MLB General

The Full Count: Yankees only team not swept

1. That was easy: The Red Sox dismantled the Angels, one of the league’s best teams during the regular season, completing a 3-0 sweep on Sunday. They became the third team to win by a sweep in the first round of these playoffs. Boston outscored Los Angeles 19-4 in the series, with three great pitching performances. Curt Schilling, who has a career 1.93 ERA in the postseason including the 2001 co-World Series MVP, pitched seven shutout innings in game 3. He followed up solid efforts from Dice-K and Josh Beckett, who when combined form the best pitching trio left in the playoffs. Their dominance of the Angels was surprising, especially considering the Angels had three great starters of their own. However, their bullpen was disappointing, and their offense couldn’t continue their success from the regular season. The Red Sox, who have been widely considered the best team since the start of the season, proved once again that they are with this overwhelming effort against a good team. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who both weren’t their usual selves for most of the regular season, had a dominant series. Ramirez hit the game-winning home run in game 2, while Ortiz had two long balls and hit .714 for the series. As things stand right now, if the World Series results in anything but a Red Sox victory it will be a surprise.

2. You’re (Almost) Fired: There were reports that George Steinbrenner might fire manager Joe Torre if the Yankees don’t win their series against the Indians. After losing the first two games, the Yankees might have saved their manager’s job with an 8-4 win in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. The fact that Torre’s job may be in jeopardy is absolutely ridiculous. He has taken the Yankees to the playoffs every year since joining the team, brought four World Series titles to New York, and did an excellent job this season in turning a losing team through the first half of the season into a force. Regardless of whether this would have happened, the Yankees did pull of a much-needed win over the Tribe. Roger Clemens was pulled in the third after allowing three runs, the Yankees scored seven combined runs in the fifth and sixth innings and never looked back. Johnny Damon had four RBIs including a three-run homerun. Phil Hughes and the bullpen were great in relief of Clemens. Even A-Rod cranked out two hits, his first of the series. Now the Yankees need to win game 4 on Monday to force a decisive game 5 in Cleveland.

MLB General

The Full Count: First round picks

The Tie is Broken: The Rockies and Padres played a rather excellent tiebreaker game that decided who is moving into the playoffs and who is staying home. The game lasted 13 innings, with the Rockies winning 9-8 in dramatic fashion. The Padres scored 2 runs in the 13th off Scott Hariston’s homer, but the Rockies came back in the bottom half of the inning against Trevor Hoffman. They scored three runs to win the game, with Matt Holliday getting the winning run on a close play at the plate. Holliday secured the NL batting title, and also passed Ryan Howard for the NL RBI title with his performance on Monday. The MVP candidate went 2-6 with 2 RBIs, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki was even better with a 4-7, three run effort. The Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam early in the game to give himself 30 homers and 100 RBIs on the year. Both starters in this contest were lit up early on. Jake Peavy raised his ERA from 2.36 to 2.54 by allowing six runs in six innings. The Rockies’ Josh Fogg gave up five runs in four innings, but was bailed out by an excellent performance from the bullpen. The Rockies, who won 14 of 15 games to win the wild card, are completely deserving of their playoff spot.

Match Me Up: The first round matchups have been finalized, and there are multiple intriguing games across the board. The Red Sox-Angels series will feature two of the league’s best pitching staffs. On Wednesday Beckett vs. Lackey will kick off this showdown. The other AL matchup, Yankees-Indians, is no less interesting. The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball and have by far its best lineup, but the Indians are very balanced and tied the Red Sox for the best regular season record. The NL matchups, though the teams aren’t nearly as good as those in the AL, should also provide for some good baseball. The Phillies-Rockies has great potential, as these were the two highest-scoring teams in the NL this season. Also, both teams are red-hot, having to earn their way into the playoffs by making late-season comebacks. The Diamondbacks-Cubs will be a matchup of two great pitching staffs. Here are my picks for the first round series:

Angels over Red Sox in 5.
Yankees over Indians in 5.
Phillies over Rockies in 4.
Cubs over D-backs in 5.

