Shake, battle and roll

The wild-card races should be very exciting as the season hits its final month. Nothing has been decided. The Padres came close to pulling away from the pack, but now they're so hot they're on the verge of exiting the discussion -- and pulling the Diamondbacks into a wild September scramble. With three straight wins over the Mets, the Phillies have put themselves in good position to contend. The Dodgers also are streaking. And don't count out the Braves just yet.

In the American League, the Yankees are in good shape while the Mariners are reeling, but their fates won't be more clearly determined until the teams go head-to-head in a huge matchup next week. The Tigers might shake out as the Yankees' biggest rivals for the wild card, but just when they seemed ready to charge, a key injury has taken its toll. Then there are the longshots, like the Twins and Blue Jays, who are on the verge of falling off the map. We hope to have a better picture of everything when we take another close look at these races next week.


Who's hot: Raul Ibanez has played himself into contention for AL Player of the Month. He is hitting .400 in August and has a seven-game hitting streak, but he doesn't have an RBI in those past seven contests.
Who's not: The starting pitching allowed 17 runs in the three-game sweep by the Angels. Of course, that's been a problem all season. Mariners starters rank 27th in the majors with a 5.10 ERA, and it was a bad sign to see Felix Hernandez, who had won four straight starts, get roughed up for six runs.
Outlook: Troubling. The Mariners play their next 10 on the road -- with series against the Blue Jays, Yankees and Tigers. The lone bright spot for the M's is their .290 road batting average, which ranks among the best in baseball. They will need strong offensive performances against those teams.
Who's hot: Yes, Alex Rodriguez is hitting .344 with five home runs in his past nine games, but that doesn't necessarily come as a surprise. How about Joba Chamberlain? According to The Elias Sports Bureau, Chamberlain is the first pitcher in baseball's modern era (since 1900) to have a scoreless outing with a strikeout in each of his first eight appearances. Chamberlain's presence even has had a positive effect on Kyle Farnsworth, whose streak of seven straight scoreless outings was not snapped until Wednesday.
Who's not: Robinson Cano was hitting .315 entering play Aug. 13, but he is at just .190 since then, dropping his batting average to .300.
Outlook: Huge series coming up with Mariners starting Monday, where the wild-card lead could be at stake. They'll have to figure out J.J. Putz, who has four saves against the Yankees this season. First up comes Tampa Bay this weekend, and the Yankees are only 7-5 (with a scary 5.83 ERA) against the Devil Rays.
Who's hot: Magglio Ordonez has had an incredible August -- hitting .389 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs. He also is hitting .406 with runners in scoring position, which is particularly huge with Gary Sheffield out.
Who's not: Anyone with runners in scoring position and two outs. In the past two games, the Tigers have stranded 14 base runners in scoring position with two outs. That would explain why, on Tuesday, they became the third AL team since 1900 to score three runs or fewer on 16 or more hits in a nine-inning game.
Outlook: It looked pretty good until the past two days, when it became readily apparent the Tigers miss Sheffield. Once they get out of Kansas City, they head to Oakland, before returning home for 10 games, including three huge ones with the Mariners beginning Sept. 7.
Who's hot: No offense to Jason Tyner, but when he is your hottest hitter, your lineup is in trouble. Tyner has had a nice season. Besides having hit his first major league home run, he currently is riding a 12-game hitting streak and batting .304 this season.
Who's not: Johan Santana followed up his 17-strikeout effort Aug. 19 by allowing four runs in each of his next two starts. He leads the AL in home runs allowed with a career-high 29, including five in his past two outings.
Outlook: Bleak, except for this: The Twins now have a four-game series with the Royals, and if they can make up some ground, they still will have a faint glimmer of hope with six games against the Tigers in September. In the end, the Twins might become best friends with the Yankees, since Minnesota closes the season with seven games against the Tigers and Red Sox.
Who's hot: Alex Rios is 7-for-17 in his past four games and took a significant step Wednesday by snapping a 30-game home run drought.
Who's not: Vernon Wells, who has not put up the kind of numbers one would expect this season, is in a 3-for-26 funk and is without an RBI in his past six games.
Outlook: Slim, especially considering they would have to leapfrog the Yankees. But they do go head to head with New York seven times in September. Toronto's upcoming series with Seattle is a must-sweep if the Blue Jays want to make some headway.


