BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA
By Mark Simon, ESPN Research
The walking-wounded Yankees get a little breather from the AL East this weekend as the Oakland Athletics come to the Bronx. Oakland has won six of its last eight as the AL West has evolved into a "Who wants to win this thing?" kind of race. There is a feeling that the Athletics will wait as long as possible to get a feel for this team before making any decisions about late-season trades. For now, Texas has control, but Oakland can get a nice confidence boost with a strong performance this weekend against an injury-depleted opponent.
Friday, 7:05 ET: Dan Haren vs. Randy Johnson
The Athletics are 3-9 at Yankee Stadium over the last three season. Oakland has won Haren's last three starts against the Yankees. Looking for Jason Giambi to make an impact against his former team? He's hitting .250 against the Athletics but is only 2-19 with an RBI against them this season. Johnson (7-4, 5.33) is unbeaten in his last four starts, but he has a combined 5.79 ERA in those four outings.
Saturday, 1:05 ET: Kirk Saarloos vs. Mike Mussina
Mussina hasn't lost to the Athletics since May 1, 2002, having won his last three decisions against them. Saarloos is familiar with pitching at Yankee Stadium. Some may remember his being part of the Astros' six-pitcher no-hitter in the Bronx on June 11, 2003. Saarloos tossed 1 1-3 innings of hitless relief in that contest, sandwiched between Pete Munro and Brad Lidge.
Sunday, 1:05 ET: Barry Zito vs. Shawn Chacon
Twenty-eight active pitchers have made at least eight starts at Yankee Stadium. Zito happens to be tied for the fewest wins by any of those, with just one (he shares the distinction with current injured Yankee Carl Pavano). Chacon is 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his last five starts, but this will be his first since May 16.
THOSE ENIGMATIC REDS
By John Kruk, ESPN
Right now the Reds are one of the hottest teams in baseball, and it's extremely hard to pinpoint why that is after poring over their stats. They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, they don't pitch particularly well and they strike out too much. That isn't the normal recipe for success in baseball.
Somehow this team has been able to thrive without any of the normal ingredients for a great season. The Reds have a lot of power in their lineup and can hit the ball out of the park from anywhere in their lineup. Heck, even Bronson Arroyo has a couple dingers this season. Cincy's pitching staff understands what it needs to do to win games. They know they can give up five runs and still get a W because the offense is capable of putting up eight or nine runs.
This team plays with confidence. Every time they step on the field, they believe they are going to win. They smartly imported a couple of veterans who'd been in winning situations before, such as Rich Aurilia, Scott Hatteberg and Eric Milton. Those are guys who've been in the playoffs and know what sacrifices it takes to get there.
If this team keeps up its unorthodox, winning ways, we could see those three veterans in another postseason series.
Life without Albert
The Cardinals find themselves without Albert Pujols in the lineup, and they're in a battle with the Reds. Some people will tell you that Pujols' absence is going to put a lot of pressure on the offense, but I completely disagree.
This is a good offense even without Pujols, so the real pressure is going to fall upon the pitching staff. There's no way to fully replace a guy like Pujols in any season, especially with the astonishing numbers he was putting up before his injury. The pitching staff has to step up and realize they aren't guaranteed a couple of extra runs per game without Pujols' bat in the lineup.
Chris Carpenter is back and seems to have great stuff, but Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis have been borderline awful. St. Louis has to get rid of the mindset that it can allow five or six runs and still win.
• The Tigers, who went 71-91 last season, increased their record to 38-22 with their win over the White Sox. In the last 50 years only two other teams have won as many of their first 60 games as the Tigers after finishing at least 20 games under .500 the previous season. The 1993 Phillies started 43-17 after going 70-92 in 1992 and the 2001 Twins began 39-21 after going 69-93 in 2000.