What's more, a sluggish Oakland offense has woken up, contributing to the A's best-in-baseball 62-32 record since they snapped a nine-game losing streak on June 2, as well as their 41-19 mark since the All-Star break. A team that averaged 3.71 runs per game, the lowest in the AL, before the All-Star break is averaging 5.02 runs per game since. It has allowed them to open a two-game lead on second AL Wild Card hopeful Baltimore, put them 4 1/2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and six ahead of Tampa Bay, the two closest challengers for the two AL Wild Card spots.
Think back to July 27. The defending National League Central champion Brewers were so far down in the postseason standings that they dealt right-hander Zack Greinke to the Angels for three quality prospects, a clear indication that Milwaukee was looking to the future. Could the future, however, be now? It's starting to look like it.
Thank goodness for that second NL Wild Card spot, which Brewers general manager Doug Melvin opposed a year ago but has grown to like right now, considering that spot is his club's hope for postseason salvation. San Francisco, Cincinnati and Washington have strongholds on their respective division leads, and Atlanta has a seven-game lead on St. Louis for the first NL Wild Card spot. The Cardinals, however, currently hold the second spot but are just a game ahead of Los Angeles, which like St. Louis has lost seven of its last 10 games. The Cards are 2 1/2 games in front of the Brewers, who have won 20 of their last 26 games.
Ryan Braun continues to put up numbers that should quiet his doubters after he successfully challenged a failed drug test during the offseason. With his two home runs on Sunday, he not only gave the Brewers their seventh 40-homer season but got to 200 home runs and 120 stolen bases faster than any player in history -- five years and 114 days after his debut.
In terms of innings, the workload has been moderate for the Yankees' bullpen during their September survival run, but there has been plenty of activity, and so far, it has allowed the Yankees to cling to a one-game AL East lead over Baltimore, which is currently holding onto the second AL Wild Card spot. Yankees relievers have worked only 44 2/3 innings so far this month, fewer than all but Oakland, Texas and Arizona among the 30 Major League teams.
The relievers, however, have made 45 appearances in the 15 games, including 11 by Boone Logan, 10 for David Robertson, eight for Joba Chamberlain and seven by both closer Rafael Soriano and Cody Eppley. Soriano is a perfect 6-for-6 in saves this month, giving him 40, the first of which didn't come until May 10.
The bullpen is critical for a Yankees team that had not won back-to-back games for four weeks but has now done it twice in the last five games, taking two of three from Boston and Tampa Bay. And now, New York heads down the stretch with only three of its final 16 games against a team with a winning record, as Oakland visits Yankee Stadium this weekend.
The Rays were poised for another second-half surge. On Aug. 23, they pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the AL East lead. And then .... they woke up on Monday morning five games out in the divisional battle and four games behind in the bid for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Rays have only eight victories in their last 23 games -- Cleveland and Boston, with seven each, are the only AL teams with fewer wins in that stretch -- and they have scored only 77 runs, 11th in the AL.
The Rays will play 10 of their final 16 games at home. But does that matter? Their 39-32 record at The Trop is the 11th-best home mark in the Major Leagues. The next 10 days are critical; they have six games with Boston and three with Toronto. Then, the Rays will finish the regular season with four games at Chicago against the White Sox and three at home against Baltimore. The club is 29-38 against the eight postseason contenders it has played this year. It has put together a winning record against only Texas (5-4) and the Yankees (10-8). The Rays, however, just lost two of three at Yankee Stadium during the weekend after being swept in a three-game matchup with Baltimore.
Tampa Bay has been betrayed by what it thought was going to be an offense rejuvenated by the offseason signings of Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. Pena, hitting .193 with 17 home runs for the season, is hitting only .163 with one home run and one RBI over his last 23 games, and Scott, hitting .216 with 13 home runs overall, has hit .174 with one home run and four RBIs over the last 16 games.
The Dodgers aren't concerned just because they've lost eight of their last 11 games. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, a National League Cy Young Award contender, finally gave in to an ongoing right hip injury and may require surgery. And that comes after the late-August loss of right-hander Chad Billingsley, just as he was in a stretch that could well have sent his career in the right direction. Billingsley was 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA in six starts before suffering a torn right elbow ligament that will sideline him not only the rest of this season but all of 2013.
For all of the concern about their scuffling offense, the Dodgers embark on a nine-game road trip on Tuesday that begins with three-game stops at Washington and Cincinnati before finishing in San Diego with a rotation that is a combined 3-8 in the last 22 games. The Dodgers enter their series against the Nationals with a rotation alignment of Aaron Harang, (4.71 ERA in the recent slide), Josh Beckett (3.38) and Chris Capuano (5.24).
Neither Detroit nor the Chicago White Sox has been able to gain traction in the battle for the AL Central title.
The defending division champion Tigers do have a chance to make a strong run down the stretch, however. After a make up game at Chicago on Monday afternoon, they return home for three games against Oakland, then they'll spend the rest of the regular season with home-and-home series against Kansas City and Minnesota. The Tigers are 14-9 against the two teams.
The White Sox, meanwhile, have a three-game visit to Anaheim to play the Angels this weekend, then will host Tampa Bay, which could still be in the AL Wild Card battle, in a four-game series the following weekend. The Sox are, however, 3-2 against the Angels this year, and swept a three-game series form Tampa Bay in the only meeting between the two teams this season.