Tag:David Price
Posted on: October 3, 2011 8:59 pm
  •  
 

Lewis gives Rangers the start they needed

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Rangers had the best record in baseball in games where they allowed four runs or more. They score plenty of runs, so no need to worry if they give up a few.

The Rays' pitching can change that equation.

The Rangers expected some games like Monday's, and that means that to advance they're going to need some performances like the one Colby Lewis gave them Monday. Lewis, an unsung star from the 2010 Texas run to the World Series, allowed just one run in six innings, and the Rangers turned it into a 4-3 win that gave them a two games to one edge in the series.

The Rangers realize that on paper, the starting pitching matchups in this series will rarely favor them, if ever. They know that the big question is whether their much-better lineup can score a few runs against the great Tampa Bay starters, and whether their starters can do a good enough job against a much-weaker Rays lineup.

Monday, Lewis was better than just good enough.

He allowed just one hit, a fourth-inning Desmond Jennings home run, and just one other baserunner, on a walk to B.J. Upton. He outpitched the much more heralded David Price, and handed a 4-1 lead to the Ranger bullpen (which held onto it, just barely).

Lewis, who the Rangers brought back from Japan before last season, has a 4.99 ERA in 136 career regular-season games. He lowered his postseason ERA to 1.67, in six starts over the last two Octobers.

Monday, he did just what the Rangers asked of him, just what they needed.
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 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: May 29, 2011 8:59 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 9:15 pm
 

3 to Watch: The first-place Diamondbacks edition

Nobody ever remembers who was in first place on Memorial Day, and for good reason.

The last three World Series champions didn't lead their division on Memorial Day. Of the 30 teams that won division titles over the last five years, only 15 were in first place on Memorial Day -- and two of those were only tied for first.

So first place on Memorial Day means nothing?

Well, it's better than first place at the end of April, and we always make a big deal out of that. It's better than first place one week into the season, and we always seem to think that's significant.

In fact, if the Diamondbacks had begun the season 14-2, we'd be calling them the surprise of baseball.

Instead, they've won 14 of their last 16 -- the first team to win 14 of 16 at any point this year -- and they'll reach Monday's Memorial Day meeting with the Marlins as the first-place team in the National League West.

Don't tell them it doesn't mean anything. Before Sunday, the Diamondbacks hadn't held first place since late in the 2008 season.

Don't tell Zach Duke it doesn't mean anything. As outstanding Diamondbacks PR man Shaun Rachau pointed out on Twitter, this is the first time Duke has been on a first-place team at any time after April 10 -- because he spent his first six seasons with the Pirates.

The Pirates have been something of a surprise themselves this year, but they still haven't held first place by themselves for a single day. And they haven't been in first place on Memorial Day since 1991.

A few more facts about the Diamondbacks, and their Kirk Gibson/Kevin Towers-fueled revival:

-- They're 18-9 in May, best in the National League and second only to the Red Sox in the majors.

-- With two games remaining in the month, the D-Backs still have a chance at the third 20-win month in franchise history. And no, neither one came in the 2001 championship season. Arizona went 20-8 in August 1999, and 20-6 in June 2003.

-- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Duke became just the second pitcher ever to throw seven shutout innings and hit a home run in his first game for a team. The other was Jason Jennings, who threw a complete-game shutout and hit a home run in his big-league debut for the Rockies.

-- We shouldn't forget that Towers built the bullpen that helped the Padres to their surprise 2010 season (although he wasn't there to enjoy it). Now, Towers has rebuilt a Diamondbacks bullpen that was a major-league laughingstock in 2010. Arizona's bullpen ERA is 3.33, which isn't anywhere close to last year's 5.74.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Diamondbacks were one of baseball's best teams in May. Anibal Sanchez was one of baseball's best pitchers, with a 3-0 record and 1.53 ERA for the month. So it's fitting matchup for the final day of May, with Sanchez starting for Florida in Marlins at Diamondbacks, Tuesday night (9:40 ET) at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks starter is Ian Kennedy, who is 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA in May.

