The Pulse: What to watch in AL playoff races?

Welcome to The Pulse, the place to find out what the sports world is thinking. Every day on ESPN.com, SportsNation registers its opinion on a wide range of topics by casting votes and offering opinions. We'll collect the daily highlights and create a running file throughout the week to measure The Pulse of SportsNation on a wide variety of issues. Check this page every day for an update of what the 'Nation is saying.

Friday's Big Questions

1. Yankees-Red Sox or White Sox-Twins?
2.Will Team USA win gold?

Many eyes will be trained on Fenway Park this weekend.
Two series with huge implications in the American League playoff race take place this weekend with the Yankees heading to Boston for a five-game series and the White Sox playing three at Minnesota.

The Yankees and Red Sox are fighting for the AL East lead while the White Sox and Twins go head-to-head for the lead in the AL wild card race, and SportsNation leaves little doubt about which is more intriguing. Nearly 80 percent of SN is more interested in Yanks-Sox and more than half think New York will still hold the division lead when the dust settles at Fenway Park.

While both continue to chase Deroit in the Central, Chicago holds a slim two-game lead over Minnesota in the wild card standings and The 'Nation is a little unsure about what will happen over the weekend in the Metrodome. Just over 40 percent like the White Sox to win to and extend their lead while nearly the same percentage thinks the Twins will close the gap with a pair of wins.

Which weekend series are you more interested in?
71% Yankees at Red Sox
29% White Sox at Twins

Which team will be in first place after their five-game series?
56% Yankees
44% Red Sox

What will happen in the three-game series at the Metrodome?
43% White Sox win two
41% Twins win two
9% Twins win three
7% White Sox win three

It pains me to say it because every series between the Yankees and Red Sox is insanely overhyped, but this one matters. And not just to them. Don't think the White Sox, Twins, Angels and the Tigers aren't watching this series closely. But don't sleep on Minnesota vs. Chicago. That's big, too.
Dan (Chicago)

How can you not be excited about five games between the Sox and Yankees that could impact not only their division but send ripples through the wild card race, as well? The only bad thing about it is that I can't watch the White Sox-Twins at the same time.
Howard (NYC)

Five glorious games in Fenway. Doesn't really get any better than that. Who wants to watch games being broadcast from inside a dome?
Booz (South Boston)

The Yankees and Red Sox have finished first and second, respectively, in the AL East for the last eight years running. The drama and bad blood make this one a must-see despite all the hype we've heard for the last few years.
Walt (Sault St. Marie, MI)

The CWS/MIN series is much more exciting and interesting. Give me a couple of teams that didn't buy their way to a championship any day.
Tom (West Bloomfield, MI)

Give the Twins and White Sox some love. Great pitchers, lots of sluggers, wild card implications and teams that were built the right way, unlike those guys playing out East.
John (Eden Prairie, MN)

The baseball gods have blessed us with this great weekend of baseball.
Nick (St. John's Campus, Jamaica, NY)

Captains Wade (#9) and James are leading the US into action.
The roster has been finalized and Team USA is ready to kick off the FIBA World Championship in the wee hours of Saturday morning against Puerto Rico.

There was some concern after a poor showing against Brazil in the first exhibition game but that seems to have abated for SportsNation. Voters are overwhelmingly confident Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the team will come home with the gold medal.

How will Team USA finish at the World Championship?
87% Gold
6% Silver
3% No medal
3% Bronze

We will deffinitltly win the gold. For the first time in six years we actually have a real team.
Chauncey (Teaneck)

I am bullish on their prospects and expect them to win the gold. Coach K, as much as I hate him, seems to be doinig a great job.
Josh (Lansing)

Lebron + D-Wade - Larry Brown = Gold
John (Portland, ME)

Although I'm still angry AI got shafted, letting James, Anthony, and Wade be on the court at the same time can only mean gold. James is one of the best passers in the world and he will show it here.
Andy (Pittsburgh)

If they dont get gold, my hatred of Coach K will heighten and USA Hoops will be mocked forever. This team has a wealth of young, talented players.
Hannah (NYC via Blitzburgh)

Only way they're going to win the gold is if they keep up the pressure defense. They're not good enough fundamentally to play a set offense with these other squads
Sal (Charlotte, NC)

Wednesday's Big Questions

1. Should reporters be forced to give up their sources?
2. Phil or Tiger at the PGA?

Barry Bonds and steroids are making trouble for plenty of folks.
Barry Bonds and baseball's steroid scandal continue to cast a cloud over the game, including those who cover Major League Baseball and seek to expose cheaters.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, authors of the Bonds expose 'Game of Shadows' and a series of articles on the BALCO investigation, have been ordered by a federal judge to tell a grand jury who leaked to them secret testimony of Bonds and others in the government's steroid probe. Both have made clear they will refuse to testify and are prepared to go to jail rather than reveal their sources.

