Pivotal matchups further separating October-bound teams
The week ahead could be pivotal for a few teams’ postseason chances, particularly the Milwaukee Brewers and the New York Yankees.
The reeling Brewers, who have dropped 20 of their last 30 games to fall into second place in the National League Central Division, own the best home record (40-25) in the National League, but after completing a 1-5 homestand on Sunday to fall one game behind the Chicago Cubs, the Brewers go back on the road where they are 13 games under .500 this season.
The Brewers head west to take on the hottest team in baseball, Arizona, before going on to San Francisco for three against the Giants this weekend.
For the Brewers, the importance of having a good week is underscored considering their nine-game trip ends with a three-game set next week against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They face a formidable task. While they’re in Phoenix the Brewers will face Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Webb, who will be seeking to extend his string of 42 consecutive scoreless innings.
The Yankees also hit the road, but unlike Milwaukee, will be heading west on a positive note after taking three of four from Detroit.
New York begins the trip with three games against the American League West Division-leading Angels before heading east to Detroit where they’ll take on the Tigers in a four-game weekend series. When the Yankees finish the series in Detroit, they’ll head home to complete this stretch of 14 consecutive games against teams with winning records with a three-game series against the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.
A good week against the Angels and Tigers could give New York added momentum heading into September. After this week, the Yankees will have only two road trips remaining and just six remaining road games against teams with winning records — three at both Boston and Toronto next month.
The road to October has potential speed bumps for other contenders in the week ahead.
AL Wild Card-leader Seattle heads to Minnesota to take on the always dangerous Twins. AL Central-leader Cleveland travels to Detroit for a showdown series against the Tigers.
National League Wild Card-leader San Diego visits New York for a series against the NL East-leading Mets and the NL Central-leading Cubs follow the Brewers to Phoenix for a series against the NL West-leading Diamondbacks. The Padres also tangle with the Phillies, currently a game out in the Wild Card race.
Here’s the lineup:
Brewers at Diamondbacks, Monday-Wednesday: Two potential playoff teams that have been heading in opposite directions in recent weeks meet in the desert for what could be a playoff preview. Milwaukee has spent 125 days in first place in the NL Central, but began play Sunday in second place, one game behind the Cubs. The Brewers are 17-29 since June 28. The NL West-leading Diamondbacks are the hottest team in baseball, having won 21 of their last 27.
The Brewers will go with right-hander Yovani Gallardo (4-3, 4.84) in the opener against former Brewer Doug Davis (10-10, 3.92). Gallardo has hit the skids after a promising start. The 21-year-old gave up 11 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in his previous start against the Rockies and has gone 1-2 with a 10.35 ERA in his past four starts. He had a 2.18 ERA after his first eight appearances of the season — five of them starts. Davis has won his last five decisions and the D-backs have won his last seven starts. The Brewers have tabbed Dave Bush (9-9, 5.01) to start the middle game of the series against Arizona right-hander Livan Hernandez (9-7, 4.86).
In the series finale, Webb (13-8, 2.63) tries to extend his string of scoreless innings against Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan (8-10, 4.89). Webb hasn’t allowed a run in his last 42 consecutive innings, the second-longest streak since division play began in 1969. Former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser owns the record with 59. Webb has tossed shutouts in each of his last three starts, the first pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens in 1998.
Yankees at Angels, Monday-Wednesday: This three-game series at Angel Stadium will have a bearing on three playoff races — the AL East, AL West and AL Wild Card. The Yankees, 27-11 since the All-Star break, trail Boston by four games in the AL East and Seattle by one-half game in the Wild Card standings. The Angels are in first place in the AL West.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-1, 4.44) is slated to start the series opener against Angels right-hander Dustin Moseley (4-2, 4.84). Two veteran right-handers, New York’s Mike Mussina (8-8, 4.76) and L.A.’s Kelvim Escobar (13-6, 2.68), go head-to-head on Tuesday. The best pairing of the series is on tap for Wednesday when Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-7, 3.80) takes on Angels right-hander John Lackey (15-7, 3.32). Lackey is 4-6 lifetime with a 4.90 ERA in 12 outings against New York.
Mariners at Twins, Monday-Wednesday: Seattle is leading the AL Wild Card by a half game and is two games behind the Angels in the AL West. The Twins, six games out in the AL Central, face an uphill fight to get into the forefront of the playoff picture, and winning a series against a team like the Mariners would be a step in the right direction.
Mariners lefty Horacio Ramirez (7-4, 7.38) will go against Twins right-hander Matt Garza (2-3, 2.05) in Game 1 with another Seattle lefty, Jarrod Washburn (8-10, 4.16), facing Twins right-hander Scott Baker (6-5, 4.53) on Tuesday. Washburn hasn’t won since before the All-Star break, but has nine quality starts in 12 career starts against the Twins. A pair of right-handers, Seattle’s Miguel Batista (13-8, 4.14) and Minnesota’s Carlos Silva (9-12, 4.17) are scheduled to start Wednesday’s game.
Indians at Tigers, Tuesday-Thursday: These two teams have been locked in a seesaw battle for the top spot in the AL Central, and they continue the fight with three games at Comerica Park. The second-place Tigers trail the division-leading Indians by 1 1/2 games.
