoenix this weekend for three games with the D-Backs, so the race isn't over yet. But the Giants, who can't afford to lose, face Clayton Kershaw in Giants at Dodgers, Tuesday night (10:10 ET) at Dodger Stadium. In five starts against the Giants this year, Kershaw is 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA. He'll be going for his 20th win, so he'll be even more motivated. But his opponent, Tim Lincecum, will be pitching to keep the Giants' season alive.

3. While the Red Sox go with Weiland and Lackey in their doubleheader, the Rays will start Shields and Hellickson in Rays at Yankees, Wednesday afternoon (1:05) and night (7:05) at Yankee Stadium. Shields leads the majors with 11 complete games, which makes him perfect for a doubleheader. Wednesday should be interesting for the Yankees, too, if not nearly as crucial. Ace CC Sabathia, who is just 3-3 with a 4.56 ERA in his last eight starts, goes against Shields, while inconsistent Phil Hughes faces Hellickson.

Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am
 

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.


Posted on: September 11, 2011 10:10 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Let's panic! edition

In the September without pennant races, something strange is developing.

Pennant races.

Real, live pennant races. The kind of races that get you excited, if your team is doing the chasing, or make you nervous, if your team is trying to hold on.

The kind of races that make you . . .

"Hell yeah, you've got to panic," David Ortiz told reporters Sunday, after his Red Sox were swept by the Rays to shrink their wild-card lead to just 3 1/2 games (with the Rays coming to Boston this week for four games).

Panic!

They know the feeling in Texas, where the Rangers once led the Angels by seven games, but were just 1 1/2 games up as of Sunday morning (and back to 2 1/2 games as of Sunday night).

They're starting to feel it in Atlanta, where the Braves once led the wild card by nine games, then ended a bad week with just a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals.

And yes, they know it in Boston, where they panicked at 0-6, and at 2-10. Yeah, they're going to panic, now that one more week like the last one would see them looking up at the Rays in the standings.

Eight days ago, the computers at coolstandings.com said the Sox were 99.6 percent sure to make the playoffs. Now, after seven losses in eight games (including three straight to the Rays), those same (panicking) computers dropped it to 88.2 percent.

Frank Wren knows the feeling. The Braves general manager said he was watching those computer readings a year ago, watching them drop from 95.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

The Braves did make the playoffs, although their spot wasn't guaranteed until the Giants beat the Padres on the final day of the season, three hours after the Braves played their last scheduled game.

It made for a fantastic final weekend, even if it also made for a lot of nervous moments for Wren and for Braves fans.

For baseball's sake, the best thing that can happen now is that the Red Sox-Rays race goes to the final weekend, that the Rangers-Angels race comes down to the two teams' three-game series in Anaheim the final three days of the season, and maybe even that the Cardinals get close enough for the Braves to shout, "Panic!"

Too much to hope for?

Maybe so, but on Labor Day, even one pennant race seemed too much to hope for.

This was the September without pennant races . . . until it wasn't.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Since June 29, the Angels are 16-0 when they've started Jered Weaver or Dan Haren in a home game. That's nice, but it doesn't exactly help them this week, with neither Weaver nor Haren starting in a three-game series -- on the road -- in Oakland. The Angels begin a 10-game trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto with Angels at A's, Monday night (10:05 ET) at the Coliseum, with Joel Pineiro on the mound. The last time the Angels were in Oakland, they lost three of four, allowing the Rangers to increase their AL West lead from 1 1/2 games to four games.

2. Should the Braves be worried that they have rookies starting all three games of the series that ends with Marlins at Braves, Wednesday afternoon (12:05 ET) at Turner Field? Not necessarily. The Braves have lost eight of their last 11, but all three wins in that stretch were started by rookies, including one by Randall Delgado, who starts Wednesday against the Marlins.

3. The Cardinals don't have any games remaining against the Braves (or against the Brewers, who they trail by six games in the NL Central). The Rangers and Angels don't meet until the final three games of the season, by which point we'll either have tons of drama or none of it. But the Rays are in Boston this week, for four games beginning with Rays at Red Sox, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Unless Tampa Bay stumbles badly in three games before that in Baltimore (and even then, only if the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays at home), this weekend should be interesting. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and David Price set to go in the series. The Red Sox haven't even announced their starter for Thursday yet, and still don't know whether Josh Beckett will pitch in the series. One last thing to think about (for now) on Rays-Red Sox: If this race goes to the final six days of the season, the Yankees could have a big impact on it, with three games at home against the Sox followed by three at Tampa Bay. Imagine if the Red Sox need the Yankees to beat the Rays for them! Panic!
Posted on: September 8, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 11:48 pm
 

3 to Watch: The 'Discourage them' edition

The Phillies' goals for the rest of the season would seem to be simple.

