• Why the Dodgers are still first in the NL West: Thanks to gritty starting pitching and a stellar bullpen, they're surrendered four or fewer runs in 27 of their past 29 games.
• The Dodgers' latest challenge: Lefty Randy Wolf, their most consistent starter this season, has a sore left elbow and will skip the opener of this weekend's big series in San Francisco. So, to review: Wolf is ailing, Chad Billingsley appears to have hit a wall and youngster Clayton Kershaw (non-pitching shoulder) is skipping a start.
• The way things stand today, it'll all eyes on the field generals come October: The managers from the eight clubs would comprise the most experienced group of managers in one postseason since the wild-card format started in 1995. Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy will have combined for 51 postseason appearances (including 2009), 17 pennants, 11 World Series titles and 11 manager of the year awards. (The Yankees' Joe Girardi would be the lone man of the eight to have never managed in a postseason).
• Reasons why the AL West race is not a foregone conclusion: Sure, the Angels lead Texas by 4 1/2 games with little more than three weeks remaining, BUT: While the Angels still have four games left with the Yankees, three against Boston and seven against the Rangers, Texas' mix includes six games against Seattle (72-68) and three against Tampa Bay (72-68), decidedly less fierce than that Yankees-Red Sox tango. And the Rangers have beaten the Angels in nine of 12 games so far this summer.
• Reasons why the AL West race could be a foregone conclusion: While the above is true, so, too, is this: While the Angels are only 19-23 against the AL West this season, they're 24-12 against the AL East. Texas is 24-13 against the AL West and 25-19 against the AL East.
• Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson both think left-hander Francisco Liriano, 5-12 with a 5.80 ERA this summer, is going to come back strong in 2010 based on being two years out (by then) from Tommy John ligament transfer sugery. Liriano finally has regained his strength but couldn't repeat pitches this summer, especially his slider. "He'd throw two nasty sliders and then not get on top of the next one, leave it down in the zone and whack," Gardenhire says.
• He's out now with a plantar fascia injury, but Kyle Blanks has made a good early impression in San Diego (10 homers and 22 RBIs in 54 games). And it's easy to see why the 6-6, 285-pounder was who Tampa Bay targeted in trade talks last spring when the Padres came asking about right-handers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann. The Rays' answer was no, and Tampa subsequently wound up dealing Hammel to Colorado for minor-league pitcher Aneury Rodriguez on April 5. Rodriguez went 9-11 with a 4.50 ERA, with 111 strikeouts and only 59 walks over 142 innings pitched (27 starts), for Double-A Montgomery this summer.
• Maybe the Royals should zero in on second baseman Placido Polanco this winter on the free agent market. The Tigers' infielder is batting .337 (66 for 196) with 10 doubles, a triple, two homers and 24 RBI in 45 career games at Kauffman Stadium. The .337 average is seventh among active major leaguers at the K.
• Only two AL pitchers since 1988 have won 12 or more games in a season before turning 21: Seattle's Felix Hernandez and, now, Detroit's Rick Porcello. In Motown, Porcello's 12 wins is the most in one season by a Tiger 20 years old or younger since Dave Rozema won 11 in 1977 before he turned 21 that Aug. 5.
• Boston general manager Theo Epstein's line about the possibility of Curt Schilling running for Senate in the spot vacated by the late Ted Kennedy, that Schilling "would be good at filibustering", is one of the summer's classics.
• Bob Watson, vice-president of major league baseball's on-field operations, is recovering from back surgery this week.
• Hilarious piece on a new Jeter "movie", Pride of the Yankees 2, from my buddy Jim Caple.
Likes: Looking forward to reading Cardboard Gods: An American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker, due out next spring. Anybody who's ever read Wilker's Cardboard Gods Web site knows the guy can write. I read the Prologue and an excerpt written around the Rudy Meoli Topps 1975 No. 533 card and the book, part-memoir, part-Valentine to baseball, and based on what I've seen written about it, it looks like a winner. ... Here's a New York Times piece on Wilker. ... St. Mary Catholic Central High School (Monroe, Mich.) gained a nice bounceback win over Riverview last week and travels to Flat Rock to face the Rams on Friday night. Nice job so far by Coach Jack Giarmo's Falcons.
Dislikes: I'm already stocked up with reasons enough, but Ellen DeGeneres signing on with American Idol gives me one more reason not to watch.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Back then it was beautiful
The boys were sweet and musical
The laser lights looked mystical
Messed up stuff felt magical
Girls didn't seem so difficult
Boys didn't seem so typical
It was warm and white and wonderful
We were all invincible"
-- The Hold Steady, Joke About Jamaica