Print and Go Back Baseball [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Updated: August 31, 2:40 PM ET
Padres continue charge

By Mark Simon, ESPN Research

Oh, how things change in the course of a week. Not long ago, the Reds were rolling while the Phillies were floundering, but the teams have reversed course over the last seven days.

As we hit the September stretch, a different team looks like the National League wild-card favorite each day. One day, it's the Marlins. Another, it's the Padres, and so on and so forth.

The American League wild-card race has established itself as a two-team competition, but the Twins have to avoid the fast fade that could come after recent losses to Kansas City.

The great thing about baseball is that if you check in with us again at this time next week, we'll probably be reversing course -- yet again.


Who's hot: Jermaine Dye has 29 RBI and 21 runs scored in August, including 13 RBI in his last seven games.
Who's not: Tadahito Iguchi had a big hit on Wednesday, but is 3-for-22 in his last five games.
Outlook: Bobby Jenks (38 saves) is looking as good as he did in 2005. His ERA is down to 3.32 after a shaky start.
Who's hot: Michael Cuddyer has 18 RBI in his last 14 games.
Who's not: Jason Kubel went 0-4 on Wednesday, his fourth straight game with an 0-fer.
Outlook: The Twins have five games left with the Royals and need to win them all to match last year's 13-6 mark against K.C.
Who's hot: No one. Red Sox return significantly depleted after 2-7 road trip.
Who's not: The team is in a collective malaise, having scored just 19 runs in its last nine games.
Outlook: Best thing going for the Red Sox -- 18 home games left. They're 39-24 at Fenway Park.
Who's hot: Roy Halladay is 16-4, including 11-1 in night games, but he can't pitch every game.
Who's not: Troy Glaus is 4-26 in his last eight games.
Outlook: Blue Jays have eight games left with Boston, but nothing else with the teams they're chasing in the standings.
Who's hot: Robb Quinlan has hit in 16 straight, raising his batting average to .330.
Who's not: John Lackey's happy to close August. After a 5-1 July, he didn't pick up his first win in August until his last start of the month.
Outlook: Their remaining schedule includes the Tigers and White Sox, as well as seven games with the A's.


Who's hot: Geoff Blum was 0-for-4 on Wednesday, but has 10 RBI in his last nine games.
Who's not: Mike Cameron was rolling for a while, but is in a 1-for-15 funk at the moment.
Outlook: Trevor Hoffman is seven saves shy of Lee Smith's all-time save record, and the Padres will likely need him to be perfect down the stretch.
Who's hot: Ryan Howard has at least one RBI in eight straight games. He's the first player with 40 RBI in a month since Ryan Klesko in 2001.
Who's not: Chase Utley hates playing Washington. He has one hit in his last 29 at-bats against the Nationals.
Outlook: They went 18-10 in August. Repeating that over their next 28 games would give them 85 wins, and likely keep them in the hunt into the final weekend.
Who's hot: Ken Griffey Jr. has hit in 15 straight games. He's one of the few Reds to be doing well recently.
Who's not: Adam Dunn hasn't homered on the West Coast trip.
Outlook: Bad news for the Reds -- they haven't had a winning September since 2000.
Who's hot: Hanley Ramirez is hitting well again. He has four three-hit games in his last seven games.
Who's not: Ricky Nolasco is the Marlins' only struggling starter. He went 2-3 in August with two appearances lasting just two innings.
Outlook: They may catch a break by playing the Mets seven times in September, particularly if the Mets clinch the East before Florida visits New York on Sept. 18.
Who's hot: Barry Bonds is 6-for-7 with two home runs and four RBI in his last three games, and 12-for-23 in his last eight games.
Who's not: Jason Schmidt has allowed 14 runs in his last two starts.
Outlook: Shea Hillenbrand is playing like these games really mean something and has multiple RBI in each of his last four contests.


All in all, the American League could shake out to have a very good MVP race, and the winner probably will be decided in September. Since it's still August, let's take a look at the race and the players who I believe are the top four in contention.

David Ortiz's numbers have been simply unbelievable. He's been Mr. Clutch in every sense of the word. While I normally believe the MVP should come from the best team, his numbers are so skewed that it doesn't matter the Red Sox aren't likely to make the playoffs.

Of course, the caveat is if he comes back from his health issues. Although he's put up big numbers that could hold up, it would be very difficult to choose him if he misses the rest of the season. In that case, my No. 2 pick is Derek Jeter.

A lot has been made of the Red Sox's injury problems, and while they've only gotten worse as the season has progressed, the Yankees haven't exactly been blessed with great health either. But Jeter has been there consistently -- leading this team and performing day in and day out.

After those two guys, the competition gets a little muddled with Jermaine Dye and Justin Morneau itching to break out of the pack. Dye has been phenomenal over the past week and is willing his team to the playoffs, while Morneau and Joe Mauer are responsible for the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins.

• Nick Markakis homered in the Orioles' 7-4 win over the Rangers. It was Markakis' ninth homer during August, the highest monthly total by a rookie this season and a franchise record for rookies in any month. The previous record of eight was set by Otis Brannan of the St. Louis Browns in 1928 and tied three times prior to Markakis -- all in 1960. Jim Gentile hit eight homers in June 1960 and again in August, when his rookie teammate Ron Hansen also hit eight homers.

