Only the strong will survive

It's show-me-what-you've-got time this weekend. That applies to both the teams and starting pitchers. The Yankees seemed a little too willing to let Thursday's game against the Blue Jays go, preferring to keep the strong arms in their bullpen fresh for a showdown with the Red Sox. New York believes it's still in the AL East hunt, but one or two Red Sox wins would just about end those hopes.

Boston needs to see whether Daisuke Matsuzaka has anything left for the postseason, and the Mets have to find out the same about Pedro Martinez. Tigers rookie Yorman Bazardo will make his first major league start against a tough foe, squaring off with fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana and the Twins. Detroit will find out about his fate and its own -- because the Tigers' postseason hopes rest on picking up some significant ground over the next week.

Nothing has been determined in the NL West, either. The Diamondbacks visit Chavez Ravine for a huge three-game set with the Dodgers, who took two of three from the Padres to stay in the hunt. San Diego hosts San Francisco, which would love nothing more than to play spoiler.

Get ready for an exciting three days of baseball ... and enjoy the show.

Yankees (Pettitte) at Red Sox (Matsuzaka), 7:05 ET (ESPN)
Daisuke Matsuzaka has hit a wall. He's 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA in his last five starts, after posting a 1.65 ERA in his four starts prior to that stretch. Andy Pettitte continues to cruise through the last two months of the season. He's 9-2 in the second half and is trying to win 10 games after the All-Star break for the fourth time in his career. It would be the third straight year, as a Yankee, that Pettitte won 10 or more games after the break.
Royals (Bannister) at Indians (Sabathia), 7:05 ET
Brian Bannister has won four of his last five decisions. The lone blemish was his last start, when he allowed seven runs against the Yankees. He's 7-1 against division rivals this season, including a win over Cleveland on June 6. C.C. Sabathia has won his last three starts and has a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings during that stretch. He's allowed one run in his last 17 innings. The Indians have been almost impossible to beat lately -- with 15 wins in their last 18 games.
Diamondbacks (Davis) at Dodgers (Penny), 10:40 ET
Brad Penny goes for his 16th win, which would match the career high he set last season. Doug Davis has never allowed an earned run against the Dodgers. Davis is 3-1 in four career starts against L.A., conceding just one unearned run and 16 hits over 30 innings.
Phillies (Lohse) at Mets (Martinez), 1:10 ET
Pedro Martinez has won his first two starts, but the Mets need to get an idea if he can go beyond five innings. The last time he pitched more than five innings in a game was Aug. 9, 2006. He allowed two home runs to Mike Piazza in that game, but only one other hit in 7 1/3 innings in a win over the Padres. His last start against the Phillies was not particularly memorable. He allowed six runs in one inning on Aug. 14, 2006, his first of four straight losses to close his season.
Yankees (Wang) at Red Sox (Beckett), 3:55 ET
Which 18-game winner do you prefer? The sinkerballing Yankee seems totally unflappable and is 5-0 in his last six starts. The fireballing Bostonian is 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings over his last seven starts. Most impressive for Josh Beckett is that he's taken a page from Chien-Ming Wang's playbook and cut down on the home runs. He allowed 36 in 2006 but has yielded only 14 in 181 2/3 innings in 2007. Wang has allowed just two home runs in 89 2/3 innings through July, August, and September.
Tigers (Bazardo) at Twins (Santana), 7:10 ET
Johan Santana has never had a losing record against the Tigers in a season, but he could have one in 2007 if he doesn't win this game. He's 1-2 with a 3.12 ERA against Detroit, after going 10-2 against them prior to this campaign. Yorman Bazardo has appeared in nine games this season, allowing five runs on nine hits in 12 innings. The 23-year-old right-hander has held opposing batters to a .196 batting average.
Giants (Lincecum) at Padres (Peavy), 4:05 ET
Jake Peavy has won the last eight starts he's made on regular rest (four or more days), and is 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his last 10 starts overall. Peavy has 215 strikeouts, one shy of his career high in 2005. An odd note on the season for rookie starter Tim Lincecum. He has more no-decisions (12) than decisions (11), but the Giants' bullpen is just 4-8 when Lincecum is not involved in the decision.
Yankees (Clemens) at Red Sox (Schilling), 8:05 ET (ESPN)
This will be the 200th regular-season start for Roger Clemens at Fenway Park -- where he launched his career and won 100 games -- and it might be his last. Interesting to note: Clemens' last regular-season loss at Fenway came against the Yankees on Sept. 28, 1996. The Yanks won 4-2 behind home runs from Bernie Williams and Mike Aldrete. That was Clemens' last regular-season start as a member of the Red Sox. This game won't be Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, when these two went head-to-head (neither got the decision in Arizona's victory that Nov. 4), but it should be pretty intense. The Red Sox, by the way, have lost Schilling's last three starts, despite his 2.84 ERA during that stretch.


With all of the issues the Cardinals have had, this is a pretty good time for the Cubs to be playing St. Louis. It's a great opportunity for Chicago to go in, take three of four games and take control of the NL Central. And it starts Friday with Carlos Zambrano. He's going to be one of the three keys for the Cubs down the stretch.

• Zambrano was awarded a new contract, and now he has to pitch like he's the ace of the staff. If Zambrano makes four more starts in the regular season, he needs to win three of them. Next year, as their No. 1 starter, Zambrano has to be at least 10 games over .500 and be one of the league leaders in innings. If he eats up innings, he will make Chicago's bullpen that much stronger.

• Derrek Lee has the ability to carry a team offensively, and he's done that in the past. While Zambrano has to make a statement on the mound, Lee has to do the same on offense.

