Tag:Rangers
Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.


Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.


Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:15 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 2:38 pm
 

Up 3, 13 to play

BOSTON -- Teams don't blow nine-game leads in September. It just doesn't happen.

Teams do blow three-game leads with 13 games to play. That does happen.

That has happened.

In fact, it's not hard to find teams that have led by four games, or even five games, with 13 games to play, and still missed the playoffs.

The 1951 Dodgers (four games) did it, although it took maybe the most famous home run of all time.

The 1964 Phillies (5 1/2 games) did it, although it took a collapse that tarnished Gene Mauch's legacy for the rest of his life.

The 1995 Angels, the 2009 Tigers and the 2007 Padres (all three games) did it, too. So did the 1934 Giants (3 1/2 games), the 1962 Dodgers (four games) , the 1965 Giants (3 1/2 games) and the 1938 Pirates (3 1/2 games).

The point isn't that the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs. Most likely, they won't.

The point is that they've moved from "It can't happen because it's never happened," to "It could happen, but it would still be historic."

And yes, the same goes for the Rangers (up 3 1/2 games on the Angels in the American League West), and even the Braves (up 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals for the National League wild card).

Oh, and Mets fans, your 2007 team doesn't make the list. While they were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 games left, the lead was already down to 2 1/2 games by the time the Mets had played their 149th game (and had 13 remaining).

The 1978 Red Sox aren't on the list, either. They led the Yankees by seven games entering September, but led by 2 1/2 with 13 games left.
Posted on: September 11, 2011 10:10 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Let's panic! edition

In the September without pennant races, something strange is developing.

Pennant races.

Real, live pennant races. The kind of races that get you excited, if your team is doing the chasing, or make you nervous, if your team is trying to hold on.

The kind of races that make you . . .

"Hell yeah, you've got to panic," David Ortiz told reporters Sunday, after his Red Sox were swept by the Rays to shrink their wild-card lead to just 3 1/2 games (with the Rays coming to Boston this week for four games).

Panic!

They know the feeling in Texas, where the Rangers once led the Angels by seven games, but were just 1 1/2 games up as of Sunday morning (and back to 2 1/2 games as of Sunday night).

They're starting to feel it in Atlanta, where the Braves once led the wild card by nine games, then ended a bad week with just a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals.

And yes, they know it in Boston, where they panicked at 0-6, and at 2-10. Yeah, they're going to panic, now that one more week like the last one would see them looking up at the Rays in the standings.

Eight days ago, the computers at coolstandings.com said the Sox were 99.6 percent sure to make the playoffs. Now, after seven losses in eight games (including three straight to the Rays), those same (panicking) computers dropped it to 88.2 percent.

Frank Wren knows the feeling. The Braves general manager said he was watching those computer readings a year ago, watching them drop from 95.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

The Braves did make the playoffs, although their spot wasn't guaranteed until the Giants beat the Padres on the final day of the season, three hours after the Braves played their last scheduled game.

It made for a fantastic final weekend, even if it also made for a lot of nervous moments for Wren and for Braves fans.

For baseball's sake, the best thing that can happen now is that the Red Sox-Rays race goes to the final weekend, that the Rangers-Angels race comes down to the two teams' three-game series in Anaheim the final three days of the season, and maybe even that the Cardinals get close enough for the Braves to shout, "Panic!"

Too much to hope for?

Maybe so, but on Labor Day, even one pennant race seemed too much to hope for.

This was the September without pennant races . . . until it wasn't.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Since June 29, the Angels are 16-0 when they've started Jered Weaver or Dan Haren in a home game. That's nice, but it doesn't exactly help them this week, with neither Weaver nor Haren starting in a three-game series -- on the road -- in Oakland. The Angels begin a 10-game trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto with Angels at A's, Monday night (10:05 ET) at the Coliseum, with Joel Pineiro on the mound. The last time the Angels were in Oakland, they lost three of four, allowing the Rangers to increase their AL West lead from 1 1/2 games to four games.

2. Should the Braves be worried that they have rookies starting all three games of the series that ends with Marlins at Braves, Wednesday afternoon (12:05 ET) at Turner Field? Not necessarily. The Braves have lost eight of their last 11, but all three wins in that stretch were started by rookies, including one by Randall Delgado, who starts Wednesday against the Marlins.

