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Freddy Garcia, Alex Rodriguez, the MVP debate and the NL West

Let's do four items today, in honor of "Four" being the right answer to Thornton Mellon's verbal econ final in "Back to School."

1. If you're the Yankees, what do you do about Freddy Garcia? In his first start following his mysterious kitchen accident, Garcia easily handled the Orioles, leading the Yankees to their second straight victory.

The 34-year-old added to what is becoming his best season since 2005, and yet he's doing it in such a dramatically different manner. Look at his Fangraphs page. His fastball is down from an average of 91.4 mph to 87.2, and he throws his splitter 21.4 percent of the time now, as opposed to 2.3 percent back then.

You know Garcia won't be overwhelmed mentally by a playoff start, yet you wonder whether he can tame the offense of Boston or Texas, at a time of year when hitters tend to be locked in thanks to fewer games and more preparation time.

The next four weeks will determine the fates of Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. I certainly wouldn't rule out Garcia picking up some playoff victories as a starter. But I'd feel far worse about it than the last time he made a postseason start, back in '05.

2. Alex Rodriguez now looks likely to miss the Red Sox series, thanks to his left thumb injury, and what interests me most about A-Rod this season is that he has actually performed well in areas like getting on base and defense when healthy. But that "when healthy" part sure is proving to be a doozy.

A-Rod is now poised to post his fewest games played total since he became an everyday major-league player in 1996. Since beginning the 10-year, $275-million extension he signed prior to the 2008 season, his high for games played is 138, in 2008. Prior to that season, he had surpassed the 138 mark in 11 of the 12 seasons from 1996 through 2007, with 1999 the only exception.

Durability used to be a trademark of A-Rod's greatness, in other words. And now he's having significant trouble simply staying on the field. With six more years to go on that contract. Yeesh.

Here are my five keys and predictions to this week's Yankees-Red Sox series.

3. Of course Justin Verlander should receive serious consideration for the AL MVP award. For that matter, so should Jered Weaver. The only reason to ever not consider starting pitchers for the MVP tied into some macho code of pitchers not playing in enough games.

We all know that's ridiculous, right? There's nothing harder in this game than finding someone who does what Verlander or Weaver do.

That the Tigers are poised to make the playoffs only strengthens Verlander's candidacy, although I also think Toronto's Jose Bautista deserves consideration even though the Blue Jays are out of the playoff race.

4. The Diamondbacks defeated Colorado last night, while San Francisco lost to the Cubs, which means that Arizona now holds a five-game lead in the National League West. Amazing.

Amazing most of all that the Giants are letting such a fine pitching staff go to waste because they can't hit. Year after year - even last season, when San Francisco won it all - Giants GM Brian Sabean makes the hard part (building a starting rotation) look easy, and the easier part (an offense) look incredibly difficult.

Meanwhile, there drfits away one more divisional race. To reiterate, September could be dreadfully boring.

--I'll check in tonight from Fenway.




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