The Final Push
September is upon us and every playoff-hopeful team in Baseball is making their final push to accomplish their goal. There are some of the typical powerhouse teams sitting on the top of their respective divisions, but there have also been some amazing underdog stories developing since the All Star break. The American League has at least two teams in every division fighting for the pennant as well as 5 teams all within 3.5 games of the two wild card slots. The National League seems to have their divisional winners pretty much in place, but the two wildcard spots have a unique 4-team battle fighting for them. As I am an avid baseball fan and have been watching many games on a nightly basis, I find myself interested in almost every game because of the possible playoff indications that they all seem to have. Here is a quick breakdown of the teams that are making noise in the final month of the baseball year and who I feel will reign supreme once the final game of the regular season is played.
Just a month ago, it looked as if the Yankees were about to run away from every team in the AL East and win their 18 division title. Now, while the Yankees are still in the driver’s seat in their division, they find themselves only 3.5 games from not even being a playoff team. The Baltimore Orioles, who everyone and their mothers though would have fizzled out already, have been playing remarkable baseball and they are just coming off of a successful weekend against their divisional foes, the Yanks, by taking 2 of 3 from them in New York. The O’s are only 2 games behind the Yankees for the divisional lead and it seems like that deficit is getting smaller every day. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they don’t only have the O’s to worry about. The best pitching staff in the American League, and arguably baseball…sorry Nationals, is also in the Yankees division and are only 3.5 games behind them. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are pitching on a level that no team can really match. It sucks for Tampa’s staff though, because they have an anemic offense that gives their pitching no run support. The Yankees haven’t had much to be happy about recently, but maybe the return of A-Rod tonight will provide a much-needed wake up call.
The AL Central is a completely different story from the East. The Central has been a two team race from the beginning of the season and nothing has changed. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox find themselves deadlocked on top of the Central with no other teams in site. The crazy part about this is that Detroit is exactly where all critics and analysts thought they would be at this point in the season, while Chicago has exceeded everyone’s expectations. This is a great time for me to mention that the former White Sox and Mets great, Robin Ventura, deserves to win Manager of the Year in his rookie campaign with the White Sox. It sucks that the only team that Chicago seems to not be able to beat is the Tigers, as they just came off of getting swept for the second straight series against them. While the White Sox find themselves around the middle of the pack in batting and pitching, they have found a way to remain 11 games above .500 and tied with Detroit. The Tigers had huge expectations coming into this season. They have the best pitcher in the American League, Justin Verlander, and the best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, so just a share of the Central lead for them is a disappointment. They still have 29 games remaining in the season and unless they find some way to pull away from the Sox before the season is out, you can consider this season a failure.
The biggest surprise of the second half of the season has been slowly dominating everyone around them out of the AL West. When the season started, there were only two teams worth mentioning in the AL West, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels. With only one month left in the season, Texas finds themselves on the top where they were expected to be, but with only a slim 3 game lead in their division. The problem is that their 3 game lead isn’t above the expected Angels but rather the surging Oakland Athletics. The Athletics have come from absolutely nowhere and have taken the American League by storm. They are currently on a 9 game winning streak and are leading the AL wildcard race by two games over the Baltimore Orioles. The A’s relatively unknown pitching staff is ranked third in all of baseball and their ace, Brandon McCarthy is having a career year. A big problem that faces Oakland towards the end of the season is the fact that they have the hardest remaining schedule out of any remaining contending team. While the A’s are surging and looking to scare any team they face going into the playoffs, the Rangers are preparing themselves for a third straight trip to the World Series. The Rangers have the best record in the American League and are the clear favorite heading into the playoffs. The Angels are going to have to make some moves quickly because if they miss the playoffs this year with the second biggest payroll in baseball, heads will be rolling.
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
AL Central Winner: Detroit Tigers
AL West Winner: Texas Rangers
AL Wildcard Winners: Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
AL Champion: Detroit Tigers
Since the beginning of the season, the NL East has been flipped upside down. The perennial East bottom dwellers, the Washington Nationals, have led the way the entire season, while the preseason favorite Philadelphia Phillies have been fighting to stay out of last place all year. The Nats have pretty much pulled away from the rest of the NL East and now all they have to worry about is the ever lingering drama of whether Stephen Strasburg will be benched before season’s end or not. While the Mets, Phillies and Marlins have been pretty much irrelevant since the break, the Atlanta Braves have been fighting to keep pace with the Nationals. Even though the Braves are 6.5 games behind Washington, they still hold a 3.5 game lead in the NL wildcard. The Braves have solid pitching and a steady batting lineup that makes them a team to fear when playoffs time rolls around and with this being Larry Jones’ last go around, I wish them the best. The Nationals on the other hand are new to the playoff scene and if they are missing their superstar ace then things could get really choppy.
The NL Central is always a question mark before the season starts, but one thing that has remained consistent is the fact that Pittsburgh will be near the bottom of it. Well not this year. The Pirates are 7 games over .500 and looking for their first winning season in two decades. They are also only 1.5 games out of the second wildcard slot in the NL. The Central has the biggest disparity in baseball between their first and second place teams with the Cincinnati Reds having a commanding 9.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. If you remember last year, you know what St. Louis can do with a wildcard birth and right now they find themselves holding a slim .5 game lead over the newly built LA Dodgers. My heart really wants the lowly Pirates to make the playoffs because I am a huge underdog fan, but I just feel like they are going to have to accept the consolation prize of having the NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen, playing for them. The Cincinnati Reds have the best record in baseball and they have been playing their best baseball since the All Star break and they were doing it surprisingly without their star player Joey Votto. This might be the Reds year, but I don’t think it will be.
I find the most intriguing matchup coming out of the NL West. The LA Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants have been in a season long battle and are arguably the best rivalry baseball has to offer. The Giants are on top of the West right now and hold a 4.5 game lead over the Dodgers. The Giants have succeeded this season without having their Ace, Tim Lincecum, pitching well at all. San Fran has been consistent all year and while they lost their best hitter Melky to PED’s, they haven’t missed a beat. The Dodgers have made more moves this year than any other team. They have put together a roster that any other team in the league would envy. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t come together yet and found a way to consistently win. I do feel that they will fix their issues and make a final push for the playoffs. Right now the Dodgers are only half a game out of the second wildcard spot and with the remaining series against the Cards, Nats, Reds and the Giants, they do not have an easy road to travel to make it. Even with the tough schedule, I still feel that the Dodgers are the team to beat in the National League.