Notes from the key matchups, of which there are one fewer today than there were yesterday…

  • The Angels essentially ended the storyline in the AL West with a 4-2 win in Oakland Monday night. That puts them up five games with six to play; they clinch with any win over the A’s in the last three games of this series, or if they lose all three, any combination of two Angels wins and A’s losses over the weekend. Unless Bill Madlock comes out of retirement to take out Vladimir Guerrero and start the Angels on a season-ending losing streak, this thing is over.

    Last night was the latest feather in John Lackey‘s cap. He threw six solid innings, allowing two runs and striking out seven. Since opening the season with three so-so starts, Lackey has a 3.18 ERA and a 3.2/1 K/BB in 29 starts and 186 2/3 innings. He’s one of three Angels starters among the top eight pitchers in the AL, per VORP, and for my money, the best of the bunch. The Angels have allowed the fewest runs in the AL, and that run prevention is not only why they’re headed to their third postseason in four years, but why they’ve got a real chance to repeat their 2002 run.

  • The rest of the AL shapes up like this:
    White Sox   94-62   .603    --    3 @ Det, 3 @ Cle
    Indians     92-64   .590   2.0    3 vs. TB, 3 vs. CHW
    Yankees     92-64   .590   2.0    3 @ Bal, 3 @ Bos
    Red Sox     91-64   .587   2.5    4 vs. Tor, 3 vs. NY

    The White Sox continued to keep things interesting, giving up 2-0 and 3-2 leads to the Tigers and eventually losing to a Curtis Granderson home run in the ninth. (Side note: I really like Granderson as the player who Corey Patterson should have been, and the Tigers as a serious 2006 sleeper.) The Sox scored all three of their runs on homers, and failed to score after getting the leadoff batter on in each of the last three innings. With just a two-game lead on the pack, it’s critical that they not lose any more ground before their weekend series in Cleveland; there’s a huge difference between being two up (and needing to be swept) and one up (where losing two of three causes a tie).

    The Yankees caught a break on a very wet night in Baltimore, not losing a Randy Johnson start to the weather. Then again, this Randy Johnson could have started and the Yankees might have pulled out the game, as they pounded the O’s for 11 runs through six innings. The Alex Rodriguez-in-the-two-spot lineup continues to print runs, taking a lot of the pressure off the patchwork rotation.

    By the way, how nice is it that the Orioles have decided to make sure they don’t influence the AL races? What a complete no-show for the second half; Keanu Reeves puts on more convincing performances.

  • I have a line here in my notes that I’ll just run as is:

    Nice of the Braves to make the NL interesting, though.

    …or not…

    The Braves continued their stumble through the latter half of September by blowing a 5-1 lead to one of the worst road teams in baseball, but as has been the case all month, their closest competition spit the bit. The Phillies, up 4-1 in the seventh and 5-2 in the eighth, dropped a 6-5 decision to the Mets that allowed the Braves’ magic number to drop to one.

    The Phillies’ loss dropped them two games back in the loss column in the wild-card chase, and continued the theme of the month: teams losing games without getting their best players into them. Tied at five in the eighth, Charlie Manuel went to Aaron Fultz (salary: $550,000) rather than Billy Wagner (salary: $9,000,000) to escape a jam. Fultz served up a long single to Cliff Floyd that pushed the eventual winning run to third base. Wagner, one of the five best relievers in the National League, never got into the game.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the closercentric bullpen claims another victim.

  • The game of the night happened in San Diego, where Jake Peavy owned Barry Bonds through eight innings and left with a 2-1 lead. With two outs and one on in the ninth, and the Padres essentially an out away from locking up the division, Randy Winn–quietly the best midseason pickup in baseball–crushed a ball to deep center field. Brian Giles saved a home run by going over the wall for it, but when he hit the fence, the ball popped out of his glove. The end result was a run-scoring triple, and when J.T. Snow followed with a single to right, the Giants had a 3-2 lead, one they held for the win.

    As I mentioned yesterday, winning last night opened up the series for the Giants, who won’t face any pitcher nearly as talented as Peavy the rest of the way. They’re not running the ’93 Braves out there themselves, but they’ll go into each game with a reasonable chance to win. That’s all a 74-82 team can ask for, I’d imagine.

  • The Padres need to go 4-2 the rest of the way to avoid being the first team in baseball history to reach the postseason with a losing record. They need to do that and hope the Nationals and/or Mets tank to avoid being the first division champion to ever have a record worse than the last-place finisher in another division.

  • Worth noting: Bruce Bochy batted Ryan Klesko in the #2 slot last night. Klesko is no one’s idea of a #2 hitter, but he gets on base, and that’s the most important trait in the top two lineup spots.

I’ll have more from all of tonight’s relevant games in tomorrow’s column.

I’ve been remiss in mentioning this, but Ron Shandler has invited me back to speak at Baseball HQ‘s First Pitch Arizona, a fantasy-baseball conference held in conjunction with the Arizona Fall League. This will be the fourth time I’ve spoken at the event, which combines great baseball talk with trips to see some of the game’s top prospects. I can’t say enough about the event, and I would encourage all of you to attend. It’s one of the highlights of my year.

For more information, including a complete list of activities, go here. Drop me a line if you have any questions.

It was through First Pitch Arizona that I got to know the people who run and participate in Tout Wars. They invited me to participate last year, and after getting my head handed to me in 2004, I’m in the middle of a ridiculous four-team race, tied for first this morning but potentially anywhere from first to fourth on any given day. The team dominates the hitting stats but has been getting its pitching from the trade market and the waiver wire (bless you, Jason Grilli) since day one.

Look, I’m a Strat guy, and for me to be competing in a roto crowd that includes people like Shandler, Jeff Erickson, Steve Moyer, Matt Berry…let’s just say I know what Dan Aykroyd felt like at the “We Are The World” recording session. That said, I just need six good days from guys like Emil Brown and Mike Timlin to win this thing, and having come this far, I really want to win this thing. If you have some good thoughts to spare, do so.

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