The Week Ahead: Last-minute trades

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You thought that was the deadline? Nope, THIS is the deadline.

The July 31 no-waiver trade deadline came and went, and yet trades could still be made as long as the key parts involved could make it through waivers, witness the Angels’ acquisition of Scott Kazmir.

But after Monday, even that door closes, at least as far as playoff rosters are concerned. For postseason contenders, it’s now or never as far as improving your team for the home stretch.

So who might go where before the final (and we really mean it) deadline? Here are a couple possible items to watch.

Rich Harden: The scoop is that the Twins made a claim when the Cubs’ flamethrower was put on waivers. The Twins haven’t confirmed that, nor have they denied it. But the addition of Harden to Minnesota, which is just 4 1/2 games behind the Tigers, would add some interest to the AL Central race.

While the teams don’t appear to be close to a deal, at least one source says the sides are talking.

Trevor Hoffman: The Giants reportedly put a claim in on the all-time saves leader, but is he really going anywhere? Aaron says San Francisco is just playing defense.

Brad Penny: The big righty was tossed aside by the Red Sox because he simply never panned out. So could he really end up in Oakland?

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

Braves at Marlins, Aug. 31-Sept. 3: Atlanta and Florida both enter the week 3 1/2 games behind in the NL wild card race. And who knows, if one of these teams sweeps, maybe they can get back into the divisional race as well.

Giants at Phillies, Sept. 1-3: The Giants had a great weekend, sweeping the Rockies to move into a tie for the NL wild card lead. But now they up the ante with three games against Philly.

Red Sox at Rays, Sept. 1-3: The Rays are in danger of falling out of the wild card race, so this will be a big series. It should be a fun one, as well, with Josh Beckett and Matt Garza facing off on Wednesday.

Cubs at Mets, Sept. 4-6: The last couple of seasons this would’ve been a huge series with playoff implications. This time around, it’s more about heaping helpings of frustration, angst and misery. Good times.

Red Sox at White Sox, Sept. 4-6: Ozzie Guillen’s club is coming off a horrible week, going 1-7 in Boston and New York. If there is any hope for the pale hose, they better get to work this week against first the Twins, then one makeup game vs. the Cubs, before the Red Sox come to town.

ON THE TUBE

Wednesday, 7:08 p.m.: Red Sox at Rays (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Diamondbacks at Dodgers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Orioles (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Red Sox at White Sox (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Giants at Brewers (FOX)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Red Sox at White Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:10 p.m.: Padres at Dodgers (ESPN)

*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.