- Concern for Kazmir: At the worst possible moment, Scott Kazmir turned in his worst start of the season for the Rays, surrendering nine earned runs as the Red Sox pulled even with Tampa Bay in the AL East. Practically, though, the division doesn't really matter to either club because both are virtually certain to qualify for the postseason.
What is worrisome is Kazmir's outing. The Rays ace hadn't allowed more than five earned runs in a start this year, and had only allowed more than three earned runs twice before Monday night. But he crumpled dramatically in a big spot. He struggled with his control, throwing only 39 of 72 pitches for strikes and opening the game with nine straight balls. And he allowed a player (David Ortiz) and a team (the Red Sox) that he traditionally dominates to victimize him.
There are three possible explanations for Kazmir's struggles: He simply had a bad start, he choked on the big stage or, worst of all, he's hurt. Painting Kazmir as a choker seems unfair, especially considering how well he pitched last week with just as much on the line at hostile Fenway Park. I'm most inclined to believe he simply had a bad start -- after all it's too easy to make a mountain out of a single-game mole hill this time of year.
On the other hand, you can't help but wonder if he could be hurt. Kazmir spent the first month of 2008 on the disabled list and he's had a myriad of minor injury problems over the course of his career. Watching him battle just to throw strikes set off alarm bells. I'll be watching just as closely Saturday against the Twins to see how Kazmir bounces back.
- Mets Mayhem: Forget Kazmir, you want real panic? Listen to the New York talk radio stations Tuesday morning. The Mets lost again -- make that three of their last four -- and saw their NL East lead shrink to a 1/2 game over the Phillies. The 2007 collapse is less of a scar and more of an open wound a year later, especially with a difficult four-game set against the Cubs next week at Shea Stadium looming.
The bullpen wasn't to blame this time. The offense mustered a lone hit against Nationals starter John Lannan, and as leaky as the relief corps has been, New York's starting rotation is in much better shape than last year.
There's also this: Even if the Mets are overtaken by the Phillies in the East, the wild card is still there for the taking. That's a luxury they didn't have last year. If it does come down to the Mets and Brewers for the wild card, there could be some awfully tense moments late in games over the final days of the regular season.
- Far From Blue: The Dodgers can do no wrong these days. They are 11-2 this month and are giving the chasing Diamondbacks little reason to think they'll climb back into the NL West race. Even Juan Pierre hit a home run Monday against the Pirates.
It's been easy to cast aside the West teams all year because the division has been so woeful, but Los Angeles will not be an easy out in the first round. Manny Ramirez has infused the lineup with power, Chad Billingsley is quietly becoming an ace, Derek Lowe has tons of experience and a bullpen with Jonathan Broxton at the end is formidable. The Dodgers will likely face the Cubs in the first round. That's no simple task for the North Siders.
- Sox Soaring: Boston had to feel pretty good about finally getting a win at Tropicana Field. Anybody who has watched the Rays and Red Sox over the past week probably wouldn't be surprised if the teams hooked up in the ALCS, so finally beating Tampa Bay on the road is a nice confidence booster for the Sox.
Even better for Boston was getting home runs from Mike Lowell, who has a torn labrum in his hip, and David Ortiz, who has tinkered with his swing ever since returning from a wrist injury suffered at the end of May.
- Houston Has a Problem: Does anyone outside of Texas really want to see the Astros in the playoffs? It took them 16 innings to get a hit against the Cubs. Spare me the complaining about where the games were moved to because of Hurricane Ike. As Ken Rosenthal pointed out, MLB had very few options in terms of a location. Moreover, home-field advantage in baseball just isn't what it is in the other sports.