As much fun as it would be to see the Brewers and Tigers create havoc in October, this is shaping up as a postseason that will be low on surprises. The three best teams entering the playoffs are likely to be the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox, in that order.
The forecast here is we're looking at a Yankees-Phillies World Series, after the Yankees have a relatively easy time against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The Yankees' edge against the Red Sox is that they have better pitching, and their bullpen figures to be the best in the playoffs — a strong statement considering the perfect season the Tigers' Jose Valverde is having and the Braves' All-Star combination of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
The Yankees' 2.99 bullpen ERA entering the weekend was the best among the nine teams in playoff contention, a tick ahead of the Braves. Their four blown saves since the All-Star break is the second lowest total among those nine teams, behind the Diamondbacks (one).
Mariano Rivera isn't quite as good as he was at his peak, but he has converted 10 straight save chances since being scored on in back-to-back outings in early August and seems headed to his eighth season of 40-plus saves. David Robertson (1.23 ERA, 89 strikeouts and one homer allowed in 581/3 innings) is doing what Rafael Soriano was supposed to and Luis Ayala and Cory Wade also could enter the playoffs with sub-2.00 ERAs.
The Yankees lack a shutdown lefty (Boone Logan is their only established lefty reliever), but Robertson and Wade are equally effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters. There's some talk that they could add Manny Banuelos for the playoffs, but the 20-year-old lefty walked 71 in 1292/3 innings this season in the high minors, which argues against exposing him to October pressure.
Difference-maker: MVP candidate Justin Verlander isn't the only one getting credit for the 25-11 run that allowed the Tigers to cruise to an over-sized lead in the AL Central. Victor Martinez, a career .303 hitter headed to his fourth 100-RBI season, has been almost as important.
Martinez hits behind Miguel Cabrera, who no longer is walked routinely in big situations, and some consider him the clubhouse leader the Tigers have needed.
"Obviously everybody knows he's a great player and a key addition to this lineup, but he's always pumping everybody up," Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson told the Detroit Free Press. "That gets you going a little bit. On those days you're kind of dragging, he's trying to motivate you and keep you in good spirits.
"He's a verbal leader. That's something guys need sometimes, especially around this time of year when guys can be a little tired."
"Victor is Mr. Clutch, it seems,'' Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan said. "He's the one carrying that team now. Miguel might be the MVP, but without Victor hitting behind him, that's a completely different lineup."
Francoeur's strong throw beat Taylor to the bag by a step even though the rookie was hustling down the line.
"It's not embarrassing at all," Taylor said. "I hit the ball as hard as I could. I hit a one-hopper to a guy with a cannon."
Francoeur has a majors-best 96 outfield assists since joining the Braves in 2005. This was only the fifth 9-3 putout in the AL since 1974, and the first against the A's since the Brewers' Bernie Carbo threw out Phil Garner in 1976.
Hanging zeros: C.J. Wilson's five-hitter against the Rays on Tuesday was the Rangers' 18th shutout of the season. That's a club record and the fourth most in the AL since the DH was added. The 1989 A's and Angels had 20 apiece, and the A's had 19 in 2002.
Despite those shutouts, the Rangers rank only fourth in the AL with a 3.75 ERA from their starters.
"With all due respect, they're playing against Oakland and Seattle a lot,'' said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose rotation leads the AL with a 3.52 ERA.
Eleven of the Rangers' shutouts have involved relievers.
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