Tag: The Week Ahead

The Week Ahead: Three-way battle for AL supremacy


The American League playoff field is set, with the Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins clinching their divisions, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays soon to sort out who will be the AL East champion and who will be the wild card team.

But there is one big thing left to watch for in the AL during the final week of the season, and that is the three-way battle for best record – and thus home-field advantage – through the first two rounds of the playoffs. (See a breakdown of the playoff races here.)

Entering the week, the Tampa Bay Rays (93-62) are sitting atop the AL, with the New York Yankees (93-63) and Minnesota Twins (92-63) right behind. All three have a shot to secure home field in the ALDS and ALCS. Because the All-Star Game decides the home-field edge in the World Series, that honor will go to whichever team emerges from the National League.

The Rays seem to have the edge. Not only are they ahead in the standings and hold the tiebreaker over the other two teams, they also have the easiest remaining schedule with three games against Baltimore and four against Kansas City. The Yankees have six road games, three at Toronto and three at Boston, while the Twins are at Kansas City and at home against Toronto. Minnesota is already guaranteed home field in the ALDS, as the Twins will play the AL wild card team. The AL East winner will face the Texas Rangers.

But will home-field advantage even matter in the playoffs? The Yankees (52-29), Rays (48-29) and Twins (52-25) are all excellent at home, but the head-to-head records between these teams don’t reveal any significant trends.

The Rays actually have a winning record against the Yankees both in New York (5-4), and in St. Petersburg (5-4) this season, but only marginally so. And while the Rays are 3-1 against the Twins in Minnesota, they are only 2-2 against them in St. Petersburg. As far as the Yankees and Twins go, New York took two of three at Target Field, yet the teams split four games in the Bronx this season.

All in all, it’s a pretty insignificant sample size that doesn’t give us much to go on. The Yankees certainly recognize that, preferring to rest and prepare their rotation for the playoffs instead of gunning for the AL East title.

As the defending champs who didn’t go to a final deciding game in any series last season, I’m going to trust their judgement.

Mariners at Rangers, Sept. 27-29:
The Rangers are going to the playoffs, the Mariners are battling for a high draft pick. But one thing of note is that Felix Hernandez will get one last chance on Tuesday to convince voters he is a Cy Young candidate.

Astros at Reds, Sept. 28-30: The Reds can clinch their first playoff berth since 1995 with a win over the Astros. Of course if the Cardinals lose on Monday, it will be all over, and Cincy fans will spend this series recovering from the party.

Yankees at Red Sox, Oct. 1-3: The schedule-makers probably thought they had a doozy of a series set up here, but Boston’s inability to keep up with the Yankees and Rays in the brutal AL East has taken away some shine. Still, the Red Sox can take pleasure, small as it may be, if they keep the Yankees from grabbing the AL East title.

Phillies at Braves, Oct. 1-3: The Phillies will probably have clinched the NL East crown by the time this series rolls around, but Atlanta should still be in the thick of the wild card race, so this will carry plenty of meaning.

Padres at Giants, Oct. 1-3: They’ve been taking turns leading the NL West for a week now with neither team playing great, neither team folding tent. With the Braves struggling, there is a chance both of these teams will make the playoffs, but there has to be big incentive to win the division and hopefully avoid the Phillies in the NLDS.

Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.: Marlins at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.: Red Sox at White Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:05 p.m.: Diamondbacks at Giants (ESPN)
*Check local listings

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

The Week Ahead: Phillies primed to make a run


Hold onto your hats Braves fans, the Philadelphia Phillies are finally hitting their stride.

The season has been a struggle for the Phillies. They’ve endured a host of injuries, questions about the preseason trade of Cliff Lee, some major slumps from outfielders Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, and even some questionable managing decisions.

All you have to do is Google “Fire Charlie Manuel” to see how quickly the bloom of consecutive World Series appearances can crumble from the rose.

But through it all, they’ve managed to keep contact with the Atlanta Braves, entering the week at 70-53, just 2 1/2 games back.

After all the injuries, they are finally healthy, with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard rejoining the lineup last week. After the hand-wringing over the loss of Lee, Roy Oswalt is ensconced in the rotation. After all the criticisms of Werth and Ibanez, the pair of streaky outfielders are sporting an OPS of .917 and .770, respectively.

And now they’ve got four games at home against the Houston Astros (54-69) this week, a clear chance to make a move. After that it gets a little tougher, with a road trip to San Diego and Los Angeles, but the final month is filled with a whole lot of Marlins, Brewers, Mets and Nats – hardly frightening.

