On Deck: Examiner baseball

What a difference two years can make. In 2005, the Houston Astros were the National League champions and Phil Garner was the toast of Texas. This season, with the Astros hovering near the bottom of the NL Central standings, owner Drayton McLane canned Garner and general manager Tim Purpura. Garner, who joined the Astros in 2004, became the third managerial victimof 2007 (Seattle also made a change, but that came a result of Mike Hargrove’s resignation). Cecil Cooper, who won two Gold Gloves and made two All-Star Games while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers, inherits the interim manager tag for the rest of the season.

If you thought this week featured plenty of important showdowns, well, you were right (five of the six divisions had their top two teams playing each other), but next week’s matchups will be just as intense and equally as important. Starting Monday in the National League, playoff implications will be on the line when the Arizona Diamondbacks face the San Diego Padres, the Los Angeles Dodgers battle the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Atlanta Braves. In the American League, the stakes are just as high as the Mariners and the New York Yankees duke it out for wild-card supremacy and the Minnesota Twins fight for their postseason lives in a three-game stint with the Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

For many contenders, help is on the way. Rosters expand to 40 beginning Saturday, which means plenty of minor-leaguers will get the call to The Show. While teams out of contention will take a look at their younger players to see what they have for next year, those in the playoff hunt can call up extra arms to take the strain off overtaxed bullpens.

KEY SERIES

Rockies at Diamondbacks (Today-Sunday): This weekend series could end up being Colorado’s last stand. Matt Holliday and the young Rockies have made strides this year, but if they plan on extending their season beyond September, they will have to take at least two of three from the NL West co-leaders.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jake Peavy

Where would the San Diego Padres be right now without Jake Peavy? Certainly not contending for the NL West title. Duringtwo high-pressure games last week — a wild-card showdown against the New York Mets and a key division clash with the Arizona Diamondbacks — Peavy went 2-0 with 22 strikeouts and just three earned runs over 13 innings.

The leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award improved to 15-5 with a 2.14 ERA.

Going back further, Peavy — who is slated to become a free agent after next season — has allowed just seven earned runs in his last seven games. With 197 strikeouts, he is on pace to breeze past his best single-season strikeout total of 216 (set in 2005).

HE SAID WHAT?

“I think this series probably put in their head that they have to worry about the wild card, not the division.”

— Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, after sweeping the Mariners

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