On the verge

On the verge of July

July is the month when we begin to separate the contenders and the pretenders. We find out who are the sellers and who are the buyers in the trading market. We see who are stars and who are flashes in the pan. We see All-Stars and stars that fall. We recoveries and injuries that mean the season.

July is a great month for baseball, and we are on the verge.

On the verge: First place in the AL East

The picture is a little dated, but you get the point.

The more members of the Red Sox that go down to injuries the more they win, hence by the law of transitive property, one more Sox injury and first place is in the bag.

Last night, the northbound Sox defeated the southbound Rays, 8-5. Adrian Beltre had four hits and John Lackey (9-3) won his fifth straight decision. David Ortiz hit a three-run homer off losing pitcher James Shields (6-8) for the big blow in the game. Shields has now lost seven straight starts.

The Red Sox 10th win in 13 games moved them within one game of the first-place Yankees in the AL East. The Rays have lost nine of their last 12 games and are 10-14 in June. The Sox are 18-8 in June.

On the verge: Cliff Lee

There are so many things Lee will miss about Seattle. I personally miss Ivar's so much.

Every time Cliff Lee heads to the mound you get the feeling it is his last appearance in a Mariners uniform and every time Lee is on the hill it feels as if he is increasing trade value. Last night, he pitched his third straight complete game as the Mariners defeated the Yankees, 7-4. He threw 115 pitches and became the first Mariners pitcher with three complete games in a row since Randy Johnson in 1998.

Lee showed some signs of being human as he walked Jorge Posada, the first walk he had surrendered since walking Nick Punto on June 2 and gave up two solo homers to Nick Swisher.

After missing his previous turn in the rotation to give him extra rest, Yankees starter Phil Hughes (10-2) allowed seven runs, six earned and 10 hits in 5.2 innings. This is a variation of the ill-fated Joba Rules from last season with so far the same results.

Teams that are lining up to take a crack at acquiring Lee reportedly include the Yankees, Twins, Mets, Phils, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Braves, White Sox, Padres, and Cardinals.

On the verge: The battle for first place in the AL Central

Why are the Indians in this picture?

Monday, the Tigers topped the Twins, 7-5, to move into first place in the AL Central by a half game. Last night, the Twins topped the Tigers, 11-4 to jump back into first by a half game. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Gavin Floyd earned his first win in five weeks as the Chicago White Sox beat the Royals, 4-3, and are 1.5 games out of first.

The highlight of the two games undoubtedly was Denard Span and his three triples. Span became the first to hit a trio of three triples in a game since Rafael Furcal did it for Atlanta in 2002, and he tied the Twins record set by Ken Landreaux in 1980. Span was 4-for-4 with a walk and five RBI.

On the verge of making it a race in the AL West

Mmmm, pie.

The Rangers really hope that there can be an extension of June. They are 20-6 in the month and that includes their 6-5 loss to the Angels last night. Bobby Abreu hit a three-run double in the 6th for the key blow.

Vladimir Guerrero homered and drove home three for the Rangers in his return to his old home field. The fine fans in Los Angels gave him a standing ovation during his first at bat. Ian Kinsler homered for the Rangers and Josh Hamilton set a club record for hits in a month with 48 and extending his hitting streak to 22 games.

Joel Pineiro (8-6) won his fifth straight start for the Angels, who are 18-8 in June.

The Rangers lost for just the second time in 15 games and still have a 3.5 game lead in the West but you know they can’t stay this hot, particularly in the Texas heat, and this will be a good race to watch.

On the verge of a cookout?

Before you get started you will want to read 101 Fast Recipes for Grilling by the Minimalist, Mark Bittman in the NY Times today. Bitt is undoubtedly the best food writer around, explaining quickly, easily and with fun (no excessive flourish) how to cook everything and this piece is his annual summer classic. Read it now and thank me later.

On the verge of a three-team NL East race

I really love three-team races. Permutations abound and now that the simply awful interleague period is over and done with, I think we are on the verge of an exciting NL East race between the Braves, Phils and Mets.

Following last night’s 9-6 victory by the Phils over the Reds in 10, the Braves 7-2 loss to Washington and the Mets 7-6 loss to Florida, the Braves lead NY by 1.5 and the Phils by 2.5.

However, there are troubles everywhere for these three clubs. Philadelphia put third baseman Placido Polanco and second baseman Chase Utley on the disabled list before the game. And, while Brad Lidge did pick the vulture win last night, he allowed a two-out tying three-run homer to Joey Votto in the 9th.

The Phils did score three times off of Arthur Rhodes in the 10th ending a truly remarkable streak in which Rhodes (2-2) had had made 33 straight scoreless appearances, matching the MLB season record. He had given up only one run this year, way back on April 10.