MLB General

The Full Count: Two postseason slots officially filled

1. Lock it Up, Part 1: The Indians, who have the best record in baseball by a half-game, became one of the first two teams to clinch their division on Sunday. They beat the A’s 6-2, keeping their 7.5 game lead in the division with only seven games left to play. Grady Sizemore went 4-4 and Jake Westbrook had nine strikeouts as the Indians rolled once again. The Indians are one of three teams in baseball to rank in the top ten in runs scored and ERA–Boston and Atlanta are the others. This is the balance that has led the team to such success this season. Though slugger Travis Hafner has had a down year, Victor Martinez has established himself as perhaps the game’s best-hitting catcher. The rotation, with aces Fausto Carmona and CC Sabathia in addition to the resurgent Westbrook, rivals that of Los Angeles and Boston. Though the other AL playoff teams have received more attention, the Indians will be just as much of a force in the playoffs.

2. Lock it Up, Part 2: On the same day the Indians clinched the AL Central, the Angels locked up the AL West with their 92nd win. Fittingly, ace John Lackey picked up the win. It was the 18th victory of the year for Lackey, as he struck out 7 and allowed 2 runs in 7 innings. He is part of an Angels’ rotation that is just as balanced as the Indians’. With Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver joining Lackey, along with a superb bullpen, the Angels have one of the league’s best overall pitching staffs. They have had the lead in their division basically from the start of the season, holding off Seattle despite numerous charges by the pesky Mariners. Their division-clinching win on Sunday was in fact over the Mariners, who have put together a great season but are no match for Los Angeles. The Angels will now be vying for the top overall seed in the American League playoffs, though it doesn’t really matter considering every AL playoff team is a force to be reckoned with.

3. It’s (Almost) Over: Barring a spectacular collapse, the Cubs will be playoff-bound for the first time since 2003. They swept the Pirates over the weekend while the Brewers struggled with the Braves. This gave Chicago a 3.5 game lead, which will likely be impossible to pass for the near-cinderella Brewers. The Cubs are the only team even nearly deserving of a playoff spot from the NL Central. Their `big three’ in the lineup is one of the best in the NL with Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, and Alfonso Soriano. More impressive is their pitching, which has five solid starters. Though many will likely write off the Cubs once they reach the playoffs, they actually have the tools to win the pennant. In a year where no team is even close to dominant in the NL, the Cubs could surprise everyone.

Player of the Day: Mike Mussina, Yankees: 7 innings, 3 runs, 5 strikeouts in a 7-5 win over Toronto. Mussina, who won his 250th career game, is 3-0 since returning to the rotation after temporary demotion. The Yanks are now 1.5 games back of Boston, though it doesn’t really matter who wins the division as both will make the playoffs.

MLB General

The Full Count: Fighting it out atop the AL

1. Becoming the Best: The Red Sox’s recent struggles mean two things. First, the Yankees are closing in on them (more on that later). Also, two other teams have caught up to them for the league’s best record. The Indians and Angels, both at 90-62, have the same number of wins as Boston with one less loss. They both have huge leads in their respective divisions and are on three game winning streaks. The Indians just swept the Tigers to virtually lock up their division. The Tigers, who could have closed the gap in the division with a sweep themselves, instead find themselves 7.5 games back. Cleveland’s 4-2 victory on Wednesday included CC Sabathia’s 18th win of the season. The Angels completed a sweep of the Devil Rays, who on Thursday lost their 90th game for the 10th straight season, an MLB record. The Angels, who improved to 52-25 at home this season, also have a commanding lead in their division. They are up by 8.5 games on the Mariners despite Seattle’s three-game winning streak. Both of these teams, though they get less attention than the Yankees or Red Sox, have a solid shot at winning the World Series.

