Our last of the weekly feature for 2011. The tweak in baseball's schedule differs our outlook a little here. We're going to look only at the next three days, until the regular season is concluded.
The postseason kicks off Friday, and we'll have an entirely separate preview for that.
OK, enough wordy explanations of the analysis we're about to share. Let's get to the wordy analysis!
Series of the Half-Week: We're going to have to go with a four-way tie for this one, right? Boston at Baltimore, Yankees at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at Atlanta and St. Louis at Houston.
The Red Sox and Braves are the collapsing wild-card leaders with one-game edges over the upstart Rays and Cardinals. Boston, by taking the nightcap over the Yankees in yesterday's doubleheader, avoided a tie with the Rays, who beat Toronto. Atlanta, by losing its second straight to Washington, saw the Cardinals draw closer by beating the Cubs again.
Tonight's game looms particularly huge for the Red Sox. They haven't won two straight games this month, they're coming off a big win over the Yankees and they're pitching their co-ace Josh Beckett. It's the perfect opportunity to start rebuilding a peaceful vibe.
The Braves have benefited from Boston's downfall because the Red Sox, being the Red Sox, are getting most of the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) attention.
I also think Atlanta's downturn has been less stunning than the Red Sox's, because they don't spend as much money and because their flaws were more evident; the mediocre offense produced many close games, which led manager Fredi Gonzalez to overuse his bullpen, which is now tired (and the offense still isn't good).
Non-Stinker Series of the Half-Week: Falling behind the above group, but still better than the seven series that mean absolutely nothing, are Cleveland at Detroit, Texas at the Angels, the Dodgers at Arizona and Pittsburgh at MIlwaukee.
The Tigers and Rangers are fighting for the number two seed in the AL playoffs, with Texas owning a one-game lead and Detroit owning the tiebreaker based on season series, and the same goes for Milwaukee and Arizona, with the Brewers possessing a one-game lead and Arizona the tiebreaker.
Oh, and the Angels are still alive, albeit barely, in the AL wild-card hunt.
Character in Someone Else's Dream of the Half-Week: That's gotta be the Yankees. They're accustomed to being in the spotlight, but starting tonight, they'll continue their odd turn as "other team" in one of the most compelling races in recent history.
By the way, I agree with Anthony Rieber: Start Freddy Garcia in Game 3 of the A LDS, and if the Yankees advance to the ALCS, then start A.J. Burnett in that series. Of course, there's one more piece of data to collect: See how Bartolo Colon looks on Tuesday night. If by some miracle he regains his velocity and the bite on his fastball, then another discussion might be in order. But Colon might be fresh out of miracles.
Honorable mention in this category goes to the Phillies, who will finalize their preparations for the playoffs while facing a shaken Braves team.
Player of the Half-Week: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston. Let's say the Red Sox do in fact complete their collapse and miss the playoffs. Now it's time to talk AL MVP. Are you really going to penalize Ellsbury for his team's results?
Ellsbury went deep three times in two games yesterday. He is OPSing over 1.000 for the month of September. What more could he have done?
I'm not saying that Ellsbury is your AL MVP. I'm saying that, when considering him, there's no way in heck you should hold the team's finish against him.
Pitcher of the Half-Week: Jason Motte, St. Louis. The Cards' closer picked up the save Sunday, yet he hasn't enjoyed much of a September. If his teammates give him a lead, can he take it and peacefull close out the lowly Astros?
Farewells of the Week (yes, the full week): It will be a pleasure to bid farewell to Sun Life Stadium, the Miami football stadium that never cut it as a ballpark. Not so much Jack McKeon, 80, who will end his second reign as the Marlins' manager.
No worries, though. Since we know that history repeats itself, wecan look forward to the Marlins calling upon an 86-year-old McKeon to bail them out in July 2017, after Ozzie Guillen tweets, "I'm outta here. I've seen better ownership at the flagship Uno's in Chicago."
--Have a great day.