2. The last time the Rangers saw the Rays, they were facing David Price in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. That night in St. Petersburg, the Rangers had Cliff Lee on their side, and they won. The Rangers will see Price again, in Rangers at Rays, Wednesday afternoon (1:40 ET) at Tropicana Field. No Lee, but Colby Lewis will start for Texas. One thing in the Rangers' favor: Wednesday is June 1, and June was Josh Hamilton's month last year (.454, 9 home runs, 31 RBI).

3. The Pirates haven't been in first place, but they have been significantly better than they were last year -- especially on the road. Last year, they were just the third team in the last 50 years to fail to win 20 games on the road, joining the 1962 and '63 Mets. The Pirates went 17-64, matching the '63 Mets for the worst road record in the 162-game era. The Pirates are 15-13 on the road this year, heading to New York for a series that includes Pirates at Mets, Wednesday night (7:10 ET) at Citi Field. Their starter Wednesday is Kevin Correia, who leads the majors with six road wins. Zach Duke led the 2010 Pirates in road wins, with three.



Posted on: May 27, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 11:09 am
 

3 to Watch: The King defends his crown edition

It's been a quiet start to the season for Felix Hernandez. Even the talk that he'll be traded seems to have died down, either because of the Mariners' continued strong denials, his own declarations of how happy he is in Seattle or the team's decent start to the season.

Meanwhile, as of now Hernandez isn't even in the top 10 in the American League ERA race. He leads the league in strikeouts and he's third in innings pitched, but if the Cy Young vote were held today, he'd barely receive a vote.

And none of that means he won't repeat his title.

Through 11 starts, Hernandez actually has better numbers than he did at this point last year. He's 5-4 with a 3.01 ERA, as compared to 2-4 with a 3.50 ERA through his first 11 starts of 2010.

Last year, the Mariners were held to one run or none in three of his first four losses. This year, they've been held to no runs, one run and two runs in three of his first four losses.

And that means this Saturday's start against the Yankees is King Felix's biggest of the year so far.

The strongest voices against Hernandez in last year's Cy debate weren't the ones complaining about his so-so 13-12 record. Rather, they were the ones complaining that he didn't pitch in important games, and pitched in the weak-hitting American League West.

The strongest counter-argument was Hernandez's record against the Yankees. He won all three of his starts against New York, allowing just one run on 16 hits in 26 innings.

As Felix defenders have said all along, the bigger the stage, the better he pitched.

The stage isn't huge this weekend, but the Yankees are the highest-scoring team in the American League. The Mariners are playing so well (and the division is so weak) that they're just 1 1/2 games out of first place.

It's a late-night Saturday start, but it's still the Yankees, and it still would be a great place for Hernandez to launch his reelection campaign.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Every day, it seems, I talk to another baseball person who mentions how unimpressive the Indians were in spring training, and how shocking it is that they still have the best record in baseball. But they do, and they even survived Grady Sizemore's latest trip to the disabled list, with Sizemore expected to return this weekend. Still, the doubters are going to doubt, and wonder if this is the week the Indians' collapse begins. Coming off two straight home losses to the Red Sox, they now get Tampa Bay's two best starters, beginning with David Price in Indians at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Josh Tomlin, who is 6-1 and has held opponents to a .182 batting average, starts for the Indians.

2. Even with Buster Posey, the Giants have scored the fewest runs in the National League. Even with Buster Posey, the Giants' margin of error has been slim, their first-place record built largely on a 14-5 record in one-run games. Now the Giants don't have Posey, and they go on the road to face a Brewers team that is finally healthy and has won six straight and 13 of 16. The good news for the Giants: They open the series with Tim Lincecum on the mound, in Giants at Brewers, Friday night (8:10 ET) at Miller Park. The bad news: The Brewers starter is Shawn Marcum, who has won his last six decisions.

3. Hernandez hasn't even been the most-talked-about starter in his own rotation, which he shares with 22-year-old Michael Pineda. Pineda looks great, and his start against the Yankees on Friday is worth watching, too. But Felix is still the King, and that puts Yankees at Mariners, Saturday night (10:10 ET) at Safeco Field on this list.


