Pennant Race Fever: September 14
This has not been a good season for pennant races compared to last year. On this date last season the Rays were one game ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and the Mets were one game ahead of the Phillies in the NL East.
The White Sox were holding onto a slim one and-a-half game lead in the AL Central over the second place Twins. In the NL West the Dodgers were four and-a-half games ahead of the Diamondbacks.
The Angels in the AL West had already eliminated all the other teams in their division and had a commanding nineteen and-a-half game lead over the Rangers.
Last season on this date the Cubs were seven and-a-half games ahead of the Brewers and would clinch the NL Central a week later.
This is a division by division breakdown after yesterday’s games:
AL East: The AL East race got a couple games closer last week as the Red Sox moved to within seven games of the Yankees. The Yankees have 92 wins this season which is six more than the next best Angels with 86.
The Red Sox have won five in a row and host the Angels in a three game series starting Tuesday. Then they travel to play the Orioles and Royals, the last place teams in the AL East and AL Central before playing the Yankees for the last time.
So it is conceivable that the race could be a lot closer if the Red Sox could win two of three from the Angels and then dominate the Orioles and Royals. They can make up some ground playing 14 of their remaining 20 games against teams with losing records.
AL Central: The Tigers have lost five of their last six games but only lost a game of their lead in the AL Central. The Tigers have been 5-5 in their last ten games while the second place Twins have been 4-6 and the White Sox 6-4 in that time span.
The Tigers have seven games remaining against the Twins and six with the White Sox giving them 13 games of their final 20 games against the closest contenders.
The Twins and White Sox need to get back to .500 baseball before they can be taken too seriously with the Twins one game under .500 and the White Sox two games under.
One thing in the favor of the White Sox is that they can control their own destiny having six games against the Tigers and three games with the Twins among their last 12 games of the season.
AL West: The Angels have a six game lead over the Rangers in the AL West with the Angels and Rangers playing each other seven more times this season so Rangers are not out of the race yet. The magic number for the Rangers to be eliminated is 15.
NL East: The Phillies are six and-a-half games ahead of the second place Marlins in the NL East. The Braves are seven and-a-half games out of first after winning four games in a row.
The Phillies have six games remaining against the Marlins and three games with the Braves and host the Marlins for a three game set to end the season.
It won’t be an easy road for the Marlins with 12 of their last 19 games against the Cardinals, Phillies and Braves. Worst of all they play their final six games on the road against the Braves and Phillies.
NL Central: The Cardinals have the widest lead in the majors with a nine and-a-half game lead over the Cubs with their magic number to eliminate the Cubs at 11.
They face the Cubs for the last time in a three game series starting next Friday. The last week of the season will have them facing the Reds and Brewers.
There are 21 games remaining on the Cubs schedule with only one day off a week from today. They will have played 24 games with that lone day off by the end of the season.
One consolation for the Cubs is that they play the Pirates and Diamondbacks in their last seven games of the season.
However they will be in San Francisco to play the Giants in a four game series before the Pirates series. The Giants series should be a well pitched series since the Giants are second in NL in ERA while the Cubs are fifth.
NL West: The Dodgers are holding on to a slim three game lead in the NL West over the Rockies. The Dodgers have been 29-27 since the All Star break after having a 56-32 record before the break.
The schedule maker has been kind to the Dodgers with 12 of their remaining 18 games against the last place Pirates, Nationals and Padres.
They host the Giants for a three game series next Friday and then finish the season at home against the Rockies. That series could determine the NL West champion if the two teams are three games or less apart when the series starts.
Today the the Rockies will get a real test as they face the Giants in San Francisco in a three game series. They are scheduled to face Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain in the series. The Rockies will counter with Jason Hamel, Ubaldo Jiminez and Jorge De La Rosa.
At the time of the All Star break the Rockies were 47-41 and now are 82-62 for a 35-21 record since the break. Six of their last nine games will be against the Cardinals and a season ending series with Dodgers in Los Angeles.
Diamond Notes: Ichiro Suzuki became the first player in the 140 year history of the major leagues to post nine consecutive 200 hit seasons yesterday. He broke the record of Wee Willie Keeler who had the old record of eight consecutive seasons of 200 hits.
Suzuki has missed 16 games this season making it even more remarkable that he got his 200th hit with three weeks left in the season.
