The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: August 27-September 2, 2012
Who's Headed for October? Should MLB Waive Post-July 31 Waivers?
The Bucs Will Finish Above .500—Right? ESPN Re-Ups: More Yankees-Red Sox On Tap

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The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look
at the best, worst and most unexpected through the first 81 games of the 2012 major league season.

Who's Surving September?
As we head into the final full month of regular season play, there’s plenty of evolving drama in the stretch drive to determine baseball’s ten postseason spots. Only two of the six divisions seemed to be in the good hands of the teams who own first place, but the other four are, more or less, up for grabs—and the wild card races are even tighter and more crowded. Below is our quick analysis of who’s in good shape to end up as baseball’s October representatives.

AL East: The New York Yankees have held the top spot for the bulk of the season, but they’re vulnerable with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez playing well below 100% (if they’re playing at all). On top of that, here come the Baltimore Orioles—galvanized, overachieving and just two games back despite being outscored on the season to date. If the Yankees can survive the next week and a half with home-and-home series with Tampa Bay and a crucial four-game showdown in Baltimore that’s sure to provide Camden Yards’ biggest vibe since 1996, then they’re set to be home free as they wrap up against wimpy and/or lost foes in Minnesota, Toronto and Boston. TGG Predicts: New York.

AL Central: After a miserable week for the White Sox capped by a three-game sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers—who are tied with Chicago—the Sox now need to make the next ten games count; they’re all at home, starting with divisional lightweights Minnesota and Kansas City followed by a huge four-game rematch against the Tigers. If the Sox can’t take advantage of the homestand, they’re going to be in trouble—because the Tigers play their final 13 games split against the Twins and Royals, and no one else. TGG Predicts: Detroit.

AL West: The Texas Rangers have been coasting all season, but suddenly they’re feeling heat from behind with the surprising Oakland A’s having come to unexpected pennant-race life. The two teams play seven of their final ten games against each other, but the bigger tell-tale sign of who ultimately takes this division will come from what remains for each team in its out-of-division schedule—and that clearly favors the Rangers, who get the Rays but also the Royals and Indians, while the A’s have a challenging nine-game stretch in mid-month with the Orioles and (on the road) the Tigers and Yankees. TGG Predicts: Texas.

AL Wild Cards: By hook or by crook, the White Sox will find their way to the postseason—and since we’ve already tagged the Tigers to win the AL Central, we’ll grant the Pale Hose with one of the two wild card spots. So who gets the other nod to face the White Sox in the first-ever “play-in” wild card game? We find it tough to bet against Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, but their remaining schedule is brutal. It’s the same for the A’s as we noted above, so our common sense instincts float over to the Orioles, who seem to have a twinge of destiny in their step at this point. So there you are: A rematch of the 1983 ALCS. TGG Predicts: Chicago and Baltimore.

NL East: What remains on Atlanta’s schedule is favorable to that of front-running Washington, but the Nationals’ 6.5-game lead over the Braves is a heavier factor to consider at this stage. For the Braves to have any hope up surpassing the Nationals, they’re going to have to sweep them when they come to town on September 14-16—or, they’ll have to hope that Washington falls flat on its face the way the Braves did last year. TGG Predicts: Washington.

NL Central: This is the one division that’s beyond doubt—unless the Cincinnati Reds, nearly ten games up, pull a 1964 Philadelphia. But remember: Whenever a team collapses late in the year, it always seems to be the St. Louis Cardinals (currently in second place) who take advantage. TGG Predicts: Cincinnati.

NL West: The San Francisco Giants have the 4.5-game lead, a five-game advantage in the loss column and the easier September schedule over the second-place, no-expense-spared Los Angeles Dodgers. Adding more fuel to the Giants’ chances, manager Bruce Bochy is a far more accomplished and deft manager of the game than his L.A. counterpart, the relatively inexperienced Don Mattingly—and that will matter down the stretch. For the Dodgers to have any hope of upending the Giants, they’ll have to make a statement with a three-game series this weekend at San Francisco. TGG Predicts: San Francisco.

