The Week Ahead: October feel in early May

Ready for some baseball drama? With Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard in the same park, you could get plenty. But we’re not talking about the hyperbole surrounding Pujols’ next contract with regards to Howard’s five-year, $125 million extension. Pujols says he won’t discuss that.

We’re talking about something much juicier: a week full of series between playoff contenders. Seven of the eight clubs to reach the postseason in 2009 face a fellow playoff team this week. The one who doesn’t? The Twins face the Tigers, the team they beat in a one game play-in to reach the playoffs last year. Have a look:

Cardinals at Phillies

The Cardinals get their first taste of Roy Halladay in a Phillies uniform this week.
The Cardinals get their first taste of Roy Halladay in a Phillies uniform this week.

These clubs are too savvy to get worked up about a four-game set in May. "This is a good team we’re facing but our goal remains the same: We want to win the series, just like every series," Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse says.

Behind a rotation sporting a 2.55 ERA and the slugging of Pujols — who else? — the Cardinals have won seven of their eight series and built a five-game lead in the NL Central. The club also has boosted by better-than-expected contributions from two rookies, lefty starter Jaime Garcia and third baseman David Frese.

Garcia, 23, already has held his own in duels with Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum, and does not figure to be ruffled by the NL champions. "They’ll test him. They have an outstanding offensive team," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He’ll go out there and try to make his pitches."

The Cardinals come to Philly after winning six of seven on a home stand, including two of three against the Reds. While the Cardinals refuse to get overly amped about a trip to Philadelphia, Reds manager Dusty Baker perked up when he was told about the Cardinals-Phillies series.

"Is (Roy) Halladay going?" Baker quickly asked.

Yes, the Phillies new ace (5-1, 1.47 ERA) will start Thursday’s day finale against Lohse. Halladay has given the Phillies everything they expected and more at a time the club has needed it all. His brilliant beginning has helped cover for what has been an injury-filled first month for the NL champs.

Joe Blanton (oblique) returns to make his first start on Monday and Brad Lidge (knee) came back Friday, the same day the club placed reliever Ryan Madson (toe) on the disabled list. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (calf) and lefty starter A.J. Happ (forearm), however, remain out and neither is expected back this week.

Tigers at Twins

The Twins last month got off to a strong start at new Target Field with a 6-3 opening home stand that solidified their spot atop the AL Central. Their play wasn’t all that was hotter than expected. April weather in the Twin Cities was the warmest in 85 years, with an average temperature of 54.9. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 40s for night games Monday and Tuesday and warmer for Wednesday’s afternoon game.

The Twins are coming off a 5-4 trip that included losing two of three at Detroit. The Tigers are still rolling behind the AL’s leading offense, which has been lifted by rookie Austin Jackson and newcomer Johnny Damon. Hitting first and second, respectively, they enter the week with identical .420 OBPs. Cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera has taken advantage by driving in 27 runs in Detroit’s first 26 games.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer missed games in the past week with a stiff back and bruised left heel. He could sit at least one more game after the Twins called up their top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos.

Angels at Red Sox

John Lackey faces his old team Wednesday when the Red Sox host the Angels.
John Lackey faces his old team Wednesday when the Red Sox host the Angels.

These frequent playoff combatants have not played much like postseason teams so far. Both begin the week under .500 after being swept in weekend series.

The Angels have found replacing starter John Lackey and third baseman Chone Figgins to be difficult as new starter Joel Pineiro (5.76 ERA) and third baseman Brandon Wood (1.89, five runs) have struggled.

The Red Sox have dealt with injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury (chest bruise) and Mike Cameron (kidney stones), the continuing decline of David Ortiz (.159 average), a rough month by ace Josh Beckett (6.31 ERA) and a defense that hasn’t played as well as advertised.

Both clubs need to get right against each other because they have division rivals coming next. The Red Sox will play host to the Yankees and the Angels will travel to Seattle.

Rockies at Dodgers

These teams, who meet this weekend at Dodger Stadium, figured to be on top of the West by now. Instead, they are at the bottom. Three of the Rockies’ five projected starters and closer Huston Street are out. L.A. put Manny Ramirez (calf), starter Vicente Padilla (arm) and reliever Jeff Weaver (back) on the DL on the same day last week.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Ready for some baseball drama? With Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard in the same park, you could get plenty. But we’re not talking about the hyperbole surrounding Pujols’ next contract with regards to Howard’s five-year, $125 million extension. Pujols says he won’t discuss that.

