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The season’s wrapping up, and life is good for the Cubs, so let’s dig right in…

  • The Marlins have done just fine without Mike Lowell–in no small part aided by the acquisition of Jeff Conine–but the Fish will certainly be happy to have their starting third baseman back in the lineup. It’s possible that he’ll get a couple regular season at-bats to test his thumb if he’s cleared. He was targeting Saturday, but due to the medical staff’s concerns, and an adjustment of game time, Lowell is more likely to be back on Sunday. A final determination will be made when he’s seen by the doctor on Friday. (On Conine and others, has this been the weirdest year in recent memory for moves working out that looked horrible on paper?)
  • With the clinch, the Twins get to rest their players and reset their rotation for the Division Series. Ron Gardenhire started the 2003 Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday, affording some rest for guys like Doug Mientkiewicz. Minky will sit out the remaining games to try and get his wrist some much needed rest. As well, the Twins will work the rotation to get Johan Santana–a guy they were reluctant to have in the rotation not too long ago–as their Game One starter. How Ron Gardenhire sets his bench and rotation will be very interesting, with guys like Chris Gomez, who has missed the better part of September with back problems, and Eric Milton, looking for roles.

  • Several sources tell me that after the A’s clinched on Tuesday night that some of the A’s addressed the crowd. One of those was Mark Mulder, who did more than suggest that he would pitch again this season; he said that he’d “See them in the ALCS.” This would be an abrupt about-face regarding his availability and raises the specter of a Willis Reed type last minute entrance. With the A’s already suggesting a four-man rotation for the Division Series (Hudson, Zito, Lilly, Harden), it will be very interesting to watch the A’s and how they handle this situation.

  • The Cardinals will be finishing the season without Tino Martinez, who’s out with elbow bursitis (actually, the bursa sac has broken). The former Yankee is becoming the public face of some of the Cards problems; he hasn’t enjoyed playing for LaRussa, and reportedly had a lot of clubhouse problems with players who he didn’t feel were doing the things necessary to win a title. Never mind that one of the things that would have helped the Cards win more was having a first baseman who hit better than .270/.349/.419 on the year.
  • Kerry Wood was pulled last night as he crossed the Cubs “magic pitch count” of 120. It was surprising but gratifying to see Wood come out, with the game being turned over to the bullpen. It was also great to see Baker realize that keeping Shawn Estes fresh shouldn’t be a big concern. With Wood a possible Game One starter for the Division Series, his start on Sunday could be washed and Juan Cruz is the probable replacement. Expect the Cubs to go with a four-man playoff rotation.

  • Trot Nixon‘s calf has begun to act up again, forcing the Red Sox to keep him out of the lineup through the end of the regular season. Since this is a recurrence and comes shortly after his initial return, it does have to be seen as slightly more concerning. While the loss of Nixon in the very short-term does little to hurt the Sox chances of making the post-season, not having Nixon available for their Division Series games would be a negative.

  • Quick Cuts: Odalis Perez is done for the season and depending on outside factors, could be done for the Dodgers…Tony Armas Jr. began throwing on Wednesday and should be healthy by spring training, but is a likely non-tender…Michael Tucker returned to the Royals after a broken leg kept him out for nearly six weeks. Nice to see him back, though I’m not really sure what the rush was. Performance bonus?…Curt Schilling and Mike Sweeney can be added to the list of players who are ending their 2003 seasons a little early, both with neck problems…Chad Fox in the Marlins closer mix? More evidence that relievers are completely replaceable parts…Laynce Nix is done for the season after fouling a ball off his shin. He’s on crutches, but the injury is not considered serious.

I was talking with Robert Herzog on Tuesday as the Astros fell apart. As Wagner got rocked, Robert was stunned that he could be that bad, and wondered if it would break his confidence. I said then that the last thing the Cubs wanted was a pissed-off Billy Wagner. Sure enough, Wagner came back with a vengeance on Wednesday, looking dominant and causing the Velocity Project a bit of a problem. I hadn’t received a credible report of a three-digit number until yesterday, when Wagner hit 100 mph against Barry Bonds. What a scary little man.

No UTK until Monday, when I’ll come back with a special playoff column breaking down how health will affect the teams heading for the postseason. If there’s a huge injury between now and then, I’ll jump in with an update, but for now, enjoy the great weekend of the season. It’s been awesome and for me, but the best part has been riding along with you. Thank you.