Stay healthy (or get healthy). Get rested. Figure out a playoff rotation. Try to break the club record for wins (it's 101, and after a win Thursday the Phillies need just a 10-10 finish to break it).

This week, as the Phillies have faced two potential playoff opponents, manager Charlie Manuel threw another goal out there:

Intimidate the opposition. Look as unbeatable as possible.

"If you play really well, it could discourage them," Manuel said, in advance of this weekend's series in Milwaukee.

The Phillies will likely open the playoffs against the Diamondbacks, who were 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers entering play Thursday. In that case, their second-round opponent would be either the Braves or the Brewers.

The Phillies swept the Braves in a three-game series. They opened a four-game series against the Brewers with a 7-2 win Thursday night.

The games barely matter in the standings, with both teams far ahead in their divisions. Manuel thinks they could matter in the minds of the players, especially if one team dominates the other.

"When I managed in the minor leagues, I had some big hitting teams," he said. "I always liked it when the other team watched us take batting practice. It scared them."

So Charlie, someone asked, does that mean you don't want your pitchers watching when Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder take BP?

"My pitchers can," he said, laughing. "My starting rotation can watch them."

Nothing will scare Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee et al, Manuel figures, probably correctly.

But there is some thought in Philadelphia that the one team that would really concern the Phillies would be the Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year and also won two of three in Philadelphia in July (although the Phillies then won three of four in San Francisco).

The Phillies lost two of three to the Brewers in April, but the Phillies don't look at the Brewers the way they look at the Giants.

Not yet, anyway.

If the Brewers play really well this weekend, maybe the Phillies could be the team that gets discouraged.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. With Josh Beckett's ankle injury, the Red Sox have reason to worry about their starting rotation. They don't have to worry about making it to the playoffs. Right? Uh, I think that's right, but I also noticed that Boston's wild-card lead over the Rays shrunk to 6 1/2 games on Thursday night. And I noticed that the two teams have seven remaining head-to-head meetings, starting with Red Sox at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Great pitching matchup Sunday, with Jon Lester going against James Shields, but especially with Beckett out, the Red Sox might be more focused on what happens Friday, when John Lackey faces Wade Davis. Of the 140 pitchers that have started at least 15 games in the majors this year, Lackey (6.11) is the only one with an ERA over 6.00.

2. For the last three weeks, the Angels have had an easier schedule than the Rangers, and that's no doubt one reason why the Rangers' lead in the American League West shrunk from seven games to 2 1/2 games. But the schedule turns starting this weekend, when the Rangers begin a homestand against the A's and Indians, followed by a trip to Seattle and Oakland. Meanwhile, in Anaheim, it gets tougher, including Yankees at Angels, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. At least the Angels have their top three starters set for the series, with Jered Weaver facing Bartolo Colon on Friday, Dan Haren against CC Sabathia on Saturday and Ervin Santana against Freddy Garcia on Sunday.

3. When someone asked Manuel the other day if there's any way Vance Worley could find his way into the postseason rotation, the Phillies manager said: "I think that's a question that should be asked." While the Yankees and Red Sox wonder if they have enough pitchers they would want to start in October, the Phillies seem to have too many. Worley has been outstanding, but it's still hard to see Manuel using him ahead of Roy Oswalt, especially since the manager is on record saying he expects Oswalt's velocity to pick up in October. Worley gets another chance to make his case in Phillies at Brewers, Sunday afternoon (2:10 ET) at Miller Park. It's an interesting case, as the Phillies have won each of Worley's last 14 starts. If the Phillies win Sunday, Worley will tie the Philadelphia club record of 15, set by Steve Carlton in 1972, his 27-win season. The last longer streak in the big leagues was by the 2005 Cardinals, who won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts.

Posted on: September 4, 2011 9:42 pm
 

3 to Watch: The return of Strasburg edition

Stephen Strasburg returns to the major leagues Tuesday night, and as interesting as it will be to see how he pitches, it'll be even more interesting to see if the buzz is back.

Can he make us care, the way he did last year? Can he make us ask every day, "Is Strasburg pitching tonight?"

It's different, I know. He's been out for a year after Tommy John surgery. It's September, not June. He's only going to make four starts at a time when we're more focused on pennant races (if there are any) or football. He's going to be on a pitch limit even stricter than the one the Nationals held him to last year (and will be limited to four innings and 60 pitches in his debut, according to the Washington Post).

