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Tigers hold slight lead over red-hot Twins with crucial series on tap

There's less than two weeks to go in the season and only one race worth following. While the Yankees lead the parade of teams who have wrapped up or soon will wrap up postseason spots, the Twins are sprinting to the finish line in a desperate attempt to catch the struggling Tigers. Whether you're a Twins fan or not, I think we can all be grateful that they've at least given us a pennant race to follow, even if the participants are two mostly mediocre teams that play in the only division without at least one team to have clinched a winning record. They also may be trying to give the penultimate Power Rankings one last bit of excitement, as both teams settle into the top 10 while a pair of teams with fading playoff hopes drop out.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
They had time to laugh, dressing rookies as characters from Batman (the cartoonish '60s TV series, not the cooler movies of recent years), and time to celebrate, becoming the first team this year to clinch a playoff berth. But it isn't all fun and games for the Yankees right now. They still need to clinch both the AL East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They can go a long way toward doing both, and perhaps sending a message to the Red Sox, with another series victory in the Bronx this weekend over playoff-bound Boston. They do have some concerns, though. Both A.J. Burnett (1-5, 5.60 ERA since the start of August before beating the Angels on Wednesday) and Joba Chamberlain (0-4, 8.42 ERA in his past eight outings) have struggled mightily of late, and Joe Girardi is concerned about the former and running out of patience with the latter. If he still needs fresh arms down the stretch, he'll get a good look at an impressive lefty on Saturday.
 
2Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 2
They defeated the Giants two out of three, beating up Cy Young contender Tim Lincecum in his worst start since Opening Day, and are on the brink of clinching their fourth playoff spot in the past six years. Joe Torre has done his usual excellent job guiding this team through a rough stretch in August that saw its lead in the NL West shrivel to just two games on multiple occasions. It should be enough to earn him some Manager of the Year votes, but the real honor for a Dodgers manager was earned by Tommy Lasorda this week. On Tuesday, the Smithsonian hung a portrait of the Dodgers Hall of Fame manager, where he joins his predecessor Walter Alston, as well as other former skippers Leo Durocher and Wilbert Robinson. Lasorda is famous for bleeding Dodger blue, and he is sure to be a presence this October around Chavez Ravine as the Dodgers chase their first world championship since the Kirk Gibson-led crew of 1988.
 
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
Despite some struggles in Kansas City, the Red Sox are still well positioned to make the postseason yet again, which would be their ninth appearance in the wild card era. They know that Jon Lester and Josh Beckett will start the first two games of any playoff series, and that Clay Buchholz is likely to start Game 3. Should they need a fourth starter, suddenly Daisuke Matsuzaka is looking like a decent option again. Since coming off a nearly three-month stint on the disabled list, he's won both of his starts with a 2.38 ERA, much to the delight of bloggers everywhere. Matsuzaka is pitching with a purpose that goes beyond wanting to remain healthy and win another World Series. After beating the Angels recently, he said, "I've been a burden on my teammates. I feel that I owe them."
 
4Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
The Angels quickly put last week's dispute with umpires who probably (OK, definitely) blew a strike call that would have won their game with the Red Sox. (Besides, it's far from the worst call a home plate ump has missed in an Angels game in recent years. Right, Josh Paul?). Instead, they went out and took the series finale from the Red Sox, two of three from the Rangers (to all but wrap up the AL West) and the series opener with the Yankees in a possible playoff preview, before dropping two one-run games to the Bronx Bombers. They still must get their bullpen situation straightened out though. I had to laugh when I heard on MLB Network the other day to "forget about" Brian Fuentes' ERA and look at his saves total instead. Sorry, that should be the other way around. An AL-best 44 saves is nice, but among the 25 closers this year with at least 20 saves, Fuentes' 4.21 ERA is the fourth-worst in the majors. It's with good reason, then, that manager Mike Scioscia will have Fuentes share closer duties with righty Kevin Jepsen, who is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA since the start of July.
 
