As the season winds down and the stakes increase, the Stew will take time each Friday to look at the key series and the storylines within.
1. White Sox at Red Sox
For some reason, I'll always think of Chris Berman's bloviating cry over Tony Graffanino's error in Game 2 of the 2005 ALDS whenever these two teams meet. (OHHH YES!)
As for what's at stake, it isn't often that a team can win and still help the team chasing them in the standings, but that's exactly the situation the Pale Hose find themselves with the Twins right behind them. If they beat the Red Sox this weekend, the White Sox maintain their lead in the AL Central and also allow the Twins a chance to cut into Boston's 2.5 game wild card lead. Considering their 1-5 record in the Metrodome this season, that kind of charity may be a Catch-22.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, need to shake off their shock over Josh Beckett's unavailability if they want to cut into Tampa Bay's 4.5 game lead in the AL East.
Pitching matchup to watch: Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-2, 2.98) will take Beckett's spot tonight, but he'll do so on a full four-days rest, thanks to last Monday's off day. He'll face Javier Vazquez (10-11, 4.37), who retired Tampa Bay's first 17 batters last Saturday before resorting to his scheduled implosion.
2. Dodgers at Diamondbacks
Were it any other division, this duel in the desert would've topped the list of weekend must-sees. However, it involves the Dodgers who have lost seven straight (nine of their last 10) and were just swept by the Nationals, the worst team in the National League. It also involves the Snakes, who took advantage of the Dodgers' demise by gaining only 1.5 games in the NL West standings. The D'backs currently lead by 3.5, but with the way this division keeps getting handled like a hot potato, I'm predicting a Dodgers' sweep. There's really no other way this could turn out.
3. Mets at Marlins
At six games behind in the NL East standings, the chances for the Marlins to gain ground are slipping by the day. Only a sweep gets some water back in their gills. As for the Mets, it's a chance to meet the tens of thousands of fans who left New York's winters and never looked back.
4. Phillies at Cubs
This also would've been higher except for the reason that this series may already be half-over by the time you read this. The Cubs reached 50 wins at home with their win over Philadelphia on Thursday night, which is more victories than the Nationals have, period.
5. Twins at Athletics
I'm not sure how Minnesota is going to get itself fired up to play in front of no one at McAfee Coliseum, but they have to find a way. Three games remain in this series and they're already 1-3 at Oakland this season. Perhaps Jack Cust will be too distracted by having his own bobblehead night tonight to do any damage? (Note to self: Look for Cust bobble on eBay come Tuesday morning.)