Late August, and if you're looking for stretch-run drama, well, you'd better go find a good book. May I recommend David Halberstam's Summer of '49? Great book chronicling an epic Red Sox-Yankees pennant race. Sigh.
There's still time for things to change, of course, but as we sit here today (unless, of course, you're standing), there is less than a four-game difference in only one of eight potential playoff races. (I'm dismissing the half-game separating the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East because both clubs have all but formally qualified for October: The Red Sox own a 7 1/2-game margin over Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card chase).
No, after Detroit's beat-down of Cleveland, the only real drama heading into this week is in the NL West, where the Giants have pulled back to within 1 1/2 games of Arizona. The Diamondbacks were and are a nice story, but not quite so much after getting swept in Atlanta.
Anyway, for all of this, I blame California.
The Not-So-Golden State right now is playing harball at a level ranging from head-shakingly bad to maddeningly sporadic and is in danger of being shut out of postseason baseball for the first time since 1999:
-- The World Series champion Giants, playing catch-up with Arizona, currently rank 29th in the majors in runs scored and seemingly have more players on the disabled list than on the active roster. Carlos Beltran, hello?
-- The Dodgers' back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008-2009 currently are tied up in divorce/bankruptcy court.
-- The Padres' 90-win season of a year ago has turned to dust.
-- The only way the Athletics will see October is in Moneyball -- literally. The movie opens Sept. 23.
-- The Angels were nearly extinguished by Texas last week before rising from the ashes with a four-game winning streak that has moved them back to within four games of the Rangers.
Starting in 2000, the Angels have made the playoffs six times, the Athletics five, the Giants and Dodgers four each and the Padres twice.
Now? The Giants are clawing and the Angels have regained a faint pulse. Those two right now are a couple of the last hopes to goose a stretch-run that is threatening to boost football's television ratings even more.
Now, with colleague Danny Knobler hopefully somewhere with his feet up and an ice-cold lemonade nearby ... on to this week's 3 to Watch:
1. Time was, the Red Sox looked loaded and dangerous. Aw, truth be told, they still mostly look that way, but with Clay Buchholz out until mid-September, Daisuke Matsuzaka done for the season and Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all hurting, they're vulnerable. The pitching situation in particular is why they acquired Erik Bedard at the July 31 deadline, and it is Bedard who takes the ball in the series opener of Red Sox at Rangers, Monday night (8:05 ET) at the Ballpark in Arlington. It's an intriguing four-game series for a few reasons, not the least of which is because, if the season ended today, these two teams would face each other in the first round of the AL playoffs. One thing to watch between now and then, though: The Rangers' schedule down the stretch is more difficult than the Angels, with seven games against the Red Sox, six against Tampa Bay and three against Cleveland (the Angels have two against the White Sox and three against the Yankees, but they also get Baltimore again).
2. Speaking of tough schedules, what Manny Acta's Cleveland Indians are facing is pure torture, and the Indians did not get off to a good start in Detroit over the weekend, where Cleveland was swept. Thanks to early rainouts, the Indians are in the midst of playing 45 games in 44 days. They've got two home doubleheaders -- White Sox and Twins -- the final full week of the season. Before that, though, Seattle pulls into town on Monday, and Cleveland dives into its double-dips with Mariners at Indians, Tuesday afternoon and evening (1:05 and 7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. It doesn't get any easier with rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis (hamstring) on the disabled list and with slugger Travis Hafner nursing a right foot strain (he left Sunday's game in Detroit and the Indians will know more Monday).
3. Two teams struggling mightily to tighten a couple of AL races hook up for a quick two-game series, and by the time Chicago rookie Zach Stewart is finished facing Los Angeles' Jered Weaver in the finale of White Sox at Angels, Wednesday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium, we'll have a better idea of whether Ozzie Guillen's club is in or out in the AL Central, and whether the Angels are serious players in an AL West race that right now is Texas' to lose. The White Sox took two of three from the Rangers and are five games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Thanks to the Sox, the Angels were able to gain a couple of games back on Texas to pull to within four in the AL West. Considering that Texas pushed the Angels to six back last week and was one out away from seizing an eight-game lead on the Angels last Thursday night, Mike Scioscia's club is living large.