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Intrigue fills baseball’s final month

September 7, 2010
By The Associated Press

So much of the baseball season has been played, but there is still so much left to be decided.

Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell and the reeling San Diego Padres trying to close out the NL West. Bobby Cox hoping for one last playoff run in Atlanta. Joe Mauer aiming to bring October baseball to the great outdoors in Minnesota.

Four of the six division leaders carried a lead of 3 1/2 games or fewer into the final month, setting the stage for a heart-pounding finish to the regular season.

The Twins know all about those. For two straight years, 162 games haven't been enough to crown an AL Central champion. Minnesota lost to the Chicago White Sox in a one-game playoff in 2008, then beat the Detroit Tigers in Game 163 to win it last season.

The Twins started Monday with a 3 1/2-game edge on the White Sox, who brought in Manny Ramirez from the Los Angeles Dodgers to add even more sizzle to what already has been an exciting race.

Can Derek Jeter and the championship-soaked New York Yankees hold off Evan Longoria and the fresh-faced Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East?

Who would have thought when the season started that the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds would be the only two teams breathing easy as September rolled around? The suddenly banged-up Rangers held an eight-game lead in the AL West while Dusty Baker and the Reds were up seven games in the NL Central as they tuned up for long overdue playoff appearances.

Then again, as Yogi Berra said, it's not over till it's over. Last year the Twins rallied from a seven-game deficit at the start of September to take the division.

Do the Cardinals or Athletics have a similar burst in them? It sure is going to be fun finding out.

A quick look at some of the things to look for as the push for October heats up:

n BEST RACES: At the risk of being labeled with the dreaded East Coast bias, the two most intriguing division races in a league full of them are taking place there.

AL East: The World Series champion Yankees hold a slim lead on the youthful Rays in a matchup that oozes star power. Two best records, and possibly the two best teams, in baseball duking it out.

NL East: The Braves are clinging to their edge on the Philadelphia Phillies, who are just finally starting to get healthy as they pursue a third straight NL pennant.

n BIG SERIES: Plenty of showdowns are on the horizon, which means there are plenty of opportunities to make up ground quickly.

Twins at White Sox, Sept. 14-16: Last scheduled meeting of the season for AL Central rivals.

Rays at Yankees, Sept. 20-23: A four-game, intradivisional matchup in September! Is this heaven? No, it's Longoria.

Padres at Giants, Oct. 1-3: May not matter if Padres can't stop the September skid that hit 10 losses in a row Sunday.

Phillies at Braves, Oct. 1-3: As long as either team is within three games, last series of season will decide NL East.



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