These are the players from each team who will have the biggest impact on the playoff races:
Anaheim Angels: (Record: 75-55, Week: 5-1)
Troy Glaus. Glaus has been out of the lineup since May 11 but is ready to make his return to the Angels' lineup. He will primarily act as the designated hitter but could see time in the field as well. His bat adds some much-needed depth to the offense and will help support the struggling rotation as the Angels make a push for the AL West crown.
Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 58-71, Week: 1-6)
Miguel Tejada. Although the Orioles are virtually eliminated from playoff contention, they will still have a big impact on the AL East standings as they have 14 games left against the Yankees and the Red Sox. Since 2001, Tejada has hit .342 with 12 homers and 44 RBI against the Yankees. He could cost the Bronx Bombers a few games down the stretch and could allow the Red Sox to sneak back into it.
Boston Red Sox: (Record: 76-53, Week: 6-1)
Derek Lowe. Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling will continue to give the Sox solid outings but Boston will need more support than that. Lowe was 3-1 with a 4.19 ERA in August and if he can continue to improve, he provides the Red Sox with the third starter that is so important down the stretch and in the playoffs. Without a good run from Lowe, the Sox will not be able to make the playoffs.
Chicago White Sox: (Record: 63-65, Week: 3-4)
Jose Contreras. The Sox will play 10 of their next 13 games against the A's, Angels, and Rangers and the former Yankee is scheduled to make a start in each series. He has yet to face the Angels in his career and has only started against the others once. With the standings as close as they are, one strong start could decide it all.
Cleveland Indians: (Record: 66-66, Week: 3-4)
Travis Hafner. Like the White Sox, the Indians play nine of their next 12 games against playoff contenders. The Yankees and the Angels will throw all right-handers against the Indians and the left-handed Hafner could have a field day. If his bat heats up at the right time, he could cripple the hopes of the contenders.
Detroit Tigers: (Record: 60-70, Week: 2-5)
With the Tigers out of the race and playing just AL Central opponents and non-contenders for the remainder of the year, they are one of the few teams who won't factor into the playoff equation. The story for the Tigers down the stretch will be Carlos Guillen as he continues to set career-highs in every offensive category imaginable.
Kansas City Royals: (Record: 45-84, Week: 1-7)
David DeJesus. The rookie has been given the chance to play every day and has taken advantage of the opportunity. DeJesus hit .363/.420/.500 with two home runs in August and appears to be adjusting to Major League pitching. With a series against the Yankees coming up and not many other threats in the Royals' lineup, he is likely the only thing that can prevent a sweep.
Minnesota Twins: (Record: 72-58, Week: 3-4)
Justin Morneau. With the other contenders beating each other up, the Twins have an outside shot at the best record in the league. They are far behind so it would take an amazing run to have a chance but if Morneau can lead the offense, it is possible. Johan Santana has done everything possible to get the Twins on top, it is now up to the offense.
New York Yankees: (Record: 81-49, Week: 5-2)
Jason Giambi. Giambi has battled countless problems this season and the Yankees have suffered because of it. He has begun rehabbing and could return to the team mid-September; just when they need him most. If he can return and be even half of his old self, the Yankees will be able to easily maintain their lead in the AL East and the race for home-field advantage.
Oakland Athletics: (Record: 77-53, Week: 7-0)
Barry Zito. After a very disappointing July in which he posted a 5.97 ERA, Zito has bounced back nicely with a 3.48 ERA in August. The former Cy Young winner hasn't been himself in his first season without pitching coach Rick Peterson. If he is finding his ways again he will give the A's the best rotation depth in the league and the edge in the AL West.
Seattle Mariners: (Record: 50-80, Week: 4-4)
Ichiro Suzuki. No team in the league will have more impact on the playoffs than the Mariners. With their final 24 games against playoff contenders, they hold the keys to the playoffs. With Ichiro making a run at the single-season hits record and an outside shot at .400, his seemingly endless 3-hit days could put an end to the hopes of a few teams.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 59-71, Week: 3-3)
B.J. Upton. The rookie got off to a slow start but in general, has been an offensive force since being called up. With five games against the Yankees and six against the Red Sox remaining, Upton gives the Rays hope to end the hopes of one of the two, specifically the Sox.
Texas Rangers: (Record: 73-56, Week: 4-3)
Mark Teixeira. With the Rangers three-and-a-half out in the AL West and three games out in the wildcard race, trailing two teams in each, they need help. The pitching must find a way to maintain their impressive run but most of all, the offense must step it up another notch. Although Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano get all of the attention, the offense revolves around Teixeia. He leads the team in OPS and home runs even though he missed two weeks. Hitting is contagious and if Teixeira gets hot, the rest of the team will follow.
Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 54-77, Week: 2-5)
Carlos Delgado. The Jays have games remaining against every team in contention with the exception of Boston. With Delgado in the middle of a disappointing season and his pending free agency coming up, he needs to catch fire for his numbers to be up to par. Many players have their best seasons in contract years and if Delgado realizes that he is in one, he could have a monster September and cost someone a chance at the playoffs.
Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 41-90, Week: 3-3)
Randy Johnson. While it is an extreme longshot, there is still a chance that Randy Johnson could be traded before the August 31 waivers trade deadline. Rumors have quietly surfaced that Johnson could go. We'll know by Tuesday night where Johnson will spend the rest of the season.
Atlanta Braves: (Record: 75-54, Week: 5-1)
Chipper Jones. Few players have been hotter than Chipper Jones since the All-star break. He is batting just .253 on the season but is at .313/.398/.620 with 13 home runs since the break. The Braves are 30-12 since the break and have pulled away in the NL East. They are 10 games behind the Cardinals for the best record in the league but could easily claim the second best mark by the end of the year.