We’re talking about something much juicier: a week full of series between playoff contenders. Seven of the eight clubs to reach the postseason in 2009 face a fellow playoff team this week. The one who doesn’t? The Twins face the Tigers, the team they beat in a one game play-in to reach the playoffs last year. Have a look:

Cardinals at Phillies

The Cardinals get their first taste of Roy Halladay in a Phillies uniform this week.
The Cardinals get their first taste of Roy Halladay in a Phillies uniform this week.

These clubs are too savvy to get worked up about a four-game set in May. "This is a good team we’re facing but our goal remains the same: We want to win the series, just like every series," Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse says.

Behind a rotation sporting a 2.55 ERA and the slugging of Pujols — who else? — the Cardinals have won seven of their eight series and built a five-game lead in the NL Central. The club also has boosted by better-than-expected contributions from two rookies, lefty starter Jaime Garcia and third baseman David Frese.

Garcia, 23, already has held his own in duels with Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum, and does not figure to be ruffled by the NL champions. "They’ll test him. They have an outstanding offensive team," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He’ll go out there and try to make his pitches."

The Cardinals come to Philly after winning six of seven on a home stand, including two of three against the Reds. While the Cardinals refuse to get overly amped about a trip to Philadelphia, Reds manager Dusty Baker perked up when he was told about the Cardinals-Phillies series.

"Is (Roy) Halladay going?" Baker quickly asked.

Yes, the Phillies new ace (5-1, 1.47 ERA) will start Thursday’s day finale against Lohse. Halladay has given the Phillies everything they expected and more at a time the club has needed it all. His brilliant beginning has helped cover for what has been an injury-filled first month for the NL champs.

Joe Blanton (oblique) returns to make his first start on Monday and Brad Lidge (knee) came back Friday, the same day the club placed reliever Ryan Madson (toe) on the disabled list. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (calf) and lefty starter A.J. Happ (forearm), however, remain out and neither is expected back this week.

Tigers at Twins

The Twins last month got off to a strong start at new Target Field with a 6-3 opening home stand that solidified their spot atop the AL Central. Their play wasn’t all that was hotter than expected. April weather in the Twin Cities was the warmest in 85 years, with an average temperature of 54.9. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 40s for night games Monday and Tuesday and warmer for Wednesday’s afternoon game.

The Twins are coming off a 5-4 trip that included losing two of three at Detroit. The Tigers are still rolling behind the AL’s leading offense, which has been lifted by rookie Austin Jackson and newcomer Johnny Damon. Hitting first and second, respectively, they enter the week with identical .420 OBPs. Cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera has taken advantage by driving in 27 runs in Detroit’s first 26 games.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer missed games in the past week with a stiff back and bruised left heel. He could sit at least one more game after the Twins called up their top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos.

Angels at Red Sox

John Lackey faces his old team Wednesday when the Red Sox host the Angels.
John Lackey faces his old team Wednesday when the Red Sox host the Angels.

These frequent playoff combatants have not played much like postseason teams so far. Both begin the week under .500 after being swept in weekend series.

The Angels have found replacing starter John Lackey and third baseman Chone Figgins to be difficult as new starter Joel Pineiro (5.76 ERA) and third baseman Brandon Wood (1.89, five runs) have struggled.

The Red Sox have dealt with injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury (chest bruise) and Mike Cameron (kidney stones), the continuing decline of David Ortiz (.159 average), a rough month by ace Josh Beckett (6.31 ERA) and a defense that hasn’t played as well as advertised.

Both clubs need to get right against each other because they have division rivals coming next. The Red Sox will play host to the Yankees and the Angels will travel to Seattle.

Rockies at Dodgers

These teams, who meet this weekend at Dodger Stadium, figured to be on top of the West by now. Instead, they are at the bottom. Three of the Rockies’ five projected starters and closer Huston Street are out. L.A. put Manny Ramirez (calf), starter Vicente Padilla (arm) and reliever Jeff Weaver (back) on the DL on the same day last week.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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