The Cardinals got hot at the right time. Monday night they open a two-week stretch during which they will play third-place Cincinnati seven times (three this week at home and four next week in Cincinnati) and Pittsburgh in a pair of three-game weekend series (on the road this week and at home next week). Once the Cardinals get through that challenge, they will finish the season with their final 19 against teams either at the .500 mark or below it. The Pirates and Reds, meanwhile, will play each other in six of the season's final nine games.
DOWN: Brandon McCarthy
His career in question after being hit in the head by a line drive while with Oakland last September, McCarthy was the feel-good story of the spring with his approach to making a comeback with Arizona. Things haven't gone smoothly since the season started, however. Sidelined by shoulder inflammation for two months, he returned this month with Arizona hoping he would add stability to a pitching staff that has become a concern in light of the Dodgers' surge from last place to first in the NL West.
Since the Dodgers' rise to the top, which began on June 22, they have gone 46-12 and rallied from 9 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona to 9 1/2 games in front of second-place Arizona. The D-backs have not only faded in the division race, but also become more of an observer than a competitor for an NL Wild Card. They are seven games behind Cincinnati in the battle for the second Wild Card spot.
It's been a team effort. While the Dodgers have gone 46-12, the D-backs are 25-30 and five regulars are hitting below .250, including Jason Kubel, who has a .147 average and only 10 RBIs in the 44 games he has played during that stretch. Heath Bell has blown five of seven save opportunities, turning the closer role over to Brad Ziegler. The rotation, other than Wade Miley (5-2), is 10-22, including 0-4 for McCarthy in his four starts since rejoining the active roster. He has given up 15 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings, during which he has allowed 26 hits and eight walks. He goes into a start on Monday feeling he has solved the problem, saying he had raised his arm angle since coming back from taking the line drive to the forehead.
UP: Alfonso Soriano
It took a couple weeks, but Soriano is getting comfortable in his return to the Bronx. While the rotation has struggled with inconsistency from Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia, the Yankees have remained on the edge of the American League Wild Card race by winning 11 of their last 15 games. They are fifth in that race, only 3 1/2 games behind Oakland in the battle for the second spot.
Soriano, acquired in late July from the Cubs to provide an offensive lift, is responding. Hitting .264 in the month since he joined the team, Soriano hit .328 in the last 15 games with seven home runs and 22 RBIs. He's one of six Yankees regulars hitting .308 or better during the 11-4 surge.
Kuroda and Sabathia are a combined 3-3 in that stretch, but their 5.20 ERA in the six starts over the past 15 games is the more telling stat. Kuroda has been in a three-game funk, but Sabathia, who has walked 13 in 17 2/3 innings in his past three starts, is in a nine-start struggle, and the Yankees have lost seven of those starts.
DOWN: Mike Moustakas
An offensive resurgence by Moustakas has been tampered by tightness in his left calf, and the impact has been felt in the Royals lineup. Limited to 16 at-bats in five games since Aug. 13, Moustakas has seen the Royals lose 10 of their past 13 games. They have faded in the AL Wild Card race -- now seven games back of Oakland -- and have slipped from second place to third in the AL Central, 5 1/2 games behind the second-place Indians. The Royals snapped a seven-game losing streak by salvaging the final game of a three-game series with Washington on Sunday. That does not, however, offset the recent struggles in which the Royals have scored only 39 runs in their past 13 games -- 10 of which came in a losing effort against Washington on Friday. While Moustakas has been limited by his health, neither Alex Gordon (.214) nor Alcides Escobar (.146) has been able to provide an offensive lift during the 13 games in which the Royals have hit .236 as a team.
Sitting at one game above .500, suddenly the bid to claim a winning record for the first time in 10 years is looking bleak. The Royals play 19 of their final 33 games on the road and 10 of their remaining 14 home games are against teams with winning records -- on Monday against Tampa Bay and three each against Detroit, Cleveland and Texas.
UP: Adrian Beltre
The Texas Rangers have spent the past four weeks taking charge in the AL West, and it's Beltre who has led the way. Texas has won 19 of 25 games, going from six games back of division-leading Oakland to a 2 1/2-game edge on the now-second-place A's, who are 10-14 over that same stretch.
The A's rotation has short-circuited. Jarrod Parker is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in five starts since July 29, and while the A's did lose his one no-decision, it's hard to blame him for a 2-1 loss to a Houston team that has the worst record in baseball, yet still took two of three from the A's in a recent series after losing 11 of their first 12 games against them this season. The rest of the Oakland rotation is 2-10 with a 4.92 ERA in the past 19 games. And the offense has hit .246, with five regulars hitting below .250. Any surprise the A's have scored only 95 runs in their past 24 games?
Oh, and they are about to embark on a stretch in the schedule which has them visiting Detroit for four games before returning home for a three-game series with Tampa Bay and Texas.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have averaged six runs per game in their past 25 games. Beltre is hitting .418 during that time -- 40 points higher than Mike Trout of the Angels, who has the second-best average in the AL over the past four weeks. Beltre also has scored 18 runs, driven in 21, hit five home runs, drawn 16 walks and struck out only eight times in 91 at-bats.
DOWN: Jason Heyward
OK, it's not Heyward's fault. He was the victim, not the assailant. He was hit in the jaw by a 90-mph fastball from Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese on Wednesday and underwent surgery to repair the fracture on Thursday -- the latest bit of bad news for a Braves team so short-handed that it featured a Sunday lineup with only three players who had made 34 starts this year: first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and outfielder Justin Upton.
The Braves are in pretty good shape as far as advancing to the postseason, but just getting to the postseason isn't going to satisfy this franchise. The Braves, after all, have been to the postseason 19 times since they won the World Series as the Milwaukee Braves back in 1957. They have only the '95 World Series trophy to show for it -- the fourth year of their 14 consecutive first-place finishes. They are 13 games up on second-place Washington, and while they open a three-game series against Cleveland at Turner Field on Tuesday, those are the final three games of the regular season that the Braves will have against a team with a winning record.
That's why they can turn their attention to figuring out how to ease Heyward's return. He was just starting to heat up when he was literally knocked out of the lineup. After hitting .220 with only eight home runs and 22 RBIs in his first 73 games this season, Heyward embarked on a 22-game surge on July 28. He had hit .357 with five home runs and 15 RBIs before being sidelined.