There has not been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, but with the Rangers riding an 11-game winning streak (yes, it came with sweeps of the lowly Orioles, A’s and Mariners) and the Giants winning seven of 10 to stretch their National League West lead to 3½ games, both teams are looking better than at one point this season.
Both teams certainly have their flaws -- the Giants’ offensive woes have been documented; the Rangers need bullpen depth and have trouble scoring runs on the road -- but here are four quick reasons I expect both teams to be in the playoffs come October.
C.J. Wilson is pitching like an ace. When the Rangers lost out on re-signing Cliff Lee, there were concerns Texas lacked a staff leader. Wilson was terrific in 2010 -- 15-8, 3.35 ERA -- but analysts pointed to his high walk rate (4.1 per nine innings) and low batting average on balls in play as indicators that Wilson wasn’t a good bet to repeat his 2010 number. But the lefty has improved his game -- he has cut his walk by more than a batter per game and increased his strikeout rate, so while his hit rate has normalized, he is still putting put up great numbers -- 10-3, 3.11, including a 2.59 ERA on the road.
Matt Harrison has developed into a consistent rotation member. The fourth-best prospect acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves in 2007, Harrison was looking like bullpen fodder after his first years with the Rangers, compiling a 5.39 ERA in more than 200 innings of work with corresponding poor peripherals. But like Wilson he has cut his walks while increasing his strikeout rate and has become one of the more consistent starters in the American League. After 7 2/3 strong innings against Seattle on Sunday, he has lowered his ERA to 2.91 and he has allowed more than three earned runs just once in his past 12 starts. With Rangers starters, you always have to worry about them maintaining their stamina through the Texas heat, so it will be watching to see how Harrison and Alexi Ogando hold up in their first full seasons in a major league rotation.
The Giants’ rotation is doing just fine, thank you. While the Phillies’ rotation has rightfully received a lot of the national publicity, what’s gone unheralded is Giants starters have collectively risen their performance (thanks in part to Ryan Vogelsong's outstanding performance):
2011: 3,29 ERA, 215 BB, 519 SO, .234 average, .307 OBP, .348 SLG
2010: 3.54 ERA, 377 BB, 888 SO, .236 average, .309 OBP, .380 SLG
With the emergence of Vogelsong, when Jonathan Sanchez returns from his disabled list stint due to biceps tendinitis (possibly in the July 26-28 series against the Phillies), the Giants will have six starting pitchers -- plus top prospect Zack Wheeler. Would they consider dealing Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner to upgrade the offense?
There is hope for the San Francisco offense. Yes, I said it. Yes, the lineup still has holes. But check the club’s month-by-month runs per game and OPS (on-base+slugging) total:
April: 3.84 RPG, .684 OPS
May: 3.21 RPG, .658 OPS
June: 3.5 RPG, .753 OPS
July: 4.57 RPG, .734 OPS
With their rotation and bullpen, the Giants don’t need a great offense, just an OK one -- like last season, when it posted a .729 OPS. Of course, that lineup improved over the course of the season, but the Giants still won eight of their 11 postseason games when scoring four runs or fewer.
While that’s not exactly Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Giants could still promote rookie Brandon Belt to play left field or first base. Belt struggled in his initial 19-game stint to start the season, but he’s been tearing it up in Triple-A with a .341/.471/.578, including a .477 average in 11 games in July since returning from the DL. Add Belt and another bat via trade, and it’s a lineup that could be just good enough.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
Cleveland at Minnesota, Monday-Wednesday (four games)
Detroit at Minnesota, Thursday-Sunday
The Twins have a minus-62 run differential and yet are five games out in the Central. They get eight games at home this week against the AL Central co-leaders, including a doubleheader on Monday. Lefty Scott Diamond, who has a 4.70 ERA at Triple-A Rochester, will make his major league debut in the second game on Monday against struggling Fausto Carmona. The Twins also draw Justin Verlander to open the Detroit series, facing Carl Pavano, who has a 2.82 ERA over his past eight starts. It’s hard to believe, but with a monster week (and no Matt Capps blown saves), the Twins could be in first place this time next week.
PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
This is an interesting game not only to see the Atlanta rookie righty, who has been so solid with a 3.21 ERA and 78/15 SO/BB ratio, but because with Jimenez being mentioned in trade rumors this could be his last start for the Rockies. The Braves have been conservative with Beachy, who has pitched more than six innings just once. As for Jimenez (5-8, 4.08), Rockies fan probably can’t believe he’s gone from the guy who dominated the majors for two months last season to a guy on the trading block.
1. One more note on the Rangers: They’ve played the Angels only six times so far, so they still have 13 games left against their top rival, including three games this week in Anaheim. The two clubs also wrap up the season with three games in Anaheim. Here are some remaining intra-division games left:
Yankees-Red Sox: Nine games (Red Sox lead season series 8-1)
Indians-Tigers: 12 games (Indians lead season series 4-2)
Phillies-Braves: Six games (Season series tied 6-6)
Giants-Diamondbacks: Nine games (Giants lead season series 7-2)
2. Don’t count CC Sabathia out of the AL Cy Young race. The big guy has allowed two runs over his past five starts, with a 56-5 strikeout/walk ratio, lowering his ERA to 2.64. He’s now 14-4, has allowed just five home runs in 153 2/3 innings and the Blue Jays apparently weren’t stealing signs, as he shut them down on Saturday.
3. I wrote a little thing comparing Dustin Pedroia to Robinson Cano last week. This wasn’t meant to ignore or exclude other AL second basemen who have been having great years, especially Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist, who combines great defense, power and on-base ability to remain one of the most underrated players in the game.
PHOTO OF THE DAY