With the playoff chase coming down to the wire, our MLB editor rounds up the five biggest pennant race stories in Eye Toward October.
- One Final Gamble: For the better part of two months, the Brewers have been rolling the dice. They went out and got reigning AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia in July. Once they got Sabathia and once it became clear the bullpen couldn't be trusted in tight spots, they rode Sabathia and Ben Sheets hard -- pushing them past the 110-pitch and even 120-pitch mark with regularity.
And then with the team scuffling through September, they made a move that was just as dramatic as the Sabathia trade -- they fired manager Ned Yost, an almost unprecedented move for a contender. Some of the gambles have worked and some of them haven't.
The effect of four 120-plus pitch starts probably took their toll on the fragile Sheets. But on the flip side, the Brewers would probably be out of contention if the Sabathia deal wasn't made.
Milwaukee will roll the dice one last time Sunday, hoping that one last roll will result in a spot in the postseason after 25 long years. Fittingly, they'll have their biggest gamble -- Sabathia -- on the mound for that last roll. And he'll be starting on short rest for the second consecutive turn. Things might not go the Brewers' way in their last stand of 2008, but at least they'll be in familiar territory with their season on the line.
- All on Ollie: The Mets will turn to their own flame-throwing left-hander on short rest Sunday against the Marlins. The similarities between Sabathia and Oliver Perez pretty much end there. Perez is completely capable of dominating. He has great stuff. But he can't always harness it. As a result he runs hot and cold.
Perez was brutal earlier this week against Chicago and in his last seven starts he has a 5.45 ERA. In the seven starts before then, he had a 2.76 ERA. So the Mets have to hope that Dr. Jekyll and not Mr. Hyde shows up tomorrow. A couple more indicators for how Perez might perform: He's 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA in five starts against Florida this year and in his lone career start on three days of rest, he lasted 2 2/3 innings and surrendered five runs.
- The Real Prize: Philadelphia locked up its second consecutive NL East title Saturday, but the real reward for a team with designs on going much further than it did last year, is being able to rest ace Cole Hamels. The southpaw is the Phillies' best starter and he will now be able to start twice in the NLDS. Hamels was slated to start Sunday, and probably would have gone had Philadelphia still needed to lock up a playoff spot.
- Pitching Problems: If the White Sox fall short of the playoffs, it will be easy to blame the injury to Carlos Quentin, but the real collpase has come on the other side of the ball, a place where Quentin has very little impact. After another drubbing at the hands of the Indians, Chicago now has a 5.33 team ERA in September.
- A Case of the Mondays: It's looking very likely that there will be baseball somewhere on Monday. If the Twins and White Sox both win or both lose, or if the White Sox win and the Twins lose, Chicago will have to play Detroit on Monday. Of course, if the Mets and Brewers both win or both lose there will be a one-game playoff Monday at Shea Stadium.
In fact the only scenario where there wouldn't be a game on Monday is if the Mets win and Brewers lose or vice versa AND the Twins win and the White Sox lose.