2. The Yankees Draw Closer: This AL East division race, one-sided for most of this season, is finally getting interesting. The Yankees, with four straight wins, have climbed to 1.5 games back of the once-untouchable Red Sox. They beat the Orioles 2-1 thanks to Andy Pettitte’s strong pitching, completing a sweep of lowly Baltimore. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were swept by the Blue Jays, giving them their fifth loss of their last six games. The Yankees, who were 14.5 games back at one point this season, could make the largest divisional comeback since 1969 if they win it. Even if they don’t, they are guaranteed the wild card anyway.

3. Another Day, Another Win: The Padres are the hottest team in baseball right now, with six straight wins. They are still 1 game back of the Diamondbacks for the division lead. They beat the Pirates 5-3 on Thursday thanks to a walk-off three run homerun by Scott Hariston. If they win on Thursday it will be their second straight sweep. The D-backs are still holding on, as won a series against the Giants; however, the Padres are playing better right now. This is yet another divisional race that is going down to the wire.

Player of the Day: Matt Holliday, Rockies: 2-3, 2 HRs (35), 2 RBIs in a 6-5 win over the Dodgers. Holliday would be the easy choice for MVP if he played on a first place team. He is leading the league in batting average (.340) and RBIs (128), and has 11 homeruns in the month of September.

MLB General

The Full Count: Padres making headway in NL West

1. Super San Diego: The Padres have won four games in a row, sending them to only one game back of the Diamondbacks for the NL West lead. San Diego started out a four game series with the lowly Pirates by winning 3-0, while the Diamondbacks lost 5-8 to the Giants. Rookie pitcher Jack Cassel was key for the Padres, with no runs or walks allowed in six innings. San Diego’s bullpen was good as usual with three near-perfect innings. The D-backs, with ace Brandon Webb pitching, still lost to San Francisco. Reliever Tony Pena, who has been great this season, was shelled for 5 runs and 2 homers in less than an inning. Arizona needs to watch out if they want to hold on to their division lead, which is looking less secure than it has been for a month.

2. It’s Getting Wilder: The NL Wild Card race, still led by the aforementioned Padres, is heating up. The Phillies and Dodgers are both within three games of the lead. The Phillies, who are 1.5 back and have won 5 straight, had a crazy 13-11 win over the Cardinals on Monday. They got out to an 11-0 lead, as Ryan Howard hit two homers to give him 40 on the season in addition to 5 RBIs. Jimmie Rollins and Aaron Rowand also homered early on. Then the Cards came back thanks to three RBIs each by Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick. The Phils held on for the win though, sending the Cardinals to their 9th loss in 10 games. Philly is now only 2.5 games behind the Mets for the division lead, though the wild card seems more likely right now. The Dodgers, who are third in the wild card standings, did not play on Monday.

3. Almost Locked Up: The Angels are the team closest to clinching their division in all of baseball. Their magic number is 5, lowest in the league. The Angels just keep on winning, while Seattle’s collapse in late-August made the race uncompetitive. The Angels lead the Mariners by 8.5 games after another win. They beat the Devil Rays 10-7 despite another bad start by Kelvim Escobar. Escobar allowed five or more runs for the fourth time in his last six starts. This streak has increased his ERA from 2.68 to 3.46, though his record is oddly 2-1 in these starts. The Angels are known more for their pitching, but it has been their offense that has carried them recently. They have scored double digit runs 11 times since the All Star break. Their offense has scored the fifth-most runs in the majors despite almost no power hitters. They only rank 27th in homers this year, though their .287 team batting average, which is second only to the Yankees, is a much better indicator of how good this offense really is.

Player of the Day: Frank Thomas, Blue Jays: 3-4, 3 HRs (25), 5 RBIs in a 6-1 win over the Red Sox.

