BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA
By Mark Simon, ESPN Research
We mentioned last week in our preview of the Tigers-Red Sox series that Detroit could be headed for a bit of a reality check, given its upcoming schedule. While the Tigers threw a scare into the White Sox on Tuesday night, the veteran Chicago squad prevailed at the finish. This has become a stretch about jungle survival for the Tigers, who have the Blue Jays next and don't really get a respite until a meeting with the Devil Rays next week.
Detroit has struggled against the American League's top teams, and at month's end, they get a look at the NL's best, although St. Louis figures to be minus Albert Pujols.
There's also a projected matchup with Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros. The compliments have been pouring in for Jim Leyland on the work he's done so far, but his biggest tests are still ahead.
RANGERS RIDING MILLWOOD'S ARM
By Rick Sutcliffe, ESPN
The one stat in baseball that is most important is ERA. Last year, Kevin Millwood (then with the Indians) had the lowest ERA in the American League. The Rangers went out and acquired him in the offseason, telling me they were serious about winning in 2006. That's when the players realized the front office was serious about winning. They also fought hard in the Roger Clemens sweepstakes and were there until the last day.
When Millwood entered the clubhouse, it put an end to the complaint that pitching in the Rangers' ballpark was difficult. He was not going to let a hitter's park be an excuse. Millwood is mentally tough and will not be beaten before he takes the mound like so many other pitchers.
That being said, I don't believe that the Rangers have enough depth to carry them throughout the postseason. However, their chances of winning the A.L. West are good because, quite frankly, no one else in that division does either. The A's, on paper, have a great core of pitchers, but injuries have hurt them.
There is an awful lot riding on the right shoulder of Kevin Millwood. The Rangers finally have a No. 1 starter, something they have not had in quite a while. That gives the Rangers a chance of winning three out of every five games. What I mean by that is the day before Millwood pitches, Buck Showalter knows he can unload his bullpen because Millwood has the ability to pitch a lot of innings the next day. Essentially on the day he starts, the bullpen will have a light load and will be fresh for the next game. That's what a No. 1 starter gives you.
The Rangers, without question, will score runs all year long. Down the stretch if they start sliding, owner Tom Hicks will open his check book. He wants to win. They have an outstanding young general manager in Jon Daniels, and they are an enthusiastic team that wants to win.
In the last few years, other AL West teams, particularly the A's and Mariners, have been in contention but have not been willing to go out and spend the money to fill the missing holes.
The Rangers won't do that.