3. The Cardinals don't have any games remaining against the Braves (or against the Brewers, who they trail by six games in the NL Central). The Rangers and Angels don't meet until the final three games of the season, by which point we'll either have tons of drama or none of it. But the Rays are in Boston this week, for four games beginning with Rays at Red Sox, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Unless Tampa Bay stumbles badly in three games before that in Baltimore (and even then, only if the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays at home), this weekend should be interesting. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and David Price set to go in the series. The Red Sox haven't even announced their starter for Thursday yet, and still don't know whether Josh Beckett will pitch in the series. One last thing to think about (for now) on Rays-Red Sox: If this race goes to the final six days of the season, the Yankees could have a big impact on it, with three games at home against the Sox followed by three at Tampa Bay. Imagine if the Red Sox need the Yankees to beat the Rays for them! Panic!
Posted on: September 4, 2011 9:42 pm
 

3 to Watch: The return of Strasburg edition

Stephen Strasburg returns to the major leagues Tuesday night, and as interesting as it will be to see how he pitches, it'll be even more interesting to see if the buzz is back.

Can he make us care, the way he did last year? Can he make us ask every day, "Is Strasburg pitching tonight?"

It's different, I know. He's been out for a year after Tommy John surgery. It's September, not June. He's only going to make four starts at a time when we're more focused on pennant races (if there are any) or football. He's going to be on a pitch limit even stricter than the one the Nationals held him to last year (and will be limited to four innings and 60 pitches in his debut, according to the Washington Post).

"I'm not going to win a Cy Young in four starts," Strasburg told reporters, according to MLB.com.

He didn't win a Cy Young last year. He was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, before hurting his elbow in August.

But we were fascinated by him, more than we've been fascinated by any player coming through the minor leagues. We couldn't wait for him to get to the majors, and when he got there, we couldn't wait for his every start.

His debut, with 14 strikeouts in seven innings, was one of the biggest events of the entire season.

It won't be like that Tuesday. It can't be like that Tuesday.

According to the Nationals, there are still tickets available, although they say it should be a bigger crowd than they'd normally have for a September Tuesday against the Dodgers.

There is some anticipation. Strasburg's rehabilitation starts in the minor leagues made national news, and in those six starts he struck out 29 while walking just four.

In his last start, according to the Washington Times, Strasburg topped out at 99 mph on the radar gun.

He threw 99 last June, on his 94th and final pitch of a magical night.

I'm not saying that Tuesday will be as magical, or that it even could be. But I'll be back in Washington to see it, and more than that to feel it.

Will the buzz be back?

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Strasburg underwent surgery on Sept. 3, 2010. He returns to the big leagues on Sept. 6, 2011, in Dodgers at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. That's a fairly normal progression; Strasburg's teammate Jordan Zimmermann returned one year and seven days after he had Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann returned on the same day that Bryce Harper had his introductory press conference and Strasburg underwent an arthogram that showed he would need Tommy John surgery, too.

2. On Aug. 15, the Rangers had a four-game lead in the American League West, and that night they began a 23-game stretch in which they played every game against a team that (as of Sunday morning) had a record of .500 or better. The Rangers ended the weekend with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and they'll end that tough stretch with Rangers at Rays, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. After that game, the Rangers will have 18 games left on their schedule, and only six of those 18 (three at home against the Indians, three in Anaheim against the Angels) will be against teams with winning records. So if the Angels want to catch up, this week (when they play three home games against the Mariners) could be crucial. It's an interesting pitching matchup for the Rangers Wednesday, with Derek Holland (seven shutout innings last Friday against the Red Sox) facing David Price (who threw eight shutout innings the last time he faced the Red Sox).

3. Last year, both the Phillies and the Braves made the playoffs, but when the teams met in two September series, it was obvious that the Braves were no match. They meet again this week, in a series that ends with Braves at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Once again, the Phillies have basically wrapped up the division title (which will be their fifth straight), and this time the Braves are far ahead in the wild-card race. This time, at least going in, the Braves seem a more competitive match for the Phils. But with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens both battling injuries, the Braves might need to rely more than they'd like on rookie Brandon Beachy, who starts Wednesday against Roy Oswalt (who the Phillies will be watching carefully).

