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Sunday, September 6, 2009
Updated: September 7, 11:58 PM ET
World Series seems to be headed to New York, St. Louis

ESPN.com

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

With CC Sabathia 6-0 over his past seven starts, the Yankees looked primed for a big postseason.

By Steve Berthiaume, ESPN

We're into the second week of September. If a contender is about to nosedive, that free fall is already under way, and simply hasn't grown dire enough for us to notice yet. As a great man once said, and as you'll hear us occasionally repeat on "Baseball Tonight," "We knew … but we didn't know …"

So, let's be proactive, put it on record before the September swoon. Tim Kurkjian asked me out of the blue while we were watching games this weekend, "Who makes it to the World Series?"

I said, "Cardinals vs. Yankees." Think about your World Series contenders; who really scares you come October? It illustrates just how difficult it is to be great for 162 games and THEN play the season's most critical games.

Let's start with the defending champion Phillies. Closer Brad Lidge is still struggling to make saves less exciting (or finish them at all), and Ryan Madson can't seem to record any big outs late in games, which isn't helping either.

Cliff Lee? He's given up 12 earned runs in eight innings over his past two starts. Which Cole Hamels will show up in October? The ace that went 3-0 in May and 3-1 in July, or the guy who pitched too many innings last season and went 0-2 in April, 1-2 in June and 0-3 in August? Philadelphia is still really good, but there's an uncertainty there.

It's hard to believe in the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw hasn't won a game since July 18 (he's 0-3 with six no-decisions). He simply throws too many pitches and leaves innings that have to be picked up by an overworked Dodgers bullpen. Hold that thought, because that bullpen needs to be talked about.

Randy Wolf has been the Dodgers' best starter all season, but at one point recently, HALF of Wolf's starts had ended with no-decisions. You can see Wolf stepping up with some clutch October starts. He eats innings and is the only guy on that staff who consistently goes deep into games, which gets us back to that bullpen. It may be completely gassed by the time the postseason arrives. Tim Kurkjian points out that in the past 12 years only one team, the '07 Rockies, advanced to the World Series with a bullpen that finished the season in the top 10 in innings pitched. As of now, only the Padres' bullpen has worked more innings than the Dodgers' bullpen. L.A. could be a three-and-out in October.

Angels? I love watching the Angels and the way they play with Chone Figgins, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis flying around the bases, with the great story of Kendry Morales' breakout season and Vlad Guerrero hitting pitches that bounce off the ground for home runs. But in the postseason, who starts the Angels' "must-win" playoff game? Which Angels starters scare you in a short series? Do you see that guy on the Angels' staff right now? I don't. What about Brian Fuentes as your "lights-out" postseason closer? Really?

The Red Sox pieces just don't seem to fit together very well. Look up Josh Beckett's past four starts. What happened? He's 0-1 with three no-decisions and has given up at least five runs in all four starts and at least seven in three of the four. The most reliable guy in Boston's bullpen (Billy Wagner) just showed up. Manny Delcarmen's stuff is electric and his numbers tell you he's solid. But watch him pitch; he can't get anybody out. Jonathan Papelbon seemingly needs to load the bases every time he comes in simply in order to concentrate. There are too many nights when Boston just looks old, tired, slow, frustrated and beatable.

The Tigers' Justin Verlander is what aces are supposed to be. He goes deep into games -- no "five and dives" from Verlander, whose mound presence always suggests he is taking personal responsibility for the entire nine innings. He doesn't look back over his shoulder toward the bullpen or to the dugout for the manager to come bail him out. He throws even harder as he goes deeper into games. Miguel Cabrera is an MVP candidate and Brandon Inge is what all baseball players are supposed to be, but watch the Tigers' bullpen close games. Next.

That leaves the Yankees and Cardinals. That's your World Series. Yankees hitters are killing the ball. The way they've developed their bullpen into a true corps of reliable relievers will become one of the most important stories of this season. Andy Pettitte has been very good and CC Sabathia could win the Cy Young. The Cardinals? Find a weakness.

Nobody ever said baseball predictions were easy. Back in March, our crack "Baseball Tonight" research guru, Mark Simon, put together a 2009 predictions sheet and 49 people who work on "Baseball Tonight" all made their season predictions.

