- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK

The NL East race

Philadelphia enters the final week of the season with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Mets and plenty of advantages in the scheduling department. Whereas New York plays the Cubs and the Marlins, the Phillies have three games against the Braves and finish up with three against the Nationals. Philadelphia is likely to sew up its second straight NL East title sometime this week, leaving the Mets to fight for …

The NL wild card race

Unlike last year, when the Mets’ late-season collapse left them locked out of the playoffs, New York appears to have a golden parachute this season. That’s because the Milwaukee Brewers are putting the final touches on their own September meltdown, which already has included desperate decisions like firing manager Ned Yost and throwing starter CC Sabathia on short rest to try and pick up an extra game. Going into Monday, New York is a game and a half up on the Brewers, who finish the season against the Cubs.

The AL Central race

This one is pretty simple. The White Sox lead by 2 1/2 games over the Twins, and a three-game series starts Tuesday between the two teams at the Metrodome on Tuesday. Barring a Minnesota sweep, Chicago likely will be the winner of this unpredictable division, which almost everyone had going to the Tigers or the Indians before the season.

Statistical competitions

While many of the individual Triple Crown categories are already sewed up (Chipper Jones is a virtual lock for the NL batting title, Ryan Howard will lead the NL in homers and RBI, Cliff Lee has the AL wins and ERA races to himself), there are still several up for grabs. The closest one is probably the AL batting title; Minnesota’s Joe Mauer overtook Boston’s Dustin Pedroia last week. Mauer, the 2006 AL batting champ, enters the final week up by six points (.330 to .324). The AL hits, doubles and home run leaders are also still undecided.

The race for No. 1 (or No. 30)

Hey, consolation prizes can be worth watching, too - especially when they throw 100 mph and come with a devastating slider. The Nationals are a half-game behind the Mariners for baseball’s worst record by virtue of a June sweep in Seattle. That race is practically down to two teams now that the Padres swept Washington over the weekend, meaning San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg is all but assured of leaving his hometown if he’s the No. 1 pick in June. But if Strasburg goes No. 1, whichever team picks him will have to pay up; he likely will get in the neighborhood of $10 million.

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