NL Wild Cards: With a three-game edge over the nearest wild card competitor and a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, the Braves should have no reason not to grab one of the two wild cards. (But no choking, please!) Unless they can buy out the other 29 teams, the Dodgers will find it tough to get the second wild card with a difficult schedule, and the Pirates have been floundering and lack experience to meet the challenge (but they should at least finish above .500 for once in their lives). That leaves us with the Cardinals, who still have the ecstasy of coming from behind and winning it all fresh in their psyche and are in better position anyway to make it to October. TGG Predicts: Atlanta and St. Louis.

Waiving Off the Trading Deadline
The blockbuster—some say unprecedented—trade that took place in the last few weeks between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers in which nine players (three of whom of all-star quality) were swapped brought up the musical question: What’s the point of a trading deadline? The Red Sox-Dodger deal took place after the July 31 deadline, leaving fans scratching their heads over how teams can still deal after the point where they’re no longer supposed to.

Teams can still make deals after July 31, but only when placing a player on waivers. There are usually two types of players who get waived at this point: One who’s simply not performing up to par, or one who’s become heavy financial deadweight. If another team makes a claim, then the team making the waiver has the option to negotiate with that team or pull the player back.

The trading deadline was established in the 1920s after small-market clubs complained that two rich New York teams, the Yankees and Giants, had an unfair economic advantage seeking last-minute talent to fuel their stretch runs. But the Dodger-Red Sox deal—and numerous other star players placed on waivers (but unclaimed and/or untraded) such as Justin Upton, Joe Mauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Roy Oswalt—have made some pause and wonder if a hard deadline, where even waiver claims are disallowed, should be considered. Don’t expect such a move—but do expect chatter over it.

Sweatin' it Out in Pittsburgh
About three weeks ago, we toasted the Pirates and Orioles for looking good to finally break the .500 barrier for the first time in nearly a generation. While the Orioles continue to rumble toward their first winning season since 1996, the Pirates are alarmingly beginning to look like their old selves when they can least afford to. At the time of our bit on these two teams, the Pirates only had to win 18 of their final 48 games to cross the winning threshold and finish north of .500 for the first time after a record 19 straight losing campaigns. But in the first 19 of those 48 games, the Bucs have only six wins—and suddenly, they start this week needing to go 12-17 to finish at 82-80. Again, it doesn’t seem like a tall order to accomplish, but it’s now not unrealistic to think it can happen.

The Pirates, who similarly fell apart down the stretch last year when it looked like they had a shot at a playoff spot (let alone .500), are still solidly in the hunt for one of two NL wild card seeds. But if this current slide continues, the goal of reaching that postseason will diminish—and the Pirates will suddenly find themselves fighting off the ghosts of the past 20 years in their attempt to meet the more historic challenge of obtaining a winning record.

Hammerin the Message Home
Hank Aaron, the reigning “clean” home run king (sorry, Mr. Bonds), joined the growing chorus of pundits, players and fans who think baseball needs to toughen penalties on steroid users. Answering a question at a Milwaukee function benefiting his Chasing the Dream program this past week, Aaron said: “I think the commissioner has cleaned up the act in some ways….I’m a little bit disturbed about some of the things that are happening now in baseball. I see a few players, even in the minor leagues, getting involved and some steroids. How are we going to fix this? What’s going to happen?...I think 50 games is not enough. I’d like to see 100 games really. I think the second time, they need to just ban the player from baseball.”

The audience stood up and cheered his response.

No Need to Touch That Dial
MLB and ESPN agreed to an extension of their current television deal, assuring that the network’s long-running Sunday Night Baseball telecasts will continue though 2020. The eight-year, $5.6 billion deal will also retain ESPN’s weekday telecasts, but will also allow it to broadcast one of the two wild card playoff games. Reports say that ESPN will insure that more of their games will feature A-list teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but we ask: Aren’t they already showing enough of those two teams? (And what has been the network’s infatuation with the Atlanta Braves? Is ESPN run by former WTBS execs?)