"I'm not going to win a Cy Young in four starts," Strasburg told reporters, according to MLB.com.

He didn't win a Cy Young last year. He was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, before hurting his elbow in August.

But we were fascinated by him, more than we've been fascinated by any player coming through the minor leagues. We couldn't wait for him to get to the majors, and when he got there, we couldn't wait for his every start.

His debut, with 14 strikeouts in seven innings, was one of the biggest events of the entire season.

It won't be like that Tuesday. It can't be like that Tuesday.

According to the Nationals, there are still tickets available, although they say it should be a bigger crowd than they'd normally have for a September Tuesday against the Dodgers.

There is some anticipation. Strasburg's rehabilitation starts in the minor leagues made national news, and in those six starts he struck out 29 while walking just four.

In his last start, according to the Washington Times, Strasburg topped out at 99 mph on the radar gun.

He threw 99 last June, on his 94th and final pitch of a magical night.

I'm not saying that Tuesday will be as magical, or that it even could be. But I'll be back in Washington to see it, and more than that to feel it.

Will the buzz be back?

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Strasburg underwent surgery on Sept. 3, 2010. He returns to the big leagues on Sept. 6, 2011, in Dodgers at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. That's a fairly normal progression; Strasburg's teammate Jordan Zimmermann returned one year and seven days after he had Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann returned on the same day that Bryce Harper had his introductory press conference and Strasburg underwent an arthogram that showed he would need Tommy John surgery, too.

2. On Aug. 15, the Rangers had a four-game lead in the American League West, and that night they began a 23-game stretch in which they played every game against a team that (as of Sunday morning) had a record of .500 or better. The Rangers ended the weekend with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and they'll end that tough stretch with Rangers at Rays, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. After that game, the Rangers will have 18 games left on their schedule, and only six of those 18 (three at home against the Indians, three in Anaheim against the Angels) will be against teams with winning records. So if the Angels want to catch up, this week (when they play three home games against the Mariners) could be crucial. It's an interesting pitching matchup for the Rangers Wednesday, with Derek Holland (seven shutout innings last Friday against the Red Sox) facing David Price (who threw eight shutout innings the last time he faced the Red Sox).

3. Last year, both the Phillies and the Braves made the playoffs, but when the teams met in two September series, it was obvious that the Braves were no match. They meet again this week, in a series that ends with Braves at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Once again, the Phillies have basically wrapped up the division title (which will be their fifth straight), and this time the Braves are far ahead in the wild-card race. This time, at least going in, the Braves seem a more competitive match for the Phils. But with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens both battling injuries, the Braves might need to rely more than they'd like on rookie Brandon Beachy, who starts Wednesday against Roy Oswalt (who the Phillies will be watching carefully).

Posted on: September 2, 2011 2:00 am
 

3 to Watch: The White Sox crisis edition

If the White Sox somehow find their way back into the race in the American League Central, will Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams stop fighting long enough to enjoy it?

Should they?

Sometimes it feels like the White Sox only play well when they're in crisis. Sure enough, they've won seven of their last 10, during a stretch that included Guillen's strange demand for a contract extension and also, according to sources, a nasty pregame confrontation between Williams and one of Guillen's coaches.

Sometimes it seems that if things get ugly enough off the field, the White Sox respond by avoiding ugly play on the field.

The Sox are still 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers, which means they probably need to win at least five of the six remaining head-to-head meetings to have any chance at a miracle run.

The White Sox get their first chance this weekend in Detroit, with three meetings Sept. 12-14 in Chicago. Neither team's schedule is particularly taxing otherwise, which is better news for the Tigers, as the team holding a significant lead.

If there were close races elsewhere, we'd barely acknowledge Tigers-White Sox. But five of the eight playoff spots are basically wrapped up, and baseball is in real danger of a September without drama.

If you want a pennant race, root for the second-place Giants this weekend against the first-place Diamondbacks, who lead San Francisco by six games. And if you like your drama on and off the field, root for the White Sox against the Tigers.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The next seven days might be the most crucial remaining stretch in the American League West, even though the first-place Rangers and second-place Angels will be on opposite coasts. The Rangers have six games at Boston and at Tampa Bay, which could give the Angels (six home games against the Twins and Mariners) a chance to eat into their 3 1/2-game deficit. It begins for Texas with Rangers at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. It could also be an interesting night for the Red Sox, who are starting to believe that Andrew Miller could help them in some role in the playoffs. Miller, the 6-foot-7 left-hander, shut out the Rangers for 6 1/3 innings last week in Texas.

