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Ten key factors for the stretch run

Ten key factors for the stretch run
Baseball's stretch drive is upon us. There are several factors that may determine how things shake out. Here's arguably the 10 most important.

MLB roundup

Sunday's action

  • Quentin belts 32nd as ChiSox win
  • Kinsler breaks slump in rout
  • Caballo-less Astros roll anyway
  • Marlins avoid sweep at Shea
  • Tribe's Lee wins 16th game
  • Tigers take it to struggling A's
  • Pads put up 16 runs vs. Rox
  • Angels down Yanks on walk-off
  • Webb picks up 17th win
  • Jackson gets Rays past M's
  • Royals work extras, beat Twins
  • utley powers Phils past Bucs
  • Kapler wins it for Brewers in 13
  • Giants rally again to stun L.A.
  • Cubs take series from Cards

More on MLB:

  • Moore: 10 factors down the stretch
  • Team Reports: Phils bullpen in flux
  • Rosenthal: Cub reliever chose right
  • Perry: Does chemistry matter?

Photo gallery:

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Milestone tracker:

    Follow Randy Johnson's quest for 300 wins and Gary Sheffield's chase for 500 HR in the AT&T Milestone Tracker.

10. The Angels' Complacency

The Angles are going to win the AL West. That is as sure as anything in baseball can be. The obstacle they might run into, however, is clinching too early and shutting down the engines. After playing two weeks of meaningless baseball, will they be able to turn it back on when the calendar flips to October?

9. Junior's Fountain of Youth

The explorer Ponce de Leon spent years looking for the Fountain of Youth in Florida, but White Sox GM Kenny Williams is banking on the fact it's been on the south side of Chicago all this time. Acquiring Ken Griffey Jr. to help out the offense was a nice move, especially given that Williams gave up little to get him. But asking Junior to play centerfield every day is something else altogether. If being in a pennant race rejuvenates Junior and he can stay healthy, Williams' move might be the steal of the deadline. But even with the adrenaline of being in first place, will Junior's defense at such a key position be good enough to support a team with a less than stellar offense?

8. Brewers Brawl

The Brewers need some kind of spark, and sometimes a little UFC action in the dugout does just the trick. Sure the scuffle between Prince Fielder and Manny Parra was more high school hallway than Pay per View, but the media attention it created might be just enough to bring the team together. Or will it divide the clubhouse?

7. The Rays' Maturity

What's in a name? Well in Tampa, apparently it's about 30 wins. The Rays currently have a three-game lead on the second-place Red Sox and are on pace to win 97 games, but they are doing so with four players in their starting lineup and their entire starting rotation under the age of 27. They may not be the Devil Rays anymore, but does their new grown-up name mean they're mature enough to know how to close out a season?

6. Jason Bay's Fortitude

Until he was traded to Boston, Jason Bay had not played a truly meaningful game in his career. Games in Boston from August to October are on a whole different level of importance than any game played in Pittsburgh in the past decade. Bay may not be Manny Ramirez (and in many ways that's a good thing), but he's batting in Manny's spot and has to protect David Ortiz in the batting order. If he can't, the defending champions may be watching the playoffs from Sully's Bar. Will Bay be able to handle this newfound pressure?

5. Joba's Shoulder

Even with Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation, the Yankees have some work to do to make up their deficit in the American League. They currently sit 5-1/2 games back of the Rays in the AL East (with Boston sandwiched in between) and are 2-1/2 games back in the Wild Card chase. They are far from out of things, but they need every inning they can get from pitchers Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Chamberlain. If Joba is out for an extended period of time, do the Yankees have anybody who can come close to taking his place?

4. Rich Harden's Health

The Cubs couldn't ask for any more out of Rich Harden than what he's already given them, but you can rest assured they will. Harden has dominated both leagues this season, but he also took his annual trip to the disabled list. Even with his habitual hiatus, Harden is approaching innings pitched totals he hasn't reached since 2005. He has already thrown 101 1/3 on the season and is sure to pass the 128 he threw in 2005 with just a few more starts. With possibly 10 more regular season starts and what the Cubs are hoping will be a few postseason appearances as well, Harden will be asked to throw close to 80 more innings this season, taking him dangerously close to his career high of 189 — reached back in 2004. He's made only 49 starts since that season, begging the question: if the Cubs ride Harden to the playoffs, will he have anything left once they get there?

3. Eastern Rotations

The NL East has essentially come down to a two month game of five on five ... on five. The Phillies, Mets and Marlins are all very much still alive, with Florida and New York both within two games of leader Philadelphia. All three teams have offenses to be reckoned with, but the race will ultimately come down to the starting pitching. The real battle will be Hamels/Moyer/Myers/Blanton/Kendrick vs. Santana/Maine/Perez/Pelfrey/Pedro vs. Johnson/Olsen/Nolasco/Sanchez/Volstad. The team whose quintet is the most dependable will end up on top.

2. Liriano's Left Arm

First, let's say what everyone in the Twins organization already knows: Francisco Liriano will never be the same again. Even if he was to one day match the 12-3, 2.16, 144 K in 121 IP performance he displayed when he burst onto the scene in 2006, he will not do it the same way. Gone is the devastating power slider/curve, the torque from which was believed to be the cause of his arm injury, but what remains now is a more polished pitcher who, at 80 percent of what he was, is still better than most. He has shown that he is healthy during his stint in the minors, but will his adjusted repertoire be enough to carry the Twins to the playoffs?

1. Manny Being Manny

The Dodgers made the splash of the trade deadline, acquiring capricious slugger Manny Ramirez and inserting him into the middle of what is now a relatively formidable lineup. All he has done in his first four games in Dodger blue is hit .625 with two home runs. Los Angeles, which has hovered around .500 for most of the season, has stayed its course and split those first four games. A financially motivated Manny Ramirez will terrorize the National League for the next two months, but will his residency in the heart of Chavez Ravine wake up the stagnant Dodgers in time to overtake the Diamondbacks in the NL West?

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: August 10, 2008

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