Posted on: September 19, 2010 9:23 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2010 6:03 pm
 

3 to watch: The Philly dilemma edition

Three games back of the Phillies in the National League East, the best thing the Braves have going for them is six remaining head-to-head meetings with the Phils, starting with a series that begins Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Two and a half games ahead of the Padres in the NL wild-card race, the biggest thing the Braves have going against them is that they play six of their final 12 games against the league's best team -- the Phillies.

"It is tougher," Chipper Jones said. "But I don't think we'd want it any other way."

One reason, of course, is that the Braves would like to think that they can still win the East. To win the East now, they need for the Phillies to lose. The best way to guarantee that the Phillies lose is to beat them yourself.

The other reason is that the Braves actually have a winning record against the Phillies over the last two years. They went 10-8 last season, and they're 7-5 so far this year.

"The one thing we have done really well the last couple of years is play well against the Phillies," Jones said. "And we're going to have to. They're the best team in the National League, and for some reason, we get sky-high to play them.

"To beat them, we need to play a near-perfect game."

But to make the playoffs, the Braves don't need to finish ahead of the Phillies. They just need to win the wild card -- although that might necessitate beating the Phillies a few times.

"Now we can't split hairs," club president John Schuerholz said. "Now it's about getting to the playoffs."

But still, Schuerholz said he doesn't mind it that half of the Braves' remaining schedule features the Phils (with other six games against the Nationals and Marlins).

"It might be the energy level we need," he said. "They will be energized games."

And they're leading off this week's edition of 3 to watch (which doesn't include the Rangers, Twins or Reds, even though all three could clinch their divisions in the next few days:

1. The Phillies were easily able to adjust their rotation, so that the Braves will face Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, maybe the closest thing we've seen to a true Big Three since the days of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. The Braves would have had a harder time making similar adjustments, and thus ace Tim Hudson won't pitch in this series. The Braves planned to start off with Jair Jurrjens, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park , but Jurrjens hurt his right knee in a bullpen session last Friday in New York. So 24-year-old Brandon Beachy, who was in Florida with the Braves' instructional league team, will get the start and make his major-league debut. Rookie Mike Minor and young Tommy Hanson are the other two Braves starters this week. The Phillies' Big Three would be lined up again to pitch in the final three regular-season games in Atlanta, although if the Phils have wrapped up the division by then, there's a chance they wouldn't all pitch.

2. Elsewhere on this site , I made what I thought was a reasoned but traditional case for Felix Hernandez as the American League's Cy Young leader. Hernandez could help his own case considerably with a big performance in Mariners at Blue Jays, Thursday afternoon (12:37 ET) at the Rogers Centre . The Jays have hit a major-league high 128 home runs in 69 home games (nearly two a game), and they average more than five runs a game at home. Hernandez hasn't faced the Blue Jays yet this year. Neither has CC Sabathia, who never lined up with any of the Yankees' first five series against the Jays (but figures to pitch in Toronto during the Yankees Sept. 27-29 visit).

3. First, Sabathia has a rematch with Tampa Bay's David Price, and if it's anything like their last game, it might be the 1 to watch this week. The first time around, a week ago in Florida, Sabathia and Price combined for 16 scoreless innings (eight apiece), while allowing just five hits (three of them off Price). They hook up again in Rays at Yankees, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium , and by the time it's over, we should have a better idea of who wins the American League East (and who's the AL wild card), and also of who is the leading threat to Hernandez's chance to win the Cy Young.


Posted on: September 19, 2010 7:36 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2010 7:47 pm
 

A reasoned, traditional argument for Felix

It feels impossible to have a reasoned argument about the American League Cy Young Award.

The new-age stat guys say you're a dinosaur if you even consider anyone but Felix Hernandez. The old-age win guys think you're nuts if you consider anyone who has basically been a .500 pitcher.

The first group no doubt noticed that Hernandez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning the other night against the Rangers (although knowing them, they were more impressed by his eight strikeouts) to improve his record to 12-11. The second group was more interested in seeing CC Sabathia record his 20th win the next night in Baltimore.