• Jermaine Dye continued to add to his MVP credentials, going 2-for-2 in late-inning pressure situations and scoring the winning run in the eighth inning of the White Sox's 5-4 victory over the Devil Rays. With nine hits in his last 19 at-bats, Dye has raised his LIPS batting average to .367. Prior to 2006, his career batting average in late-inning pressure situations was .203.

• Roger Clemens pitched seven scoreless innings, but once again all he had to show for it was a big fat "ND." The Astros scored in the ninth inning for a 1-0 victory. It was the 17th time in his three seasons with the Astros that Clemens didn't allow a run, but he's won only eight of those games. Clemens' nine no-decisions in games in which he didn't allow a run not only lead the majors over the last three seasons, they're more than double the total of any other pitcher.

•  More from Elias Says

Streaking Phillies roll over Nationals.
Chien-Ming Wang tied Toronto's Roy Halladay for the major league lead with his 16th win, combining on a four-hitter and leading the Yankees over the Tigers 2-0 in the opener of a doubleheader. Pitching on six days' rest, Wang (16-5) allowed three hits in 7 2/3 innings. He got 13 groundball outs, including five on comebackers, and won for the eighth time in nine decisions.
Curt Schilling had another subpar outing as the Red Sox lost to A's 7-2 and finished a miserable 2-7 road trip. Schilling (14-7) allowed six runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Although he became only the 14th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, he lost his third straight decision and hasn't won in five starts since beating Tampa Bay on Aug. 4.
The Cubs got swept by the Pirates and ended an 0-6 road trip. It was the Bucs' first three-game sweep of Chicago since 2000 and first in Pittsburgh since April 9-11, 1999. Now just one-and-a-half games separate the Cubs from the Pirates and last place in the NL Central. The Bucs have been in the cellar since starting 0-6, but the Cubs went 11-17 in August.
AP Photo/George Nikitin
Albert Pujols hit his 39th home run and helped the Cardinals end the Marlins' nine-game winning streak with a 13-6 victory.
"I think we've got a lot of momentum going. … We're going to get it rolling here and give ourselves a shot at the wild card."
-- Braves LHP Chuck James after Atlanta's 5-3 win over the Giants, the team's fourth straight victory at home
• Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was to remain at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston until Thursday as a precaution and for further tests on his heart. "David Ortiz is in the process of undergoing further testing to determine the cause of his symptoms," team medical director Thomas Gill said in a statement. "The testing and evaluation will continue throughout the remainder of this afternoon and evening. David will remain in the hospital Wednesday night. He is resting comfortably and is in good spirits."

• Hideki Matsui took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since the Yankees left fielder broke his left wrist in May. Matsui took 35 swings at pitches thrown by coach Mitch Seoane in an indoor batting cage at Yankee Stadium. "I think everything was good. I didn't have any pain," Matsui said through a translator. "My swing and my mechanics I think isn't too bad at this point right now. I think it's more my timing is a little off."

• Mariners reliever Rafael Soriano was released from a hospital Wednesday, less than 24 hours after being hit in the head by a line drive. Doctors said the right-hander sustained a mild concussion when Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero hit an eighth-inning liner that struck Soriano just behind his right ear Tuesday night. The pitcher spent the night at Harborview Medical Center under the care of Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chief of neurosurgery at the hospital. Soriano had an X-ray and two CT scans that revealed no fractures or internal swelling of the brain.

• Cardinals LHP Mark Mulder, hammered in a pair of starts since coming off the disabled list, believes he probably won't pitch again this season because of shoulder problems. "I doubt it, but I don't know," said Mulder. "I can't give you a yes or a no, but the way it feels and the way it looks, I doubt it." Mulder underwent an MRI, the second this season on his ailing shoulder, on Wednesday morning. He said Dr. George Paletta, the team's orthopedic consultant, told him the MRI was very similar to the first one taken in June when Mulder went on the DL with impingement and rotator cuff fraying. The next step for Mulder will be to get a second opinion. After undergoing extensive rehabilitation without success, surgery has become a viable option.

Maddux wins No. 330 as Dodgers beat Reds.
Johan SantanaRoyals at Twins, 1:10 ET: Jorge De La Rosa (3-3, 8.13) has fared poorly since being acquired from the Brewers. After winning his first start for K.C., he is 0-1 with a 9.23 ERA in his last four outings. Johan Santana (15-5, 3.01) continues to bolster his Cy Young case. He ranks first in the AL in ERA, BAA (.221), WHIP (1.02) and strikeouts (196), and is second in innings pitched (191.1).

Giants at Braves, 7:35 ET: Matt Morris (9-11, 4.47) has a 3.93 ERA in August, but only one win to show for it. John Smoltz (12-6, 3.36) still can be dominant. He is 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA and a 5.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio since the All-Star break.

Dontrelle WillisMarlins at Cardinals, 8:10 ET: Dontrelle Willis (9-10, 4.01), who's 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last two outings, has pitched better on the road than his 4-6 record suggests, posting a 3.33 ERA and limiting batters to a .258 average away from Dolphin Stadium. Jeff Suppan (10-7, 4.77) has pitched well at the new Busch Stadium. He is 6-2 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts.

Thursday's probable starters