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Padres feasting on Dodgers; Braves relegated to wild-card chase

1. You Can't Keep a (Holy) Man Down

The Padres lost their grip on first place twice in the past week, but they're back on top again after another shutdown of the Dodgers, 3-1. Despite losing 17 of their last 26 -- 17 of 21 to teams not owned by squabbling spouses -- the Friars have a half-game lead on the Giants and a three-game bulge on the Rockies with 11 days left in the season. You can't overlook the impact playing the Dodgers has had on their fortunes. After losing 10 in a row, the Padres hosted the Dodgers from Sept. 6-8, allowed just three runs in the series and got the sweep. They then lost seven of 11 before heading up to Chavez Ravine on Tuesday and knocking off the Dodgers 6-0, then tacking on last night's win. In five games against the Dodgers this month, Padres' pitchers have allowed just four runs, giving up nothing longer than a double -- and just five of those! Unfortunately, they have just one game left in L.A., but maybe, just maybe, they've gotten healthy enough to hold off the Giants and Rockies for good.

2. That Darn Neutral-Zone Trap

From March 1 to the end of their 2010 season, the San Jose Sharks played 20 games and allowed 60 goals, an average of 3.0 per game. The Giants, since Sept. 1, have played 19 games and allowed 33 runs, 1.7 per game. Maybe Matt Cain should lace 'em up once the season ends. Despite that great pitching, however, the Giants have once again lost their hold on first place after being shut out by Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol, losing 2-0 to the Cubs. The Giants have scored just one run in two games at Wrigley Field, and are fortunate to have gained a split. They could use a win tonight to keep at least a 2½-game lead on the Rockies heading into what could be an elimination series at Coors Field this weekend. Bonus stat: Giants' relievers have allowed three runs in 48 innings in September. The Rockies' Matt Belisle allowed three runs on 36 pitches last night.

3. So ...The Wild Card, You Say?

The Braves went into Philadelphia with two ways to make the playoffs. They leave with one following a sweep at the hands of the Phillies' three aces. Just 9-12 in September, the Braves are averaging 3.4 runs per game as All-Stars Martin Prado (.244/.287/.305) and Brian McCann (.234/.315/.344) have posted their worst months. The Braves, the only NL contender off on Thursday, are still a statistical favorite to win the wild card thanks to a weak closing schedule that could get even weaker if the Phillies elect to rest those three aces -- and a number of ailing position players -- next weekend in Atlanta.

4. So You're Saying There's a Chance!

The Oakland A's are a 500-1 underdog to catch the Texas Rangers and win the AL West. The Rangers' magic number is four, meaning they could actually clinch in Oakland this weekend by taking two of four games. Starting tonight, though, the A's have their puncher's chance: four games, at home, against the team they're chasing with a chance to cut the lead to four games by Sunday night. All they have to do tonight is beat Cliff Lee, who was at one point a lock for the Cy Young Award and is still on his way to setting a record for strikeout-to-walk ratio in a single season. The A's counter with once-perfect Dallas Braden, a bad offense and all the home-field advantage 17,000 people spread out in a football stadium can bring. Go get 'em.

5. Beauty Contest, Part II

Games between the Yankees and Rays simply don't mean very much, a point GM Brian Cashman underlined last week when he pointed out that being set up for the first game of the playoffs, healthy and rested, was more important than worrying about where that first game would be played. Nonetheless, fans of mound artistry can tune in tonight as left-handers and Cy Young Award candidates CC Sabathia and David Price take the mound in a rematch of Sept. 13th's eight-inning double shutout, a game eventually won by Tampa Bay in 11 innings. With the postseason just a couple starts away, don't expect either pitcher to work as deep, or throw as many pitches (Sabathia 119, Price 114), as he did 10 days ago.