M's Heart NY
If there’s something wrong in your neighborhood, who ya’ gonna call? The New York Yankees! That’s been the mantra for the Seattle Mariners, who have now twice benefitted from trades with the Bronx Bombers. Since dealing off matinee idol Ichiro Suzuki

Wounded of the Week
There were a few pivotal injuries in regards to the postseason race this past week, the most crucial of which took place when St. Louis shortstop Rafael Furcal tore an ACL in his right elbow; he’ll miss the rest of the year. (The Cardinals dodged an equally big bullet when all-star catcher Yadier Molina was flattened hard in a home plate collision against Pittsburgh, but he lived to play later in the week.) Meanwhile in Chicago, White Sox starter Gavin Floyd hurt his elbow, but he is expected back in time for the stretch run.

In the non-essential part of baseball where teams have raised the white flag, Boston slugger David Ortiz re-aggravated his sprained Achilles Heel and will most likely sit out the rest of the year—and may be done as a member of the Red Sox with free agency looming at age 37.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
Monday, August 27
Felix Hernandez remains hot; he records his fifth shutout of the year in Seattle’s 1-0 win at Minnesota, outdueling Liam Hendricks—who goes the distance (scattering a run on three hits) but remains without a major league win in nine career starts. Hendricks is now 0-9 in 14 lifetime appearances, but he’s well short of the franchise (and all-time major league) record held by Terry Felton, who started (and finished) his career at 0-16 in 1982.

On the second pitch he throws for the Los Angeles Dodgers, former Boston pitcher Josh Beckett serves up a second-deck home run to Colorado’s Tyler Colvin at Denver’s Coors Field. Beckett will settle in and allow three runs through 5.2 innings in his Dodger debut, but the Rockies hammer the bullpen while the Dodgers cannot rebut in a 10-0 Colorado thrashing.

The struggling Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Yankees at New York in 11 innings, 8-7, thanks in large part to a three-run, ninth-inning homer by Colby Rasmus that brings the Jays back from behind. Rasmus had entered the game with two hits and 18 strikeouts over his last 39 at-bats; the Jays had lost the last 21 games in which he had appeared.

In his major league debut, 22-year-old Casey Kelly—received by the San Diego Padres in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston—pitches six shutout innings and collects a single in two at-bats to help the Padres defeat Atlanta at Petco Park, 3-0. Kelly needs just two more appearances to match the major league service of his father, Pat Kelly, who played three games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1980.

Tuesday, August 28
What was Kris Medlen been doing in the Atlanta bullpen all season? Making his sixth start since being added to the Braves’ starting rotation, the 26-year-old right-hander extends his streak of consecutive shutout innings tossed to 28.1 as he blanks the Padres over eight frames and ends San Diego’s eight-game winning streak in a 2-0 victory. In his six starts for August, Medlen is 5-0 with a wowing 0.66 ERA.

In his first game back since being suspended for angrily confronting manager Bobby Valentine, Boston reliever Alfredo Aceves is given a 5-4 lead to protect at Anaheim in the ninth—and blows it, allowing two runs on a hit, walk and hit batsman as the Angels defeat the Red Sox, 6-5. It’s the eighth blown save and ninth loss of the year for Aceves.

In a year gone suddenly south for the Blue Jays, Ricky Romero—considered the team’s ace—sets a single-season franchise record by losing his 11th straight decision in a 2-1 loss at New York. Romero hasn’t won since June 22 and is 0-11 in his previous 12 starts with a 7.16 ERA; over that same period, he’s walked more batters (43) than struck out (41).

Wednesday, August 29
The Washington Nationals break a five-game losing streak with the help of rookie Bryce Harper, who has his first two-homer game; after hitting into a double play in his final at-bat in the ninth inning, Harper slams his helmet to the ground in disgust—and nearly hits umpire CB Bucknor, who promptly ejects him. The Nationals’ 8-4 win over Miami represents two more runs for Washington than they scored in their five previous games.

The Cincinnati Reds beat the Diamondbacks at Arizona to become the majors’ first team to reach 80 wins on the year. It’s the fastest the Reds have reached 80 since their titanic 1976 championship season; their eight-game lead over second-place St. Louis in the NL Central is the biggest in baseball. Meanwhile, it’s the sixth straight loss for the defending NL West champion Diamondbacks (64-67), who are falling fast out of the postseason picture.

While the team at the top of the NL Central keeps moving upward, the team at the other end of the division keeps sinking to new lows. The Houston Astros lose 6-4 to the visiting San Francisco Giants before 13,207, the smallest announced crowd in Minute Maid Park history; the loss is their 90th of the year and places them 50 games below the .500 mark. (They will draw 400 fewer spectators a day later.)