Cleveland will send right-hander Fausto Carmona (14-7, 3.16) to the hill for Game 1 against Detroit rookie right-hander Jair Jurrjens (0-1, 5.14) in a rematch of their meeting last week at Jacobs Field won by Carmona. On Wednesday, the Indians will go with right-hander Paul Byrd (11-5, 4.41) against Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander (13-4, 3.63). Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook (4-7, 4.75) will start Thursday’s series finale against Detroit’s Nate Robertson (7-10, 5.13).
Dodgers at Phillies, Tuesday-Thursday: Two teams in the hunt in their respective division races and the Wild Card collide for a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park. Brett Tomko (2-10, 5.67) will start Tuesday against Philadelphia right-hander Kyle Kendrick (5-3, 3.94). The Dodgers will go with Derek Lowe (9-11, 3.45) on Wednesday against lefty Cole Hamels (14-5, 3.50), while the final game of the series will match two right-handers, Chad Billingsley (7-4, 3.63) of the Dodgers and J.D. Durbin (5-2, 5.36) of the Phillies.
Padres at Mets, Tuesday-Thursday: The Mets are attempting to hold off Philadelphia and Atlanta in the NL East, while the Padres are trying to catch Arizona in the NL West as well as improve their Wild Card lead in a three-game series with obvious postseason implications.
All-Star right-hander and Major League ERA leader Chris Young (9-4, 1.93) will go against New York’s John Maine (13-7, 3.59) in the opener, while San Diego’s Clay Hensley (2-3, 6.70) is matched against Mets right-hander Brian Lawrence (1-0, 5.06) on Wednesday. San Diego right-hander Jake Peavy (13-5, 2.19) is scheduled to start Thursday’s game against a New York starter to be determined.
Yankees at Tigers, Friday-Monday: The Yankees took three of four over the weekend at Yankee Stadium, and this time they will tangle in a four-game series at Comerica Park in a clash that could impact the playoff picture. The Yankees will go with Roger Clemens (5-5, 3.92) in Friday’s opener, but the rest of the series pairings are undecided.
Padres at Phillies, Friday-Sunday: The Padres continue their East Coast swing against a team they lead by a scant game in the Wild Card standings.
Dodgers at Mets, Friday-Sunday: Another three-gamer that will have a bearing on multiple playoff races.
Cubs at Diamondbacks, Friday-Sunday: Yet another potential playoff preview as the NL Central-leading Cubs visit the the West-leading Diamondbacks for a three-game series at Chase Field.
Also check out:
• Cardinals at Cubs, Monday: The series finale between the two NL Central Division rivals. St. Louis right-hander Joel Pineiro (3-2, 4.25), one of the reasons behind the Cardinals’ recent resurgence, takes on Chicago’s Ted Lilly (13-5, 3.74) in a 2:20 p.m. ET game at Wrigley Field.
• Braves at Reds, Monday: Braves right-hander Tim Hudson (14-5, 3.02) has won eight consecutive decisions and is 8-0 with a 2.49 ERA in his last 10 starts. Phil Dumatrait (0-1, 10.32) gets the start for Cincinnati in this 7:10 p.m. game at Great American Ball Park.
• Red Sox at Devil Rays, Monday: Boston’s Tim Wakefield (14-10, 4.55), who held Tampa Bay to two hits over eight scoreless innings on Monday, has won nine of his last 12 starts. Against the Devil Rays, the knuckleballer is 18-2 with a 2.83 ERA, including 8-0 with a 2.33 ERA at Tropicana Field. Wakefield draws a very tough assignment in Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir (9-7, 3.44), who has allowed just one run in his last 25 innings and brings a string of seven consecutive quality starts into this 7:10 p.m. game.
• Royals at White Sox, Monday: Neither team is in the playoff picture, but if you like pitching duels you might want to check this one out. Kansas City right-hander Gil Meche (7-11, 3.90) goes against Chicago left-hander Mark Buehrle (9-8, 3.36) in an 8:11 p.m. game at U.S. Cellular Field.
• Red Sox at White Sox, Thursday
Boston’s Josh Beckett (15-5, 3.15) goes after his 16th win against White Sox lefty John Danks (6-11, 5.30) in an 8:11 p.m. game at the Cell.
Milestone of the week: Toronto’s Frank Thomas needs one RBI to pass Hall of Famer Tony Perez for 21st place on the all-time list. The two are tied with 1,652 career runs batted in.
Factoid of the week: According to STATS LLC, the 20 teams with the best second-half winning percentages over the last 10 years all made the playoffs. That bodes well for this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks (.688) and New York Yankees (.686) — the two teams with the best second-half winning percentages so far this season. Since 1997, only four teams had higher second-half winning percentages than this year’s Diamondbacks and Yankees — the 2001 and ’02 A’s (.773 and .716, respectively), the ’99 Diamondbacks (.712) and the 2001 Mariners (.707).
Observation of the week: The Brewers, who blew a 5-0 lead in a 7-6 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, have been in free-fall since the end of June, and dropping two of three to the Reds was merely the latest installment. The Brewers are 17-29 in their last 46 games and 10-20 in their last 30. While the entire team bears responsibility for the slide, a major culprit has been a pitching staff that slumped in the second half and really hit a wall in August. So far this month, the Brewers staff has allowed six runs or more a dozen times in 17 games. Not surprisingly, the team record is 5-12 during that span.