As the title suggests, weâ€™ve got three early games to enjoy this evening.Â All start at 21.10 BST and all involve at least one team in the thick of the playoff race.
21.10. Chicago Cubs at St. Louis (Carlos Zambrano â€“ Chris Carpenter)
Despite the mid-week shenanigans with the Reds, Iâ€™m sure Cardinals fans still see the Cubs as the rivals they most like to beat.Â
Likewise the Cubs may be out of the postseason race, but they will still take great enjoyment out of ruining the Cardinalsâ€™ plans if they can. Add in the always volatile Carlos Zambrano (although heâ€™s trying to tone things down apparently) and the combative Chris Carpenter and this is set up to be a firecracker of a game from Busch Stadium.Â
The Cards took the series opener last night 6-3 with recent recruit Jake Westbrook earning the win on his home debut.
21.10.Â San Diego at San Francisco (Mat Latos â€“ Madison Bumgarner) * ESPN America
This MLB season has provided an endless stream of wonderful stories, but few can match the unexpected postseason charge by the San Diego Padres.Â As weeks have turned to months, the initial impression that their success was just a fleeting triumph has edged away to the belief that they will be strong contenders right to the end.Â The Giants, their opponents today, are their closest rivals in the NL West, sitting 3.5 games behind the division leaders after the Padres beat them 3-2 in the series opener last night.Â
As with the Cubs-Cardinals game, the excitement caused by having two rivals going head-to-head is increased even further by the pitching match-up as Latos and Bumgarner are two of the most promising pitchers in the National League (ESPN.com published yesterday an excellent feature on Latos by Jorge Arangure Jr. which is well worth a read).
21.10. Baltimore at Tampa Bay (Brian Matusz â€“ Andy Sonnanstine)
No, this isnâ€™t an age-old rivalry or a battle between two postseason contenders, but it should still be a fascinating encounter.Â The Rays, of course, are squarely in the AL East/Wild Card race alongside the Yankees and Red Sox; however theyâ€™ve lost seven of their last ten and need to get back to winning ways quickly.Â Theyâ€™ve undoubtedly got the talent to do just that, although injuries are starting to bite.Â This would have been Jeff Niemannâ€™s slot in the rotation had he not been placed on the Disabled List and Sonnanstine has only just come off the DL himself, pitching 5.1 innings against the Blue Jays last Sunday.
As for the Orioles, itâ€™s another lost year for them,but the recent appointment of Buck Showalter as their new manager should help to move them forward after being out of the running for too long.Â The Oâ€™s have received a â€˜new manager bumpâ€™ as they are 9-2 so far under Showalter, including last nightâ€™s 5-0 win over the Rays.
All the above games can be followed via various resources on MLB.com (Gameday, At Bat with Gameday Audio and MLB.tv).Â ESPN AmericaÂ is showing the Padres-Giants game. A complete schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com