Posted on: September 2, 2011 10:42 pm
 

Red Sox? Yankees? How about the Rangers?

BOSTON -- Friday in the Boston Globe, columnist Dan Shaughnessy called Red Sox-Yankees the "overdue dream ALCS matchup."

Spend enough time in this part of the country, especially during Red Sox-Yankees week, and you can get sucked into believing that an all-AL East ALCS is not only overdue and dream, but also inevitable.

Until the Rangers come to town and remind you that they are the defending American League champions.

Friday's reminder was a loud one, with three home runs and a 10-0 win over the Red Sox.

Yes, there is another AL team capable of going to the World Series, and it's the same team that went there last year.

The Rangers themselves would rather not talk about it, because unlike the Yankees and Red Sox they're not yet close to guaranteeing their spot in the playoffs. Their 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, entering play Friday, gives them the most tenuous hold of any of the eight teams currently in playoff position.

"I don't think that far ahead, because there are no guarantees in this game," manager Ron Washington said. "We haven't won anything yet."

But while winning the West is not an insignificant issue, it's reasonable to assume that the Rangers will hold off the Angels. It's also reasonable to think that they could pose a real threat to the Red Sox and/or the Yankees.

The lineup is basically the one that eliminated the Yankees last October, with Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba in place of Vladimir Guerrero and Bengie Molina.

Yes, but Cliff Lee is gone.

Yes, he is. But the Rangers' rotation is deeper than you think, and the Rangers have strengthened their bullpen so much that they can limit the outs they need from those starters.

"You make the best of what you have," pitching coach Mike Maddux said Friday. "And I like what we have."

The Rangers made the best midseason move in baseball last year when they traded for Lee. They made the best series of midseason moves this year with their deals for relievers Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez, as colleague Scott Miller detailed a few weeks back.

With strong lineups all around the American League -- and rotation questions all around, too -- this year's AL playoffs could well be decided by the bullpens. The Rangers, who read the trade market well, could be in as good position as anyone.

The challenge for Maddux and Washington is to keep their starters from getting too worn down before October begins.

C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis both pitched through October last year, and you wonder about how that will affect them. Alexi Ogando is a converted reliever who has already pitched more than twice as many innings this year as he did all of last year.

Derek Holland, who beat the Red Sox by throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just two hits Friday night, has pitched more innings than he did a year ago.

"I'm not concerned," Washington said. "But of course we're looking at it. There is some drawback to these young guys not being there before, but it is also something they have to experience. Every starting staff in baseball that makes it to the postseason, consistently, they have to go through it before they figure it out.

"So we're going through it."

Wilson said Friday he feels better physically than he did entering September a year ago, saying he "refined" his workouts and has seen the effect.

Privately, the Rangers hope that they can create some distance between themselves and the Angels soon, in part because it would enable them to give their starters (and even some of their position players) extra rest before October.

Publicly, they say they don't expect the Angels to go away.

But the Rangers also believe that they're more ready for what's ahead, this month and probably next, than they were a year ago.

"Last year, we were constantly talking about staying focused," Michael Young said. "This year, there's no need to talk about it, because we know. We just know it."

They know that, and they know they're good.

And if everyone in the Northeast (and a bunch of people elsewhere) want to assume that this year is all about the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rangers aren't going to worry about it.

"That doesn't bother us at all," Young said. "It's a great rivalry (Yankees-Red Sox). I think if you go to our part of the country, I think you'd find that a lot of people are talking about us."

Win again in October, they'll have people talking everywhere.
Posted on: September 2, 2011 2:00 am
 

3 to Watch: The White Sox crisis edition

If the White Sox somehow find their way back into the race in the American League Central, will Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams stop fighting long enough to enjoy it?

Should they?

Sometimes it feels like the White Sox only play well when they're in crisis. Sure enough, they've won seven of their last 10, during a stretch that included Guillen's strange demand for a contract extension and also, according to sources, a nasty pregame confrontation between Williams and one of Guillen's coaches.

