Baseball: Weekend Digest (Sept. 9 Edition)

A roundup of news and notes from this weekend in baseball.

With a sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend, the Cincinnati Reds are looking dangerous.

With a sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend, the Cincinnati Reds are looking dangerous.

If you found yourself missing this weekend’s baseball action in favor of an upset-friendly day of College Football on Saturday and Sunday’s NFL kickoff, you’re not the only one. Understandably, the majority of the sporting world found itself consumed by the return of football. Fortunately, is here to keep you in the loop.

With less than three weeks of regular season baseball left on tap, things are shaping up nicely for one of the most exciting finishes to a season in recent memory, which is saying something considering 2011 and 2012 both had what can only be described as epic finishes. Here’s a look at what went down over the weekend as well as a look ahead to this week’s big games.

Cardinals Pillage Pirates

Adam Wainwright pitched a shutout Saturday.

Adam Wainwright pitched a shutout Saturday.

Since June 21, the St. Louis Cardinals (83-60) and Pittsburgh Pirates (81-61) have jostled for top spot in the NL Central, each leapfrogging the other en route to various stints as division leader. This weekend, it was the Cardinals’ turn to take pole position.

Hosting the Pirates in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, the Red Birds used some offensive potency to get the better of their division rivals. The Buccos arrived in the Gateway City Friday having dropped the final game of a series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and were quickly dispatched 12-8. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright (16-9, 3.03 ERA) returned to form Saturday, giving up just two hits as the Cardinals emerged with the 5-0 victory. The Cardinals completed the sweep Sunday afternoon, defeating the Pirates 9-2. The Pirates runs, both scored in the ninth, merely served as a consolation.

Having entered the series 1½ back, St. Louis now holds a 1½ game lead over the Pirates in the division. The Pirates continue to look for win No. 82, which would assure the team’s first winning season since 1992. Pittsburgh wins the season head-to-head 10-9, but the Cardinals have won the last four as well as seven from the last 10, which could give the team a mental boost were the two to meet in the postseason.

Reds Roll, Sweep Dodgers

20130908_NL_WildcardWhile the Cardinals and Pirates may have their eyes on a division title, both had better beware of the Cincinnati Reds (82-62).

Having taken three of four from the Cardinals during the week, Dusty Baker’s club did the unthinkable this weekend and swept the Los Angeles Dodgers (83-59). Yes, those same Dodgers that have posted ridiculous numbers since late June; those same Dodgers that took three of four from the Reds back in July; those same Dodgers that some had already bestowed the National League pennant upon.

Make no mistake about it though; this was a close series. The Reds beat the Dodgers 3-2 in 10 innings Friday, before picking up a 4-3 win on Saturday. On Sunday, while the Cowboys and Giants were distracting the nations with turnovers galore on Sunday Night Football, the Reds then used a ninth inning RBI single from Ryan Hanigan to secure a 3-2 win on Sunday Night Baseball.

With the win, the Reds secured a 4-3 advantage in the season head-to-head with Los Angeles, and moved into a virtual tie with Pittsburgh, 1½ games back of St. Louis. With seven wins in the last nine, and with upcoming series against the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Houston Astros, the Reds might be getting hot at exactly the right time.

Oakland Takes Division Lead

Bartolo Colon earned his 15th win on Sunday.

Bartolo Colon earned his 15th win on Sunday.

The NL Central isn’t the only division race that is staying close. The AL West continues to be a knock down drag out affair between the Oakland Athletics (83-60) and Texas Rangers (81-61), two teams that have paced the division since way back on April 4.

The two clubs experienced differing fortunes this weekend. The A’s made the most of a four-game set against the hapless Astros (47-96), taking the final three games after dropping the opener. The Rangers meanwhile lost to the Los Angeles Angels (67-75) on Friday and Saturday, before salvaging something from the series with a 4-3 win on Sunday afternoon.

