Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

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September Monday, Part I

Yes, it's time to kick off this annual feature, which we start a week after Labor Day and runs every Monday through the end of the regular season. 

In other words, this Monday and the next two.

Why? Because this is crunch time, spiritually. The weather is cooling, football is here, the kids are back in school and every game involving a team (or teams) on the bubble feels huge.

First, your updated playoff brackets:

AL: Yankees (1) vs. Texas (3), Detroit (2) vs. Boston (4).

NL: Philadelphia (1) vs. Arizona (3), Milwaukee (2) vs. Atlanta (4).

Thoughts: The Brewers' victory over the Phillies, combined with the Diamondbacks' loss to San Diego, flip-flopped the NL Central and NL West leaders for the second straight day. More important for the two clubs, both enjoy significant divisional leads (Milwaukee by six games over St. Louis, Arizona by eight and a half over San Francisco) and can take the next two and a half weeks to best prepare themselves for the postseason.

Series of the Week: Tampa Bay at Boston, Thursday through Sunday. Well, this is a surprising development. The Rays swept the Red Sox over the weekend at Tropicana Field, pulling within three and a half games (three in the loss column) in the race for the AL wild card. Wow!

If the Rays somehow pull this off, then Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman should call Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and say, "Sure, I'll come be your general manager. All I want is $5 million a year. In meal money. Now let's move onto the salary..."

Can the Rays actually pull it off, though? Baseball Prospectus gives Tampa Bay a 3.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. It's still a longshot. But hey, the Sawx are a mess right now; they have a 6.21 ERA in their last 13 games, during which they're 3-10. During that same time span, the Rays are 8-5 with a 3.46 ERA.

Boston plays dangerous Toronto prior to the weekend matchup, while the Rays visit easier Baltimore. After this weekend, Tampa Bay has seven games left against the Yankees (whom they trail by exactly seven games, coincidentally) and three against the Blue Jays, while the Red Sox play the Yankees three times and the Orioles six times.

So it's still a tough climb for the Rays, but kudos them for making it interesting.

Josh Beckett's throwing session today could be critical in calming the waters of Red Sox Nation. 

Longshot of the Week: The Cardinals. After a weekend sweep of the Braves, St. Louis trails Atlanta by four and a half games in the NL East. 

With no games remaining against the Braves, the Cards don't have much of a shot here. Both clubs have a series with the Phillies remaining, and both play only losing teams otherwise; the Braves have Florida (two series), the Mets and Washington, while St. Louis has Pittsburgh, the Mets, Houston and the Cubs.

Player of the Week: Ian Kinsler, Texas. In the Division of the Week, the AL West, Kinsler is considerably helping the Rangers stay ahead of the Angels. He has a .411 OBP and .976 SLG in September.

Pitcher of the Week: Doug Fister, Detroit. By beating Minnesota yesterday, he picked up his fifth win in seven starts since getting traded to the Tigers. He has a 1.77 ERA.

Bruised and Battered Team of the Week: The Yankees, who benefited from luck yesterday as they edged the Angels, ending a four-game losing streak. You could've won some good money out there betting that Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero would make their 2011 Yankees catching debuts in consecutive days, but that's what happened thanks to Russell Martin's and Francisco Cervelli's injuries. Throw in ailments to Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, and the Yankees have to be thankful for Boston's plummet.

--Have a great day.




Tags: Jesus Montero , Jorge Posada , Josh Beckett , Ian Kinsler , Doug Fister

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Which team will win the 2nd AL Wild Card?

Yankees Tigers/Royals Indians Mariners

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