Thursday, August 30
The Milwaukee Brewers get five hits from major 2012 disappointment Rickie Weeks and a second seven-RBI performance on the year from catcher Jonathan Lucroy—and still lose at Chicago, 12-11, when the Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano caps a three-run, ninth-inning rally with a RBI single.

It’s a rotten day for the St. Louis Cardinals, thick in the hunt for a second straight NL wild card spot. They lose at Washington, 8-1—and lose all-star shortstop Rafael Furcal for the season with a severely strained elbow. The silver lining for the Cardinals is that their lone run—courtesy of a Ryan Zimmerman error in the eighth—snaps a run of 28 straight scoreless innings.

Friday, August 31
The Oakland A’s, hot off a four-game road sweep of the Indians in Cleveland, return to the Bay Area and annihilate the Red Sox, 20-2; it’s the most runs scored by Oakland since 2000, and the most lopsided loss by Boston since that same year. Josh Reddick, traded to the A’s from Boston before the season, hits his first career grand slam—his 28th homer of the year—to contribute to the A’s carnage.

Saturday, September 1
After scoring just one run over their previous four games, the Cardinals break out with ten at Washington; they’ll need every one of them as they outlast the Nationals, 10-9, with single tallies in each of the final two frames. David Freese, who put the Cardinals on the board with a two-run homer in the second inning, singles in the game-winner in the ninth.

After a 5-22 August, the Astros start September at 1-0 with a little help from their opponents. Tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, Jose Altuve hits a routine grounder right at Cincinnati second baseman Wilson Valdez—playing only because Brandon Phillips had been earlier ejected—and the ball goes right through his legs, scoring the game-winning run in a 2-1 Houston win that snaps a six-game skid.

Sunday, September 2
In his first major league at-bat, 19-year-old Jurickson Profar cranks a deep home run to right field at Cleveland’s Progressive Field to launch the Texas Rangers on an 8-3 win over the Indians. Profar is the second youngest player (after 18-year-old Whitey Lockman in 1945) to connect on his first at-bat. The Netherland Antilles native, who entered the game having never played higher than Class-AA, later doubles and ends the day 2-for-4.

Behind a dominant performance from ace Justin Verlander—who strikes out 11 and allows just a run on four hits in eight innings—the Detroit Tigers finish off a three-game sweep of Chicago, 4-2, to tie the White Sox for first place in the AL Central. The losing pitcher is Chris Sale, the Cy Young Award candidate who gives up the big blow of the day when Delmon Young blasts a three-run homer in the sixth to give Detroit the lead.

Trailing Philadelphia 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Atlanta Braves erupt for five runs—three off the bat of Chipper Jones on a two-out home run—to beat the Phillies, 8-7 and stay tied at the top of the NL wild card race. It’s the second walk-off homer for Jones against the Phillies this season.

The Pitchers Did Their Job...
The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t have an awful August, but here’s the one fact they won’t be rushing to promote in their game notes: They became the first team since the 1955 Chicago White Sox to lose four 1-0 games in one month. One of those losses: The perfect game thrown by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez on August 15.

Dutch Surprise
Stating that he was temporarily insane, the brother of the late Seattle outfielder Greg Halman was acquitted this past week for murdering his sibling over loud music at an Amsterdam apartment last November.

He Said What?
“I am going to fight with him to the end. That is all I got to say.” —Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg, upset with manager Davey Johnson over the latter’s insistence that the young ace pitcher will only be allowed two more starts on the year to protect his surgically repaired elbow for the long run.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
In what qualifies as the consolation prize in another lost week for the emotionally wasted Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia ends the week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 13 games, hitting .370 with a pair of home runs, eight RBIs and one run-in with beleaguered teammate Alfredo Aceves.

TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!

Now Playing at TGG
In Ed Attanasio's newest addition to TGG's They Were There section, Chuck Stevens talks about being the first major leaguer to get a hit off of Satchel Paige, his life and times living in Hollywood as a Pacific Coast League player, and his role in establishing the Professional Baseball Players' Association, which helps former ballplayers in need.