Division races red hot

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

It was a grand idea to add wild-card berths to post- season play.

But how 'bout those division races?

When was the previous time, entering the final 10 lengths of the season, that four of the six division leaders had leads of 11/2 games or less?

After being 141/2 games out on May 29, the New York Yankees began yesterday within 11/2 of the Boston Red Sox.

The Yanks opened a three-game series against the Blue Jays last night in the Bronx, while Boston was in Tampa, playing the Devil Rays.

The New York Mets are backing up to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East. The Mets are in Florida, while the Phillies are in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

The Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers were also separated by 11/2 games at the start of play yesterday. The Cubs are home to the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend, while the Brewers are in Atlanta.

The Arizona Diamondbacks lead on the San Diego Padres was a half a game yesterday in the NL West. Arizona is host to the Dodgers, while the Padres entertain the Colorado Rockies.

Since the Detroit Tigers were swept this week in Cleveland, there really isn't a wild-card race in the AL. Only the advantage of finishing first in the East and avoiding a first-round trip to visit the Los Angeles Angels is at stake. Top seed (most wins among the division winners) may not be settled until next Sunday.

In the NL, San Diego has the advantage. For the Phillies and the Brewers their best chance is to win the division rather than the wild card.

PICK'N GOOD

Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde is getting high marks from Baseball America's prospect list of the rookie-class Gulf Coast league. Second baseman John Tolisano, selected in the second round, was named the fifth best prospect. Infielder Kevin Ahrens, the Jays first pick, was rated the 12th.

Both switch-hitters, Tolisano (.246 average, 10 homers, 33 RBIs) led the league in homers, while Ahrens (.230, three, 21) adjusted moving from shortstop to third.

The Jays spent $6.29 million -- seventh highest in MLB-- signing players drafted in the first 10 rounds. The Jays had 15 picks in the first 10 rounds, signing 14, including Vancouver's Trystan Magnuson of Louisville University as a sandwich pick, and Richmond Hill catcher Joel Collins in the 10th.

The Baltimore Orioles spend the most, giving $7.672 million to seven players. The Washington Nationals coughed up $7.619 million to 13 and the Yanks handed out $7.433 million to 10.

SAINT NICK

Outfielder Nick Welgarz, 19, was player of the month for August in the Cleveland Indians system. He had eight homers and 25 RBIs, while batting .333 with a 1.141 OPS for single-A Lake County. On the season the Team Ontario grad of Stevensville, Ont., hit .276 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs.

Johnny Goryl, a 27-year veteran of the Indians organization, says comparisons between Welgarz and slugger Jim Thome are normal.

"Nick is a little more athletic than Jimmy was at the same age," Goryl said.

Thome didn't find his power stroke until his fifth pro season, when he hit 25 homers with 102 RBIs at triple-A Charlotte.


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