MLB Pennant Race Still Holds Plenty Of Drama
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Time now for sports.
(Soundbite of music)
KELLY: Good things have come to small baseball franchises. Minnesota is headed to the playoffs and Texas and Cincinnati are on the verge of locking up their divisions. But there's still plenty of drama as we head into the last week of the baseball season.
NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now to look at the emerging postseason picture.
Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN: Hello.
KELLY: Hey there. So let me start with these still tight races in the National League West and the American League East. Okay. National League, the Giants are half a game in front of San Diego and the two teams go head-to-head next weekend. Who's your money on?
GOLDMAN: I'd give the slight edge to the Giants. They do have home field advantage next weekend against the Padres. The Giants have momentum and they have red hot pitching, which is so important. Last night, San Francisco's best pitcher, Tim Lincecum, returned to his top form. He held Colorado to two hits in a 2-1 victory. And heres a stat for you: last night was the 18th straight game that San Francisco pitchers have given up three or fewer runs. That's the longest streak since the Chicago White Sox set the record with 20 in a row in 1917.
KELLY: Okay. Now, my home team, Atlanta, is looking for a wildcard spot. They would like to close out manager Bobby Cox's long career by taking him to the playoffs. What are their chances?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, chances are always good. They're a great seasoned team with a great manager. But the way they're playing right now, not so good. Last night they lost their fourth in a row. You dont want to be on a losing streak this time of year. Theyve got to turn it around quickly.
KELLY: Okay, American League. the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays are neck in neck. The Rays have easier opponents though in the final week, it looks like. Is that going to push them over the top?
GOLDMAN: Well, in the words of the colorfully eloquent Joe Maddon, the Rays' manager, I know on paper it looks good, but from my perspective I dont take anybody for granted. I've been an anti-assumptionist for the last few years. I dont want to start right now.
The remaining schedule does favor the Rays. Last night they grabbed the division lead from the Yankees by a half game. They're a heck of a team. If only the people of Tampa-St. Pete knew it. Last night, another half-empty Tropicana field, as the Rays beat Seattle.
Maybe they need to serve free OJ there.
KELLY: That could be a plan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELLY: All right. Let me talk hitting with you. The Yankees lost last night to the Red Sox, but Alex Rodriguez did hit a couple of homers. He is now ahead of Sammy Sosa on the all time list. And then looking at the Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista hit two more last night. He's now got 52 for the season. What is the first word that comes to mind, Tom, sluggers or steroids?
GOLDMAN: Well, I'm afraid its the latter. The curse of the so-called steroid era, which supposedly is over, we dont know. A-Rod has admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs in his career. Bautista hit 13 home runs last year, 52 and counting this year - biggest increase from one season to the next in Major League Baseball history. There may be valid reasons but its hard not to be suspicious these days.
KELLY: Before we let you go, I want to mention this record-setting performance we saw on Thursday.
(Soundbite of sports broadcast)
Unidentified Man (Announcer): (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of cheering)
KELLY: Okay. Well, if you dont speak Japanese, you can probably guess who they're talking about. Tom, no controversy surrounding Ichiro Suzuki, is there?
GOLDMAN: I followed every word, actually. The rough translation...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GOLDMAN: Wow, Ichiro's good. This week he became the first player ever to get at least 200 hits in 10 straight seasons. Apologies to Pete Rose, Mary Louise, but Ichiro is the best, most consistent hitter weve ever seen.
KELLY: Wow. High praise from NPR's Tom Goldman.
Thank you, Tom.
GOLDMAN: Youre welcome.