NL Central showdown
UNDATED (AP) — The top two teams in the National League Central start a crucial weekend series tonight.
Division leading St. Louis holds a one-game lead over the home standing Pirates. Pittsburgh is in a second-half slump, losing 12 of their last 19 to surrender the lead to St. Louis.
Pittsburgh is going with lefty Francisco Liriano who takes a 14-6 record and 2.74 ERA into tonight's action. The Cards counter with Shelby Miller who is 12-8 with a 2.90 ERA.
The top two teams in the AL Central square off tonight, although that race isn't as tight. Detroit hosts Cleveland with a 6 ½ game lead over the Indians.
The Tigers are coming off a dramatic 7-6 victory over Oakland that ended with Torii Hunter's walkoff homer. The Tigers will be anxious to find out about Miguel Cabrera's condition heading into the game. He had to leave yesterday's win with an abdominal injury, but the American hitting, batting and RBI leader insisted after the game he'd be ready to go tonight.
The American League wildcard teams open a series tonight when Oakland hosts Tampa Bay. The Rays have lost four of five and trot out David Price to do the pitching. He's won five straight. Oakland starter Jerrod Parker has his own streak going. He's 8-0 in 16 starts since May 22. The Athletics will try to shake off the last inning meltdown that cost them yesterday's game with the Tigers and kept them from completing a sweep.
Major-league strikeout leader Yu Darvish is back on the mound for the Rangers tonight when they host Minnesota. Not only does the 12-5 Darvish have 225 strikeouts this season, his 2.68 ERA is fifth best in the majors.
Washington's Jordan Zimmermann tries to become the National League's first 16-game winner when he gets the start at home against the New York Mets tonight.
Indians acquire Kubel; Cards get Axford
CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland has picked up Jason Kubel (KOO'-bul) from Arizona in an effort to provide some offensive punch for the playoff push. The Indians will give up cash or a player to be named later.
The left-handed hitting outfielder hit 30 homers last season, but has slumped this year and was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks this week. Kubel is hitting just .220 with 5 homers and 32 RBIs. He's averaged 20 homers and 81 RBIs the past five seasons.
St. Louis went for bullpen help, getting John Axford from Milwaukee for a player to be named later. Axford is 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA and 19 saves in 62 games. He led the NL with 46 saves in 2011 while helping the Brewers to the NL Central title.
Gabbert is coming along
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert continues to recover from a hairline fracture of his right thumb and is on pace to return for the season opener.
Gabbert is squeezing the football and could throw some passes this weekend, but coach Gus Bradley says the quarterback is still experiencing some pain.
If Gabbert can't practice or play against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, Bradley feels good going with backup Chad Henne.
Pats cut tight ends
UNDATED (AP) —The New England Patriots have released veteran tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells. The moves indicate Rob Gronkowski might be ready sooner than expected after missing all four exhibition games following back surgery. He is one of three tight ends on the roster.
Ballard and Fells were among the 10 players cut as the Patriots work to get down to the regular-season limit of 53 players by Saturday's deadline.
— Baltimore has cut Caleb Haney and Dayne Crist, leaving two quarterbacks on the roster heading into next week's regular season opener in Denver. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be again backed by Tyrod Taylor.
— Buffalo has released quarterback Matt Leinhart a person familiar with the move has told The Associated Press. He was signed just last week as an injury replacement.
Djokovic starts slow, wins easy
NEW YORK (AP) — Top men's seed Novak Djokovic (NOH'-vak JOH'-kuh-vich) has moved into the third round at the US Open after overcoming a slow start to beat Benjamin Becker 7-6, 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic faced two set points in the opening set but held both then cruised to the victory.
Men's 12th-seed Tommy Haas had little trouble moving into the third round.
Third-seed Agnieszka Radwanska (ahg-nee-ESH'-kuh rahd-VAHN'-skuh) and No. 5 Li Na are through to the fourth round of the US Open after straight set wins.
No rest for women's top seed Serena Williams who is right back out on court tonight for her third round match. The defending champ won her rain delayed second round match yesterday then teamed with sister Venus for a three-set doubles win.
Qualifying under the lights
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — The Sprint Cup drivers hit the mile-and-a-half tri-oval at the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend as the countdown continues toward the Chase for the Cup. Qualifying is set for tonight for Sunday night's race. Five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson takes a slim 18-point lead over Clint Bowyer (BOY'-ur) into the weekend's festivities. With just two races to go in the regular season, there's still plenty of jockeying to lock down one of the 12 spots in the 10-race playoff.
GOLF-DEUTSCHE BANK CHAMPIONSHIP
Showcase threesome highlights first two rounds
NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Phil Mickelson said Tiger Woods brings out the best in him after it was announced the two would be grouped with Adam Scott for the first two rounds of the Deutsche (DOY'-chuh) Bank Championship.
Mickelson showed it with a sterling opening round of 8-under 63 that included seven birdies on his front nine.
The British Open champ has a one-shot clubhouse lead over Kevin Stadler among the early starters at the TPC Boston. Hunter Mahan had a 65.
Woods had to settle for a 68, while Scott shot 73.
Phatlum holds lead
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum fired a 6-under 66 to hold onto the lead early in the second round of the LPGA's Safeway Classic. Phatlum's 14-under total is just one shot better than Suzann Pettersen who posted a 63.
CHAMPIONS TOUR-SHAW CHARITY CLASSIC
New event debuts
CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Canada's Rod Spittle is tied with Bart Bryant for the first round clubhouse lead in the inaugural Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary. Each shot a 7-under 64 for a one-shot lead. Michael Allen and Sandy Lyle share second place.
Selanne returns for last season
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Teemu Selanne (TAY'-moo suh-LAH'-nay) says he's returning to the Anaheim Ducks for his 21st and final NHL season. The 43-year-old Finnish forward announced his decision in a humorous video posted on YouTube by the Ducks.
Selanne is the 15th-leading scorer in NHL history with 1,430 points, and his 675 career goals are 11th-most in league history. He had 12 goals and 12 assists in 46 games last season.
Some cable customers could miss NFL games next week
NEW YORK (AP) — A substantial number of cable subscribers could miss out on some of the NFL games on opening weekend due to the ongoing fee dispute between Time Warner and CBS. There's been no reported progress in negotiations between the two, which has blocked CBS programming from customers' homes in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York since Aug. 2. They are at odds over a deal to carry CBS on Time Warner, most prominently over retransmission fees that the cable operator pays to CBS per subscriber.