BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA
By Mark Simon, ESPN Research
There is little hope left for the Angels to win the AL West. Any glimmer that remains requires them to sweep Oakland on the road this weekend. The Athletics have put themselves in a nice position heading into the final 10 days of the season, thanks to an MVP-caliber performance from Frank Thomas, and they can nail down the AL West with two victories.
The Angels will be playing with a lot of desperation, but in this case that may not be enough. Oakland would be very happy to wrap things up with a couple of pressure-packed wins, then have a week to rest for their first-round playoff series. Remember, though, a couple of seasons ago when the A's and Angels played a winner-take-all, best-of-three series to end the regular season. A similar series could emerge in a week if the Angels can pick up some wins and some momentum.
PICKS FOR THE PLAYOFFS
By John Kruk, ESPN
We're only 10 days away from the end of the regular season, and the races are still tight in the AL Central and the NL West and for both wild cards. So who do I think will make the playoffs? Here are my picks and why:
New York Mets: No-brainer since they are already in the postseason. This team needs Pedro Martinez, though, to advance in the playoffs. He's their ace and gives them a certain swagger when he's on the mound. They need him to reach back and find some of that magic to have any shot at making the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This team has the ability to get on amazing runs and just decimate teams. They can hit and pitch and play good fundamental baseball, and that's why they are going to barely hold on and win the NL West title.
St. Louis Cardinals: This is another easy one since every competitor within the division has fallen off the face of the earth due to either poor pitching, injuries or dead bats. The Cardinals were able to overcome a season in which they played a good bit without Albert Pujols; also, their supporting cast didn't have the type of stellar seasons that manager Tony La Russa expected from them.
Philadelphia Phillies: That's right, I'm going against my own pick of just a couple weeks ago and saying the Phillies will make the playoffs via the wild card. The Phillies and San Diego Padres have very similar pitching, but what separates them is that the Phillies can flat-out hit, while the Padres have issues in their lineup. That's going to be the difference down the stretch and in the one-game playoff that I think will happen between the two teams.
New York Yankees: Yawn, next ... see "Mets, New York." This team also will rely heavily on their pitching and bullpen to propel them to a late October showing.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are the most fundamental team in baseball, and that's why they were able to withstand losing one of their best pitchers and their entire outfield at one point during the season. This team is amazingly resilient, and they are going to overtake the Tigers and win the AL Central.
Oakland Athletics: I don't know how they've managed to be on the cusp of the playoffs, and I'm pretty sure they don't know, either. Oakland's bats came alive in the second half of the season, and the A's are now in an excellent position with their young pitching. They are going to be fun to watch in the playoffs because of their patient approach to hitting and also because it's going to be fun watching Frank Thomas continue his hot streak.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are getting in because someone has to make the playoffs via the wild card. The White Sox dug themselves too deep a hole to dig themselves out of. That's why they won't make the playoffs, and the Tigers will be in the postseason dance instead.
NEWS AND NOTES
" Grady Little is five wins away from becoming the fourth Dodgers manager since 1900 to win at least 85 games in his first season at the helm. Charlie Dressen was 97-60 in 1951, Walter Alston 92-62 in 1954 and Tom Lasorda 98-64 in 1977.
" A's 3B Eric Chavez sat out his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, though A's manager Ken Macha said Chavez felt better. Chavez planned to play Friday against the Angels.
" Nearly a thousand disgruntled Orioles fans walked out of Thursday's game at Camden Yards in the fourth inning, culminating a demonstration aimed at team owner Peter Angelos, who has been in charge of the team during its club-record run of nine straight losing seasons.
" Florida 3B Miguel Cabrera sat out for the second consecutive game because of a strained left shoulder.
" Mets CF Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup again. "Just regular banged-up stuff," manager Willie Randolph said. "Nothing major."