2. The Diamondbacks have won nine in a row, and as everyone in Arizona no doubt knows by now, club president Derrick Hall and general manager Kevin Towers vowed to shave their heads if the team ever won 10 straight. That could happen Friday night, when Joe Saunders faces Matt Cain. But the most interesting pitching matchup of the weekend comes a day later, in Diamondbacks at Giants, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at AT&T Park. Ian Kennedy, a Cy Young candidate this year, faces Tim Lincecum, a Cy candidate every year.

3. The presence of Justin Verlander in the Tiger rotation makes it unlikely they'll lose enough games to blow a 5 1/2-game lead. But if the Tigers are to truly be dangerous in the playoffs, they'd likely need Max Scherzer to find some consistency, as well. Scherzer has a 1.64 ERA in three starts this year against the White Sox, but he gave up seven runs in three innings Monday night against the Royals. Scherzer faces Mark Buehrle in White Sox at Tigers, Sunday night (8:09 ET) at Comerica Park.


Posted on: August 28, 2011 8:49 pm
Edited on: August 28, 2011 9:03 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Yankees start in Boston edition

Of all the pitchers who have ever made 90 or more career starts for the Yankees, A.J. Burnett has the worst ERA (4.82).

Of all the pitchers who have ever started 11 or more games in a season for the Yankees, Phil Hughes has the seventh highest ERA (6.46).

Good thing the Yankees don't really need to beat the first-place Red Sox this week, with Hughes and Burnett starting two of the three games.

Oh, they'll tell you that they do. They'll talk about the importance of winning the American League East, and of home-field advantage in the playoffs.

But the real importance of this week, and the real importance of every other week until the playoffs begin, is for the Yankees to figure out which of their shaky starting pitchers they can possibly hope to rely on in October. Boston is a good place to try to start figuring, in part because the Red Sox may be the team the Yankees eventually need to beat, and also because in 12 games against the Red Sox this season (10 of them losses), Yankee starters have a 7.54 ERA.

At the moment, Burnett would seem the least reliable, given his 11.91 ERA and 1.142 opponents OPS (Jose Bautista leads all major-league hitters at 1.092) in August.

In fact, with manager Joe Girardi once again promising that the Yankees will go from a six-man rotation to a five-man rotation after the series in Boston, Burnett is the leading candidate to be dropped.

The Yankees would like to think that Hughes is less of a concern, given that in five straight appearances heading into last week, he had a 2.08 ERA. Then Hughes was awful against the light-hitting A's (2 2/3 innings, six runs), and followed it up with the strange comment, "Hopefully I won't face the A's again for a while."

Instead, his next start is against the Red Sox, who lead the majors in scoring.

Hughes should know that; in three appearances against Boston this year, he has a 16.20 ERA.

Even when Hughes had good numbers, scouts weren't overly impressed.

"He was better," said one scout who watched him in a good performance. "But that's not the same Phil Hughes from when he was really good."

Hughes starts Wednesday night. Burnett, 0-4 with an 8.71 ERA in eight starts for the Yankees against the Red Sox, starts Thursday.

So the Yankees might want to win the first game of the series, behind ace CC Sabathia, on Tuesday.

And that, if nothing else, will make this feel just like a Yankee playoff series.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Diamondbacks ended the weekend with a four-game lead in the National League West (their biggest yet), which means they're guaranteed to enter September -- and next weekend's big series in San Francisco -- in first place. First, they'll play three games against the Rockies -- the team that was supposed to be challenging the Giants -- beginning with Rockies at Diamondbacks, Monday night (9:40 ET) at Chase Field. Monday's game also features Alex White, one of the two pitchers the Rockies got in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.

2. At this point, it's probably worth pointing out that Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his four starts against the Red Sox this year, and also that his 4.95 ERA in August is easily his highest for any month this year. But there's no doubt that the Yankees trust Sabathia about 10 times more than they trust any of their other starters, so they'll expect him to win, in Yankees at Red Sox, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Sabathia faces the unreliable John Lackey, with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going against Hughes and Burnett the next two nights.

3. The Yankees talk about home-field advantage, and it's true that they're 41-26 at Yankee Stadium this year. But that's nothing compared to the Brewers, who have a 50-16 home record, with 17 wins in their last 19 games. That record has helped the Brewers turn the National League Central into a runaway, and has greatly diminished the importance of this week's series against second-place St. Louis. The Brewer record for home wins in a season is 54, and they could get close in the series that ends with Cardinals at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Miller Park. Yovani Gallardo, who is 9-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 home starts, will be on the mound for the Brewers. One more thing about the Brewers: Despite playing in the smallest market in the majors, they'll sell their 3 miilionth ticket sometime this week.

 
 
 
 
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