Eye Toward October: Sept. 17
With the playoff chase coming down to the wire, our MLB editor rounds up the five biggest pennant race stories in Eye Toward October.
- Chaos Reigns in NL: The Brewers firing their manager with two weeks to go in the season and the wild-card lead says a lot about the state of their club. But it also says plenty about the wild and wacky National League. A dozen days remain in the regular season, and anyone who tells you they can sort the senior circuit out is plainly lying.
The Dodgers and Cubs are almost certainly bound for the playoffs. Three principle teams -- the Mets, Phillies and Brewers -- are battling for the two remaining spots, but the Astros are within striking distance, and the Marlins, who still have Houston, Philadelphia and New York left on the schedule, even have a sliver of a hope
For now, the Phillies appear to have the edge in the NL East after rallying past the Braves and into first place. For now, the Mets appear headed for another collapse, done in by a rickety bullpen and an offense that can't seem to scrape out a clutch hit. For now, the Brewers appeared destined to wilt, no matter who is managing them.
But the Phils still have a spotty back of the rotation, New York still has Johan Santana and David Wright and Carlos Delgado and Milwaukee still has CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and it showed plenty of fight against the Cubs Tuesday night. If the Brewers and Mets win and Philadelphia loses Wednesday, we'll know even less than we do now.
None of these teams are great, but just based on the sheer unpredictability of the races, the NL is about as entertaining as it possibly could be.
- Twins in Trouble: After rallying from seven runs down against Cleveland Tuesday, it looked like Minnesota was on its way to a defining win in its quest for October. Then Grady Sizemore homered. Then Victor Martinez took Joe Nathan deep in extra innings and the Twins dropped 2 1/2 games back of the White Sox in the AL Central.
Minnesota has been trailing Chicago for most of the month, but has always had the three-game series at the beginning of next week to fall back on -- one last chance to win the division. If the Twins aren't careful, that showdown might not mean much.
Minnesota will play four games against a superior Rays club this weekend, while the White Sox will face the Royals. There's a decent chance now that the Twins won't even be able to catch Chicago in the standings when it comes to the Metrodome next week.
- Brew Crew Battling: Milwaukee made it clear Tuesday it isn't going to go down without a fight. The Brewers didn't give up in a 3-0 hole against the Cubs. They didn't give up down two in the ninth inning, and were a Prince Fielder hit away from tying or winning the game. The biggest thing working against Milwaukee now is the difficulty of its schedule over the next week and a half.
But as I mentioned earlier, it's likely that only one of the Mets, Phillies and Brewers will be staying home this October. As fragile and precarious as Milwaukee's position appears to be, the Mets are facing equally dire straits. It's far too early to write this club off.
- Manny on Fire: Losing Manny Ramirez doesn't appear to have hurt the Red Sox, but it's hard not to wonder where both the Dodgers and Red Sox would be had the clubs not consummated the trade on July 31 that brought Ramirez to Los Angeles.
The slugger went 3-for-5 Tuesday night against Pittsburgh as the Dodgers took another step toward the division title. Ramirez is hitting .401 since arriving in Southern California. He has an absurd 44 RBI and 26 extra-base hits in 43 games since the trade. I'm not buying the MVP sentiment, but you can understand where it's rooted.
- Called Out: The Rays and Red Sox will have played six times in the last 10 days by the time Wednesday night is over. The games have been fantastic, save for the men in blue, who have made some notably odd calls. Why did Justin Masterson have a strike stripped from him in the ninth inning Tuesday? Why was Scott Kazmir warned when he plunked Jason Varitek (clearly unintentionally) Monday? Why was the strike zone so large when Andy Sonnanstine and Josh Beckett met last week at Fenway? If these teams meet in the ALCS, hopefully we'll see better from the umpiring crew.