Archive for Saturday, September 1, 2007

Races may mean interesting September

September 1, 2007

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— On deck, a scintillating September.

Boston is trying to hold off the Yankees (plenty of history there). The Chicago Cubs, those lovable losers, are clinging to first place! And the NL West remains wide open for anyone who wants it.

Heading into Friday, more than half the teams in the majors were within five games of a playoff spot as baseball geared up for a frantic final month.

"There's nothing like a pennant race," Braves slugger Chipper Jones said.

Several big stars are still chasing milestones. Ken Griffey Jr. is closing in on 600 homers, while Jim Thome nears 500 and Barry Bonds adds to his new record every time he connects.

Alex Rodriguez has his eyes on a third AL MVP award, unless Magglio Ordonez or Vladimir Guerrero can wrestle it away. Competition for the NL honor is crowded, as are both Cy Young races.

All six divisions are still up for grabs, keeping fans excited from Atlanta to Seattle. The wild-card standings are close, too. And the $200 million New York Yankees are fighting for their playoff lives with fewer than 30 games to play.

Hey, football can wait until the weather gets cold.

Settle into a comfortable chair, click on the satellite radio and enjoy every tension-filled pitch as the drama unfolds. Now the fun REALLY starts.

"That's what you go to spring training for, that's what you posture for all summer long - to get to this point," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "What you find out in September is if you're good enough. And that's what we're going to find out."

In his first year managing the Cubs, the fiery Piniella has his resilient team in position to make a run at that elusive ring. Chicago hasn't won it all in 99 years, hasn't even reached the World Series since 1945.

But Alfonso Soriano is back from a leg injury and Carlos Zambrano headlines a pitching staff that ranked second in the NL in ERA through Thursday. If the Cubs can hang on in an inferior division, they could become the darlings of October.

Chicago's main challengers in the NL Central are the upstart Milwaukee Brewers, who already blew an early cushion, and the St. Louis Cardinals, last year's unlikely champs. The Cubs, who finished 2006 with the league's worst record, visit rival St. Louis for a four-game series Sept. 14-16.

That same weekend, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the Yankees will face Boston at Fenway Park in their final matchup of the regular season.

The Red Sox and Yankees have been butting heads for decades, and New York has almost always come out on top - with the very notable exception of Boston's big comeback in the 2004 playoffs.

Back in 1978, the Yankees rallied from 14 games out to win the AL East in a one-game playoff at Fenway, propelled by Bucky Dent's famous home run. Now, New York is trying to duplicate that feat.

Written off in May when they trailed the first-place Red Sox by 141â2 games, the Yankees cut the deficit to five Thursday by completing a three-game sweep of their longtime rivals.

Boston's Manny Ramirez recently went down with an injury, too, and you can practically feel all those nervous fans in New England holding their breath.

New York took a slim lead over surprising Seattle in the wild-card race. Right on their heels is Detroit, the defending AL champion. Ordonez, Justin Verlander and the Tigers, hindered by an injury to slugger Gary Sheffield, are chasing first-place Cleveland in the AL Central as well.

"Everybody would be lying if they say they don't start watching the scoreboard, that you're not watching to see how the other teams did," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I sincerely think we've got a hell of a chance. But unless we get some starting pitching on a roll, we won't win."

Guerrero and the Angels are in good shape in the AL West, seeking their third division title in four years. They could be headed for another first-round playoff series with New York, a team they eliminated in 2002 and 2005.

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