MLB Races: What are you doing this weekend?
Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Here we are heading into the final weekend of the Major League Baseball season, and there are still a lot of things left to be settled.
If your job entails trying to work ahead to get some playoff previews done that is not what you want to hear, but in the name of excitement, I will take the cards I have been dealt.
You know the deal in the National League. We have been talking about it for the last three weeks. Three teams, two spots. Heading into the weekend, the Phillies lead the NL East by a game on the New York Mets, who are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the wild card.
Both the Mets and Brewers helped their causes on Thursday with thrilling walk- off wins. The Mets won in the ninth on a Carlos Beltran single that scored Jose Reyes, while Ryan Braun broke out of a month-long slumber with a game- winning grand slam in the 10th inning.
Those wins are the type that could jump-start both teams for the weekend, but as we have learned this month, momentum only lasts as long as your next game.
Philadelphia has the easiest road of the three teams involved this weekend, as the Phils host the worst team in the Senior Circuit - the Washington Nationals. The Nats, though, took two of three from Philly to start the final month and have split their six games in the City of Brotherly Love this season.
The Phillies' magic number stands at three, meaning, of course, any combination of wins and Mets' losses that add up to that number will send them to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Barring an absolute disaster this weekend, Philadelphia is going to get in. In fact, should they get in, I will probably pick them to win the whole National League.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though.
New York will host the Florida Marlins in what very well could be the final three games at Shea Stadium. Remember, it was the Marlins who marched into Flushing on the season's final weekend a year ago and put the finishing touches on the Mets' historic collapse, taking two of the three games.
The Mets can exorcise a lot of demons with a big weekend.
Talent-wise, from top-to-bottom, I think the Mets are the best of the three teams competing. They do, though, have that one glaring weakness and that is the bullpen.
Forget about Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard or Carlos Delgado. Billy Wagner should be the NL's Most Valuable Player. Who would have thought the Mets' bullpen would be this lost without him?
John Maine is back and is going to give them some innings late in games. If he is healthy, that could be huge. But, is asking a guy who has arm issues to throw back-to-back nights all that smart? I guess it is worth a shot, though.
Everything has just seemed to come so hard for the Mets lately. Watching them lose on Wednesday to Chicago was painful. They put a runner on third base with less than three outs in each of the final three innings, and still could not pull it out.
Things have gotten so bad for the Mets that some New York publications are making fun of David Wright's inability to hit in the clutch, calling him D- Rod.
Of course, though, the biggest challenge the Mets and Phillies are going to face this weekend will be from Mother Nature. Heavy rain is expected in the Northeast all weekend, meaning playoff spots could be determined on Sunday, or Monday for that matter, with double-headers.
Milwaukee will have no weather concerns this weekend, as they welcome the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs for a three-game set at Miller Park. The Cubs have nothing to play for and will likely rest some of their regulars.
The Brewers are hoping to have Ben Sheets on Saturday. I will believe that when I see it. Sheets hasn't pitched since September 17, when he left a contest against the Cubs with a sore elbow.
Sheets is going to be a free agent at season's end. I doubt very highly that he is going to risk further injury to the elbow by taking the ball on Saturday. I could be wrong, though. If I was a betting man I would wager on Dave Bush getting the Saturday start for the Brewers on short rest.
Milwaukee got a huge lift from Yovani Gallardo on Thursday. He hadn't pitched since May 1 because of a torn ACL, but gave up just one run in four innings. If he and Sheets are healthy, along with the great CC Sabathia, the Brewers are going to be a tough out if they get into the playoffs.
Speaking of Sabathia, he is ready to go again on short rest, should the Brewers need the game. He is a horse, plain and simple. That salary keeps rising after every start, but you have to wonder if all these innings are going to take their toll next season.
Barring some weather mishaps, I think we are going to have a playoff of some sort on Monday. It would be awesome if all three teams were tied after Sunday. In that instance, the Phils would host the Mets on Monday with the winner taking the NL East and the loser hosting Milwaukee on Tuesday with the winner of that game winning the wild card.
Realistically, though, I think the Phillies will take care of business and the Mets and Brewers will play a one-game playoff for the final spot. Anyone down for a Sabathia-Johan Santana showdown on Monday night?
It is not as exciting over in the American League, but there are still some loose ends to tie.
Tampa Bay needs just one win or a Boston loss to clinch the AL East, with the loser of that battle entering the postseason as the wild card. Simple enough. Tampa is playing a Detroit team that has seemingly quit, while the Red Sox play a New York Yankees team that would love nothing more than to spoil their hated rival's chances at a division crown.
Los Angeles clinched the AL West what seems like a month ago, and will wrap up the best record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with another win or a Tampa loss.
The real excitement comes in the AL Central, which is completely up for grabs. Minnesota enters this final weekend with a half-game edge on the Chicago White Sox after sweeping a three-game set from the Pale Hose.
Where is that half-game coming from this late in the season you ask? Well, Chicago still has a game to make up against Detroit. They will play that game on Monday if the half-game is still in play.
Don't count on that, though. Chicago is done.
The Twins will have their hands full with Kansas City, but should do enough to get the job done. The White Sox, meanwhile, host the Cleveland Indians, and will be lucky to get one in the series.
You have to hand it to the Minnesota organization. After an offseason that saw it deal Johan Santana and Matt Garza, here the Twins are on the final weekend fighting for the chance to win the AL Central for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.
It should be a fun weekend, but I have a feeling we will be watching some additional action on Monday.