Saturday’s early MLB games: Phillies-Braves and Padres-Giants lead the way

The last Saturday of the 2010 MLB regular season brings us seven ‘early’ games starting before midnight UK time.  There are four to choose from at 18.10, then three at 21.10.

All times are in BST

18.10. Toronto at Minnesota (Shaun Marcum – Brian Duensing)

The Twins were the first team to clinch a postseason berth, wrapping up the AL Central back on 21 September.  They’ve been able to rest some of their regulars in preparation for a tilt at the World Series; however during that time they’ve also gone on a bad losing sequence, including a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays last night. 

Clearly the Twins haven’t turned into a lesser team and the ALDS will immediately reignite their competitive spirit, but Ron Gardenhire will surely be hoping that his team can finish the season with two wins to take away the possible distraction of people talking about their poor form heading into the playoffs. 

18.10. Milwaukee at Cincinnati (Chris Capuano – Homer Bailey)

Casey McGehee’s infield single in the eleventh inning sent Milwaukee to a 4-3 victory yesterday and has put Cincinnati on course for an NLDS against either the Philadelphia Phillies or the NL West winner.  The Reds had a 9-1 season record over the Brewers heading into this series, but are now 5-5 over their last ten games.

18.10. Washington at NY Mets (Yunesky Maya – Raul Valdes)

Not a match-up to whet the appetite of non-Nationals or Mets fans, if we’re being honest.  In fact the game may also seem incidental against the backdrop of the continuing rumblings about the futures of the Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel.

The Mets’ scheduled starter will provide a reminder of one of Minaya’s biggest mistakes. Reliever Raul Valdes is set to make a rare start because their only other option is Oliver Perez, he of the 3 year/$36m panic contract from the 08/09 offseason.  The Nationals will send the Cuban Yunesky Maya out for his fifth Major League start.  He’s 0-3 so far with a 6.43 ERA and he conceded four runs in five innings against the Mets on his debut on 7 September.

18.10. Colorado at St. Louis (Ubaldo Jimenez – Kyle Lohse)

It’s been a disappointing end to the season for these two teams, both of whom hoped to be in the playoff mix and are now playing out the string with nothing but pride and personal achievements on the line.  The main personal achievement in the offing today involves the Rockies’ starter.  Jimenez was landed with a loss against Dodgers last time out, so he’s now trying to get to twenty wins in his final start of what’s been an outstanding season.  

21.10. Philadelphia at Atlanta (Vance Worley – Tommy Hanson)

The Braves still have work to do if they are to send off manager Bobby Cox in style.  The Phillies beat the Braves 11-5 yesterday, ensuring that it will be another nervy day at Turner Field with the team on the verge of clinching the NL Wild Card.  Tommy Hanson is exactly the pitcher they would want on the mound today.  His 10-11 record doesn’t look like much, but every baseball fan knows that win-loss records only give you a very broad idea of how a season has gone.  He is 1-0 over his last four starts, but in the three no-decisions he conceded just three runs in 20.2 innings. 

As for the Phillies, the last piece in their playoff preparation jigsaw was for Jimmy Rollins to return from injury and to start swinging the bat well.  His grand slam yesterday suggests he’s firmly on his way back.  With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley over their mid-season injuries and their triple-headed starting monster of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels in ominous form, few would be surprised if the Phillies make it all the way back to the World Series for a third straight year.

21.10. San Diego at San Francisco (Tim Stauffer – Barry Zito)

It’s all come down to this final series in the NL West.  The Giants need just one more win to clinch the division, but there’s no such thing as ‘just’ one more win in that situation.  The Padres came out with a do-or-die attitude yesterday and kept their hopes alive with a 6-4 victory, albeit with the Giants rallying from 6-0 down. 

The playoff picture in the National League is a bit complicated (all the permutations are explained on MLB.com here), but for the Padres and Giants today the goal is simple: win the game.  The home fans at AT&T Park will be in full voice, if not perhaps full of confidence with Barry Zito taking the mound.  Indeed the Giants themselves didn’t show great confidence in Zito yesterday as they pushed Matt Cain into Zito’s scheduled starting slot to try and wrap up the division.  Since July 21, Zito has a 5.01 ERA over fourteen appearances (thirteen starts and one extra-inning relief appearance).

21.10. NY Yankees at Boston (Andy Pettitte – Tim Wakefield)

The rain was the winner yesterday at Fenway Park, setting up a double-header today.  Currently the plan is for Andy Pettitte to start the opener and Yankee fans will be watching intently as the team admitted a couple of days ago that Pettitte had pitched through a back problem last time out. 

All the above games can be followed via various resources on MLB.com (Gameday, At Bat with Gameday Audio and MLB.tv).  A complete schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com

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