Should the pair in fact be jailed if they refuse to give up names or is the law unjust? Do reporters deserve some kind of "shield law" when it comes to protecting sources who provide valuable information? A wide majority of SportsNation sides with the judge on this one.

Should the authors of 'Game of Shadows' be forced to reveal their sources in court?
64% Yes
36% No

The grand jury transcripts were sealed. Getting that information is a violation of the law. I have no problem with them having to testify.
Mike (Ann Arbor)

I side with the judge. Just because we WANT to know certain information doesn't give us the right to obtain it illegally. If you allow these guys to walk you break down the entire privacy and legal system.
Jake (VA Beach)

Someone broke the law, period! These reporters are no different than cops who get evidence without a warrant. Their source broke the law.
Kito (NJ)

The only reason people are willing to testify to the grand jury is because their testimony is sealed from the public. So if reporters are given a shield to release this information to the public, that would just defeat the purpose.
Kev Wash (Richmond, VA)

Not revealing sources like Deep Throat is one thing since he wanted anonymity for his own personal reasons. These sources want it because they broke the law. This isn't a violation of a free press
Shaun (Madison WI)

Awful decision. Major implications for free journalism everywhere. I'm no fan of the mainstream media but we'd be a lot closer to China if they weren't around.
Tom (West Bloomfield, MI)

Terrible ruling. The press isn't free if reporters need to turn in their sources! Where will news come from now?
Doug (DC)

Ridiculous. It's one thing to force them to reveal sources if they are protecting a violent criminal, but this is just a witch hunt.
Glenn (Orlando)

Will Tiger be celebrating again this week at Medinah?
As the final major tournament of the season the PGA Championship traditionally groups the winners of the first three majors together for the first two rounds, and that threesome is even more star-studded than usual this time around with British Open champion Tiger Woods and Masters winner Phil Mickelson walking together for the first 36 holes. U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy will also be along for the ride.

Mickelson and Woods are at the top of the list of contenders to win at Medinah, but SportsNation isn't so sure about Lefty. While Tiger is the runaway favorite of SN with nearly 70 percent of the vote, 'Nation citizens give the remainder of the field the edge over Mickelson.

Which golfer will win the PGA Championship?
69% Tiger Woods
21% The field
10% Phil Mickelson

Tiger recaptured his form at Royal Liverpool and put his grief over his father's passing behind him with the very public show of emotion there. He'll run away from the field this week.
Cooper (Illinois)

Eldrick will take care of business. He won at Medinah in '99 and knows how to play the course under pressure. If you ask me, the look he has now points to the beginning of another 'Tiger Slam' and we'll see him holding all four major titles by the middle of next summer.
Doug (Texas)

I predict Tiger and Phil playing together for the balance of the tournament, a great shot-for-shot battle between the two best players in the game with El Tigre just barely able to eke out a victory.
Walter (Bloomington, IN)

I think all the hype and hoopla will bury Phil and Tiger early. Watch out for Ogilvy to fly under the radar and contend into the late afternoon on Sunday.
Steve (Syracuse, NY)

Aren't we forgetting the other 150-plus players in the field? I mean, what about Els, Vijay, DiMarco, Ogilvy, Monty and any number of other big names. To say this is going to be a walkover is a little shortsighted.
Keith (Biloxi, MS)

Lefty gets motivated by the hype and wins the thing by four or five strokes. He's got something to prove when it comes to Tiger and this is the perfect place to prove it.
Elijah (Clearwater, FL)

Can't say for sure Tiger or Phil will win, but I'll tell you who won't: Sergio Garcia. Has to be haunted by coming up short against Tiger at this very course a few years back. I mean, he hasn't really come close in a major since.
Sal (Charlotte, NC)

Tuesday's Big Questions

1. College Saturdays or NFL Sundays?
2. NFL challenge system or college replays?

The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is a defining college football tradition.
Fall is coming and that means one thing: football season. SportsNation is ready for some football but it's a little unclear whether that would be college or pro action.

ESPN.com asked The 'Nation on Tuesday whether it enjoyed college football or the NFL more and it's pretty much a dead heat. The student-athletes hold a slight edge in the overall debate but NCAA action scored some big victories when it comes to the fanfare surrounding the games.

