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One race to watch in September

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's funny, you don't hear the baseball purists lamenting the existence of the wild card much anymore. At this point, it would seem we can all agree that it has been a rousing success. But even if you are still not a fan, you have to be into the race this year, because without the wild card there wouldn't be anything worth watching over the final month of the season.

In the American League, the New York Yankees are running away with the East, Detroit is 4 1/2 games in front in the Central, and while the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim currently hold a scant 3 1/2-game edge on Texas in the West, I don't think anyone really expects the Rangers to overtake them at any point.

It is even worse in the National League, where the smallest margin is the 4 1/2-game lead by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West. The Phillies at 7 1/2 games are in cruise control in the East, as are the St. Louis Cardinals (10 1/2) in the Central.

There are two races worth watching, that's it. And to be honest, I don't even think the AL Wild Card will be all that compelling. The Boston Red Sox have shown that they bend, but they have yet to break. Just when you think they could be falling apart, they have a stretch where they rip off nine wins in 10 games.

Now, the only thing that would change my thinking on that is if there is something physically wrong with Josh Beckett. Beckett appeared on his way to an AL Cy Young Award a month ago, but has been a disaster in his four starts since.

Boston, though, insists that there is nothing wrong, so you have to believe he will get his stuff together. I think I heard somewhere that Beckett is usually pretty good this time of the year,

Even if the Red Sox lose to the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, they should still be in fine shape.

So, when you get down to it, the only race still going on is the NL Wild Card and that, my friends, could go down to the final game of the season, if not longer.

Colorado and San Francisco have traded the top spot back and forth for a while now and as we head into action on Thursday, the Rockies hold a one-game edge on the Giants.

I have no idea how the Rockies are winning. If I asked you to name three starting pitchers for Colorado, could you do it? Probably not, but they have been one of the best teams in the National League since they fired manager Clint Hurdle back on May 29.

They might as well not even vote for the Manager of the Year in the Senior Circuit this year - Jim Tracy is a lock, or should be anyway. Some people in St. Louis may beg to differ, but they would be wrong.

The Rockies have a shot over the next couple of weeks to make some noise. After they wrap up their set with the Mets, the Rockies play seven games at home against Arizona and Cincinnati, then head to San Diego for three games before a critical three-game set in San Francisco.

Other than the Giants, the only teams Colorado plays from here on out that have a record over .500 are the Cardinals and Dodgers and they play both of those teams late, when neither should have anything to play for.

San Francisco has similar matchups with the D-Backs and Padres, but must play six more games against the Dodgers and four games against the Chicago Cubs, who also could be in the wild card mix if they get hot.

Don't count on the Cubs getting hot, though. It just seems like one of those years for them.

I am rooting hard for San Francisco to get into the postseason. I want to see Tim Lincecum perform on the big stage. Who do you think Philadelphia is hoping to face, by the way?

Let's see, would I rather face Lincecum-Matt Cain possibly twice in a five- game series, or some sort of combo of Jason Marquis, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa or (gulp) Jose Contreras?

Both teams are going for it, too. San Francisco recently signed Boston castoff Brad Penny, who pitched eight scoreless innings to defeat the Phillies in his debut, while the Rockies have brought in left-handed slugger Jason Giambi, who has also already paid dividends, knocking in three runs through his first two games, including a two-run single to beat the Mets on Wednesday.

I just can't understand the Rockies picking up Contreras, though. Maybe they are trying to catch lightning in a bottle the way the Giants did with Penny, or with the way the Cardinals appear to have with John Smoltz. I know Aaron Cook may not return, but there had to be someone else out there besides Contreras.

What is it by the way with these AL pitchers coming over to the NL and looking like Sandy Koufax? Somehow I think Contreras will be the one to break that trend, though. I am starting to think that he never really defected from Cuba, but was given to us as a joke by Fidel Castro.

Other than that, though, September is looking like it could be a snooze-fest.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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