Weekend preview: Division showdowns

In three of the six divisions, the first- and second-place teams will be meeting this weekend, and while we shouldn’t expect the top spot to change in any of them anytime soon, calling cards can be sent. Frankly, it’s hardly an indictment to qualify for the playoffs as merely a wild-card entry, although the new rules make the overall October ride a bit tougher now. Still, would it surprise anyone if the Texas Rangers take the American League West but the Mike Trouts -- sorry, the Los Angeles Angels -- end up representing the AL? Anyway, here’s what to watch this weekend.

1. Rangers-Angels highlights the weekend, but both those teams likely will be playing meaningful October baseball. The Chicago White Sox, meanwhile, head to Detroit to challenge the team almost everyone seemed to think was a postseason lock. Well, the Tigers currently are looking up at the White Sox, although it’s hardly an insurmountable deficit. Chicago will need to deal with Justin Verlander, arguably baseball’s top pitcher, on Friday night. Verlander hasn’t faced the ChiSox this season, but since 2009, he’s 10-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 11 starts against them. The White Sox likely will fare better against Rick Porcello and rookie Jacob Turner the rest of the weekend. Porcello relies on defense, which is a poor plan with what takes the field behind him, while Turner was obliterated for seven runs, including three home runs, in two innings against the Trouts earlier this week. To say the Tigers are interested in rotation upgrades through trade would be an understatement.

2. The top teams in the National League East face off for a four-game weekend set in Washington (day-night doubleheader Saturday!), with the Braves having to face innings eater Stephen Strasburg on Friday. Then the road gets easier. Honestly, people, can we have one conversation about the awesome Nationals and their star right-hander without mentioning the possible 160-innings limit? It’s coming, so deal with it. This team still can win the division and the World Series without him. Anyway, Washington is 20-12 against NL East teams, and that includes a 6-2 mark against the Braves. After Strasburg, the Nationals send Edwin Jackson, former “ace” John Lannan (for his first big league start of the year) and Ross Detwiler to the mound, as the Braves avoid Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, the team’s likely 1-2 starters for a postseason series. Sounds like a pending split to me.

3. The first-place Giants boast one of baseball’s top records against left-handed pitching (19-9), but the Philadelphia Phillies will be sending only one (Cole Hamels) to the mound this weekend. Against right-handers, the Giants are merely 32-32. Well, that’s probably all Joe Blanton needs to boost his confidence, right? Anyway, any Giants story has to mention the once-great Tim Lincecum, Friday’s starter. Timmy looked aces in his previous outing, fanning 11 Houston Astros over eight shutout innings, but it’s worth noting his home ERA is 3.43, while his road mark is an even 9.00 (over 10 starts). This game is on the road. Lincecum has dominated Philly the past three regular seasons (1.22 ERA in five starts from 2009 to '11, 41 strikeouts, 8 walks) but this hasn’t been the same pitcher. It’s an interesting matchup against Philly’s now-whole lineup.

Three more ERAs to watch:

1.73 ERA: Combined home ERA for Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, the Athletics hurlers who face the New York Yankees at home Friday and Saturday.

1.29 ERA: Combined overall ERA for Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Michael Fiers and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto since June 12. They’re scheduled to face off Sunday.

8.66 ERA: That’s Dan Haren’s work over his past five starts, although they likely were complicated by back woes. The Angels right-hander is scheduled to come off the DL for ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" to face the Rangers.

Have a great weekend, everyone!