Serious Baseball

There is some serious baseball going on right now. Teams are not waiting to make their big September comebacks, although there may still be surprises next month, they are playing now with September intensity. So while the world has slowed down, muddling through the lazy, hazy days of August, many players are showing us that they are playahs!

Take the Minnesota Twins and their star Joe Mauer. They have been playing the White Sox with the goal to assert their dominance in the AL Central. Tuesday they beat Chicago 7-6 on a monumental walkoff homer from Jim Thome. Last night, they trailed 5-3 heading to the bottom of the 5th against Gavin Floyd (8-10), but Joe Mauer hit his first Target Field homer and then they scored three times in the 6th and once again they won, 7-6.

The Twins have won nine straight at home and 24 of their last 31 overall. Since the All-Star break Mauer is batting .446 in 112 at-bats with 15 doubles and 30 RBI. The White Sox on the other hand have gone in the opposite direction. Chicago had a hot streak in which they went 26-5. But that ended soon after the All-Star break and have since gone 15-17 and most critically, they are now 4-10 this season against the Twins, who they trail by five games. Five games in serious time seems, and is, a lot larger than the same amount with 100 to play.

The Phillies are serious these nights as they square off against their NL Wild Card rival San Francisco Giants. Jimmy Rollins hit a three-run homer and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Giants 8-2 for their second straight win over San Francisco. The Phils have won 20 of 25 and moved two games ahead of the Giants in the wild-card race. How focused are the Phils? Well let me put it this way, they are playing without one of the most fearsome sluggers in the game, Ryan Howard, who is out with an ankle sprain, and have gone 12-3 in his absence.

The Philliesurge is also pressuring Atlanta in the East, but the Braves remain 2.5 games on top thanks to their joy of playing serious and very exciting baseball. Last night, they beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 on a Jason Heyward two-out, run-scoring walkoff single. Atlanta won for the 21st time in its last at bat, which leads the majors, and improved baseball’s best home record to 44-16. The last time the Braves (71-49) were 22 games over .500 was Sept. 27, 2005 (90-68).

Playing under pressure can bring out outstanding performances or flop sweat. The Texas Rangers are not feeling pressure. They are the only team over .500 in the weak AL West and have a comfortable 8-game lead. The question their fans are asking this morning, is if it is too comfortable? The Rangers have been playing the Rays this week and the Rays are playing pressurized baseball. They are battling the Yankees for the top slot in the AL East and they are battling to maintain they lead over the Red Sox in case they do not overtake New York. Ranger fans had to be asking themselves how would their Texans do under playoff type conditions? It turns out, not too well.

Evan Longoria homered and drove in four runs to help the Rays beat the Rangers 8-6 and complete a three-game sweep. Just like Joe Mauer had stepped up his game, Longoria has as well. He entered this series hitting .211 in his previous 25 games, with just 10 extra-base hits and nine RBI. In the three games against Texas, Longoria had seven hits, including five for extra bases, in 12 at-bats with eight RBI.

The Rays have won five straight overall and 19 of 24 at Tropicana Field and they have needed every one of those wins in the brutal AL East. Mark Teixeira homered as the Yankees topped Detroit, 9-5. Teixeira now has 27 homers, 28 doubles, 88 RBI and 88 runs scored. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson also homered for the Yankees. But it was the Yankees pitching that reflected their serious side.

It turns out that Andy Pettitte will not be ready to return to the mound until the first week of September at the earliest, and more likely the middle of the month, which means that Dustin Moseley has to continue to win as he takes the Pettitte slot in the rotation. Moseley (3-2) went five innings, allowing four runs and five hits, including a pair of homers to Miguel Cabrera and a two-run shot to Don Kelly. Then the revived bullpen took over. Six Yankees relievers, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Kerry Wood, Chad Gaudin, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera gave up just one run on five hits and a walk.

And it is a good thing they pitched so well because the Red Sox, despite getting the news that their two starting outfielders, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, will be lost for the season, joining their starting first baseman Kevin Youkilis, the team remains determined to win. Last night, one of the replacements, rookie Daniel Nava, was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, driving in the go-ahead run and then prevented the Los Angeles Angels from scoring with a diving catch with two down and two on in the 8th to give Boston a 7-5 victory. Bill Hall, another replacement part, homered, as did Adrian Beltre as the Sox improved to 9-0 against the Angels this year. John Lackey continued his mediocre pitching but hung in there through the 7th enabling the Sox to go to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon to secure another serious win.

What has life been like for these three teams? Over the last 30 games, the Yanks and Sox are 17-13 both trying to fend off the on-rushing Rays who are 19-11 while dealing with their AL East compatriots, the Toronto Blue Jays who are 18-12 in their last 30 and the suddenly respectable Baltimore Buckaroos who are 11-9 in their last 20.

Let me tell you how serious the Cincinnati Reds are, last night, in their 11-7 win against the Diamondbacks, in which they scored four in the 8th and four more in the 9th, the go-ahead run was scored by recently-acquired 40-year old Jim Edmonds on a squeeze play. The Reds are now 7-3 in their last 10, 14-6 in their last 20, and 20-10 in their last 30.

The Reds have a three-game lead in the NL Central over the St. Louis Cardinals who are wilting in the heat and the pressure, going 5-5 in their last 10 against teams they should be beating. Adam Wainwright (17-7) suffered his first home loss of the season as the Cards lost to the Brewers, 3-2. Wainwright entered with a 3-0 mark and a 0.39 ERA over his previous three outings. The right-hander dropped to 11-1 with a 1.42 ERA in 13 home starts this season. The Brewers swept the two-game mini-series and that followed losses against the Cubs as the Cards suffered their fourth straight loss.

Speaking of the Cubs, they are mailing it in as the Serious Padres topped them, 5-1. The only Cub who must take things seriously now is Derrek Lee because he is now an Atlanta Brave being traded yesterday for three pitching prospects. The Padres have outscored opponents 53-20 while winning nine of their last 10 games. San Diego (72-47) is 25 games over .500 for the first time since winning the pennant in 1998.

This was another great day and night of baseball. Seriously.