All of a sudden, the American League playoff race isn't so much a race anymore. Sure, the wild-card spot remains up for grab, with the New York Yankees wrapping their claws around the lead as Seattle continues to flounder and Detroit does its best doggie paddle. The division crowns, however, are as good as fitted.
Since the wild-card era began in 1995, no team in either league has come back from a lead as big as seven games after Sept. 4. The Angels whittled a four-game deficit to take the AL West in 2004. The Twins erased Detroit's five-game advantage last season. And the best comeback of all, Seattle's in the strike-shortened 1995 season, overcame the Angels' 6½-game lead.
To do so took a brilliant final three weeks from the Mariners, who went 17-7, and a 10-13 finish by California – and then Seattle had to win a one-game playoff to capture the postseason berth.
For the AL division leaders this season, mediocrity until the finish line is all it will take to hold on. In 1997, Baltimore had the identical 7½-game lead as Los Angeles currently holds in the West. The Orioles finished 12-13 and still held off the Yankees, who went 17-7, by two games.
So while Cleveland and Boston, ahead in the Central and East, respectively, by seven games, won't rest, it's no time to fret, either. The Indians are the hottest team in baseball, and the Red Sox, winners of four in a row and owners of the game's best record, aren't far behind thanks to their rookies.
All are close enough that the magic-number countdown has begun. Boston's is 17. Cleveland and Los Angeles' is 18. It shouldn't be long before the bubbly pops.
• The problem with midseason lists is knowing that at least one selection is bound to look stupid . Still, to see what Garret Anderson has done – he leads the majors with eight home runs and 27 RBIs since Aug. 21 and would still rank second even if you subtracted his 10-RBI game – makes the accompanying abuse palatable.
Anderson is 35. He looked washed up, injuries keeping him out all of May and two weeks in June. While he's not the Anderson who drove in nearly 500 runs from 2000-2003, he is the Angels' cleanup hitter currently – a pretty good one, Mike DiGiovanna writes.
• Three straight awful outings for San Diego starter Chris Young, at one time an NL Cy Young frontrunner, is bad news for the Padres. Even scarier: The possibility of having him and Greg Maddux on the mound in a first-round series against New York.
What makes the Mets so imposing? Their 179 stolen bases are far and away the most in the major leagues. And Young is historically awful at holding runners on, with Maddux not much better.
Opponents have stolen a major-league-high 32 bases against Young this season. How many have been caught? Zero. He led the majors last season in stolen bases yielded too, with 41, though his catchers managed to nab four. Nearly as bad: Runners are 30 for 32 this year against Maddux.
• Congratulations to the NL Central acolytes who believe their division isn't among the worst even. Three teams are now above .500. As if this weren't reason enough to celebrate, they're within a game of one another.
The NL Central: Taking life at a Jazzy pace in a Lamborghini world.
• Just another ho-hum 4-for-5 night by Matt Kemp, who, at 22, is becoming one of the most dangerous hitters in the NL. When he plays, that is. Dodgers manager Grady Little sat Kemp – who regularly makes boneheaded baserunning mistakes – for four of the last 10 games. In the six he started, Kemp went 12 for 30 with a double, a triple, a home runs, five RBIs, five runs and three stolen bases.
• Cleveland closer Joe Borowski notched his 40th save Tuesday, ensuring him of posting the worst ERA in a 40-save season. Of the 104 times players who have saved 40, no one has come close to Borowski's 5.50 ERA. Antonio Alfonseca, mere dynamite to Borowski's dirty bomb, posted a 4.24 when he saved 45 games for Florida in 2000.
If you subtract his three worst outings – a combined 14 runs over 1 2/3 innings – Borowski's ERA is 3.40, which lines up more with the numbers that matter most: 40 saves in 46 opportunities.
Of course, three of those blown saves came in August. And the idea of Borowski closing out a playoff series makes Indians fans yearn for the days of Jose Mesa.
… AND FLY
- Los Angeles