In a strange, remarkable, gonzo baseball season, it would only make perfect sense if it were to conclude with a little more than half the postseason field settled.
On the final Friday of September, two National League teams – the Chicago Cubs and, whaddya know, Los Angeles Dodgers – are in. Three American League clubs – the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox – are set, waiting on the AL Central, which might not be decided until Tuesday, or until the moment Ozzie Guillen shivs Orlando Cabrera, whichever comes first.
So with three days left in the regular season, or four, or five, here’s what we have:
It looks like the White Sox will have to make up that rainout against the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Then, all the teams still grinding for postseason spots will have played 162. If the AL Central still lacks a winner, the White Sox and Twins would play Tuesday in Chicago.
If it seems unusual for there to be a non-division-series game going on two days after the regular season, you should know it might not be the only one. Were the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers to play to a three-way tie, the Phillies would host the Mets on Monday to determine the NL East winner, and the loser would host the Brewers to decide the NL wild card.
Here’s what else: They’re all playing at home this weekend, meaning full or reasonably full ballparks, meaning full-throated bottoms of the ninth, meaning drama well into Sunday afternoon.
U.S. Cellular Field: White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians. Orlando Cabrera is griping, Nick Swisher is moping and the White Sox just lost three games in Minnesota. John Danks will go tonight for the White Sox, and the schedule sets up for Javier Vazquez and Mark Buehrle to follow. Figure Gavin Floyd to start Monday, assuming that game is necessary. The Indians have cooled off, having lost their last three in Boston this week. Twenty-two-game winner Cliff Lee is scheduled for Sunday.
Metrodome: Twins vs. Kansas City Royals. Winners of four in a row, the ever-resilient Twins start Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins and Scott Baker. They have won 11 of 15 against the Royals this season.
Citizens Bank Park: Phillies vs. Washington Nationals. With a one-game lead in the division and, therefore, any wild-card scenarios, they’ve lined up Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels. The Nats are sitting on 99 losses.
Shea Stadium: Mets vs. Florida Marlins. Where it all ended a year ago for the Mets, the same annoying Marlins across the field. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese and Johan Santana get the starts. The question is, who finishes?
Miller Park: Brewers vs. Cubs. We’ll see how Lou Piniella plays it, but Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez sat out Thursday’s game in New York. As I see it, Piniella has zero responsibility to the integrity of the playoff races. If the Mets and Phillies don’t like it, they should have won more games and clinched earlier. The Brewers’ rotation is a mess. Jeff Suppan pitches tonight and CC Sabathia, pitching on short rest for his third consecutive game, likely would go Sunday. On Saturday, Ben Sheets or Dave Bush, depending on the status of Sheets’ bum elbow.
Spoiler alert: The White Sox don’t seem to be in a good place right now, neither in terms of their baseball nor their spirits. Tonight they face rookie left-hander Scott Lewis, a September call-up who has won his first three starts.
Who’s your Vladdy?: A big man who plays hard and swings harder, Vladimir Guerrero in recent seasons has arrived in September feeling the toll of at-bats and innings in his body parts, this season in his right knee. Away from the final-week division and wild-card race goings-on, Guerrero has mostly rested since the Angels secured the AL West, but played eight innings in right field and hit two home runs Thursday against the Mariners. Despite infrequent participation in the second half of the month, Guerrero has batted .422 and carried a .472 on-base percentage in September, the Angels hoping this means Guerrero can produce in October. He’s been terrible in the postseason, batting .183 with one home run in 16 games. Six of those games – over division series in 2004 and 2007 – have come against the Red Sox, against whom he has four hits (three singles) in 22 at-bats. The Angels look like they’ll get the Red Sox again. Maybe having Mark Teixeira hit in front of him will change Guerrero’s postseason fortunes, and maybe they won’t: Teixeira, who has never been to the playoffs, has a career average against the Red Sox of .232.
Mets bullpen moment of the day: Ricardo Rincon replaced Pedro Martinez with two on and none out in Thursday night’s game against the Cubs and on his first pitch surrendered a three-run home run to Micah Hoffpauir. The Mets subsequently made up the three-run deficit plus one more, but it’s a dangerous way to live. Bullpen ERA for September: 4.14.
Tonight: The Brewers would love to have an alternative, but they’ll start Suppan against the Cubs, who counter with Ryan Dempster. In four September starts, Suppan has lost three times (the Brewers have lost all four) and allowed 20 runs in 16 1/3 innings. Suppan was 4-1 for them last September. They need that guy back.