And in case you’re wondering, the Phillies and Braves have six games remaining against each other: Sept. 20-22 in Philadelphia, and Oct. 1-3 in Atlanta. Should be a great race.

Reds at Giants, Aug. 23-25:
I thought the Giants were supposed to have good pitching. What happened? They better figure it out quickly with the Reds coming to town.

Twins at Rangers, Aug. 23-26: Texas had a bad week and still didn’t see its lead in the AL West dented much. But after being swept by the Rays, a good showing against the Twins would be good for the Rangers’ confidence.

Red Sox at Rays, Aug. 27-29: The Red Sox aren’t out of it yet, but if they’re going to make a move this would be a good place to start.

Yankees at White Sox, Aug. 27-29: Ozzie Guillen says he doesn’t like playing against spoiler teams like the Royals because they “have fun and kick people’s butts (and) laugh.” I wonder if the struggling White Sox are going to be happier playing the Yankees.

Phillies at Padres, Aug. 27-29: You might not have believed this entering the season, but if the playoffs started today, these teams would be facing off in the NLDS. Even more shocking? The Padres would have homefield advantage.

Monday, 10:15 p.m. ET: Reds at Giants (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 8:05 p.m.: Twins at Rangers (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Rockies at Dodgers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Padres (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Twins at Mariners (FOX)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Yankees at White Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Rays (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

The Week Ahead: History stacked against Red Sox comeback


Despite sitting in third place in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox appear to be in pretty good shape.

Riding a two-game winning streak, they enter the week just 6 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, and 5 1/2 behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL wild card spot – with no teams in between.

In addition, Josh Beckett has pitched well since his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek could all return within the next couple of weeks.

Add to that the possibility – if remote – of adding help in a post-deadline trade of Jeremy Hermida and/or Mike Lowell, and the Sox should be stocked up to make a run in the final six weeks of the season.

But despite all these positive signs, ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad writes that history shows it is likely too little, too late.

Can the Red Sox turn the tides? It will likely take a historic final two months – one that recalls the imagery of nicknamed seasons of the past.

Soon to be fully healthy for the first time in nearly four months, the real 2010 Red Sox have fewer than 60 games to catch fire. That is, if they manage to stay healthy.

According to Lundblad, the Red Sox have never made the playoffs when facing an Aug. 1 deficit of more than two games, and have only made the playoffs four times in their history when facing any deficit at all this late in the season.

The most recent was in 2004, when the Red Sox were one game behind Texas in the AL wild card race entering August. That team was aided by the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, which netted key components in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. This year, Boston’s big deadline move was to deal for once-promising catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could realize his potential at some point in the future but for now will be stashed in Pawtucket.

Apparently, Theo Epstein is content to wait for the return of the players mentioned above, and he could be right. But that won’t solve the team’s bullpen woes, including the implosion of left-hander Hideki Okajima. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been less reliable than usual, having already blown five saves and sporting an ERA at a career-worst 3.05.

So the odds are against a Boston rally, but if they are going to make a run, this would be an excellent week to start it. The Red Sox host the lowly Cleveland Indians for four games to start the week, then head to the Bronx for four more against the Yankees, a perfect opportunity to make up ground.

Mets at Braves, Aug. 2-4:
The Mets aren’t out of it yet, but this week – with six games against the top two teams in the division – could just about do them in if they continue to struggle.

Twins at Rays, Aug. 2-5: A huge four-game series for both teams, as the Twins are 1/2-game back in the Central and the Rays just one game back in the East. Touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson makes his major league debut for the Rays on Monday against Carl Pavano.

Padres at Dodgers, Aug. 2-5: If the new-look Dodgers are going to make a run, this four-game series is a great place to start. Ted Lilly makes his first start in a Dodgers uniform on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, Aug. 6-8: Wouldn’t the Phillies love to simultaneously bury their rivals and gain some ground on the Braves? Wouldn’t the Mets love to play spoiler and act like they still have a chance? This could be a juicy one.

Red Sox at Yankees, Aug. 6-9: It’s the mother of all baseball rivalries, even if the Earth ceases to rotate and neither team is in first place by the time they meet for this four-game series. For Boston, it’s now or never.

Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mets at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: White Sox at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Athletics (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Giants at Braves (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

The Week Ahead: Like it or not, Interleague play is back


Remember the novelty of Interleague play when it first came into existence back in 1997?

Fans in Atlanta could see the New York Yankees in person. NL greats like Barry Bonds and John Smoltz would make appearances in AL cities. And places with multiple teams playing in separate leagues – like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area – had the rare chance to see their local rivals square off on the diamond.