• The Cubs have been an average defensive team this season. Defense might not be something everyone thinks about, but that's going to be just as important down the stretch. The Cubs have to play their best defense over the next two weeks in order to win the division.

And then there's the impact Lou Piniella will have. It's remarkable what he's done this season. (Remember, this team lost 96 games in 2006.) Piniella had good players coming out of spring training, but not a good team. I had not spent a lot of time around him until spring training, but you could tell right away why teams he played for or managed had a certain swagger to them. He's a great leader and sees things that need to be done during a game in order to win.

Ben Sheets • Reds at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET Ben Sheets (12-4, 3.54) gets the call with Milwaukee still in position to win its first division title since 1982. Sheets has pitched well at Miller Park. He is 6-1 with a 2.80 ERA in 11 home starts. Phil Dumatrait (0-4, 15.00) seeks redemption. He did not record an out in his last start against the Brewers and has allowed 22 earned runs on 24 hits over his last 8 2/3 innings.

Bartolo Colon • Angels at White Sox, 8:11 p.m. ET: Bartolo Colon (6-6, 6.72) returns to the mound for the first time since July 23. The Angels hope Colon can show some consistency down the stretch. After going 5-0 with a 3.69 ERA in his first six starts, he went 1-6 with a 9.26 ERA in his next 10 outings before landing on the DL with elbow irritation. Jose Contreras (8-16, 5.91) is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA against the Halos this season.

Barry Zito • Giants at Padres, 10:05 p.m. ET This season has not gone according to plan for Barry Zito (9-12, 4.46), but the $126M lefty is trying to finish on a positive note. He is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his last five starts. San Diego needs Chris Young (9-7, 2.72) to get back on track. He is 0-3 with an 8.78 ERA in his last three outings and winless since July 19.

• Friday's complete list of probable starters

Jays snap Yanks' seven-game win streak.
Aaron Harang Aaron Harang allowed three runs on three hits in seven inning as the Reds swept the Cardinals with a 5-4 win. Harang struck out five and now has 192 K's on the season, second-most in the NL and eight away from reaching 200 for the second straight season.
AP Photo/Al Behrman
The Orioles shut out the Angels to win for just the fourth time in their last 22 games.
Seattle Mariners Ryan Roland-Smith (1-0) struck out five consecutive Oakland batters and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings for his first major league win. The Mariners came back from a six-run deficit to beat the A's 8-7. It was the M's 41st comeback victory this season. They now trail the Yankees by 5½ games in the AL wild-card race.
Greg Maddux Greg Maddux lost for the first time since Aug. 8, and the Padres dropped their second straight to the Dodgers. The veteran right-hander entered having allowed three runs or fewer in 11 straight starts, but that streak ended decisively as L.A. scored six runs on 10 hits in Maddux's 3 1/3 innings -- his shortest stint of the season.
Jeff Francis Colorado starter Jeff Francis got roughed up in a 12-4 loss to the Phillies. Francis allowed eight runs and eight hits in just 3 1/3 innings. The left-hander came in with a 2.31 ERA in his previous five starts and had pitched 13 straight scoreless innings on the road.
BBTN crew breaks down the Cy Young races.
"No one wants to finish last."
-- A's OF Nick Swisher after a 6-5 win over the Rangers. Two games now separate the bottom two teams in the AL West.
Jake Peavy • As part of contract negotiations with Jake Peavy a few years ago, the Padres agreed to add $3 million to Peavy's 2009 salary if Peavy won the Cy Young Award, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Peavy is the favorite to win the Cy Young, and if he's voted first, his 2009 salary would be $11 million once the Padres pick up the club option. "We'd be more than happy to pay it," GM Kevin Towers told the newspaper.

• MLB is eyeing the development of a mass-use blood test for human growth hormone and would push to have it implemented next season if it were available, USA Today reported. The blood test, which was developed under the oversight of the World Anti-Doping Agency and was used on a limited basis in the 2004 Summer Olympics and 2006 Winter Games, will be available for mass use within months, WADA science director Olivier Rabin told the newspaper. "This is great news, because we strongly believe that human growth hormone is abused in sports," he said.

• Dodgers LHP David Wells, 44, had two hits in a 6-3 win over the Padres. He became the oldest player to get his first multihit game since 45-year-old Sachel Paige did it in 1952.

• Charlie Manuel became the third-fastest manager to win 250 games with the Phillies.

• Angels RHP John Lackey allowed three runs on nine hits in seven innings and lost to Baltimore. He has just one win in his last six starts and has allowed at least nine hits in five of his eight starts since the beginning of August.

• After 13 years as GM of the Twins, Terry Ryan announced his resignation -- effective at the end of the month. Assistant GM Bill Smith will replace him, and Ryan will be his senior adviser.

• Hunter Pence set a Houston rookie record with his 29th double in the Astros' 6-2 loss to the Cubs.

• Steve Trachsel earned his first win with the Cubs in eight years. The 36-year-old right-hander pitched for the Cubs from 1993-99, and his last win with them came on Oct. 3, 1999. The 2,906-day gap between victories is the third-longest in team history.

• O's manager Dave Trembley and RHP Daniel Cabrera were suspended for their roles in separate incidents. Trembley was suspended for three games because he followed his ejection from Wednesday's 18-6 loss to the Angels with an animated tirade near second base. Cabrera was suspended for six games for intentionally throwing a pitch at the head of Boston's Dustin Pedroia on Sept. 7 and his part in the bench-clearing incident that followed.



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