Pitchers to watch as postseason nears

When Josh Beckett left Monday’s start in the fourth inning with a sprained ankle, Red Sox Nation took a deep breath and tried to hold down its Labor Day hot dogs and hamburgers.

Beckett will get checked out on Tuesday but his first words weren’t the most encouraging response: "It's always concerning. That's my power leg,” Beckett said. "It felt like it was locked up and then it popped in and out of the socket or something.”

Considering Boston’s rotation has kind of turned into a shambles behind Beckett and Jon Lester -- Erik Bedard will miss his next start with a sore knee -- Beckett suddenly becomes one of the key pitchers to watch down the stretch. Here are a few others.

Alexi Ogando, Rangers: Scott Feldman started in place of Ogando on Monday, as the Rangers decided Ogando needed a break. It’s understandable: Ogando is up to 155 innings, 84 more innings than he pitched last season, so the fatigue that everyone was worried about has perhaps set in. In his past six starts, he’s allowed 21 runs in 22.2 innings and got knocked out before the fifth inning three times. Ron Washington hasn’t determined if Ogando will make another relief appearance before starting again, but this much is clear: If the Rangers hold off the Angels for the AL West title, Ogando will need to make a couple good September starts to earn a spot in the playoff rotation.

Freddy Garcia, Yankees: Garcia has made two starts since his return after almost four weeks on the disabled list, both against the Orioles, and with mixed results. He allowed two hits over six innings last week, but on Monday got rocked for nine hits and seven runs in 2.2 innings. After CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the Yankees' rotation is still wide open: Phil Hughes has been hit around his past two starts; A.J. Burnett has a 7.39 ERA going back to July, with just one win in 11 starts; Bartolo Colon hasn’t won in six starts, allowing a 5.00 ERA and eight home runs. Will any of these guys step up?

Max Scherzer, Tigers: Don’t let the 14-8 record mislead you -- Scherzer continues to battle inconsistency and gopher balls. Only Colby Lewis and Burnett have allowed more home runs among AL pitchers. Scherzer tossed seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on Sunday and the Tigers need their No. 2 starter to show he can do that over two or three outings in a row. Without the good Scherzer, even Justin Verlander may not be enough to carry the Tigers out of the first round.

Al Alburquerque, Tigers: He was just activated from the DL on Monday, and the Tigers need the rookie righty to perform like he did early in the season, when he blew away hitters with his nasty slider. The Detroit bullpen has been a key to the team’s second half: After posting a 4.68 ERA in the first half, the relief corps has a 3.15 ERA since the All-Star break. Alburquerque could be another weapon to use before closer Jose Valverde.

Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, Braves: Both right-handers received some positive news over the weekend, but their potential playoff status remains up in the air. Jurrjens received a second opinion on his knee, with confirmation that it is a bone bruise and not anything more severe, but he probably won’t be able to throw off a mound for two more weeks. Hanson felt better after a long-toss session. “I’d like to get a start or two in the regular season, if I can,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve just got to wait and see. I don’t want to push it like last time and then be done [because of a re-injury]. But at the same time, I don’t know to go too slow and then not have enough time to come back.” The Braves have excellent depth with Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Derek Lowe and Mike Minor, but you know they’d like at least one of these two guys to show he's healthy before the postseason.

Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: Kennedy has matched his career high of 194 innings, so he’s entering uncharted territory. If anything, however, he’s been looking even stronger: Since the All-Star break, his ERA is 2.05, his opponents’ batting average is .217 and he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a game. If he continues like that in September, Arizona will have an ace to match up with the Phillies, their likely first-round opponent.

Vance Worley and Roy Oswalt, Phillies: Who will be the Phillies' No. 4 starter in the postseason? Worley continues to impress, but you know Charlie Manuel is loyal to his veterans. A strong finish from Oswalt probably pushes him into the October rotation.

Zack Greinke, Brewers: Who is Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter? It’s a crucial decision for the first round, as the ace may be the only guy to draw two starts. I’m not convinced it’s Greinke, who’s pitched more than seven innings just twice all season. Greinke isn’t wild (only 34 walks in 23 starts), and he leads the NL in strikeout rate (10.7 per nine innings), and that lack of economy means he doesn’t pitch deep into the game often enough. Considering postseason hitters will be more patient than his usual NL Central fodder, is he the guy you want starting the playoff opener? Keep an eye on him down the stretch though, as he’s also the Milwaukee starter most likely to get hot.