08/31/12 2:00 PM ET
Giants undaunted by Dodgers' big push
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
San Francisco hasn't been the least bit awed by the recent shopping spree of the National League West-rival Dodgers. In fact, while Los Angeles is 2-4 since the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and injured outfielder Carl Crawford from Boston, the Giants have actually padded their lead atop the division by 2 1/2 games and now have a 4 1/2-game bulge on the Dodgers.
Baltimore made a statement to American League Central-leading Chicago this week, and now, it gets a shot at the AL East-leading New York Yankees, who have a three-game edge on the Orioles. With 17 wins in their last 24 games, the Orioles have knocked 4 1/2 games off their division deficit and have moved into the No. 2 AL Wild Card spot. The O's, who haven't had a winning record or advanced to the postseason since 1997, have won 13 consecutive one-run games, improving their record in such games this season to 24-6. They're 12-2 in extra-innings affairs. Lefty Randy Wolf, released by Milwaukee, opted to sign with the Orioles in a relief role rather than look for a job where he could start over the final month of the season in an effort to raise his stock on the free-agent market. And the Orioles were eager to add him to the roster; Zach Britton, 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA in three starts since being brought back from the Minors on Aug. 18, was sent back down after his eight-inning, 10-strikeout effort in the finale against the White Sox. It was a procedural move than anything, though, as Britton will be back when rosters expand on Saturday and won't miss a start. Rays
Tampa Bay has shown an ability to win -- if it scores. The Rays are in Toronto for the weekend and entered the final day of August with a 17-10 record for the month, their best over any month this season despite the fact that they were shut out six times. Four of those shutouts were 1-0 losses in the club's last 22 games, making the Rays the first team to do that since the 1969 Houston Astros lost four 1-0 games in a 20-game stretch, and the first AL team to lose four 1-0 games in a span of 22 contests since the 1955 Chicago White Sox. That just underscores how dominant Rays pitchers have been. Not only do they have a Major League-leading 3.26 ERA for the season, but their staff has a 2.27 ERA in August -- a half-run better than Atlanta, which has the second-lowest among big league teams, and more than a run better than Kansas City, which ranks second in the AL during August with a 3.30 ERA. The late-inning hero has been Fernando Rodney, who has converted 39 of 41 save opportunities and goes into the weekend with a 0.75 ERA. He has a chance to join Dennis Eckersley (1990), John Smoltz (2003) and Chad Cordero ('05) as the only pitchers to net 40 saves and have an ERA below 1.00. If the Rays can just get their offense going, they can regain control of their own destiny. Tampa Bay is 4 1/2 games back in the AL East and 1 1/2 games back of Baltimore for the second AL Wild Card spot. Manager Joe Maddon made a major concession by confirming that first base in now a three-man job shared by Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Jeff Keppinger. Pena, the highest-paid Rays player this season at $7.25 million, ranks last among the position's 137 qualifying batters with a .188 average. He's also second in the Majors with 159 strikeouts, tied for 115th with 50 RBIs, and tied for 69th with 16 home runs.
By winning two of three against St. Louis, Pittsburgh made a statement that these aren't the same old Pirates. The Bucs aren't going to sit in the corner and watch the rest of baseball race by down the stretch. Struggling to hang tough in the postseason chase after losing the opener in St. Louis on Monday, the Pirates posted back-to-back shutouts of a Cardinals team that is currently holding the second NL Wild Card spot. Pittsburgh's series-clinching victory was courtesy of recent addition Wandy Rodriguez, who worked six strong innings for not only his first win in six starts since being acquired from Houston, but his first victory in nine starts overall.
Cleveland was outscored, 30-11, and swept in a four-game series by Oakland, and the Tribe now has to spend the weekend entertaining AL West-leading Texas. These aren't good times for the Indians, who entered Friday's game with a 5-23 record in August, trying to avoid the second 24-loss month in franchise history. The Tribe was 10-23 in August 1910, 15-23 in August '38, and 6-23 in July '14. The puzzle in Cleveland is how a team that had a losing record in only 11 of the first 114 days of the season could have faded so quickly. Astros
For the second time in as many years, the Astros were the first team to be officially eliminated from postseason play, having been eliminated from the NL Central crown on Saturday and from an NL Wild Card spot on Tuesday. THREE MORE
Pujols struggled early in his first season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but he's recovered quite well. He goes into the weekend with 29 home runs, one shy of becoming the fourth player in history to hit 30 or more home runs in 12 consecutive seasons. Barry Bonds (1992-2004) and Alex Rodriguez (1998-2010) both did it 13 times, and Jimmie Foxx (1929-40) did it 12 in a row.
Barney goes into the weekend with an NL-record 115 consecutive errorless games at second base. David Eckstein had the record at 113 games with San Diego in 2010. And with 30 games remaining on the Cubs' schedule, Barney has a shot at the single-season record of 141 games that Placido Polanco set with Detroit in 2007. Felix Hernandez
The ace of the Mariners is one 1-0 shutout away from a record-tying five in one season. Hernandez pitched his fourth 1-0 victory of the season -- his third in August -- with a five-hitter at Minnesota on Monday. He also pitched a two-hitter against the Yankees in the Bronx on Aug. 4, tossed a perfect game against Tampa Bay at Safeco Field on Aug. 15 and five-hit Boston on June 28. Hernandez is the 15th Major Leaguer since 1913 to post at least four 1-0 victories in a season. The record of five is shared by Ewell "Reb" Russell (1913 Chicago White Sox), Walter "Big Train" Johnson ('13 and '19 Washington Senators), "Bullet Joe" Bush ('17 Philadelphia A's), Carl Hubbell ('33 New York Giants) and Dean Chance ('64 Los Angeles Angels).
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.