As the Labor Day weekend arrives, we're being met with a number of series that will leave an impact on the division and wild card chases across the league. Here's a quick look at a few of them.
Texas at Minnesota Ah, life in the AL West. The Rangers trail the Twins by one game in the loss column in the race for the AL's No. 2 seed, but hold a lead over Oakland that's almost three times as strong as Minnesota's grip on Chicago.
Not that the Rangers will be taking it easy on their second trip to Target Field. They were swept there back in May and will be looking to make a claim on that second spot, which would guarantee them homefield advantage in the ALDS and keep them away from the winner of the AL East for at least a round. (Not that facing the wild card will be any easier, but at least they'd be starting at home.)
The Twins, meanwhile, need their pitching staff to quickly rebound from Thursday night's debacle against Detroit. Nick Blackburn(notes) had to pitch in extra innings, so Matt Fox (no, not the guy from LOST) is being called up from Rochester to start the series opener. Just in time to welcome Josh Hamilton(notes) and Ian Kinsler(notes) back to the Rangers lineup. Lucky guy.
Chicago at Boston Manny Ramirez(notes) makes his second trip to Fenway in a non-Red Sox uniform — he'll reportedly show up with shorter dreads — but the better story should be tonight's matchup between John Danks(notes) (12-9, 3.65) and Clay Buchholz(notes) (15-5, 2.21). At 3.5 games behind Minnesota, the Pale Hose need to pile up series wins from here on out.
Cincinnati at St. Louis Outside of Joey Votto(notes) vs. Albert Pujols(notes) for the NL MVP, it's hard to believe that this series no longer has the importance it once had. Since sweeping the Reds the second week of August, the Cardinals have gone 5-13. The Reds, meanwhile, have gone 14-4 to open an eight-game lead. They'll still have a five-game lead even if they're swept at Busch Stadium, but winning all three is an absolute must for the Cardinals if they have any designs on coming back. These two won't meet again all season.
Colorado at San Diego A seven-game slump and a NL West lead that's down to three? Returning to Petco Park will fix everything, say the Padres. That's a nice sentiment, though you'd feel better about things if the team wasn't kicking off the homestand with a rookie pitcher (Cory Luebke(notes)) making his major league debut. The Rox, meanwhile, need to kick into 2007 mode if they're going to make up either the 7.5 games in the NL West or 6.5 games in the NL wild card. There's plenty of leapfroggin' to be done.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Get this: Barry Zito(notes) and Chad Billingsley(notes) have already found themselves faced against each other three times this season and tonight marks the fifth. If the past is any indication, expect a pitcher's duel. Zito is 0-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his starts against Los Angeles this season, while Billingsley is 1-0 with a 0.83 ERA against the Giants. San Francisco has pulled to within three games of San Diego and a good performance this week could put them in position to take control of the division during next weekend's trip to Petco.
Toronto at New York, Tampa Bay at Baltimore Swear I want to pretend like these matter just as much, but let's be honest: The AL East is going to be decided over the two series the Yankees and Rays are still going to play. They're in Tampa from Sept. 13-15 and New York from Sept. 20-22.
New York at Chicago Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention. But I am going to cut out of here a little early to escort some out-of-towners to Wrigley Field for a Randy Wells(notes)-R.A. Dickey matchup that they'll undoubtedly remember for the rest of their lives.
Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend, everyone!