As the season winds down and the stakes increase, the Stew will take time each Monday (or Tuesday!) to look at the key series and the storylines within.
1. Rays at Red Sox
Sellouts at Fenway Park are nothing new. Tonight's game against the Rays will be the 456th straight contest in which nary a ticket can be had without paying a blood- letting scalper. When the game goes official, it will establish a new MLB record and snatch one more thing away from the folks in Cleveland, who set the record at The Jake from 1995 to 2001. No truth to the rumor that the game will be stopped so that Cal Ripken Jr. can make a celebratory lap around the field.
Back to my original point: Meaningful games against the Rays — for both teams, anyway — are an entirely different matter. Tampa Bay marches into Fenway clinging to a 1.5 game lead in the AL East and all the Chowdaheads who would have been just fine flying under the radar with the AL Wild Card can now smell blood. James Shields isn't scheduled to start any of the the three games, which would prevent a rematch with Coco Crisp. However, we won't need any fisticuffs between the two teams — they've split the season series 6-6 so far — for the matchup to remain relevant.
2. Blue Jays at White Sox (4 games)
Pop quiz: For an out-of-contention team like the Blue Jays, is an end-of-the-year eight-game win streak a) encouraging, b) maddening or c) some sort of combination of the two? If Toronto can win tonight, they win nine in a row for the first time in 10 years. However, the good news for the White Sox is that the past six Jays' wins came north of the border, while the first two came against the Yankees. (Hey, they're in fourth place! Those victories can't possibly count!)
3. Royals at Twins (Starts Tues.)
Getting three against the Royals in the Dome is manna from heaven for the wins-starved Twins. Then again, we thought the same thing about last weekend's series against the Tigers and Minnesota dropped two of three. Sheesh, what ingrates!
Pitching matchup to watch: If the Twins have any designs on taking this AL Central, Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.33) should be going for the sweep against Brandon Duckworth (2-1, 6.60) on Thursday afternoon.
4. Dodgers at Padres
If you need any more evidence that everything is coming up Dodgers these days, consider this nice little scheduling quirk: The Boys in Blue will not face Jake Peavy in their little trip south. Meanwhile, the D'backs draw Tim Lincecum tonight in San Francisco. (Though a positive spin for the Snakes comes in facing Barry Zito on Tuesday.)
5. Yankees at Angels
Who says the Yankees weren't going to be privy to a champagne celebration this season? With the Angels' magic number down to three, they might see many corks a-poppin' while in town. Meanwhile, their elimination numbers sit at 11 (AL East) and 12 (AL wild card).