Anything is possible in NL

The NL wild-card race has officially gone haywire. With some teams on blistering hot streaks, don't be surprised if division leads change hands.

We can talk about the Phillies and Padres as wild things for now, but in a few days, those clubs may be the ones being chased. It's possible the Mets and Diamondbacks will fall back into the hunt for the league's extra playoff spot.

The Phillies no longer just look like a wild-card contender. With the way they've pulled out games lately, they are playing more like a World Series contender. The Padres fall into the same category. Those two teams are the hottest stories in the Senior Circuit. Of course, all it takes is a little mayhem to completely halt all that momentum.


Who's hot: Khalil Greene has strung together a nice stretch with at least one RBI in four of his last five games -- including back-to-back multi-RBI games against the Pirates (Greene was born in Butler, a suburb of Pittsburgh). He also recently hit a walk-off home run to beat the Giants.
Who's not: Padres catchers have had major problems throwing out base stealers all season. They've thrown out just 19 of 193 runners, and that could come into play in close games the rest of the way.
Outlook: The Padres may take over the NL West lead within the next couple of days. San Diego has two more games with Pittsburgh before facing a desperate Rockies team. The Padres are 4-2 against Colorado at home this season, and their pitchers have a 3.11 ERA in those games.
Who's hot: Besides the usual suspects, Jayson Werth has been playing great. His three RBIs on Tuesday gave him 11 in his last 10 games and 15 in 16 September games. Septembers to remember are filled with unlikely standouts, and Werth is among the most notable.
Who's not: Ryan Howard has turned into an all-or-nothing performer. Howard has five oh-fers in the last eight games, and with 188 strikeouts, he's on the verge of breaking Adam Dunn's major league mark of 195.
Outlook: Things are going so well for the Phillies -- and so badly for the Mets -- we may be talking about the Mets in this space next week. The Phillies head to Washington this weekend for a four-game series against the same Nationals team that has beaten up New York pitching the last two days. The Phillies are 7-4 against the Nats this season, but they have hit only .237 against them. Of particular note: Jimmy Rollins is hitting just .160 against Washington, and Ryan Howard is not much better at .171.
Who's hot: If the Dodgers are going to make the postseason, they're going to have to ride the hot hitting of James Loney, who has six home runs in his last 12 games and at least one RBI in six of his last eight contests. The 23-year-old first baseman has established himself as a major presence.
Who's not: The Dodgers have not been good on the road recently, dropping five of their last seven away from Chavez Ravine.
Outlook: The Dodgers face five must-wins in a row -- two with the Rockies to knock them out of the mix and then three in Arizona. It's a significant long shot. The good news is they're 5-1 this season at Chase Field. The bad news is they're just 2-5 at Coors Field.
Who's hot: Matt Holliday has eight home runs in his last nine games and leads the majors with nine home runs in September, solidifying his MVP candidacy. Manny Corpas has converted his last 15 save chances.
Who's not: Try naming a Rockies starting pitcher other than Jeff Francis (who won his 16th game Tuesday), and don't feel bad if you can't. The other Colorado starters have combined to win only 34 games this season. Someone must step up in these final 10 days.
Outlook: The Rockies are in the same boat as the Dodgers -- just about every game is a must-win. With two series on the road, the odds for success are slim. But Colorado does have 33 road wins, its most since 2000, so maybe the team has one more good streak left.

Daisuke Matsuzaka • Boston manager Terry Francona wants his starting staff to be well-rested by the time the playoffs begin. The Red Sox will pitch Tim Wakefield in the finale of the three-game series at Tampa Bay on Sunday, giving right-hander Curt Schilling four extra days of rest before his next start. Schilling will pitch against Oakland on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Boston is also giving rookie right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka three extra days of rest before his next scheduled start, Saturday at Tampa Bay. "We're really trying to line up that last week and beyond," Francona said.

• Brewers ace Ben Sheets departed his start after just one inning with a left leg injury, but Milwaukee still beat Houston 9-1 to move back into a tie for first in the NL Central. Sheets left with tightness in his left hamstring after giving up a run in the first. Team officials said Sheets would be evaluated on Wednesday.

• Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons met with two officials from the baseball commissioner's office to discuss a report he received performance-enhancing steroids and human growth hormone after both substances were banned by baseball. Gibbons met Monday with Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, and Jon Coyles, the sport's director of drug testing. Michael Weiner, general counsel of the players' association, also attended the session along with Seth Levinson, one of Gibbons' agents. "I met with Major League Baseball representatives [yesterday] and was happy to answer all of their questions," Gibbons told The Baltimore Sun.