Sometimes it seems that if things get ugly enough off the field, the White Sox respond by avoiding ugly play on the field.

The Sox are still 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers, which means they probably need to win at least five of the six remaining head-to-head meetings to have any chance at a miracle run.

The White Sox get their first chance this weekend in Detroit, with three meetings Sept. 12-14 in Chicago. Neither team's schedule is particularly taxing otherwise, which is better news for the Tigers, as the team holding a significant lead.

If there were close races elsewhere, we'd barely acknowledge Tigers-White Sox. But five of the eight playoff spots are basically wrapped up, and baseball is in real danger of a September without drama.

If you want a pennant race, root for the second-place Giants this weekend against the first-place Diamondbacks, who lead San Francisco by six games. And if you like your drama on and off the field, root for the White Sox against the Tigers.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The next seven days might be the most crucial remaining stretch in the American League West, even though the first-place Rangers and second-place Angels will be on opposite coasts. The Rangers have six games at Boston and at Tampa Bay, which could give the Angels (six home games against the Twins and Mariners) a chance to eat into their 3 1/2-game deficit. It begins for Texas with Rangers at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. It could also be an interesting night for the Red Sox, who are starting to believe that Andrew Miller could help them in some role in the playoffs. Miller, the 6-foot-7 left-hander, shut out the Rangers for 6 1/3 innings last week in Texas.

2. The Diamondbacks have won nine in a row, and as everyone in Arizona no doubt knows by now, club president Derrick Hall and general manager Kevin Towers vowed to shave their heads if the team ever won 10 straight. That could happen Friday night, when Joe Saunders faces Matt Cain. But the most interesting pitching matchup of the weekend comes a day later, in Diamondbacks at Giants, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at AT&T Park. Ian Kennedy, a Cy Young candidate this year, faces Tim Lincecum, a Cy candidate every year.

3. The presence of Justin Verlander in the Tiger rotation makes it unlikely they'll lose enough games to blow a 5 1/2-game lead. But if the Tigers are to truly be dangerous in the playoffs, they'd likely need Max Scherzer to find some consistency, as well. Scherzer has a 1.64 ERA in three starts this year against the White Sox, but he gave up seven runs in three innings Monday night against the Royals. Scherzer faces Mark Buehrle in White Sox at Tigers, Sunday night (8:09 ET) at Comerica Park.


Posted on: August 25, 2011 11:45 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 11:49 pm
 

3 to Watch: The glimmer of a chance edition

Last Friday morning, the host of a morning talk show on the Angels' flagship radio station asked me if Mark Trumbo's dramatic home run the night before had given the Angels "a glimmer of a chance" in the American League West.

Good thing I said yes.

It would have been easy to say no. I was tempted to say no.

The Angels had just lost three of four to the Rangers. They still trailed the Rangers by six games in the American League West.

There was no way they were coming back. But maybe because I wanted to be nice, or maybe because I almost believed it, I said yes.

Good thing I did.

The Angels are in Texas this weekend, and if they win all three games they leave town Sunday night in first place. If they win two of three, they leave town one game out.

Even if they lose two of three, they're three games out, with a month to play.

They have at least "a glimmer of a chance."

Good thing, too, because baseball needs a pennant race in the American League West.

The Tigers have gone ahead by 6 1/2 games in the American League Central. The Brewers are so far ahead in the National League Central (10 games, as of Thursday morning) that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked if it's time for the Cardinals to start selling off players.

The Yankees and the Red Sox have known for weeks that they'll be in the American League playoffs. Same goes for the Phillies and Braves in the National League.

If the Rangers had pulled away, we could have been stuck with just the NL West, with the surprising Diamondbacks, the champion Giants . . . and the Rockies?

With five straight wins, the Rockies had pulled to within 8 1/2 games of the lead, before the Diamondbacks won Thursday to make it nine games.

"It's a longshot," Troy Tulowitzki told reporters. "But if anyone can do it, it's us."

The Rockies are 63-68, hardly contender-like. But it's only four games worse than they were after 131 games in 2007.

That year, they ended up with 90 wins. This year, 90 wins might win the NL West.

