The best of Baseball Today

Welcome back, Steve Phillips.

After a week off to brush up on new Steve Stone barbs, Phillips returned to Baseball Today with a predictive flourish.

After Twins starter Francisco Liriano went down for the season Wednesday, Phillips responded: "They've had all kinds of problems where you think, 'This is the one that's going to pull them down.' And they don't seem to stop. I'm not sure that we have to worry about them." Sure enough, the Twins won three of four from Cleveland, and they head into the final two weeks just one game out of first place with a hefty lead in the wild card.

But Phillips wasn't done. As he picked the second-place Padres as the true class of the NL West, he said, "Their bullpen is among the best in the National League. And Peavy-Wells-Young-Woody Williams is pretty good." Two wins over Los Angeles later, San Diego jumped into first place Sunday for the first time since early August.

From the bubbling (MVP races) to the sputtering (White Sox), from the spirited (is Utley-vs.-Howard a race debate?) to the dispirited (Tigers), we covered it all last week on Baseball Today, the Fastest 15 Minutes in Baseball and the game's most popular podcast. Here are more of last week's highlights -- including this week's upcoming schedule, our feverish Crystal Ball race and a torrent of fine listener mail.

Remember, send us your comments about pennant races, MVP races and our race to the top of the iTunes standings, and we'll get the best insights on the air.

Quotes Of The Week

Monday, Sept. 11: Jayson Stark

Are the Phillies Chase Utley's or Ryan Howard's team?: "Chase Utley is a fireball. It's incredible, the fervor with which that guy plays the game. And he takes on leadership in more overt ways than Ryan Howard does -- and in many ways, he sets that tone for that team."

Tuesday, Sept. 12: Rob Neyer

Jeter vs. Ortiz for MVP: "We don't measure during the season how many runs Jeter accounts for with his other base running, [beyond] the steals. You look at the defensive contributions Jeter makes as a shortstop, regardless of how well he plays it, you look at what he does on the bases. In my mind, that outweighs Ortiz's clutch hitting."

Wednesday, Sept. 13: Gary Gillette

On the White Sox, before their Oakland collapse: "I think that the White Sox are in real peril here. I've been supporting them all year, saying they were a better club especially when their pitching started to deteriorate. You have to wonder now if they have the horses to pull back in the race."

Thursday, Sept. 14: Steve Phillips

On his former minor leaguer, Jose Reyes: "He is a double threat, one of those unique combinations of power and speed. When we first signed him when I was the general manager of the Mets, he was really kind of a skinny, young, little kid. You could close your eyes and dream a little bit, but I don't think any of us dreamed that his physique would turn out to what it is right now."

Friday, Sept. 15: Jerry Crasnick

Will Craig Biggio stay with the 'Stros?: "To get the 2,940 hits and to go somewhere else for the final 60, I think he's not enough of a drag on the team that they can't keep him there for one more year and let him get over this milestone. Drayton McLane is a guy who's very conscious of public opinion. I would frankly be shocked if Biggio goes somewhere else."

Best Listener Mail
(To contribute a comment for the show, click here.)

"I listen to your ESPN baseball podcast every day, and I really loved what you had to say today with Jayson Stark. I'm a white guy and would hardly count as a guy overly sensitive to racial issues, but I have often thought about Craig Biggio, David Eckstein, Craig Counsell, etc., and how people attribute the dirty uniform to gritty leader of a team. It is rarely a Latino or African-American who gets this label."
--Gavin Morgan (Portland, Ore.)

"As a 42-year-old Phillies season-ticket holder, I was most interested in the debate you had several days ago with Jayson Stark regarding whose team the Phillies were, Chase Utley's or Ryan Howard's. For the most part, I believe Jayson is correct. Utley was clearly the inspiration and leader of the Phillies earlier in the season. During his hitting streak you frequently pointed out that Howard was putting up similar or better numbers without getting the recognition. I should point out that you come across angry at Chase Utley for some reason. As I'm sure you are aware, he had nothing to do with the popularity of his streak. ... You know most fans simply jump on whoever is hot. Earlier this year, my 7-year-old son made me get him a Chase Utley jersey to replace his Pat Burrell shirt. At our last game, I had to get him a Ryan Howard jersey to replace Utley's! At this point, I just hope Chris Coste doesn't get hot!"
--Joseph DeSimine (Vineland, N.J.)

"It gets a little old hearing Big Papi and Derek Jeter talk about the MVP. Jeter is not the MVP. He has Damon/A-Rod/Giambi hitting in his lineup and is only second in hitting. Papi? Sorry man, the Red Sox are out of it. Want an MVP? Justin Morneau .320-33-118 or Johan Santana, 18-5 and leading almost every major pitching category. Twins have had a huge turnaround and could win the Central. These guys should both be considered before Papi and Jeter."
--Jon Larson, (Chamberlain, S.D.)

"Why does everyone say the Twins have pitching issues? For a bullpen that has the best ERA in baseball, saying they're smoke and mirrors is quite an insult! How many more games do they need to win before people stop writing them off? Coming from a losing season to the fourth-best record in the MLB over four months might mean something, eh?"
--T.J. (Chisholm, Minn.)

Crystal Ball Standings
Our guests did their best imitation of the Tigers last week -- after blitzing to a more than .600 record for most of the year, the bubble burst to the ominous tune of 5-10.
Pedro Martinez's tear-jerking failure Friday night didn't help, while Ryan Howard and Frank Thomas cooled off. But this race is still going strong, with Rob Neyer still holding off Steve Phillips by the equivalent of two games.

Alan Schwarz is the host of ESPN.com's Baseball Today and the senior writer of Baseball America. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," can be ordered on Alan's Web site.