Playing through pain just part of intensifying playoff pursuit
NEW YORK --
Yet even that discomfort didn't prevent Polanco from chasing Mets catcher
"I don't know," he said. "That's another conversation I'd probably have with the trainers because it's no fun. It's no fun to be hurt and playing. When we're winning, it's fun to be playing for something, but it's no fun being hurt."
With Polanco in the lineup in place of departed third baseman
Increasingly the two-time defending NL champion Phillies are looking like the league's best again, as they're streaking at the right time and masking quite a bit of pain.
"Everyone in this locker room is a fighter," left fielder
No individual exemplifies the team's resiliency like Polanco, who served a D.L. stint in early July because of the elbow. He is leading the team with a .303 average, 148 hits and, defensively, with a 9.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, indicating he has saved more than nine runs for the team.
Polanco is one of six starting position players to have spent time on the disabled list (only Ibañez and right fielder
The Phillies open a three-game series with the Marlins tonight in Miami but they are far from the only team for whom a 162-game marathon has become a three-week sprint to the playoffs. There are 12 teams within six games of a postseason spot and this week alone features three series with playoff implications. The White Sox get what may be their last chance to catch the first-place Twins as they host Minnesota for three games; the Rays and Yankees square off in a possible ALCS preview; and, most notably, the Padres and Rockies have a showdown in Colorado in the ever-changing NL West. With three teams jockeying for up to two playoff spots, it is that last division race that will be the most interesting of the five key things to watch as the pennant races heat up.
The division that has produced half the NL playoff field three of the past four years could do it again. The Giants have whittled away the Padres' onetime 6 1/2-game lead to nothing. San Diego has gone 4-13 in its last 17 games, which includes San Francisco taking three out of four games from them this weekend.
After the Giants and Padres split a pair of 1-0 games on Friday and Saturday, Sunday's matinee featured both teams' aces,
That lead effectively ended the game. The Padres haven't scored more than five runs in a game since Aug. 25, the day before their recent 4-13 skid began. San Diego even got its leadoff runner on base in six of nine innings but lacked the power to drive them in. They only scored in one of those six frames, after
But the Giants suffered a blow when
These two teams will meet again in a three-game series on the last weekend of the season but there's a chance neither of them will still be in line for a playoff spot by then given the latest September surge by a formerly buried division rival.
It was just six weeks ago that the Rockies were debating whether to be sellers at the trade deadline and look toward next year. Good thing they didn't. Since Aug. 22, a day they began 11 games our of first in the NL West, the Rockies are 16-4, including an active 10-game winning streak to pull with 1 1/2 games of the Giants and Padres.
This is nothing new for the Rockies, who rallied from 12 games under .500 to make the playoffs in 2009 and won 14 of their final 15 to capture the wild card in 2007.
Certainly MVP and Triple Crown-candidate
Colorado seems to find heroes among its bench players, too. On Sunday when neither Gonzalez nor Tulowitzki scored or drove in a run, it was
The Yankees had won of their first five games with the Rangers this season and entered the weekend with a record 10 games better than Texas'. But the Rangers swept New York in three games in Arlington this weekend, a key test because, if the playoffs were to start today, these two clubs would be pitted against each other in the ALDS.
Despite the Rangers' comfortable division lead in the NL West, they had started to look like a team destined for a quick playoff exit. Before playing the Yankees, they were just 16-20 in August and September and three of their All-Stars --
Even with shortstop
The week wasn't a total bust for the Yankees, however.
The Yankees open a three-game series in Tampa Bay tonight leading the Rays by just a half-game in the AL East. Whichever team fails to win the division will have to settle for the wild card, meaning in order to win the World Series they would have to win three straights postseason series without homefield advantage -- the first two because the wild card is always the league's worst playoff seed and the third because the NL won this year's All-Star Game. While the Yankees have the league's best home record at 49-25, the Rays are more balanced, going 43-26 at home and 43-30 on the road.
The Yankees' offense is especially dangerous at home because of especially the power lefty bats like
The Rays only went 4-5 in their just-completed nine-game road trip but ought to be encouraged by the addition of outfielder
Atlanta's hallmark this year has been consistency against all competition. The Braves have a winning record against four of the other five serious playoff contenders -- the Phillies (7-5), Reds (3-2), Padres (4-2) and Giants (4-3) -- and a losing record against only the Rockies (2-4), while not faring all that much better against the NL's worst.
Atlanta has a .556 winning percentage against the NL's best, but its success rate against everybody else is only marginally better (.574). In their last 10 games, the Braves lost a series to both the Marlins and Pirates and split a four-game set with the Cardinals.
Of their final 18 games, the Braves face the Phillies six times, first in a three-game set from September 20-22 in Philadelphia and then in a season-ending series in Atlanta from October 1-3. Atlanta's other 12 games are with the NL East's bottom feeders, against whom the Braves are barely better than .500, going 8-7 against both the Marlins and Mets and 6-6 against the Nationals, whom the Braves will face in a pair of three-game series down the stretch. With the trio of NL West teams nipping at the Braves' heels for the wild card -- all three are within 2 1/2 games --