Chicago Cubs: (Record: 71-59, Week: 4-3)
Mark Prior. Injured achilles tendon, sprained elbow, lack of command, dead arm, insanely talented. Mark Prior has been a major disappointment this season for various reasons, but there is no doubting the talent he has. He could easily be the best pitcher in the league when healthy and he has been looking healthier recently. If he can stay on the mound and get back into form, there will be no stopping the Cubs in the playoff race.
Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 62-67, Week: 3-3)
Austin Kearns. If he can remain healthy and hit like many believe he can, the Reds will be a team you do not want to face down the stretch. Kearns has everything you can want in a hitter but can't stay healthy. Combine his offensive talents with Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Wily Mo Pena and the Reds provide an offense that can score a lot of runs very quickly.
Colorado Rockies: (Record: 55-75, Week: 0-6)
Todd Helton. There is no denying that Todd Helton is one of the best pure hitters in the game. He can do everything possible at the plate and is one guy you definitely don't want to see up with the game on the line. If a team faces Helton at the wrong time, he can single-handedly kill their hopes of seeing time in October.
Florida Marlins: (Record: 66-62, Week: 4-2)
Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins are out of the running for the NL East title but still have an outside shot at the wildcard. Cabrera has had an outstanding season but has not come close to having another month to match his April home run total of nine. With his average on the rise, he may be poised to have a double-digit home run month which could help push the Marlins back into contention.
Houston Astros: (Record: 67-63, Week: 6-1)
Lance Berkman. Like Miguel Cabrera, Berkman got off to a hot start but was cold during the months of June and July. The Astros have followed the ups and downs of Berkman all season with their best months matching his. Berkman is hitting .341 in August and appears to be getting in a home
run groove. With Beltran, Bagwell, and Kent joining Berkman in the middle of the lineup, the Astros have all the talent needed to make it to the playoffs. Now they just need one of them to step up, that's where Berkman comes in.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 76-54, Week: 4-3)
Eric Gagne. After looking human recently, Gagne's aura is beginning to fade. He is looking hittable and opponents can feel slightly confident when they are in the box facing him. If he can regain his form and turn the game into an eight-inning affair, the Dodgers will have no problem cruising into the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 55-73, Week: 0-6)
Ben Sheets. When an opposing team sees the Brewers on their schedule, they have to be happy. That is, if the scheduled starter isn't Ben Sheets. Sheets has worn down a bit in August posting a season-worst 4.61 ERA but his season ERA sits at 3.03 and he is striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. Sheets has both the stuff and the stats and he has quickly become one of the best pitchers in the league.
Montreal Expos: (Record: 55-75, Week: 3-4)
Tony Batista. No one on the Expos has had a year to remember. The best season has probably come from Batista. He is hitting just .243 but has 23 homers and 12 stolen bases. He has had a few games with over five RBI and has the ability to do it again. If you run into him on the wrong day, he can hurt you.
New York Mets: (Record: 60-69, Week: 1-6)
Mike Piazza. After missing a few weeks with a knee injury, Piazza is ready to come back and will need to make up for lost time. The Mets will face a few contenders and with a healthy Piazza, they are a scary team. The catcher turned first baseman has hit at least 30 homers in every year since 1994 with the exception of his injury-filled 2003. If he is to repeat that feat this year, he will need to catch fire quickly.
Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 65-65, Week: 3-3)
Bobby Abreu. Perhaps the most underrated player in the game, Abreu can do everything. He can hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, play solid defense, and has a strong arm. He is the prototypical five-tool player. He is hitting .294/.416/.544 with 27 home runs, 93 RBI, and 33 stolen bases. If the game is on the line, Abreu is not the player you want to see have the opportunity to beat you.
Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 60-69, Week: 2-4)
Jason Bay. 293 at-bats, 20 home runs, 19 doubles, .304/.375/.587. The rookie is showing talent beyond his years. He already has two career eight RBI games and this is just the beginning. He is the most dangerous hitter in Pittsburgh's lineup He came over to Pittsburgh along with Oliver Perez, another impact player, in the Brian Giles trade. This one is looking like a winner for both teams.
San Diego Padres: (Record: 71-59, Week: 6-1)
Brian Giles. Why not? Let's stick with the trade that has worked out so well. Giles has had a solid season but not quite up to his usual standards. As the Padres make a push for the wild card spot, Giles will need to maintain his recent improved performance. He hit .290/.387/.500 in August and if he can improve on that line, the Padres will have a chance.
San Francisco Giants: (Record: 72-60, Week: 3-3)
Barry Bonds. How can Bonds not impact the playoff picture? If he hits, he'll get hits, if he walks, he'll score runs. No matter what, Bonds will factor into the race in some way. Bonds owns an obscene .606 OBP and 1.426 OPS. He is the one guy that teams don't want to have beat them, but he will in some way.
St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 86-44, Week: 4-2)
Tony Womack. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds will hit no matter what. Womack will determine how many runs they drive in when they get those hits. Even though they don't have much to play for as they are 10 games up in the race for the best record, they still want to play at their best so they stay sharp. If you are a contender, you do not want to face the Cardinals and their murderous offense.
Stat of the week:
Carlos Beltran on August 27 at Chicago:
4-5, BB, 4 RBI, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 SB
There were seven total home runs hit on this day in Chicago. It sure is fun in Wrigley when the wind is blowing out.
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