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Wise spenders reaping pennant-race benefits

Seven contenders show it's how you invest that really matters @TracyRingolsby

In case anybody needs a reminder, this season underscores the fact it's not how much money a team spends, it's how it spends the money.

Seven of the 15 teams within five games of a postseason berth going into Saturday ranked among the bottom half of Opening Day payrolls -- American League West leader Oakland (27th), National League Central leader Pittsburgh (20th), NL East leader Atlanta (16th), AL Wild Card leader Tampa Bay (28th) and three teams within five games of a Wild Card spot: Cleveland (21st), Kansas City (19th) and Arizona (17th).

The Yankees, owners of the largest Opening Day payroll, were four games back of the second AL Wild card spot. Division leaders among the top 10 were the No. 2 Dodgers in the NL West, No. 4 Red Sox in the AL East, and No. 5 Detroit in the AL Central.

Six of the top 10 Opening Day payrolls didn't even have a winning record -- the No. 3 Phillies, No. 6 Giants, No. 7 Angels, No. 8 White Sox, No. 9 Blue Jays and No. 10 Nationals.

Long and short of it

Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit his 20th home run on Friday night at Pittsburgh, the fifth time he has hit at least 20 home runs in a season. It's the 95th time since 1974 that a big league shortstop has hit at least 20, according to STATS, Inc.

Cal Ripken, Jr., accomplished the feat 12 times, followed by Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada (eight), Nomar Garciaparra and Jose Valentin (six), and Tulowitzki.

To underscore the impact of Ripken, a shortstop hit at least 20 home runs only 22 times in the 22 years from 1974 through 1995, and Ripken accounted for 11 of those seasons. Since 1995, it has happened 73 times -- including seven shortstops going deep at least 20 times in 2007.

Both J.J. Hardy of Baltimore, who has hit 18, and Ian Desmond of Washington, who has hit 16, figure to reach the 20-homer level this season, too. It would be the fifth time for Hardy and second for Desmond.

On the run

Tulowitzki's teammate, Carlos Gonzalez, went into Saturday with 26 home runs and 21 stolen bases, his fourth 20-20 season in a row. He's the 27th player to have at least four consecutive 20-20 seasons.

Barry Bonds did it nine years in a row (1990-98) and his father Bobby did it seven (1969-75). Bobby Abreu also had a streak of seven years (1999-2005). The Bonds father-son combo each had 10 20-20 seasons in their career, one more than Abreu, and three more than Carlos Beltran and Eric Davis.

Manny mania

Manny Ramirez's audition to return to the big leagues with the Rangers' Triple-A Round Rock affiliate has been decent, but not overwhelming. Ramirez hit .280 in his first 22 games with three home runs and 12 RBIs. His average is up over the last 10 games (.342), but he has only two extra base hits (both doubles) in 38 at-bats in those 10 games.

The Rangers failed to add a bat before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but would need to do something if rumors surrounding a possible suspension of Nelson Cruz in the Biogenesis case prove true. They went into Saturday's game with Oakland 2 1/2 games behind the A's in the AL West, and tied with Baltimore for the second AL Wild Card spot. Cleveland is a half-game back of the Rangers and Orioles in the Wild Card battle.

With the Yankees the only deep-pocket AL contender with a worse record than the Rangers, Texas could have an edge in making a waiver-claim deal this month. The Rangers did have serious talks with Minnesota before the Deadline. Given their position in the AL standings, they could be in place to still make a deal for potential free-agent Justin Morneau, who has roughly $4 million in salary remaining this year, or outfielder Josh Willingham, who is signed at $7 million for 2014.

Looking ahead

The NL West-leading Dodgers and AL Central-leading Tigers each have a challenging week ahead.

The Dodgers open the week with a four-game visit to St. Louis, which went into Saturday a half-game back of Pittsburgh in the NL Central, and next weekend they are home for three games with Tampa Bay, which went into Saturday a game behind Boston in the AL Central. The Rays and Cardinals both lead the Wild Card races in their leagues. They both have better records than the Dodgers (59-49). St. Louis is 64-44, while Tampa Bay is 64-45.

There's not much history between the Rays and Dodgers. They have split six games, all played in St. Petersburg.

The Cardinals, however, have won 24 of 32 games the two teams have played in St. Louis over the last nine years. They also won two of three at Dodger Stadium earlier this year, although that was in late May, before the arrival of Yaisel Puig and resurgence of Hanley Ramirez.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are in Cleveland for four games against the Indians, who went into Saturday three games back of Detroit in the AL Central to open the week, and then travel to Yankee Stadium for three games next weekend.

The Tigers can make a strong statement against the Indians. They have beaten them in 8 of 11 games so far this year, including five of six at Cleveland. The Tribe has only three games remaining against Detroit after next weekend. They visit Comerica Park from Aug. 30-Sept. 1. The Tigers took two of three from the Yankees in Detroit from April 5-7, with the loss coming in a shutout by CC Sabathia.

CC, Uh-oh

The Tigers aren't scheduled to see Sabathia this time -- he is the listed starter for the Yankees on Wednesday -- but then he's not the same Sabathia right now he was earlier in the season. He's 0-4 in his last five starts, with the Yanks losing all five of them. In the last four of those starts, Sabathia has given up 22 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings.

Sabathia is coming off back-to-back starts in which he gave up seven earned runs, only the 17th and 18th times he has done that in 406 career starts. He also gave up seven earned runs in a May 26 start against Tampa Bay, making this the only season of his career in which he has given up seven or more runs in three games. The only other time he allowed at least seven runs in back-to-back starts was with Cleveland on April 11 and April 16, 2008, when he gave up nine runs against both Oakland and Detroit.

Out of left field

Manny Machado and Hardy started their 150th consecutive game together at third and short for the Orioles on Friday night. Bill Arnold, however, reports the two have a ways to go to match the record of 221 consecutive starts at third and short by Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones and Granny Hammer, who put their run together for the Phillies from 1949-51.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for