A week and a half to go in the regular season. Let's get right to it:
Series of the Week: Let's call it a tie between Rays at Yankees (four games from Tuesday through Thursday) and Red Sox at Yankees (Friday through Sunday).
The Red Sox's meltdown, and Tampa Bay's correlating ascension, continue to amaze. Think of the moves Boston made last winter, committing nearly $300 million just to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and then think of what the Rays did, letting so much of their team depart free agency and trading Matt Garza, for good measure. The two clubs' fates intersected when the Red Sox signed Rays franchise player Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million megadeal.
Crawford has been an immense disappointment for Boston; just as some Rays officials who knew him best forecast last year, Crawford has struggled considerably under the Beantown scrutiny. Terry Francona benched him yesterday against Tampa Bay starter David Price, and Crawford told an ESPN reporter that he would be "devastated" if his old team upended the Sawx.
Not really great karma right now for the Red Sox, who take on Buck Showalter's pesky Orioles today in a day/night doubleheader.
Potential Noisemaker of the Week: Oakland. The A's play host to Texas for three games, tomorrow through Thursday, and then visit the Angels over the weekend. The Angels currently trail the Rangers by four and a half games, four in the loss column, and they need to pick up just a game and a half - their extra game comes tonight in Toronto - to control their own destiny, thanks to the season-ending Rangers-Angels series at Angel Stadium.
So anyway, the A's can carry a huge impact concerning who will represent the AL West in the playoffs.
Player of the Week: Chipper Jones, Atlanta. Hey, he can beat up on teams besides the Mets, right? He's enjoying a great September, following an even better August, and he can help the Braves wrap up the National League wild card this week. Atlanta starts a three-game series in Florida tonight and travels from Miami to Washington for a weekend set.
The Cardinals, trailing Atlanta by three and a half games, wrap up their series with the Phillies this afternoon, host the Mets for three starting tomorrow and have the Cubs coming in over the weekend.
Pitcher of the Week: Justin Verlander, Detroit. We all understand that wins are a poor measure for a starting pitcher. Nevertheless, to get 24 wins in this era, as Verlander did yesterday, is pretty cool. Especially when it's a pitcher having as special a season, both statistically and viscerally, as Verlander is.
With another win in his next start, Verlander would become the first pitcher to get 25 wins since Oakland's Bob Welch won 27 in 1990. Of course, Welch's 27 wins did not accurately reflect his season, as he benefited from terrific run support and probably should have lost out on the AL Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens.
We're just sayin'.
Turnaround Triumphs of the Week: The Brewers (magic number four) and Diamondbacks (magic number five) are both close to clinching their respective divisions, finalizing turnarounds from losing records last year. Milwaukee visits the Cubs for three games starting tonight and plays host to Florida over the weekend, while Arizona has Pittsburgh coming in for three games starting tonight and, interestingly, faces the Giants over the weekend at home.
If the Giants (three games at Dodger Stadium, starting tomorrow night) can somehow pick up two games on Arizona between now and Friday, closing within three games in the NL West, then we'll have something going on out there. But that looks like a tall order, given how well the Dodgers are playing and that Pittsburgh seems cooked.
--Have a great day.