MLB General

The Full Count: Big Papi does it again

1. One Man Show: Last year David Ortiz carried the Red Sox to victory in many games. This year this has not been a common occurrence, though he did single-handedly beat the Devil Rays on Wednesday. Big Papi had two homers and five RBIs, driving in all of Boston’s runs in a 5-4 win. His walk off home run in the ninth was the 9th of his career, giving Boston their 89th win. Ortiz arguably should have won the MVP either of the last two years, though this year he isn’t even close. Though he’s hitting a career-best .321, Ortiz’s 31 homers and 104 RBI are not even close to his usual output, nor the totals of the leading candidates. He is having an excellent month so far, and should be a force in the playoffs.

2. The Amazing Angels: The Los Angeles Angels just keep piling on the wins. They’ve already virtually secured a playoff spot with the biggest division lead in baseball (9.5 games). The Angels beat Baltimore 18-5 on Wednesday, scoring double-digit runs for the second straight game against the pitiful Orioles. Garrett Anderson continued his blistering month with a 5-RBI performance. MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero tacked on four RBIs, giving him 118 on the year in addition to a .327 average. The offense’s excellence gave Kelvim Escobar the win despite a sub-par start from him. Escobar won his 17th game of the season and 100th for his career despite allowing six runs. The 31-year-old is enjoying a career year, with personal bests in wins and ERA. Throughout the year he has provided consistency to a rotation that desperately needed him to succeed. With the win, the Angels kept the second-best record in the majors.

3. Atlanta is out: The Atlanta Braves, a prime contender about a month ago, now find themselves almost without any hope of making the playoffs. With 5 losses in their last 6 games against the Mets, they are 9.5 games back of them in the division. The Braves are five games out of the wild card, with five teams ahead of them. Since August 15 they have gone 10-16, with their offense as a big problem. Though their lineup has produced a few blowout victories over this span, the Braves lost many games in which their opponents only scored 4 or 5 runs. One example is Wednesday’s game against the Mets, when the Braves lost 4-3. John Smoltz had an above-average start, but the bullpen allowed two runs and the offense couldn’t really get anything going. Now all the Braves are playing for is personal pride, because Atlanta won’t see playoff baseball until at least next season.

Player of the Day: Jim Thome, White Sox: 3-4, HR (27, 499 career), 3 RBIs in a 7-4 win over Cleveland. Thome should become the third player to reach the 500-homerun mark this season, though he has received considerably less attention than Frank Thomas and A-Rod when they approached the mark. Perhaps that’s because he plays for the third-worst team in the majors this season.

MLB General

The Full Count: Oh these divisions races are excellent

1. The Lead is Gone: The Diamondbacks’ NL West lead over the Padres, which was 4 games on August 19, has now disappeared. San Diego has won the first three games of their series with Arizona and 7 of their last 8 overall. The Padres won 3-1 on Wednesday thanks to Greg Maddux’s excellent pitching. Maddux issued no walks for his sixth straight start, going seven innings with one run allowed. The Padres won the game in the eighth with two runs off Arizona relievers. Arizona, which has dropped three of its last seven games, will face the Padres four more times within the next week. Ace Chris Young will take the mound for the Padres in the final game of the series as they try to complete the sweep.

2. Statement Series: The Angels showed the Mariners who’s boss in the AL West division by sweeping them in dominant fashion. The Angels outscored the M’s 24-8 on the series, including an 8-2 win on Wednesday. Jered Weaver was excellent, throwing eight innings with one earned run, five strikeouts, and no walks. The offense backed him up well, with 17 hits. Red-hot Garrett Anderson went 4-5, and Vlad Guerrero hit his 22nd homer on the year. The Angels teed off on Felix Hernandez, who allowed a season-high 13 hits and 6 runs. The Angels won their fourth straight while Seattle lost for the fifth time in a row. The gap in the AL West has increased to 5 games, though it was only one at this time last week.