Who's hot: Prior to batting 0-for-4 on Wednesday, Conor Jackson was on a nice tear, hitting .440 over a seven-game stretch, giving the Diamondbacks someone other than Chris Young and Eric Byrnes to get big hits.
Who's not: Orlando Hudson is 3-for-24 with just one run scored in his past six games. Hudson has had stretches in which he has played like an MVP candidate, but he is struggling a bit.
Outlook: The D-backs are a different team at home, and if they can get out of San Diego with a win, they will have a one-game lead heading into a crucial nine-game homestand, with a rematch against the Padres next week.
Who's hot: Brian Giles has rediscovered his power, hitting six of his eight home runs in August. Remember, Giles averaged 37 home runs per season from 1999 to 2002, so having his power numbers back in shape can make a big difference.
Who's not: Trevor Hoffman has blown three saves this month and has a 7.00 ERA in his past 10 appearances. If Hoffman can be the kind of closer he historically has been in September (81 saves in 87 save chances), the Padres should be just fine.
Outlook: Chris Young's return Thursday is huge, especially with another series against Arizona looming next week. His ERA at home this season is 0.66.
Who's hot: Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Ryan Howard might be the team MVP, but the Phillies wouldn't have taken three straight from the Mets without Rollins, who has four straight multihit games, and Burrell, who had two home runs in the series and six RBIs in his past five games.
Who's not: Jamie Moyer probably saved his spot in the starting rotation by allowing only two runs in Wednesday's win over the Mets. In his previous two starts, Moyer had allowed 16 runs in 8 2/3 innings.
Outlook: The Phillies have gained four games in the NL East in the past four days (unbeaten since Brett Myers had a confrontation with a local writer), putting them back in the division title hunt. The key will be maintaining the level of play they have shown against the Mets with their next opponent, the Marlins, against whom they are only 6-6 this season.
Who's hot: The back of the bullpen. When the Dodgers get a lead, it sticks, because they have Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito. The two have combined in August to allow three runs for a 0.92 ERA. That's why the Dodgers were able to win three straight one-run games against Washington.
Who's not: This doesn't exactly qualify as a slump, but Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal are 1-for-19 the past two days. The Dodgers still won both games, so that's an encouraging sign. When they are on, like they were in Sunday's win over the Mets, Los Angeles is very tough to beat.
Outlook: The Dodgers have a huge series this weekend with the Padres. L.A. is 5-7 against San Diego in 2007 and 10-20 the past two seasons. Losing ground would undo the good that's come the past four days.
Who's hot: The tough out the past four games hasn't neccessarily been Andruw Jones or Mark Teixeira. It's been Matt Diaz, who is 9-for-17 with three home runs during that stretch. He has had a great month, hitting .403 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs.
Who's not: Jeff Francoeur is in a minislump, although going 2-for-5 on Wednesday might have snapped that. Francoeur is hitting .163 with two RBIs in his past nine games and is back to averaging a strikeout per game this month.
Outlook: The Braves have feasted on the Mets this season, winning two of three games in four series, and they meet again this weekend. This also is the time of year when Atlanta (if in the race) tends to play well, so don't be surprised if the club makes a nice run.

Ben Sheets delivers win over Cubs in return.
Jeff Kent Jeff Kent had four hits in the Dodgers' 10-9 victory over the Nationals -- L.A.'s fourth straight win. Kent's leadoff single started the winning rally in the 12th inning, and he also hit two doubles, raising his career total to 534 and tying Lou Gehrig for 27th place.
Mark Avery/AP Photo
The Phillies beat the Mets to close within three games of the NL East leaders.
Jeff Weaver Jered Weaver won for the fourth time in five decisions, and the Angels beat the Mariners to complete a three-game sweep and open a five-game lead in the AL West. Weaver allowed seven hits, all singles, in eight innings, while walking none and striking out five.
Carlos Zambrano Carlos Zambrano is not looking like the Cubs' No. 1 starter. After getting outdueled by Ben Sheets and losing to the Brewers, Zambrano (14-11) now has failed six times to get his 15th victory. He has four losses, a no-decision in which he had to leave a game with cramping and another start that was rained out after three innings. He is winless since July 29, but signed a five-year, $91.5 million contract Aug. 17.
Andrew Miller Andrew Miller didn't last an inning in the Tigers' 5-0 loss to the Royals. The rookie lefty got only two outs in his 13th big league start -- allowing five runs on five hits, two walks and two hit batters. Detroit fell 4½ games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland, matching the largest deficit of the season for the defending AL champions.
C.C. Sabathia picks up 15th win against Twins.
"I was trying to be as stingy as possible. It's going to be a grind for me. I'm asking my body to be 25 right now."
-- Yankees RHP Roger Clemens after a 4-3 win over the Red Sox. Clemens allowed two hits (no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings) and one run to beat Josh Beckett.
Esteban Loaiza • The Dodgers claimed right-hander Esteban Loaiza off waivers from the Athletics, assuming more than $8 million in guaranteed salary. Loaiza, a two-time All-Star, has made only two starts after missing the first 4½ months of the season because of three different injuries. He allowed just three earned runs in 14 2/3 innings in the two starts and gives the Dodgers' depleted rotation a boost for the stretch.

• Manny Ramirez was not in Boston's starting lineup because of a strained muscle on his left side, and the Red Sox slugger likely will be sidelined for several days. Ramirez came out of Tuesday night's game against the Yankees in the seventh inning after aggravating the injury. He was examined by two doctors and said he wasn't sure how long he might be out. "I don't know," Ramirez said. "Maybe a week?"

• Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen has enrolled in a pretrial diversion program that could lead to dismissal of felony charges stemming from a DUI arrest. Olsen was arrested around 4 a.m. July 21 after allegedly refusing to pull over and getting into a fight with police. He was booked on charges of driving under the influence, resisting an officer with violence, and fleeing and eluding an officer. Olsen's trial had been scheduled for next month. If he completes the pretrial diversion program, the charges will be dismissed.
Curt Schilling • Red Sox at Yankees, 1:05 p.m. ET: Boston's lead in the AL East will shrink to six if New York completes the sweep. Curt Schilling (8-5, 4.11) will try to prevent that from happening. The 40-year-old right-hander has won two straight starts, allowing only four earned runs in his past 14 innings. Chien-Ming Wang (15-6, 3.95) is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA against the Sox this season.

• Cardinals at Astros, 2:05 p.m. ET: Joel Pineiro (4-2, 4.50) could wind up being this year's version of Jeff Weaver, now that St. Louis has fought its way back into contention. Pineiro is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in five starts since being discarded by the Red Sox. Matt Albers (3-6, 5.71) continues to make strides as a starter. The rookie allowed only two runs (one earned) in seven innings against the Pirates for a no-decision in his last outing.

Horacio Ramirez • Mariners at Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET: Seattle begins a tough 10-game road trip with Horacio Ramirez (8-4, 6.67) on the hill. Ramirez has not pitched very well away from Safeco Field, going 2-3 with a 9.36 ERA. Aaron Laffey (2-1, 4.76) makes his fourth career start. The rookie has shown a knack for generating ground balls with a quality sinker.

• Thursday's complete list of probable starters



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