Eight out of ten 'Nation citizens enjoy Saturday's all-day football smorgasbord to the NFL's Sunday formula and nearly 70 percent like the expansive slate of New Year's day bowl games more than traditional Thanksgiving Day battles in the pro game. The NFL gets the nod when the Super Bowl is compared to the BCS, but when it comes to time-honored traditions like "dotting the I" and the Lambeau Leap the college game wins big again.

Which brand of football do you enjoy more?
51% College
49% NFL

  • 80% Prefer college football Saturdays to NFL Sundays

  • 69% Like New Year's Day bowls more than Thanksgiving Day in the NFL

  • 69% Prefer the Super Bowl to the BCS

  • 68% Think "dotting the 'I'" is better than the Lambeau Leap

    I'll take NCAA football any day over the NFL. Where else can you get the tradition, the rivalries, the fact that losing a single game can ruin a season? NFL teams don't carry the same kind of pride as college teams. In college there is no money whether you win or lose; there is only pride.
    Jake (Kona, HI)

    Oklahoma over Little Sisters of the Poor, 103 - 6 (when the spread was "only" 80 points) or the Raiders 17 - 16 over the Chiefs on a last-second field goal when the Chiefs are favored by 3.5? Or how about a championship that is won on the field instead of voted on? Give me Sunday football any day; Saturday is for mowing the lawn!
    Jess (San Diego)

    Sure, the NFL playoffs are better, but college has so many more rivalries, more passion for the game and better fans. You don't see college players crying like T.O. because they didn't catch 10 passes in a game. They play for bragging rights and maybe a future in the NFL. Not to mention, the Heisman Trophy is probably the best award handed out in all of sports.
    Zac (St. Marys)

    There is nothing like waking up Saturday morning to cheer the college team, where the players are going to work for national and conference recognition. Seeing the kids and the alumni cheer on players that have put time and effort into winning not for money but for their school.
    Andrew (Chicago)

    Why are we even having this discussion? The NFL is better because anyone can enjoy the league. You can't really enjoy college football unless you have a D-I alma mater. The NFL is the most popular league in the U.S., so why are we even comparing it to college football?
    Con (Portland)

    After attending a school with scant football tradition in a market with significant NFL presence (NYC) I have to agree they are very different animals. Anyone who claims that college football isn't about money or millionaires is fooling themselves. However, I do agree that traditions at University of Michigan, Notre Dame, Georgia, et. al., do place college football in distinct and wonderful universe.
    Kelly (Washington, DC)

    I love both, but I'd rather watch a close game between two pro teams (even if it is clear who will win before the game) than watch my college team take on oh, say, D-II Northern Sioux Saint Marie University. Regardless of how many fans are in the stadium or what fight song is playing!
    Nick (Cincinnati)

    Who cares which is best? Why can't we enjoy both for what they are? One does not need to be "better" than the other. The point ought to be that the game of football is great in whatever form you watch it: pro, college, high school. Even little-kid games, where the game can be a great teacher about life.
    Tom McFadden (McMinnville, OR)

    Peyton Manning, about to learn the meaning of down by contact.
    So what about the game itself? Which is better when it comes to the action on the field? SN is somewhat split on those questions.

    Just over 80 percent think the college game gets overtime right with its alternating possessions on a short field compared to the NFL's full-field, sudden-death extra session, but nearly the same number prefer the NFL's rule for determining when a player is down and the play is over.

    As for building a team, almost three-fourths of SportsNation would rather follow recruiting than free-agency. When it comes to instant replay, though, the NFL's system of allowing coaches to challenge plays gets the nod over an NCAA replay official deciding what to review and buzzing down to the field to stop play.

  • 81% Prefer college overtime rules to the NFL

  • 76% Touching/tackling should end the play, not a knee on the ground

  • 74% Recruiting is a better way to build rosters than free agency

  • 67% Think the NFL challenge system is better than college replay rules

    All you need to know is that an NFL game could conceivably end in a tie. I mean, the team that wins the flip usually wins the game in NFL overtime whereas in college both teams have an equal chance to win the game. I understand the argument about changing the rules, but I'll take the excitement of alternating possessions.
    Jake (Michigan)

    The NFL certainly has better rules. Two feet in on a catch, a player must be down by contact, and the replay system is better, too. I admit I like the college overtime rules but one gimmick does not make college football better.
    David (Florida)

    How can anyone say it's more fun to watch NFL mercenaries follow the money trail to a city regardless of wins and losses than watch kids decide where to attend school based on tradition, championships and hot co-eds? Say what you want about shady recruiting practices but it's still more fun to follow than cap numbers, bonuses and slimy agents.
    Shane (Georgia)

    Can't we all just get along? When you get down to it we're talking about football no matter what the other debates are. It's a great game no matter who's playing.
    Sal (Charlotte, NC)

    Monday's Big Questions

    1. Should the Cardinals and Tigers be worried?
    2. Do NFL teams play too many preseason games?

    Pudge and the Tigers had a rough go against the White Sox.
    It was a tough weekend for the leaders of baseball's Central divisions.