3. Indian Warfare: The Indians are crushing all opponents and widening their lead over the Tigers at the same time. Cleveland has won five straight and extended their division lead to a huge 4.5 games. Meanwhile Detroit continues to struggle, losing two straight to the Royals. The Indians completed a sweep of the Twins with a 4-3 win on Wednesday. In a matchup of Cy Young candidates, CC Sabathia proved to be better than Johan Santana. Both went six innings, with Sabathia allowing two runs and Santana four. Santana had his second straight below-standard start after that 17-strikeout performance a couple weeks ago. He lost his fourth game since the All Star break, when he usually dominates. Sabathia allowed exactly two runs for the sixth straight start, and has a 2.97 ERA since the All Star break. He became the eighth member of the 15-win club with the victory.

Player of the Day: Aaron Harang, Reds: 9 innings, two hits, no runs, 8 strikeouts in an 8-0 win over the Pirates. The underrated Harang has by far the best winning percentage in the league with a 14-3 record.

MLB General

The Full Count: So much for the Brew Crew

1. From Leaders to Losers: The Milwaukee Brewers were the talk of the league in June, when they pulled out to a huge lead in the NL Central division. However, with a 19-34 record the last two months, the Brewers have fallen to third place. They have lost five straight, including a 5-3 loss to the division-leading Cubs on Tuesday. Milwaukee got a solid start from Jeff Suppan, but Scott Linebrink allowed three runs to blow the game and the offense was ineffective. Lack of offense has been a reoccurring problem for the Brewers, who rank 15th in the NL in runs this month. They fell below .500 with the loss, and were passed by the red-hot Cardinals.

2. Philly draws closer: The Phillies have won three in a row, pulling themselves closer to both the division and wild card leaders. They are four games back of the Mets and threeback of the Padres after a 4-2 extra-inning win over New York. The Phillies won off Ryan Howard’s 10th inning walk-off homer. It was the 35th blast of the year for Howard, who leads the NL with 108 RBIs. The Mets’ only score was on Carlos Delgado’s two-run shot in the second. The Mets, who have dropped five of their last seven, are still the NL’s best team. However, the Phillies can catch up easily, especially if they take the last two games from the Mets in this series. Philly should still be more concerned with the wild card race at this point.

3. Halo Power: The Angels got awful starting pitching on Tuesday, but it didn’t matter as their offense carried them to a win over the Mariners. Ervin Santana recorded only one out and allowed five runs, and with a 6.38 ERA is in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation. However, the Angels still won 10-6, thanks to Vlad Guerrero’s 4-5, 3 RBI night. Guerrero is now batting .509 against the Mariners this season. The Angels lead the season series over the Mariners 10-4, including two wins in this series so far. They lead by four games in the division, thanks to Seattle’s four straight losses. The Mariners still lead the wild card race by one game over the Yankees.

Player of the Day: Johnny Damon, Yankees: 2-4, HR, 2 RBIs in a 5-3 win over the Red Sox. Damon’s two-run shot in the seventh gave the Yankees a lead they would not give up in this one.

MLB General

The Full Count: Garrett Anderson gets a week’s worth of fantasy points in one game

1. One Man, 10 RBIs: Garrett Anderson of the Angels gave one of the greatest single-game performances of the season on Tuesday against the Yankees. Anderson powered the Angels to an 18-9 win with 10 RBIs, tying a franchise record and coming up one shy of the AL record. Anderson’s RBIs came off a three-run homer, and grand slam, and two run-scoring doubles. Ironically, the last person to reach 10 RBIs in a game, Alex Rodriguez, hit two homeruns for the opposing Yankees. That gave him 42 on the year as well as 121 RBIs, both of which lead the majors by a mile. But it wasn’t enough as the Angels put up ridiculous numbers offensively. Howie Kendrick went 4-5, Macier Izturis scored 4 runs, and Vlad Guerrero knocked in his 100th RBI as the Angels won their third straight. They are holding on to a two-game lead in front of the red-hot Mariners, while the Yankees have fallen to six games back behind the Red Sox.