Pete Rose had 200 hits ten times in his 24 year career but Ichiro has done it in his first nine seasons. He currently has 2005 lifetime hits and will need to play through the age of 40 to have 3000 hits since he will be 36 next month.
C.C. Sabathia still has a chance of winning 20 games this season after winning his 17th game yesterday against the Orioles yesterday. The Yankees have 18 games remaining so Sabathia should get three more starts.
Derek Jeter needs eight hits to reach 200 hits for the sixth time in his career. His teammate Robinson Cano is 17 hits short of 200 hits which would be the first time in his career to have 200 hits.
The Yankees have three players with at least 25 home runs with Mark Teixeira with 35, Nick Swisher with 26 and Alex Rodriguez with 25. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are one short of 25 with 24 each. Robinson Cano needs two more homers to make six Yankees with over 25 homers assuming Damon and Matsui will get their 25th.
Brian Duensing (3-1) pitched seven scoreless innings as the Twins shutout the A’s 8-0. Duensing was inserted into the Twins starting rotation on August 22 and has won his last three decisions. He pitched seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on September 2 but didn’t receive the decision.
White Sox took an early 2-0 lead in the first inning against the Angels but lost 3-2. Mark Buehrle (12-8) lost for the fifth time in his last six decisions but allowed only two earned runs in seven innings yesterday. He has pitched well enough to win four games since his July 23 no-hitter against the Tigers.
Scott Podsednik was 0-5 in the leadoff spot which negated a 2-5 game for Gordon Beckham and 2-3 game by Paul Konerko behind Podsednik in the batting order.
The Tampa Bay Rays dropped a doubleheader yesterday to the Red Sox extending their losing streak to 11 consecutive games. Last year’s AL East champion Rays are 19 and-a-half games behind the Yankees and are in third place.
Kyle Kendrick took advantage of a doubleheader start to win his first start of the 2009 season in the 5-4 win over the Mets. Brad Lidge posted his 29th save of the season but not before allowing 2 runs and three hits in the ninth inning and his ERA rose to 7.18.
The Braves defeated the Cardinals posting their fourth straight win with a 9-2 victory. Javier Vazquez (13-9) pitched a complete game while striking out eight batters. He outpitched Chris Carpenter (16-4) who was rocked for seven runs in six innings.
Vazquez is poised to become the active leader in career strikeouts. At 32 he is sixth among active pitchers in strikeouts with 2231 and almost a lock to strikeout 3000 batters.
Randy Johnson leads all active pitchers with 4,869 strikeouts at the age of 46. Pedro Martinez is 37 and has 3,151 strikeouts. John Smoltz is 42 and is third with with 3,072 strikeouts.
Tom Glavine is fourth with 2,607 strikeouts at the age of 43. Jamie Moyer is 46 and has 2,333 strikeouts.
All five of those pitchers should be retired in the next year or two. Johan Santana at the age of 30 is the next youngest to Vazquez and is almost 600 strikeouts behind Vazquez.
Roy Halladay is also 32 but is 761 strikeouts behind Vazquez. Unless Vazquez has health problems he should lead all active pitchers in strikeouts till he retires.
Ted Lilly (12-8) and the Cubs took advantage of the Cardinals losing yesterday by defeating the Reds 5-2. Since returning from the disabled list on August 17 Lilly has had a 3-1 record. He also pitched well in his two no decision games since returning to the Cubs lineup.
On August 17 he pitched six scoreless innings against the Padres then on August 28 he pitched seven and-a-third innings of two run baseball against the Mets.
Derrek Lee hit his 32nd homer of the 2009 season in the contest. Just when it looked like he couldn’t get any hotter he has hit six homers in 38 at bats in September. It took him 107 at bats in August to hit six homers.
He may not win the NL MVP but he is definitely the MVP for the Cubs this season.
At the time when the Cubs need him the most he has hit .395, had an OBP of .465 and slugged .921 for the month of September.
The real suprise has been that he has hit only three of his home runs against lefthanded pitchers which is unusual considering he is a righthanded hitter while he has hit 29 against righthanded pitchers.
At the end of April he had one home run and ten runs batted in and was hitting .189. Now he has finally raised his average over .300 during the Reds series to .302 after yesterday’s game. Lee needs three runs batted in to have 100 runs batted in for the second time in his career.