Of course most of that excitement has worn off by now. You don’t even need the MLB Network or a satellite dish to watch the Yankees just about every week. A simple television setup that includes ESPN, TBS and FOX will do just fine. And if you have more exotic tastes – Pirates anyone? – you can watch almost any game on the Internet.

But even if Interleague baseball has sort of worn out its usefulness, it, like Spencer Pratt, is not going away anytime soon.

So prepare yourself for the return of Interleague play for a 13th straight season beginning with a host of three-game series this weekend. And unlike The Hills you’ll actually get some matchups worth watching, including Yankees-Mets, Red Sox-Phillies, Angels-Cardinals, Giants-A’s and Tigers-Dodgers.

Those are some pretty good showdowns, and it’s all just a teaser for a much more extensive run of Interleague games covering the bulk of June. Sure, some of the excitement has worn off. And perhaps it takes away a little bit of novelty from the All-Star game and World Series. But it will still be a treat.

The shine may be off the apple, but it still tastes pretty good.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH (non-interleague)

Red Sox at Yankees, May 17-18: Wait didn’t these guys just play? Lighten up Francis, that was more than a week ago. Besides, this is only a two-game series, and the matchup ESPN loves the most (which means YOU WILL LOVE, IT TOO!) will only happen 10 more times this season. This is barring, of course, some sort of playoff matchup.

Giants at Padres, May 17-18: The Giants enter the week on a three-game winning streak to pull within 1/2-game of the NL West-leading Padres. (Yes, you read that right). If you like pitching, defense and speed (except for Bengie Molina) this series is for you.

Rays at Yankees, May 19-20: The two best teams in baseball – at least if you go by overall record and things like this — square off in the Bronx. Too bad it’s only a two-game series.

Twins at Red Sox, May 19-20: A tasty treat between one team that used to be great and another that could be on its way to greatness. I’ll let you figure out which is which. And I pity any left-handed hitters in Thursday’s Francisco Liriano-Jon Lester matchup.

Rockies at Astros, May 19-20: OK so this isn’t a great matchup by any means, but in the same way that every team is represented in the All-Star game, I aim to mention every team in this space at least once this season. So congratulations, Astros, this is your day! At least we have a Roy Oswalt-Ubaldo Jimenez matchup to look forward to on Thursday.

Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rays at Yankees (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (FOX)
 Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Report: MLB to seize Rangers, complete sale, get sued


That’s the logical conclusion if what Sports Business Journal’s Daniel Kaplan is reporting is true:

MLB as soon as this week plans to dramatically alter the
course of the standoff between creditors and the owner of the Texas
multiple sources said last week, a development that could include the
seizing the franchise.

Were the league to seize the team under its “best interests of
baseball”rule, MLB could sell the club to the group led by Chuck
Greenberg and
Nolan Ryan without, the league believes, the creditors blocking the
deal, these
sources said. But were MLB to choose that course — and late last week,
situation was still fluid — financial sources predicted a furious
response from the creditors that could involve an involuntary
bankruptcy petition
on behalf of the baseball team.

I get the reasoning: the creditors are owed money by Hicks Sports Group, the debt is not secured with a lien on the baseball team itself (MLB does not allow this) and Major League Baseball can kick Hicks Sports Group out of the ownership club if it wants to, leaving the creditors to fight with Hicks after the sale is done.

But such a move is almost certain to throw the whole matter into court, with the creditors almost certainly filing to get an injunction stopping the sale, because without the sale of the team at issue, the creditors lose all their leverage. Maybe they don’t get an injunction — if your beef is ultimately over money, you’re not supposed to be able to enjoin a business deal; rather, you’re supposed to let it all play out and get your money later — but depending on the court and the way the complaint is written and a bunch of other factors, it could happen. If so, and the Rangers are placed in legal limbo during the pendency of the lawsuit, the nightmare scenario that was described last week — indefinite MLB stewardship, no money for the draft, etc. — comes to pass.

But even if the sale is not enjoined, Major League Baseball is still stuck in a multimillion dollar lawsuit (and even if the sale is not held up over it all, you can bet that MLB will be named a party in the suit).  The calculation, one presumes, is that baseball is better off having the Rangers in Greenberg’s hands while fighting a lawsuit than it is to remain in the current stalemate.

If so, it tells you how ugly the stalemate is, because lawsuits like this are never fun, especially if they have the potential to have outsiders probe specific-team finances, which Major League Baseball is historically loathe to allow.

Popcorn anyone?