I'm not sure it's even a glimmer of a chance yet. But Tulowitzki is right.

If anyone can do it, it's them.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. You'd be surprised how many players talk about going back to finish their career where they started it. Jim Thome got the chance, when the Twins traded him to the Indians Thursday night. Thome, who last played for Cleveland in 2002, returns for Royals at Indians, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field, which was known as Jacobs Field the last time he played for the Indians. Ubaldo Jimenez, last month's big Indians acquisition, will be on the mound.

2. The best thing the Angels have going for them is the top of their rotation, with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. And manager Mike Scioscia seems ready to use all three of those aces this weekend, even though it would mean using Santana and Weaver on three days' rest for the first time in either's big-league career. Santana would face Rangers ace C.J. Wilson in Angels at Rangers, Saturday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark. Weaver would pitch Sunday night against Colby Lewis. Haren opens the series on regular rest, Friday against Derek Holland.

3. The Rockies' longshot run last year basically ended on a Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, when they took a 6-1 lead and ended up losing 7-6. And it fell apart completely a few nights later in Arizona. Their longer-shot run heads to Los Angeles and Arizona this week, including Rockies at Dodgers, Sunday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Dodger Stadium.



Posted on: August 14, 2011 7:48 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 7:58 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Giant series in Atlanta edition

Before they were champions, the Giants were just trying to get out of Turner Field with their season still alive.

They trailed the Braves by a run with two out in the ninth inning of Game 3, an out away from going down in the series two games to one and facing elimination the following night. In 27 2/3 innings against Braves pitching, they had scored just five earned runs.

In their entire magical month, the Giants would never come closer to going home disappointed.

They made it out of Atlanta, thanks to a big hit from Aubrey Huff and a couple of big errors from Brooks Conrad, and then an Alex Gonzalez error and a Cody Ross hit the following night.

They went on to win it all, and they never came as close to elimination as they were on that Sunday night at Turner Field.

The Giants are back in Atlanta this week, and while it's an exaggeration to say that they need to save their season again, they certainly aren't coasting back to the playoffs. With 11 losses in their last 16 games, the Giants have allowed the Diamondbacks to grab a two-game lead in the National League West.

If they get to October, the Giants could well run into the Braves again (although based on the standings after the weekend, the NL West winner would open against the Phillies). They'd face a different Braves team than the one they beat last October, because Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens missed that series with injuries, and Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn weren't yet with the Braves.

Even so, the Giants only outscored Atlanta 11-9 in the four playoff games, and just eight of the Giants' 11 runs were earned. The Giants hit .212 with a .583 OPS in the series.

They won, and they went on to win it all.

But they'll never forget those nights at Turner Field.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. At the July 31 deadline, the Braves refused to trade any of their four big pitching prospects. Now two of the four are in the big leagues, and a third -- Randall Delgado -- will arrive in time to start in Giants at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field. The 21-year-old Delgado has made just two starts in Triple-A, but he won both and didn't give up a run in either of them. Delgado made a spot start for the Braves earlier this year, losing to the Rangers. He joines Mike Minor in the rotation (Minor will face Tim Lincecum on Thursday), while Arodys Vizcaino is in the bullpen, and Julio Teheran (who made two spot starts earlier in the year remains in Triple-A.

2. Justin Verlander, who won his 100th game last Thursday in Cleveland, has the most wins of any active pitcher under 30. No surprise there. But did you realize that Ervin Santana is second, with 85? And did you realize that Santana's ERA since the All-Star break is 1.09, the best of any big-league starter? Santana makes his most important start yet, facing C.J. Wilson in Rangers at Angels, Wednesday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. The Rangers, who led the second-place Angels by just one game a week ago, opened up a four-game lead on Sunday, heading into the four-game series that begins Monday night.

3. Santana has the best ERA in baseball since the All-Star break. Ian Kennedy has the most wins, with six (to go with a 2.14 ERA). Kennedy and the surprising Diamondbacks get a big test this week, with a trip that will take them to Philadelphia (where they'll see both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) and to Atlanta. Kennedy faces Vance Worley in Diamondbacks at Phillies, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com