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I confess: I watched some football this weekend. Mostly on Saturday, when despite having 4,000 channels available to me, just four baseball games were sent into my home. Still, I saw enough baseball to make some observations on the weekend that was:

  • The AL East race is over, thanks to the Yankees’ rotation rounding into form. Mike Mussina spun his third straight strong start on Sunday, backing up Jon Lieber‘s no-hit bid on Saturday. Since Monday’s embarrassment in Kansas City, the Yankees have gotten five straight quality starts, allowing just eight runs in 45 innings. Only a rare Mariano Rivera blown save kept them from a sweep this weekend.

    It could be a blip–two of the games were against the Royals, remember, and Javier Vazquez hasn’t looked good in back-to-back starts in a while–but for the first time in a month, there’s reason to think the Yankees can be more than fodder in October. The current versions of Mussina and Orlando Hernandez are viable #1 and #2 starters in the postseason.

  • Speaking of the postseason, the A’s and Twins are in a dead-heat for the league’s second-best record. The #2 team will face the Red Sox, while the #3 catches the Yankees.

    How badly do the Yankees and Red Sox want to avoid facing Johan Santana twice in a five-game series? Santana threw his 20th straight quality start on Sunday, tying him with Mike Scott for the longest stretch since 1972. He now has a shutout streak of 30 innings, hasn’t allowed a run in September, has won 11 consecutive starts, leads the AL in strikeouts and ERA…

    Here’s the crazy thing, though. Since June, when he started on this amazing run, Santana has allowed 79 hits while striking out 200 men. That “dominance ratio” of 2.5-to-1 has been the kind of thing relievers like Eric Gagne do, not starters. I can’t think of a pitcher who’s ever been that unhittable over a period of four months. It’s the kind of freaky number we usually encounter when discussing Barry Bonds.

    Santana isn’t just the guy who should win the AL Cy Young Award. He’s in the middle of one of the greatest stretches of pitching you’re likely to see. He could be a household name a month from now.

  • The Angels had an even worse weekend than the Red Sox did, getting shut out by the Rangers on consecutive days to fall three games behind the A’s in the AL West. The Rangers’ bullpen was a big part of that–eight shutout innings–but the games were started by Joaquin Benoit and Chris Young, who came into the weekend having allowed 76 runs in 111 2/3 innings this year. That’s a huge blown opportunity, not least because they wasted great starts themselves from Kelvim Escobar and Jarrod Washburn.

    The Rangers moved to within five games of the A’s, having gone 4-3 on their trip through Oakland and Anaheim (and no doubt kicking themselves over two one-run losses to the A’s). They’re still the longest of shots, but they’ll get a chance. A sweep over the A’s–just 38-37 on the road this year–would get them within two games with 10 to play, six of them against the Mariners. Anything less than a sweep probably buries them.

    If this weekend didn’t make it clear, I’ll write it out: The Rangers’ problem isn’t, and hasn’t been, run prevention. They had enough pitching and defense to contend, but they didn’t have enough offense, or more specifically, OBP. Their team EqA of .253 is 10th in the league; once they stopped hitting .290–as they were going to do–they didn’t have enough baserunners to sustain the offense.

    Learning to not be fooled by their park is going to be as big an issue for John Hart and Buck Showalter as it is for Dan O’Dowd and Clint Hurdle in Colorado. Ameriquest Field is the AL’s version of Coors Field, without the hype or oxygenation issues.

  • It’s nice of the Brewers to ensure that they’ll have no impact on the wild-card race. They were swept in Houston, losing three one-run games and scoring just four runs in the process. This was on the heels of being swept by the Giants in Milwaukee last week, picking up just three tallies in those three games.

    The Brewers were also swept by the Cubs and Phillies in late August, meaning that playing them has had no effect on the wild-card chase: they’ve been an equal-opportunity loser. The Brewers haven’t beaten a winning team since Aug. 17 (a streak I would expect to end this week against a Cards team that is just protecting the roster).

    I wrote a positive piece about the Brewers back in May, and have continued to watch many of their games. The team I see on the field now bears little resemblance to the one I was enthusiastic about back then. They have terrible at-bats, swinging at seemingly everything thrown towards the plate. As a team, they’ve struck out once every four at-bats since the All-Star break, which works if you’re an individual with tremendous power, and doesn’t work if you’re a team slugging .369. Between that, and the disappointing performance of their top prospects this year, it’s been an awful season in Milwaukee.

    Perhaps Scott Podsednik‘s alien took hope with him when he left.

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