Thursday's games to watch

Publish date:

Probable Starters:Gavin Floyd (194 2/3 IP, 4.67 RA, 1.24 WHIP, 133 K) vs. Kevin Slowey (156 2/3, 3.91, 1.14, 120)

Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 86-71 (777 RS, 696 RA); Minnesota, 87-71 (813 RS, 726 RA)

Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #7; Minnesota, #12

Prospectus: This is the one race left in the American League with some drama attached to it. This is also the final game between these two on the schedule, and with the White Sox losing the first two games of the series, they have seen their lead cut to just a half game.

The implications are huge for Minnesota. Their playoff odds sit at 38.4 percent against the White Sox' 61.6; with the wild card coming out of the AL East, it's win or miss October for both of these clubs. If they were to lose tonight, giving the Pale Hose a 1½-game lead in the Central, their weekend against the Royals would become that much more difficult. After all, the Twins are one back in the loss column to the White Sox, and Chicago may have to play a makeup game against the Tigers that could factor into the division race; if the Twins were to lose tonight, that would make the White Sox's job easier, while a Twins win would not only put Chicago behind, it would mean we would get a chance to see some Monday regular-season baseball with playoff implications. The teams have been evenly matched all year, with the White Sox winning eight and the Twins taking nine of the 17, with Minnesota winning the last three, and five of six during the second half of the season. Look no further than Chicago's inability to sustain its first-half success against its rivals for the reason it's in this position tonight.

Probable Starters:Rich Harden (142 IP, 2.22 RA, 1.06 WHIP, 177 K) vs. Pedro Martinez (103, 5.68, 1.55, 78)

Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 95-61 (831 RS, 647 RA); New York, 87-70 (781 RS, 690 RA)

Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #2; New York, #4

Prospectus: The Mets are still in the playoff mix, as they share the wild-card lead with the Brewers, but their shot at the NL East title continues to dwindle; they have gone 4-6 over their last 10 games while the Phillies have gone 7-3 to open up a 1½-game lead. Last night's loss to the Cubs did not help matters any, as the Mets saw a 17.6 percent drop in their playoff odds, reversing any positive work they had done in the six days prior and giving them a negative 8.1 percent swing over the last seven days. Things won't get any easier for the Mets tonight. Martinez has not exactly been a beacon of hope for New York this year or recently, allowing 5.1 R/9 and 1.5 HR/9 over his last 10 starts, and he takes the mound against Harden, arguably the best pitcher in baseball when he's healthy.

At this juncture, with just a handful of games to play, there are still a lot of things that are mathematically possible. The Mets have a 15 percent chance of wresting the division away from the Phillies, and 39.6 percent chance of winding up in the wild-card slot. Overall, that gives them a 54 percent chance of making the playoffs, but given that they are not the favorite for either, their chances aren't that impressive. Every remaining game is a must-win for the Mets, but with the Brewers taking on the lowly Pirates at the same time that New York is stuck facing the most dominant force in the National League, things look even more dire. If the Brewers were able to swing their chances of making the playoffs up 18 percent because of last night's win coupled with a New York loss, the Mets can do the same; they're just running out of time to hope that happens.

Probable Starters:Zach Duke (178 IP, 5.56 RA, 1.52 WHIP, 85 K) vs. Yovani Gallardo (20, 1.80, 1.25, 13)

Pythagorean Record: Pittsburgh, 65-93 (720 RS, 872 RA); Milwaukee, 85-73 (734 RS, 679 RA)

Hit List Rankings: Pittsburgh, #30; Milwaukee, #9

Prospectus: The Brewers will send Gallardo back to the mound for the first time since May 1, when he tore his ACL. Gallardo has not made any official rehabilitation starts, as his last minor league appearance came prior to his first one with the Brewers this year when he was working back from off-season surgery. Instead, Gallardo has pitched in simulated games. Before he went down he managed to throw just 20 innings, with 13 strikeouts, six walks and a pair of home runs allowed, and after missing almost the entire season, making any kind of judgment call as to how we can expect him to perform seems silly; the Brewers just hope he's good enough for 50 pitches atop a "bullpen game" that they can win to stay alive in the playoff race.

Gallardo is fortunate to draw the Pirates in his return start. Pittsburgh has a league-average offense (.257 EqA); even that's a bit misleading, as that season total includes the time that Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were Bucs; since Aug. 1 --when neither was in town anymore -- the Pirates have hit .246/.305/.366, well below the production they were capable of before. They have kindly rolled over for other Milwaukee pitchers during this period, hitting a paltry .227/.287/.337 while striking out 51 times -- the most against any opponent since the trade deadline -- in their recent matchups.