    The Tigers saw what was once a 10-game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central shrink to 5.5 games after a sweep at the hands of the White Sox, while the St. Louis Cardinals now sit just 1.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds after being swept by the lowly Pirates.

    Does that mean the Tigers and Cardinals should be pressing the panic button? Not according to SportsNation. Better than 60 percent of voters still like Detroit to win the AL Central and more than half give St. Louis the nod in the NL Central.

    Which team will win the AL Central?
    62% Tigers
    30% White Sox
    8% Twins

    Which team will win the NL Central?
    53% Cardinals
    34% Reds
    13% Astros

    The Tigers are fine with Jim Leyland at the helm. I'm not worried in the least.
    Matt (Ann Arbor)

    The Tigers were bound to slump a little and it happened just as the Sox were hitting a good patch.
    Dan (Chicago)

    Let the Tigers play their series against the Red Sox first. If they keep losing, then it's time to panic
    Phil (Natick, MA)

    Tigers should panic. The Cards have had to deal with the pressure of pennant races for a while. The Tigers? A team full of kids (minus Rogers and I-Rod) that I felt would blow it all along.
    Dave (Hazlet, NJ)

    I think Tigers fans should be worried. The world champs are on their tails. The Reds? Who's scared of the Reds?
    Jonathan (Buffalo)

    The NL is still the worse league and sooner or later the Cards should be able to put it together and pull away again.
    John (Buffalo)

    The Reds won't go away, but Pujols will get it going again and Carpenter should help right the ship for the staff. Cards hold them off down the stretch.
    Timothy (Mizzou)

    Cardinals fans should more be in a panic. At least the Tigers have a little bit of a cushion in their division and in the wild card, plus some solid pitching. The Cardinals' staff is very hittable and that 1.5 division lead is nothing.
    Jon (Malvern)

    Damaged goods all season?
    The debate about the length of the NFL preseason is in full swing again this season after Redskins running back Clinton Portis dislocated his shoulder Sunday night against Cincinnati in Washington's first preseason game. The extent of the injury is unknown but Portis was concerned after the game about his possible readiness for Week 1 and the lingering affect the injury might have during the course of the season.

    Portis questioned the NFL's four-game preseason schedule and how star players are used during those exhibition games, saying the risk of injury is too great even for established stars who play only sparingly in the preseason, and SportsNation agrees. Nearly half of The 'Nation favors cutting the exhibition slate in half.

    As for the Redskins themselves, SN doesn't like the outlook. A vast majority think Washington's playoff chances have already been seriously damaged nearly a month before the team plays a meaningful snap.

    How many preseason games should NFL teams play?
    48% Two
    32% Three
    17% Four
    3% One

    Does the injury to Clinton Portis seriously affect Washington's playoff chances?
    76% Yes
    24% No

    This won't turn anything on its own because it's not the first time we've seen someone seriously hurt. You can't rid the NFL of preseason games completely but the preseason still needs to be shortened. Two games would get teams ready.
    Jake (VA Beach)

    Four games is too many in the preseason. Cut it in half and cut out the worry. Sure, it's less money for the owners but shouldn't we be more concerned about the safety of the players?
    James (Chicago)

    So do you continue on with four preseason games and risk more injuries like the one to Portis, or do you shorten the preseason and risk injuries early in the regular season because teams aren't sharp? Glad I don't have to make that call.
    Ron (South Dakota)

    They need to get some reps to get sharp for the season. Whether there's four or two preseason games an injury could happen at any time. Could happen in practice. There's no way to tell.
    Jack (Toronto)

    Last time I checked football was a contact sport. There's the risk someone might get hurt every time they step onto the field.
    Greg (Dallas)

    Chances to make the playoffs = little to none, especially in a strong division. They only went on that run last year once they started running Portis like crazy.
    Vir (Albany)

    People can talk all they want about Al Saunders and the receivers and the O-line and the system, but Portis was the heart and soul of that offense and without him they're just Mark Brunell throwing incompletions all over the field and running for his life.
    Matt (Fairfax)

    Redskins are dead in the water if they have to rely on Brunell at QB. Even with a fearsome defense he'll be their undoing if he's asked to carry the offense.
    Will (NYC)

    That defense is scary. The NFC East is one tough division but the Redskins should be fine.
    Keith (Grand Rapids)

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