• Mets utility man Marlon Anderson was suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for his actions after being ejected for arguing a called third strike three days ago. He appealed the suspension. Anderson was pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning of Saturday's game against the Phillies at Shea Stadium. After arguing a called third strike by plate umpire Dan Iassogna, an incensed Anderson threw his batting helmet toward home after he reached the dugout. "I'm going to plead my case -- let them hear my side," Anderson said. "The whole thing is ridiculous."

• Rangers RHP Vicente Padilla was suspended for seven games and A's OF Nick Swisher was given three games for an incident that occurred in the top of the first inning of Sunday's game in Oakland. Padilla was suspended for intentionally throwing at Swisher, who charged the mound. Both players also received undisclosed fines.

• Baseball agent Jaime Torres told ESPN that Cuban slugger Alexei Ramirez has left Cuba and intends to file for residency in the Dominican Republic. Torres, who also represents White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras, said Ramirez expects to apply to Major League Baseball for free agency. Ramirez turns 26 on Sept. 22 and led the Cuban league in home runs this season as an infielder/outfielder for Pinar del Rio. He played second base for Cuba at the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro but is primarily a shortstop and center fielder.

• Cardinals LHP Mark Mulder underwent an MRI exam and nerve condition study Tuesday after complaining of discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder. Mulder was examined by Dr. George Paletta, the Cards' team physician. The studies were forwarded to Dr. David Altcheck, the Mets' team physician, who operated on Mulder's torn rotator cuff in September 2006. Results of the studies will be available Wednesday.

There's no joy at Wrigley after a loss to Reds.
Raul Ibanez Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam and doubled in a run to give him 100 RBIs for the second straight year, leading the Mariners to an 8-7 win over the A's. Ibanez's 19th home run was his second slam of the season and fifth of his career.
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Micah Owings threw a two-hit shutout against the Giants to help the Diamondbacks maintain their one-game lead in the NL West.
Mike Mussina Mike Mussina allowed only three singles in seven shutout innings as the Yankees beat the Orioles 12-0 to close within 2½ games of the Red Sox in the AL East and open a 4½-game lead over Detroit in the wild-card race. Mussina, who notched his 249th career victory, has thrown 12 2/3 scoreless innings over his last two starts and has won at least 10 games in an AL-record 16 straight seasons.
John Maine John Maine lasted just 4 1/3 innings in the Mets' 9-8 loss to the Nationals -- New York's fifth straight defeat. Maine (14-10) allowed a career-high eight runs on 11 hits and dropped to 4-6 with a 6.16 ERA in the second half.
Eric Gagne Eric Gagne failed to deliver for Boston. Gagne blew a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning, and the Red Sox fell to the Blue Jays 4-3. Gagne gave up two hits, three walks and three earned runs after retiring the first two batters of the inning. Since joining the Red Sox, Gagne is 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA and three blown saves.
The fate of No. 756 is in the public's hands.
Steve Phillips thinks the Mets are in serious trouble in the NL East. If they lose the division, the NL wild-card race is real tight -- and they could end up missing the playoffs. Listen Insider
"You'd like to get it done as quick as you can so you can get everything lined up for whoever you're going to play in the first round."
-- Angels RHP John Lackey on winning the AL West. L.A.'s magic number is four after beating the D-Rays. Lackey (17-9) and Kelvim Escobar (17-7) are the first pair of Angels to win at least 17 games in a season since '91.
Nate Robertson • Tigers at Indians, 12:05 p.m. ET: Detroit's reign as AL champions is nearing its end. Nate Robertson (8-11, 4.93) will try to try prevent the Tigers from getting swept. He is 1-0 with a 4.08 ERA in three September starts. C.C. Sabathia (17-7, 3.21) is 5-2 with a 2.78 ERA in day games and looks to bolster his Cy Young credentials.

Jamie Moyer • Phillies at Cardinals, 8:10 p.m. ET: Jamie Moyer (13-11, 5.12) takes the hill as Philadelphia continues to charge up the NL East standings. Moyer threw six shutout innings in his only start against St. Louis (June 22) this season. Adam Wainwright (13-11, 3.71) has not been getting much run support lately. He's allowed only two earned runs in each of his last two starts and lost both outings.

Chris Young • Pirates at Padres, 8:05 p.m. ET: San Diego needs Chris Young (9-7, 2.77) to get back on track before October. The right-hander is 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA in his last eight starts and winless since July 19. Ian Snell (9-12, 3.92) is just 2-7 with a 5.40 ERA in the second half, but he's gone 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his last three starts.

• Wednesday's complete list of probable starters



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