The Cycle: Rally caps

Ryne Sandberg

Yahoo! Sports' MLB analyst Ryne Sandberg hits on the best series of the weekend – beginning with a matchup of AL wild-card hopefuls – in this week's edition of The Cycle.

More Sandberg:
Making Contact: Writing baseball's wrongs
Baltimore's fall guy

(Statistics and records are through August 4.)

Home run

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 52-56
4th, AL East

at Texas Rangers

Record: 54-53
3rd, AL West

The Orioles are on their last leg. They lost 16 of their last 18 games to fall into fourth place in the AL East, prompting the firing of manager Lee Mazzilli.

Teams can react to loss of their manager in two different ways: They can bond together and move on as a team, or they can let it ruin the rest of their season and finish way behind the pack.

Even though they're 10½ games behind Boston in the AL East and nine games behind AL wild-card leader Oakland, the Orioles have an outside chance of salvaging the season. They can end the year a high note under interim manager Sam Perlozzo and look strong going into 2006.

This will be a true test of the team's character.

Who's hot: Miguel Tejada. The Orioles shortstop is batting .379 over the past week, going 11 for 29. However, he's only driven in one run.

Who's not: Rafael Palmeiro. Obviously. Nobody's had a tougher week than the Orioles first baseman.

Prediction: The Rangers sweep all three games. There are too many distractions for the Orioles to bounce back so quickly.


Atlanta Braves

Record: 63-46
1st, NL East

at St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 68-40
1st, NL Central

This is the best series of the weekend. The two best teams in the NL face off in one of the best baseball cities in the nation. It doesn't get much better than this.

And if you like pitching, it won't get much better than seeing John Smoltz face Mark Mulder on Friday. Both are 12-5, with Smoltz sporting the sixth-best ERA in the NL at 2.66. Mulder, who has a 3.91 ERA, has won his last four decisions.

The Braves are notorious for having their pitchers throw strikes and work ahead in the count. The Cardinals are aggressive hitters that look to drive pitches in every count. It should be an interesting matchup.

Who's hot: Jim Edmonds. The Cardinals center fielder has an eight-game hit streak, hitting .393 (11 for 28) over that span with three home runs and 11 RBIs.

Who's not: Andruw Jones. The Braves center fielder is finally cooling off. He's hitting just .160 (4 for 25) in his last eight games.

Prediction: The Cardinals win two of three games and hit the ball all over the park.


New York Yankees

Record: 57-49
2nd, AL East

at Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 55-52
3rd, AL East

The Blue Jays haven't been in a race for a playoff spot in a long time. Like the Yankees, they're in the AL wild-card hunt, trailing leader Oakland by 5½ games. New York is three games behind the A's.

Not many people are taking notice of Toronto, which has won 10 of its last 15 – including two of three from the White Sox this week. The Jays have solid pitching and go into this weekend's series with rookie Gustavo Chacin, who's 11-5 with a 3.28 ERA. Closer Miguel Batista has quietly recorded 18 saves.

Who's hot: Russ Adams is batting .400 over the past week with five extra-base hits and four RBIs.

Who's not: Jorge Posada. The Yankees catcher has just four hits in the past week.

Prediction: The Blue Jays win two of three games.


Chicago Cubs

Record: 54-54
3rd, NL Central

at New York Mets

Record: 54-54
5th, NL East

Both teams are looking to break out and make a run at the NL wild card. They go into this weekend's three-game series five games behind wild-card leader Houston.

On Friday, the Cubs welcome the return of Kerry Wood, Nomar Garciaparra and Scott Williamson. While most teams are melting in the August heat, these three players have had long breaks and should be fresh and ready to go. This could be the boost the Cubs have been looking for all year.

In the series opener, the Cubs turn to rookie phenom Rich Hill, who has a Barry Zito-like curveball. Hill faces veteran lefty Tom Glavine, and if he can get past the verbal harassment from the Shea Stadium fans, he should settle down and do fine.

Who's hot: The Cubs bullpen. It allowed only one earned run over 9 1/3 innings this week against Philadelphia.

Who's not: Jeromy Burnitz. The Cubs right fielder is batting just .111 in his last nine games.

Prediction: The Cubs win two of three games.

What to Read Next