Mike Leake has hit the wall in his rookie season in professional baseball. He gave up seven hits and six runs in six innings. In his last four starts for the Reds, Leake is 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA. The Reds may be on the verge of a fade away.

Craig Stammen, recalled by Washington earlier in the day, pitched 7.1 innings to lead the Nationals over the Atlanta Braves, 7-2. The Braves star rookie outfielder Jason Heyward was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday with a sore right thumb and he will be missed by Atlanta.

Dan Uggla hit a walkoff single in the 9th inning for his third RBI (he had a two-run homer earlier in the game), giving Florida a 7-6 victory over the New York Mets. Hanley Ramirez homered for the Marlins who announced that their interim manager Edwin Rodriguez will be interim for the remainder of the season.

Hisanori Takahashi had a horrible start for the Mets, the day after a bad start Monday from R.A. Dickey. The Mets need some pitching.

On the verge of a four-team NL West race

One of these team just doesn't belong here

I really love three-team races, so a four-team race is almost racy to me. It appears that we are on the verge of such a race in the NL West race between the pitching rich Padres and Giants, the hitting rich Dodgers, and the balanced, but not really rich in any category, Rockies.

Last night, the Rockies topped the Padres, 6-3, as Clint Barmes hit a three-run homer and drove home four. The Rox have hit six homers in their two wins at Petco that have brought them to within four games of the Padres.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Matt Cain dropped to 6-7 as the Dodgers topped the Giants, 4-2. Cain (6-7) lost his third straight start and fell to 0-8 in 14 career starts against the Dodgers. But the Dodgers may have suffered a larger loss when Manny B Manny left the game with a hamstring.

Cain with all his troubles in winning has a very sweet 2.93 ERA.

The Dodgers moved to just three behind the Padres and the Giants stayed 4.5 back.

On the verge: Dontrelle Willis

How much longer can the Diamondbacks keep Dontrelle Willis in the rotation? Willis (1-1) walked six, hit a batter and lucked out when he threw wild pitch thrown behind a batter that bounced back to the catcher allowing a tag play at the plate. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright (11-5) put together his major league-record 23rd consecutive quality start at home, as the Cardinals defeated Arizona, 8-0.  Wainwright is now 8-0 with a 1.49 ERA at home while the Cardinals had 14 baserunners in 23 at-bats against Willis who has walked 13 in 7.1 innings his last two starts.

Albert Pujols recorded his 37th career multihomer game with a pair of two-run homers, tying him with Stan Musial for multi-homer games. Pujols had a season-best five RBI.

Willis has walked 56 in 64.2 inning this season with Arizona and Detroit and has a 5.29 ERA. With Arizona, Willis has walked 27 in 21.1 innings and has a 5.91 ERA.

On the verge of .500

The Indians topped the Blue Jays last night, 5-4 for their third straight win. Despite the victory, let me assure you, the 29-47 Clevelanders are not on the verge of .500. That distinction belongs to our friends in Toronto (40-38) who are 9-16 this month. Last year, the Jays were 12-14 in June holding off their swoon to below .500 until July when they went 8-16.

Look for the Jays potentially to be dealing guys like Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Lyle Overbay or Jose Bautista as they continue to reduce payroll and play for 2012.

On the verge of free beer when he gets home

Whit Merrifield hit a walkoff RBI single with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning to give South Carolina its first baseball national championship with a 2-1 victory over UCLA in the College World Series. It was the fifth championship decided in an extra-inning final.

On the verge of more action

AL

Tigers (Andrew Oliver) at Twins (Kevin Slowey), 1:10

A’s (Ben Sheets) at Orioles (Kevin Millwood), 7:05

Blue Jays (Jesse Litsch) at Indians (Aaron Laffey), 7:05

Mariners (Felix Hernandez) at Yankees (Javier Vazquez), 7:05

Rays (Matt Garza) at Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka), 7:10

White Sox (Jake Peavy) at Royals (Zack Greinke), 8:10, nice match-up

Rangers (Omar Beltre) at Angels (Scott Kazmir), 10:05

NL

Phillies (Roy Halladay) at Reds (Aaron Harang), 12:35

Astros (Wandy Rodriguez) at Brewers (David Bush), 2:10

Diamondbacks (Barry Enright) at Cardinals (Jeff Suppan), 2:15

Pirates (Brad Lincoln) at Cubs (Tom Gorzelanny), 2:20

Rockies (Jeff Francis) at Padres (Clayton Richard), 3:35, nice match-up

Dodgers (Vicente Padilla) at Giants (Jonathan Sanchez), 3:45

Mets (Mike Pelfrey) at Marlins (Chris Volstad), 7:10, Puerto Rico

Nationals (J.D. Martin) at Braves (Jair Jurrjens)