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Ten People To Watch During MLB’s Final Week

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Batting Around is BC Sports' look back at the week's happenings in the world o' sports, presented in a lineup card format for some undisclosed reason.

There weren't too many great NFL games this week, and my NFL picks were atrocious (seriously, I picked Buffalo over New England, no doubt the result of over-thinking at 2 a.m. on Saturday). So it's best we ignore football for one weekend, and just go John Force full speed ahead into the final week of the baseball season. Yes, the Indians and Angels have already claimed division titles, but there's still a lot to play for if you're an athlete, to watch if you're a fan, and to yell at if you're Bobby Cox or Lou Piniella.

The Lineup Card

1. 2B/CF/C Craig Biggio
2. 2B Placido Polanco
3. LF Matt Holliday
4. 1B Prince Fielder
5. 1B Albert Pujols
6. LF Jacoby Ellsbury
7. 1B Julio Franco
8. LF Barry Bonds
9. SP Fausto Carmona
Manager: Lou Piniella

1. 2B/CF/C Craig Biggio — In his 20th and final season with the Houston Astros, Biggio has played at least 350 games — so, well over two full seasons — each in the outfield, infield, and behind the plate. Initially signed with the team as a catcher, he moved to second base for much of the 90s, then to center field to make room for Jeff "Chopper" Kent in 2003, and finally returned as the second bagger when he departed.

But in his final week of the season, with his team eliminated from playoff contention, we may see him catch one last time (second item). He's said that he wants to catch Roy Oswalt for a couple innings, and he's scheduled to pitch Friday against the Atlanta Braves. Personally, I see no reason why he can't pitch the entire game. He's short enough that he doesn't have to crouch down.

2. 2B Placido Polanco — While he and his Tigers can forget about the playoffs, he does have a statistical accomplishment to shoot for. Now, it's heavily dependent on Ichiro's batting in the final week, but Polanco, at .342, is third in the batting race behind Ichiro (.350) and Tigers teammate Magglio Ordoñez (.358). All hopes are that The Big Tilde stays in front, but if Polanco can somehow sneak ahead of Ichiro, they'll be the 22nd teammates in major league history to finish a season one-two in batting average.

The same race is going on in the National League, as Chipper Jones (.341) and Atlanta Braves teammate Edgar Renteria (.333) are first and fourth. Between them are Matt Holliday (.337) and Chase Utley (.335).

3. LF Matt Holliday — If he can sneak his Colorado Rockies into the playoffs, this guy should be the runaway MVP. He won't win the Triple Crown, but he's among the top four in the National League in batting average (.337), home runs (36), runs (113), OPS (1.009), and leads the league in RBI (131).

Yeah, yeah, a lot of his home runs were hit out of the oxygen-deprived confines of Coors Field, and the Rockies are one of the poorest home run hitting teams on the road. But they can still score runs in any ballpark. And if the Rockies can't get that Wild Card, then he won't win the MVP, which means …

4. 1B Prince Fielder — … this guy might be able to win it. Indeed, the Milwaukee Brewers are a few games back in the division and probably can't catch the Cubs, but (a) stranger things have happened, many of which happen to the Cubs, and (b) unlike Ryan Howard last year, Fielder has one of the better home run-to-strikeout ratio (2.4 K/HR) on this side of Albert Pujols, unlike your garden variety dinger-bringers (Howard: 4.6 K/HR, Adam Dunn: 4.1 K/HR).

Plus, who else is going to step up and win it? David Wright? Carlos Beltran? (Mets aficionados will split their votes between the two.) Chase Utley? (Possibly, but the Phillies already received their individual awards quota last year when Howard won it.) Someone from the Cubs, Diamondbacks, or Padres? (Um, no.)

Another reason to watch Fielder: three more home runs for the Son of Cecil and he becomes part of an exclusive father-son tandem to each hit 50 home runs in a season. It goes without saying that the lone members of the 50 Dad/50 Son Club would station their headquarters at Golden Corral.

