We’re two-thirds the way through the season, and every game has become so meaningful for any team that’s remotely close to being in the hunt for a playoff berth. On Tuesday, a few important series continued, while others began.
The Arizona Diamondbacks continued their winning ways with a second straight victory over the San Francisco Giants after Daniel Hudson outdueled Tim Lincecum, and Justin Upton added a crucial two-run home run in the eighth inning for insurance. Arizona has a chance to complete a three-game sweep of San Francisco, and move into sole possession of first place in the NL West today when Jason Marquis makes his Diamondbacks debut. Kirk Gibson is a strong candidate to be NL Manager of the Year, and has perhaps been the best manager in all of baseball thus far. The Diamondbacks are the most intriguing team in MLB right now, and they’ll ultimately end up in the playoffs. I may be completely wrong when all is said and done, but I feel Arizona’s pitching is underrated, and their bats will do enough to earn a postseason berth.
While the Diamondbacks, winners of eight of their last 10, continue to soar, the Atlanta Braves lost their third straight contest Tuesday, falling to the Nationals, 9-3. The Braves are a lot like the Giants in that they have outstanding pitching (although that’s been subpar of late), but struggle to score. Atlanta really misses catcher Brian McCann right now, as he continues to recover from a strained left oblique suffered last week.
I liked the Braves adding Michael Bourn in the trade with the Houston Astros, but that a .212 hitter in Dan Uggla is hitting cleanup tells you what you need to know about their lineup. Even with Uggla’s current 24-game hit streak, in which he’s batting 32-for-92 over the run, he didn’t surpass the .200 mark until July 27. The Braves better be careful, because even with all their strong pitching, they lack punch in their lineup. The second-place NL West (Diamondbacks or Giants) and Central (Cardinals or Brewers) teams will be in this race for the long haul.
It doesn’t appear the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the race much longer. The Buccos dropped their fifth straight contest, 11-6, to the Chicago Cubs. It was practically a home-run derby for Chicago, as the Cubs blasted six bombs and built a 10-2 lead in the fourth inning. The Cubs also finished with 21 hits, and the Pirates can now do no better than splitting the four-game set at home against a team that entered the series 22 games under .500 (43-65).
The big winner of Tuesday outside of Arizona was St. Louis, which moved to within 2.5 games of Milwaukee for the division lead with a thrilling, 8-7 win in 11 innings. St. Louis, which let a 6-3 lead slip away, rallied back and won on Lance Berkman’s RBI single. The Cardinals may have to play without catcher Yadier Molina for a couple games in the near future, as he was ejected in the 10th inning on a called third strike that may have been a tad inside, but looked like a borderline call from the few times I’ve seen it already.
The Phillies won their fifth straight, as Kyle Kendrick shut down the Rockies in a 5-0 decision. Philadelphia improved to 70-39, and Ryan Howard hit two home runs, the first of which may still not have landed. The Phillies have enough pitching and firepower as is, but if Kendrick’s contributing, nonetheless throwing gems, you simply don’t have a chance.
In the American League, Ervin Santana followed up his no-hitter with another complete game effort in a 5-1 victory against the Twins. At the moment, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Santana has to be the best 1-2-3 in the American League. With the win, the Angels moved to within a game of the Rangers for the AL West lead, as Texas fell to the Detroit Tigers, 6-5. The Rangers got three runs off a pair of homers in the eighth inning to knot the game at 5, before Brennan Boesch’s solo blast lifted the Tigers to a win. It wasn’t the debut the recently acquired Mike Adams was hoping for.
Detroit increased its AL Central lead to three games, as Jacoby Ellsbury hit a walk-off single to lift the Red Sox past Cleveland, 3-2. But the Red Sox remained just a game ahead of the Yankees, who got a strong start from Phil Hughes against the woeful White Sox lineup Jeff has been less than happy about. It was the fourth straight loss for Chicago, which can’t seem to get over the .500 mark. As of today, there are only seven AL teams that can still legitimately feel as though they’re in the race for a playoff berth: Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Rangers and Angels.
The White Sox desperately need a win tonight, and may get Paul Konerko back from his day-to-day injury after getting hit in the knee with a pitch Sunday. Konerko has missed the last two games after being removed from Sunday’s loss to the Red Sox.