5St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
Hey Cardinals fans, did you know that despite the fact that your Redbirds are about to become the first team in baseball to clinch a division title, and despite the fact they have an NL-best 10 World Series championships, about a dozen Hall of Famers and the greatest player on the face of the earth in their lineup, that your team is "obscure"? That's the judgment of a British newspaper in reporting about Twitter's crackdown on fake accounts after Cards manager Tony La Russa was victimized earlier this year. Things between La Russa and Twitter are cool now, though, at least judging by the fact that Jack Dorsey, the founder of the popular social networking site is a Cardinals fan who threw out the first pitch at a game last week. At 4:42 p.m. he Tweeted "throwing out first pitch in 15 minutes. Nervous!" Seventeen minutes later, all those wondering how he did had their answer: "I pitched a ball. To the left." That's OK, Jack. Just a few minutes later, you summed up everything that is right with the national pastime: "Go baseball! And nachos."
 
6Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 6
On Wednesday night, the Phillies offered a night at the movies, as their game with the Marlins was broadcast in a local theatre. This of course begs the question, who would play the Phillies if their team was ever immortalized on the big screen? At least one person thinks Chase Utley should be played by Matthew McConaughey (I'm going with Bob Uecker as Charlie Manuel.) That might be generous, but at least Utley has performed like a leading man this season. Despite needing offseason hip surgery, he's played in 147 games and has a .294 average, 31 home runs, 91 RBIs and a career-best .412 on-base percentage.
 
7Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 7
Now that they've opened up some breathing room in the wild-card race, the Rockies can begin to think more about getting healthy for October than whether or not they'll get there at all. Last week they got starters Aaron Cook and Jose Contreras back, but they still need to get closer Huston Street healthy and hope they can avoid any freak injuries the rest of the way, like, say their best offensive player getting smoked in the shin with a line drive while sitting on the bench. Todd Helton survived that, and he's as strong as ever, even after shaving the goatee he's worn for almost all of the past three seasons. Helton told the Denver Post it happened when he "made a mistake" shaving. Perhaps it was a good thing. In his first start after going clean, he picked up his first three-hit game of the month and the Rockies strengthened their position for the last NL playoff spot.
 
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
On Monday, one week to the day after the final demise of Tiger Stadium, the Tigers will hold a reunion for the 1984 team that won the franchise's most recent World Series title. (This video has to be making an appearance.) The Tigers should be far more concerned that day with their present than their past. They open a crucial four-game series with the Twins in Detroit that evening that should all but decide the AL Central race. The Tigers are just 5-9 since opening the month with six straight wins that had seemed to render the remainder of the season a formality. Now even manager Jim Leyland is expecting this to go right down to the wire. Is this a bad time to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
 
9Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 12
Brett Favre+Monday Night Football > one-game playoff baseball. The Twins got a reminder of where they stand in the sports hierarchy in Minnesota this week when the NFL refused to move a MNF game featuring the most indecisive man in sports, even though it might conflict with a game to determine the AL Central champion. Of course, it's entirely possible the Twins won't need the Metrodome anymore after the October 4 regular-season finale. It's also possible that they won't need it until Game 3 of a potential AL Division Series, because the way they've been playing of late -- winning nine of ten to move a season-high six games over .500 -- has them within striking distance of the Tigers heading into their showdown in Motown starting next Monday, for which they're rearranged their pitching rotation. The biggest surprise in that rotation: that Carl Pavano has not hurt himself (yet). The second biggest surprise: rookie Brian Duensing, who took over Francisco Liriano's spot in late July and has gone 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA in seven starts.
 
10Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 13
On Tuesday, Braves president John Schuerholz said of himself, manager Bobby Cox and third baseman Chipper Jones, the mainstays from the Braves dynasty years, "We're not going anywhere yet." Well, at least one of them is, and another might not be far behind. Chipper Jones has talked openly of possibly retiring after 2010 and it was announced this week that Bobby Cox will retire as Braves manager after the 2010 season, which will be his 21st straight in the Atlanta dugout and 29th as a major league manager. Cox has been the Braves manager so long that when he took over this was considered the height of popular music and the Braves were actually a laughingstock. He's never gotten enough credit, so perhaps next year he will finally receive his due as one of the best managers in baseball history. Given the Braves' depth of starting pitching and way they are finishing up this season, winning 11 of their last 13, there's a decent chance Cox's final season could end the same way so many of them did before: in October. This one will come up a little short, however, marking the first time since his initial four-year stint as Braves manager from 1978-1981 that Cox will have missed the postseason for four consecutive seasons.
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