5. 1B Albert Pujols — He's the only player in MLB history to hit .300 with 30 home runs, 100 runs, and 100 RBI in his first six seasons. He sort of has a chance to make it a seventh season. While he has the batting average and home runs, has a slight chance to pick up one more RBI and score seven more runs in this final week.

Much like Biggio's team, Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals are out of the playoff hunt, so if you're manager Tony LaRussa, why not set him up to hit 100 for those numbers? Pinch hit him with runners on base. Have him pinch run after someone hits a triple. Place him in the lineup in multiple spots, transferring runs scored by Shadow Men to Pujols' statistics account. Purists will tell you that Shadow Men are not sentient beings and therefore cannot hold stats. So this is not only fair to Pujols, but it keeps the balance of all things beautiful in the world.

6. LF Jacoby Ellsbury — So Manny Ramirez is either really hurt or secretly wanting to be traded. (We may never know.) In the meantime, this rookie is becoming one of Taxachusetts' favorite new players, hitting nicely in the leadoff position, and is also doing something completely unnatural and scary for the Red Sox: fielding well in left field.

And in a division we thought was decided a couple months ago, the Red Sox have the smallest lead among the six divisions. Sigh. Fine, let's all watch Boston and New York have a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted fight to the finish to see which team makes the playoffs, and which team also makes the playoffs.

7. 1B Julio Franco — He's "officially" 49 years old and still on a major league baseball roster after being called up in September from Single-A Rome (a team I've actually seen play at home). Since the call-up, he's 1-for-4 with an RBI. So, he's not being used much.

Will he be done after this year? Will any other team have him? He's older than nine current MLB managers (Christ, he's older than Terry Francona). Here's to hoping he plays next year while 50 years old, and therefore literally allowed to sign up for his AARP discount coupons. But this may be the last week we see him in uniform, just wandering foul territory between innings with a metal detector.

8. LF Barry Bonds — So hey, do you want to know where Bonds will sign next year? Nobody else knows this but me. It's an exclusive, mainly because it's a guess.

Baltimore.

That's right, next year legendary baseball owner Peter Angelos will sign Bonds to the Baltimore Orioles for a 2-year, $30 million contract, so that Bonds can join the lineage of amazing power hitters like Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Jay Gibbons, David Segui, and Albert Belle.

Since we know this is Bonds' final year as a Giant, he has three more games to hit one final ball into McCovey Cove. But those games are against the Padres, and those guys have good pitchers, so by default it won't happen.

9. SP Fausto Carmona — Now, Chien-Ming Wang and Josh Beckett are excellent choices for the AL Cy Young, if the Cy Young was only to be awarded to wither a Yankees or Red Sox pitcher. Trouble is, there are 12 other teams in that league.

I suppose John Lackey is also deserving, but Carmona not only leads the league with a 3.03 ERA, you have to realize where Carmona was at least year and factor in his mental 180.

When we last saw him in 2006, he was giving up walk-off hits to David Ortiz once he became the Indians' de facto closer, and we all thought a talented pitcher was going to get rattled in his rookie season as he was sent back down to the minors. But Carmona kept the demons stashed away in his performance as a reliever. Cleveland moved him into the rotation, and without missing a beat started 7-1 in his first 11 games. He's finishing quite well too, going 4-0 in September with a 1.27 ERA.

And in one game against the Red Sox, Carmona struck out David Ortiz twice — once with a runner in scoring position — as he shutout the Red Sox through eight innings in a 1-0 win.

Manager: Lou Piniella — There are six more games for the Cubs as they battle down to the wire for the NL Central. And with six games comes the potential of upwards of six more Piniella-trademarked shit-fits.

The promise of Lou Piniella getting thrown out of a game. You need no other reason, beyond that, to watch the Cubs. Well, that, and to see what mythical intervention prevents them from the World Series this time.

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  • REMF

    And what about Michael Young, who became only the third person since 1940 to collect 200 for five straight seasons.