The second group will remind you that the idea of the game is to win. The first group insists just as loudly that wins are the least relevant statistic for starting pitchers.

The two sides can't talk to each other, because they don't even speak the same language. The first group swears by WAR; the second group might declare war on WAR, if it could even figure out what WAR is.

So here's my problem, an admittedly theoretical problem since I don't have an AL Cy Young vote this year:

I fit in more with the second group. I have nothing against many of the new stats, but I refuse to accept that wins don't matter. I've seen too many pitchers who pitch to their stats, who would rather have a six-inning, three-run quality start than a 6-5 complete-game win.

So I should be supporting CC for the Cy, right? And if not him, then maybe David Price.

Instead, with two weeks to go that could change my mind, I believe King Felix is the most deserving.

Does that mean that I've changed how I look at pitchers? Not really. Does it mean that I've accepted that wins are just a matter of luck? Not at all.

The only thing it means is that with all the evidence out there -- and with two weeks to go that could change things in what is a very close race -- I believe that Felix Hernandez has had a slightly better year than CC Sabathia or any other pitcher in the American League this year.

Not only that, but I believe that if anyone had an equivalent year to Felix back in 1991, when I first joined the Baseball Writers Association of America and could have had a Cy Young vote (don't remember whether I actually had one that year), I would have given him my vote.

Why? Here's why, without a single mention of WAR, FIP or ERA+:

-- Other than wins, he leads the league in all the traditional categories for starting pitchers. He's first in ERA, first in innings, first in strikeouts. The reason nobody won the Cy Young with a 12-11 record is that nobody ever had a season like this before. I checked. Using the excellent baseball-reference.com play finder, I searched for pitchers with 230 or more innings, 220 or more strikeouts, an ERA of 2.40 or lower and fewer than 14 wins. You know who came up? One guy. Felix. This year.

-- He's absolutely, 100 percent pitching to win. And his sad-sack team is absolutely, 100 percent not allowing him to win very often. The Mariners say Hernandez has had 13 starts where he has pitched at least seven innings and allowed one run or less, and five starts where he has at least eight shutout innings.

-- While he pitches in the weaker AL West, Hernandez has faced a tougher schedule than Sabathia or Price. Of Felix's 32 starts, 13 have come against probable playoff teams (and he's 7-5 with a 2.58 ERA in those seven games). Sabathia has made just six starts against playoff teams (he's 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA), and Price has made just seven (he's 2-2 with a 3.28 ERA). According to baseball-reference.com , Hernandez has made 17 starts against teams that are .500 or better (he's 9-6, 2.34), while Sabathia has made 13 (he's 6-2, 3.50) and Price has made 18 (10-5, 2.59).

-- As if it's not bad enough that he's saddled with one of the worst offenses in recent history, Hernandez hasn't even been helped by his bullpen. Despite all the innings he pitches, Hernandez has been the victim of three blown saves, plus another bullpen collapse so bad that it didn't count as a blown save because the lead was too big. Sabathia has also had three blown saves (and one other bullpen collapse) behind him, but he has been able to hand far more leads over to the bullpen. Factor in Felix's four complete-game wins, and that means he has turned 12 potential wins over to the bullpen; they've converted only eight of them (while CC's Yankee bullpen has converted 19 of 23).

So there you have it, an argument for Felix that doesn't ignore tradition, an argument that (hopefully) ignores all the noise and doesn't demand that you consider wins to be unimportant.


Posted on: September 12, 2010 8:51 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2010 9:05 pm
 

3 to watch: The Seeing the seeding edition

The players say it matters. The managers say it matters.

Ask Joe Maddon about the three games his Rays play against the Yankees this week, and the four games they play next week, and he'll tell you how important these games are. He'll tell you how great this is going to be.

"I definitely believe you're going to see playoff-like intensity in every one of those games," Maddon said. "I think you're going to see a very intense seven games. I do."

We don't.

They could be seven great games. They're definitely seven games that we wouldn't mind watching, especially the CC Sabathia-David Price matchup that kicks off the first series on Monday night.