Oakland’s 2-1 series win over the Rangers during the week saw the two clubs enter the weekend tied. The A’s now lead the division by 1½ games, and may have a distinctive advantage going forward. Barring a final series against the Rangers next weekend, the A’s do not face a team above .500 the rest of the way. The Rangers however face four straight opponents (13 games) with not only a winning record, but a shot at the postseason. The race, as they say, is about to heat up.

Six Teams, Two Berths

20130908_AL_WildcardWhile Texas may be trailing Oakland in the AL West, the Rangers currently reside in the first American League wild card berth, with the Tampa Bay Rays (78-64) narrowly holding on to the second berth three games back.

The wild card race continues to get more exciting by the week. The Rays dropped two of three against the Seattle Mariners (65-78) this weekend, pulling off a 4-1 win on Sunday to avoid the sweep. Having lost 11 of the last 15, the Rays have all of a sudden opened the door for those trailing sides.

The Baltimore Orioles (76-66) took advantage of the Rays’ struggles, taking three of four from the Chicago White Sox (57-85) this weekend to move within two games of Tampa Bay. The Cleveland Indians (76-66) also sit two games back, but could have been closer were it not for dropping two of three against the New York Mets (64-77) this weekend. Any more losses like that are likely to prove ruinous for Terry Francona and the Tribe.

Having turned things around of late, the New York Yankees (76-67) hit a bump in the road this weekend as they hosted the Boston Red Sox (87-58). In what was a fascinating series to watch, the Red Sox took three straight from the Yankees, winning 9-8 (Thursday), 12-8 (Friday) and 13-9 (Saturday), before the score line returned to reasonable levels with a 4-3 Yankees’ win on Sunday. The Red Sox, who lead the majors in wins, bumped their AL East lead to 7½ games.

The Yankees meanwhile sit 2½ games out of a wild card berth, and just one game ahead of the surprising Kansas City Royals (75-68). The Royals took two of three from the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers (82-61) this weekend to stay firmly in the wild card picture. Simply put, the Royals don’t know when to die, which could give the postseason picture a very different look three weeks from now.

The Week Ahead

Looking ahead, there’s plenty to whet the appetite this week, starting Monday.

C.C. Sabathia goes for the Yankees Monday night.

C.C. Sabathia goes for the Yankees Monday night.

The Yankees begin a 10-game road trip with a visit to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Monday’s opener sees C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA) take to the mound against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.71 ERA). This four-game set will mark the last time (postseason pending) the two clubs meet this season. The Orioles currently lead the head-to-head 8-7. (matchup)

Also starting Monday will be a huge AL Central showdown between Kansas City and Cleveland. The three-game set at Progressive Field could go a long way to determining who won’t be playing in October. But then again, the way the AL wild card picture is shaping up, both could still be in this thing in two weeks. (matchup)

Pittsburgh will look for that elusive 82nd win Monday as they make the trip to Arlington for a three-game series against the Rangers. Yu Darvish (12-7, 2.91 ERA) takes the mound for the Rangers, which could be both bad and good news for the Pirates. Bad news because he leads the majors in strike outs (240); good news because the Rangers have lost his last four starts. Meanwhile, Ron Washington’s club will be looking to catch the A’s and avoid the upcoming wild card turmoil. (matchup)

In the National League, the Dodgers will look to rebound from this weekend’s disappointment with a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (72-70) at Dodger Stadium (matchup), while Cincinnati will look to close the gap on the Cardinals as they host the Cubs (matchup). The Atlanta Braves (85-57), swept by the Philadelphia Phillies (66-77) this weekend, will look to return to winning ways against the Miami Marlins (53-88) at Marlins Park (matchup).

From Tuesday, Tampa Bay hosts Boston in a series that could have serious postseason implications. Can the Rays stay ahead of the chasing pack or will the Red Sox throw their division rivals to the wolves?

Meanwhile, Oakland faces the Minnesota Twins while Detroit travels to the South Side to take on the White Sox.

The weekend schedule will feature three must-see matchups as Detroit hosts Kansas City, Boston hosts the Yankees, and Oakland visits Texas. Come this time next week, there may be some separation in the wild card race. Here’s hoping not.

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