Now for an opponent

By Jon Lane
What to watch for this week:

? Yankees games meaningless only to the standings. The AL East may be wrapped up, but Joe Girardi will be resting regular players (read: Alex Rodriguez) while evaluating who may grab the last couple of ALDS roster spots (read: Brian Bruney, Freddy Guzman). Peter Abraham had a funny line looking ahead to who may comprise tonight’s batting order: The Hangover Special.

? Whether Mark Teixeira can become AL home run champion. Teixeira’s 38 home runs are one behind leader Carlos Pena, out for the season with a broken hand.

? One last chance for Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer to convince voters they deserve to be AL MVP.

? CC Sabathia’s first and only shot at his first 20-win season (he’s a two-time 19-game winner) Friday night against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Sabathia is a top contender for the Cy Young, though Royals ace Zack Greinke may have sealed it after holding the Twins to a run over seven innings on Sunday. In five September starts (Twins, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Angels), Greinke has allowed three runs (two earned) in 33 innings.

(Before I get to the Twins, allow me to digress. From this person’s point of view, Mariano Rivera belongs in the Cy Young conversation and deserves a place in the top three. His 44 saves are his most since 2004 [53]. He has two blown saves and allowed only two runs since June. There’s Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia, but where are the Yankees without Rivera? Would there have ever been that last dynasty if not for Rivera?)

? Twins vs. Tigers in a four-game set that will likely decide the AL Central champion and the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. Three weeks ago, the Tigers had a seven-game lead. That’s down to two with Detroit on an 8-11 skid and Minnesota on its typical late-season surge (11-2). The Twins are also winners of nine out of 14 against the Tigers this season.

Let’s rewind to 2006: The Tigers led the Central by 10 1/2 games on August 7. The Twins won the title on the final day of the season while the Tigers settled for the Wild Card. Minnesota was swept by Oakland in the ALDS. Detroit dropped Game 1 of the DS to the Yankees before winning their next seven to capture the AL pennant. Go figure.

Nick Blackburn opposes Rick Porcello tonight at Comerica Park. It’s Brian Duensing against Justin Verlander Tuesday, Carl Pavano (yes, him) against Eddie Bonine Wednesday, and Scott Baker and Nate Robertson conclude the set on Thursday. Something tells me it’ll be Twins vs. Yankees next week. What do you think?

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