"I want to see that, too," Rays left fielder Carl Crawford said. "When we have matchups like that, I become a fan."

It's a great matchup, between two teams that are separated by half a game now, and have been within 2 1/2 games of each other for 49 straight days. It's potentially a great series.

It's won't be playoff-intense, not the way Giants-Padres was playoff-intense, not the way Braves-Phillies next week may well be playoff-intense.

For playoff intensity, you need playoff pressure. And you only get playoff pressure if the loser goes home.

When the Yankees meet the Rays, the winner may well get to raise an American League East championship flag. The winner may well get home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The loser won't go home.

Instead, the loser becomes the wild card, with nearly as good a chance to hang the flag that matters on opening day next year. All they're really playing for is playoff seeding.

Baseball has had the wild-card system for 15 years, which means there have been 30 wild cards, and 30 teams that finished in first place in the same division as the wild card.

Twelve times, the division winner advanced further in October than the wild card did. Ten times, the wild card advanced further than the division winner. The other eight times, both the wild card and the division winner were eliminated in the first round.

So is there an advantage to finishing first? Maybe.

Is there a significant advantage? Definitely not.

In fact, with the AL East winner likely to face Texas in the first round, with Cliff Lee potentially going twice in a best-of-5 series, you could even argue that this year, the team that finishes second has the advantage.

In recent weeks, a few people have renewed the push for adding a second wild-card team in each league. The idea is that the two wild cards would have a play-in game (or a play-in series). Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated presented an excellent case last week.

In that system, Yankees-Rays would be huge. It still wouldn't be loser-goes-home, but at least it would be loser-is-at-a-big-disadvantage.

In that system, it might well be "playoff-intense."

In this system, it simply leads off this edition of 3 to watch:

1. No, we're not that excited about Yankees-Rays. But we are excited about Sabathia-Price, the pitching matchup in Yankees at Rays, Monday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field . With Felix Hernandez allowing seven runs and losing to the Angels on Saturday night, we're even tempted to call this a Cy Young showdown. Sabathia would help his credentials with a 20th win. Price would help his with a win over the Yankees (especially since Hernandez has three of them). Sabathia is the seventh pitcher to go for a 20th win against a Tampa Bay team. Five of the first six succeeded. The one who didn’t? Sabathia, when he lost to Price last Oct. 2.

2. Through 143 games last year, the Twins were 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers. Through 143 games this year, the Twins are six games ahead of the White Sox. So are you ready to declare the American League Central race over? Not just yet, but it will be over if Chicago doesn't sweep the three-game series that opens with Twins at White Sox, Tuesday night (8:10 ET) at U.S. Cellular Field . The last time the Twins were swept in Chicago was in 2008, which is the same year that ended with a Twins-White Sox one-game playoff to decide the AL Central winner. The game-winning home run that night, of course, was hit by Jim Thome, then with the White Sox, now with the Twins.

3. Near the end of the Giants-Padres game Sunday, Giants announcer Mike Krukow asked partner Duane Kuiper who to root for when the Padres play the Rockies this week. Tough question, because the Giants begin the week percentage points behind the Padres, but just 1 1/2 games ahead of the third-place (and hard-charging) Rockies. It another fascinating series in baseball's most interesting division, with the team that just ended a 10-game losing streak meeting the team that now owns a 10-game winning streak. The Padres won't see Ubaldo Jimenez, but they will see Jason Hammel, who starts in Padres at Rockies, Tuesday night (8:40 ET) at Coors Field . Hammel and Jimenez are the only pitchers who own three wins over the Padres this year, and if he wins Tuesday, Hammel could become just the seventh pitcher with at least four wins over a single opponent this season. The other six: Chris Carpenter (five wins vs. the Reds), Sabathia (four vs. the Orioles), Ryan Dempster (four vs. the Brewers), Chris Volstad (four vs. the Nationals), Roy Halladay (four vs. the Mets) and Price (four vs. the Blue Jays). Oh, and Kuiper's answer to Krukow: "I'm rooting for a 25-inning game."

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com