Neftali Feliz andDerek Holland
"They're nothere to get their feet wet," says Rangers G.M. Jon Daniels of his youngfireballers, the crown jewels of baseball's top minor league system."They're here to contribute." And, while they're at it, carry Texas toits first playoff berth since 1999 as they change the identity of apitching-starved franchise. Feliz (left), 21, had struck out 19 in his first 141/3 innings at week's end, bringing 100-mph heat to his setup role. Holland(4--1, 1.85 ERA since July 30) is the biggest reason the rotation, second tolast in the AL last year, must now be taken seriously (third-best 4.28 ERA)."At the beginning it was a matter of proving I belong," says Holland,22. "Now I know I do."
Pay no attentionto his current numbers. Rollins's near-Mendoza-line first-half performance, theworst three months of his 10-year career, weighs down his stats (.243, .290OBP, .409 slugging through Sunday) like a thumb on a scale. If you want to knowwhat the Phillies are getting from their leadoff man as they close in onanother division crown, consider these figures: .297/.348/.540. That's J-Rollsince July 1—the 2007 MVP, the shortstop for a champion, the catalyst for agreat offense. Since that guy showed up everything has changed in Philly. Once39--35 and in a dogfight in the NL East, the Phillies have gone 32--15 andstretched their lead to "setting the playoff rotation."
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
He's working onhis 13th consecutive .300 season, and he'll still swing at any pitch deliveredbetween I-5 and the 57. But at 34, Guerrero is no longer the most feared hitterin a lineup that had nine—nine!—regulars batting above .300 at one point lastweek. The slugger, who has drawn 242 intentional walks in his 14-year careerand at least 13 in every season since 1998, had just three at week's end.Guerrero's power stroke has reappeared recently, though, and if he keeps goingdeep, so too could the Angels. After hitting only four home runs in his first184 at bats, he had seven in his last 60 through Sunday, including twotwo-homer games since Aug. 10.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Just how deeplyhas the 23-year-old righthander transformed the Yankees' bullpen? When Hughesmade his first relief appearance on June 8, the pen had a 4.88 ERA, the AL'ssecond worst. Since then it's 3.64, the league's fourth best. Hughes hasemerged as baseball's premier eighth-inning man: At week's end he was strikingout 11.4 per nine innings and his 1.26 ERA as a reliever led the league. Hughesis a good bet to return to the rotation in 2010, and he'll have a confidencethat he lacked during his first 28 starts (8--9, 5.22 ERA). However, for thenext month Hughes and closer Mariano Rivera will ensure that opposing teamshave only seven innings to score—yet another reason New York's streak ofpostseasonless years seems certain to end at one.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The greatunknown. The ace righthander hasn't made a start since June 8. For White Soxfans he's the Christmas present sitting unopened amid a pile of dried pineneedles, and as the wrapping comes off next week, they'll wonder: tube socks orXbox? Since 2004, Peavy has led a sheltered life in San Diego's Petco Park,where fly balls in the gap have to change planes in Santee to reach the seats.On the road he has a career 3.84 ERA, a run higher than at home. Now he'smoving not only to a launching pad in US Cellular Park, but also to a tougherleague. And buyer beware: In two postseason starts Peavy has allowed 13 runs in9 2/3 innings. With $52 million left on his deal through 2012, Chicago isn'tgetting a gift receipt.
Photograph by ROBERT SEALE
Photograph by PETER GREGOIRE
Photograph by AL TIELEMANS
Photograph by JOHN BURGESS
Photograph by AL TIELEMANS