Three H’s: Health, heat and home will shape baseball’s stretch run

Hyped for a heck of a homestretch? You should be.

Baseball’s pennant races are hot. With less than a third of the season remaining, no more than 2 1/2 games separate the top two teams in every division except the AL West.

Three factors certain to help separate the heroes from the hapless:

Ryan Howard is one of several big names who have been shelved with injuries.
Ryan Howard is one of several big names who have been shelved with injuries.

Health
Nothing can sidetrack a team like injuries. Just ask the Red Sox. Nothing is more certain to happen than injuries, either.

Check some of the names on the disabled list: Justin Morneau (concussion), Chase Utley (thumb), Ryan Howard (ankle), Martin Prado (pinky), Rafael Furcal (back), Kevin Youkilis (thumb) and Dustin Pedroia (foot). Prado and Pedroia are expected back as soon as next week. The others, who knows?

Compared to the Phillies, the NL East-leading Braves had avoided costly injuries until Thursday when they learned Chipper Jones has a torn ACL in his left knee and faces season-ending surgery. The injury comes when the 38-year-old third baseman was hitting better than he has all season. "Worst-case scenario," admitted Jones’ long-time agent, BB Abbott.

Until recently, the Rays had gotten by with five starters all season, riding them to the majors’ second-best record. But they recently lost youngsters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to shoulder issues, just as the Red Sox are creeping closer.

Home
Nothing can boost a team like playing at home. Check the standings. Every first- and second-place team is at least seven games over .500 at home. Only the Yankees, Rays and Padres have played that well on the road.

The Padres are perhaps in the best position to take advantage of the remaining schedule. They begin a 10-game trip with a three-game showdown this weekend against the Giants, a team they have beaten in seven of eight meetings. After this journey, the Padres will leave San Diego only three more times, with two of those trips just three games long. The Giants still must make a trip to the East Coast, a 10-game trip on the West Coast, plus another that will send them to Chicago and Colorado.

The Padres hope to celebrate many more home wins down the stretch drive.
The Padres hope to celebrate many more home wins down the stretch drive.

The Cardinals, who have the fewest road wins of any contender, have 25 home games left and 24 on the road. The Reds, meanwhile, play 25 of their final 47 on the road. The Twins get 28 of their final 48 games at Target Field—three more home games than the White Sox have left. The Yankees and Rays both have 24 home games remaining, while the Braves have 27 and the Phillies have 24.

Heat
Nothing is more challenging than playing in scorching heat. Ask the Rangers. August and September have taken them down more than once. They were three games out and 15 games over .500 going into August last year but went 29-32 and finished 10 behind the first-place Angels. Since their last trip to the postseason in 1999, the Rangers have had a winning record from August on only once. Even workhorse lefty Cliff Lee was affected by the 95-degree temperatures Wednesday when he failed to last seven innings for only the second time all season.

With four days left in steamy Kansas City this week and another trip left to Texas, Yankees manager Joe Girardi says guiding his veteran club through the dog days might be his biggest challenge.

"We are a club with some age," Girardi says. "We have a closer who’s 40, a catcher who’s 39, a left side of the infield that’s 36. Physically, how do I get these guys through the last 50 or so games? You can’t get too caught up in one or two games even though that’s what it could come down to in our division."

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

Hyped for a heck of a homestretch? You should be.

Baseball’s pennant races are hot. With less than a third of the season remaining, no more than 2 1/2 games separate the top two teams in every division except the AL West.

Three factors certain to help separate the heroes from the hapless:

Ryan Howard is one of several big names who have been shelved with injuries.
Ryan Howard is one of several big names who have been shelved with injuries.

Health
Nothing can sidetrack a team like injuries. Just ask the Red Sox. Nothing is more certain to happen than injuries, either.

Check some of the names on the disabled list: Justin Morneau (concussion), Chase Utley (thumb), Ryan Howard (ankle), Martin Prado (pinky), Rafael Furcal (back), Kevin Youkilis (thumb) and Dustin Pedroia (foot). Prado and Pedroia are expected back as soon as next week. The others, who knows?

Compared to the Phillies, the NL East-leading Braves had avoided costly injuries until Thursday when they learned Chipper Jones has a torn ACL in his left knee and faces season-ending surgery. The injury comes when the 38-year-old third baseman was hitting better than he has all season. "Worst-case scenario," admitted Jones’ long-time agent, BB Abbott.

Until recently, the Rays had gotten by with five starters all season, riding them to the majors’ second-best record. But they recently lost youngsters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to shoulder issues, just as the Red Sox are creeping closer.

Home
Nothing can boost a team like playing at home. Check the standings. Every first- and second-place team is at least seven games over .500 at home. Only the Yankees, Rays and Padres have played that well on the road.

The Padres are perhaps in the best position to take advantage of the remaining schedule. They begin a 10-game trip with a three-game showdown this weekend against the Giants, a team they have beaten in seven of eight meetings. After this journey, the Padres will leave San Diego only three more times, with two of those trips just three games long. The Giants still must make a trip to the East Coast, a 10-game trip on the West Coast, plus another that will send them to Chicago and Colorado.

The Padres hope to celebrate many more home wins down the stretch drive.
The Padres hope to celebrate many more home wins down the stretch drive.

The Cardinals, who have the fewest road wins of any contender, have 25 home games left and 24 on the road. The Reds, meanwhile, play 25 of their final 47 on the road. The Twins get 28 of their final 48 games at Target Field—three more home games than the White Sox have left. The Yankees and Rays both have 24 home games remaining, while the Braves have 27 and the Phillies have 24.

Heat
Nothing is more challenging than playing in scorching heat. Ask the Rangers. August and September have taken them down more than once. They were three games out and 15 games over .500 going into August last year but went 29-32 and finished 10 behind the first-place Angels. Since their last trip to the postseason in 1999, the Rangers have had a winning record from August on only once. Even workhorse lefty Cliff Lee was affected by the 95-degree temperatures Wednesday when he failed to last seven innings for only the second time all season.

With four days left in steamy Kansas City this week and another trip left to Texas, Yankees manager Joe Girardi says guiding his veteran club through the dog days might be his biggest challenge.

"We are a club with some age," Girardi says. "We have a closer who’s 40, a catcher who’s 39, a left side of the infield that’s 36. Physically, how do I get these guys through the last 50 or so games? You can’t get too caught up in one or two games even though that’s what it could come down to in our division."

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*