Of the 49 participants; 24 had the Indians winning the AL Central. Only seven had the Tigers. Ouch. Some of the National League predictions went even more haywire. A staggering 43 of the 49 staff members predicted the Cubs would win the NL Central title, while only six people picked the Cardinals. As for the Mets, 23 of the predictors saw an NL East title for them in 2009. Baseball is a funny game. As the great man once said, "We knew … but we didn't know …"

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 4 | Sept. 3 | Sept. 2 | Sept. 1 | Aug. 31

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem points.

Web Gem points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem points leaderboard
Ryan Zimmerman 40
Mark Reynolds 38
Jack Wilson 37
Brandon Inge 34
Carlos Gomez 27
Jacoby Ellsbury 27
Cristian Guzman 25

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 13
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 11
Mark Reynolds Arizona Third base 10
Jack Wilson Pittsburgh-Seattle Shortstop 9
David Wright New York Mets Third base 9
Five tied 7

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Pittsburgh 34
Washington 32
Cincinnati 30
Philadelphia 29
Minnesota 27

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Mark Reynolds, ARI41HergesTop 9: 2-1, 1 Out. None on.
Prince Fielder, MIL37ValdezBot 12: 0-1, 1 Out. None on.
Jayson Werth, PHI31HawkinsTop 8: 2-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Evan Longoria, TB28JacksonBot 2: 1-2, 2 Outs. None on.
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS28NunezBot 9: 1-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons

BBTN MINUTE: JETER CHASING GEHRIG

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Ichiro Suzuki, who became the second-fastest player ever to reach 2,000 career hits with a first-inning double against Oakland on Sunday:

Most career hits
First 10 seasons
Paul Waner 2,036
Ichiro Suzuki* 2,000
Kirby Puckett 1,996
Al Simmons 1,966
Wade Boggs 1,965

* Ichiro has played only nine seasons.

WEB GEMS

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Chris Young• Sure, the Diamondbacks lost 13-5 on Sunday at Colorado for their third consecutive loss. That doesn't overshadow the day Chris Young had. Young had not homered since Aug. 4; on Sunday, he hit three solo shots. He also walked twice to reach base in all five plate appearances.
WORST
Sergio MitreSergio Mitre one-hit the White Sox over 6 1/3 innings in his previous start. He wasn't quite so good Sunday. Mitre gave up 10 hits and 11 runs over 4 1/3 innings in the Yankees' 14-8 loss against the Blue Jays. His ERA jumped from 5.65 to 7.02.

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Rays at Yankees, 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m. ET

With four straight losses, the Rays stand seven games behind the Red Sox in the AL wild-card race. It doesn't get easier, not with Tampa Bay set to face CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in this split doubleheader. Sabathia is 6-0 over his past seven starts; Burnett, though 0-4 over his past seven starts, is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts this year against the Rays.

Red Sox at White Sox, 2:05 p.m. ET

Two big-name, but struggling starters meet. Mark Buehrle is 0-4 over his eight starts since tossing a perfect game against the Rays on July 23. Josh Beckett is 0-1 over his past four starts and has given up 12 homers in 24 1/3 innings over that stretch.

Cardinals at Brewers, 2:05 p.m. ET

Lucky Brewers, they get another shot at Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals right-hander beat Milwaukee five days earlier in St. Louis' 10-3 win. Carpenter is 10-0 in 12 stars since a June 30 loss at home against the Giants.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Josh Beckett Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett has been bit by the home run bug lately. He has given up 14 homers in his past five starts after allowing only 10 in his first 22. Beckett, who starts Monday against the White Sox, is 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA in his past five starts, compared to 13-4 with a 3.12 ERA in his first 22.

Beckett's fastball speed is down and he's giving up many of the homers with two strikes in the count. He's throwing fewer fastballs of 95 mph or higher per start.

Josh Beckett (2009)

Beckett First 22 starts Past 5 starts
HR allowed 10 14
HR vs. fastball 9 10
HR with two strikes 3 7
Avg. fastball speed (mph) 94.1 93.4
95+ mph fastballs per start 21.8 10.6

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 12 games on Monday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

AL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Red Sox 79-57 -- 84.9%
Rangers 76-60 3.0 22.6%
Rays 72-64 7.0 1.5%
NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 77-60 -- 70.2%
Giants 75-62 2.0 27.4%
Marlins 72-65 5.0 5.8%
Braves 70-67 7.0 1.9%
Cubs 68-67 8.0 0.6%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October