Big week for several contending teams as they match up in key series

If the regular season ended today, only one team that reached the playoffs last year—the Yankees—would be returning.

Of course, the season doesn’t end for another 55 days, leaving ample time to sort contenders from pretenders. Some serious sorting can be done this week when the upstarts face other contenders.

Cardinals at Reds

The Reds haven’t been to the playoffs since 1995 but they’re right where they want to be. In first place, a season-best 16 games over .500 and at home for this three-game showdown.

The Cardinals have lost four of their last five series away from Busch Stadium but don’t tell them they’re not good visitors. "We’re capable of playing well on the road," manager Tony La Russa said, pointing to some early-season success.

La Russa reworked his rotation for Cincinnati to use his three best starters, beginning with Chris Carpenter tonight against rookie Mike Leake.

Yankees at Rangers

With a 7 1/2-game division lead, you have to like the Rangers’ odds of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

But do they have what it takes for October? Two games against the Yankees, followed by three against Boston, should provide some insight. Texas was swept early in New York but much has changed, including:

Cliff Lee is on the Rangers now. The Yankees know all about him from the 2009 World Series.

C.J. Wilson has become a dependable starter. He leads Texas with 10 wins with a 3.30 ERA but is coming off his worst outing. He starts Tuesday, with Lee on Wednesday.

The Yankees still have a series to finish against Boston before thinking about the Texas heat.

Padres at Giants

After winning 10-1 at Arizona on Sunday, the Padres still have only one losing streak as long as three games. "With that kind of pitching, you’re able to avoid losing streaks," says an NL scout, talking up the Padres’ chances of winning the NL West.

But is a lack of offense catching up to San Diego? The club has been held to one or fewer runs three times in eight games since the trade deadline.

Two silver linings for San Diego:

— Before the Padres visit San Francisco this weekend, they get three at home against  Pittsburgh.

— The Giants haven’t been hitting, either. They topped three runs only once last week.

If the regular season ended today, only one team that reached the playoffs last year—the Yankees—would be returning.

Of course, the season doesn’t end for another 55 days, leaving ample time to sort contenders from pretenders. Some serious sorting can be done this week when the upstarts face other contenders.

Cardinals at Reds

The Reds haven’t been to the playoffs since 1995 but they’re right where they want to be. In first place, a season-best 16 games over .500 and at home for this three-game showdown.

The Cardinals have lost four of their last five series away from Busch Stadium but don’t tell them they’re not good visitors. "We’re capable of playing well on the road," manager Tony La Russa said, pointing to some early-season success.

La Russa reworked his rotation for Cincinnati to use his three best starters, beginning with Chris Carpenter tonight against rookie Mike Leake.

Yankees at Rangers

With a 7 1/2-game division lead, you have to like the Rangers’ odds of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

But do they have what it takes for October? Two games against the Yankees, followed by three against Boston, should provide some insight. Texas was swept early in New York but much has changed, including:

Cliff Lee is on the Rangers now. The Yankees know all about him from the 2009 World Series.

C.J. Wilson has become a dependable starter. He leads Texas with 10 wins with a 3.30 ERA but is coming off his worst outing. He starts Tuesday, with Lee on Wednesday.

The Yankees still have a series to finish against Boston before thinking about the Texas heat.

Padres at Giants

After winning 10-1 at Arizona on Sunday, the Padres still have only one losing streak as long as three games. "With that kind of pitching, you’re able to avoid losing streaks," says an NL scout, talking up the Padres’ chances of winning the NL West.

But is a lack of offense catching up to San Diego? The club has been held to one or fewer runs three times in eight games since the trade deadline.

Two silver linings for San Diego:

— Before the Padres visit San Francisco this weekend, they get three at home against  Pittsburgh.

— The Giants haven’t been hitting, either. They topped three runs only once last week.

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