2. Outdueled: The Indians’ Fausto Carmona shut down the Tigers, yet was outpitched by second-time starter Jair Jurrjens in Detroit’s 2-1 win. Carmona went eight innings, with three hits, two runs, and no walks allowed, but it wasn’t enough. The Indians were limited to only one hit by Jurrijens, and the Tigers’ bullpen was perfect. Joel Zumaya returned in his first appearance since May 1. Zumaya will be key to the Tigers’ stretch run, as their bullpen has been one of their biggest issues since his injury. The Tigers got homers from Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen in a game where all runs were scored off solo shots. The Tigers could pass Cleveland by Wednesday, as they are only a half-game back. Both of these teams have fallen behind the wild card leaders New York and Seattle in their recent struggles, so they both need to win the division to make the playoffs.

3. Beltran is Back: After a monstrous 2006 season was followed by an even better April, Carlos Beltran has struggled the majority of this season. He batted under .230 from May through July. However, in the past week alone he has managed to regain his power swing, with 6 homers and 18 RBIs in his last ten games. Beltran’s resurgence, which directly followed a short spell on the DL, has coincided with a dominant run by the Mets. They have won 7 of their last 8 games, giving them a comfortable five game lead in the division. On Tuesday they roughed up MLB ERA leader Chris Young and the Padres, winning 7-6. Beltran went 3-3 with a homer and five RBIs, and a two-run rally in the ninth off Trevor Hoffman gave the Mets the victory. If Beltran can continue swinging at nearly this level, and if Carlos Delgado can play to his potential, the Mets will have a nearly unbeatable lineup to go along with their improved pitching staff.

Player of the Day: Garrett Anderson, Angels: 4-6, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs in an 18-9 win over the Yankees.

MLB General

The Full Count: Teixeira still paying dividends

1. Terrific Tex: The biggest winner at the trade deadline is as clear now as it was on August 1. The Atlanta Braves, with their acquisition of Mark Teixeira, got one of the best hitters in the league. In 18 games with the Braves, Teixeira has nine homers and 25 RBIs, including two homers and six runs driven in on Monday against the Reds. It was Teixeira’s second straight multi-homer game as he led the Braves to a 14-4 blowout of Cincy. Brian McCann added a grand slam, and Andruw Jones also homered for Atlanta. Tim Hudson didn’t pitch at his best level (6 innings, 3 runs), but he was good enough to become the first National League pitcher with 15 wins. The win puts the Braves at one game back of the Padres in the wild card race.

2. Battle of the Best: Two of baseball’s best teams, the Angels and the Yankees, began a series in exciting fashion on Monday. The Angels won 7-6 in the 10th inning thanks to a game-winning RBI double by backup catcher Ryan Budde. The Angels barely survived in a game that had six lead changes and not a lot of pitching. For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez became the first player in baseball to hit 40 homers this year, and had three more RBIs, giving him 118. Jorge Posada also homered and drove in three, but the Angels were able to win with a more balanced attack on offense. LA improved to 73-51, the second-best record in baseball behind the Red Sox. The Yanks fell to five games back in the division and 1.5 back in the wild card.

3. The Streaks are Over: Overall it was a good night for the Chicago White Sox, as they snapped an eight-game losing streak with 4-3 win over the Royals. But the best thing that has happened to the team this season, Bobby Jenks’ 41 straight retired batters, came to a close. Jenks gave up a leadoff single to Joey Gathright in the ninth, ending his remarkable streak, which tied the previous major league record. He then retired the next three batters for his 34th save. The Sox were able to win with a rally in the seventh, tying them with Kansas City for last place. It’s an embarrassment for the franchise to be even near the Royals, especially considering their above-average payroll and recent World Series championship. But it’s been a lost season for the White Sox for months now, so many Chicago fans are probably already looking forward to next season.

Player of the Day: Tim Wakefield, Red Sox: 7 innings, four hits, no runs, 5 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over the Devil Rays. Wakefield improved to 15-10, tying him for the major league wins lead.