Key players for the stretch run
As the season winds towards October, here are some key players to keep an eye on:
The staff ace on a mediocre team a year ago, groundballing veteran
Cook's latest injury is why the Rockies decided to take a flier on
The Giants allow the fewest runs per game in the majors, but have outscored just three of the other 29 teams. Attempts to upgrade their offense have blown up in their face as
As of now, the Giants' offense consists of
At the end of June, the Braves were 36-40 (.474) and had scored just 4.12 runs per game on the season. Since then, they've gone 33-22 (.600) and have scored 5.15 runs per game. What changed wasn't the addition of
In a radical break from tradition, the Rangers, historically a team that has had to bash its way up the standings, have been winning with pitching and defense this year. What's more, they've done it despite the fact that just two of their starting pitchers (
The Red Sox are going to score runs, and their bullpen, recently reinforced by the addition of
Wakefield has just returned from the DL to give the Sox a solid No. 3 behind
The Tigers have been in first place in the Central since mid-May, which makes them feel like a lock to win the division despite the fact that their 3 1/2-game lead is the slimmest of the six division leaders. That their challenger is just two games over .500 (67-65) makes the threat seam all the more toothless. Still, the Tigers have just the sixth-best record in the American League. Despite their enduring lead, they are anything but a juggernaut.
What's most amazing about the Tigers' hold on first place is that it survived their .417 winning percentage in July (though barely, they slipped into a tie for one day after losing a game to, of all pitchers,
Twins fans, don't look now. The Twins have a strong end-game with righty
Amazingly and sadly, the Twins are looking for real help from
Despite the (utterly predictable) injury to deadline acquisition
The Marlins will need solid performances from both VandenHurk and
In third place and six games out in the wild-card race on Wednesday morning, the Rays have no margin for error down the stretch, which is why some saw the trade of
Nonetheless, it is on
The Cubs enter Wednesday's action six games behind the Rockies in fifth place in the NL wild-card standings. Despite being the pennant favorites entering the season, they're now the longest shot of any of the 10 teams included here to make the playoffs. I addressed what has gone wrong for the Cubs earlier this season, but it boils down to a lack of offense. The NL leaders in runs scored a year ago, the Cubs have slumped to below-average 4.43 runs scored per game this year, better than just six other NL teams.
With Ramirez finally healthy and hitting (.339/.373/.518 since returning from both lingering pain in his shoulder and a flu on August 15), the Cubs might be one comeback at the plate from making a comeback of their own. Don't hold your breath, though, or you might need to be rejuvenated as well.