We’re in the MLB home stretch now. There are 20 or fewer games left for teams in baseball, and the fight is on for playoff berths. Now that an extra wild card spot has been added in each league there are more spaces available, and therefore there’s more competitive fight for extra life than ever.
It’s also totally wide open — there are seven teams in the hunt in the American league, and another seven fighting in the National League. Let’s take a look at how the races shape up:
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Unlike the National League there is still some drama in the division races here.
Baltimore and the Yankees are fighting it out for the AL East, with Tampa Bay just a few games behind. The winner is obviously going to the playoffs, but there is a good chance the second-place finisher will as well.
In the Central Chicago is clinging to a narrow lead over Detroit. The stakes are high here because neither team is well positioned to steal a wild-card spot without a strong finish and a whole lot of luck.
In the West Texas has a solid lead, but the unlikely A’s are red hot and closing strong.
With a three-game deficit as I write this it will be tough for Oakland to catch Texas — especially since the Rangers are playing well recently. The A’s will obviously fight for the division lead to avoid the one-game wild-card playoff.
If they don’t catch Texas, though, then the wild card is theirs to lose.
They have two more wins than any other wild-card contender. Unfortunately, they also face a brutal schedule. They open against Baltimore on Friday for three, and then they leave for a tough 10-game road trip against Detroit, the Yankees, and Texas. They get a breather at home against the Mariners, and then close with three more at home against Texas.
The good news is that with seven games against Texas their chances of catching the Rangers are better than they could be. The bad news, though, is that with such a tough schedule there is little margin for error.
I tend to doubt this team, but I quit trying to figure out what they were doing long ago.
The Yankees should have run away with the AL East. They were doing just that until they went into an ugly late-summer swoon. Now they have made a race of things, and they appear to be losing it.
Their pitching is an issue, their lineup is letting them down at key times, injuries have been a factor, and the mindset of the team isn’t in a good place right now. That being said, no other team has the experience or depth that the Yankees have, so I wouldn’t bet against them making it.
They also have a fairly soft schedule — seven games against Toronto, three against Minnesota, and three against Boston.
There could even be a betting opportunity here — there is so much distaste for the Yankees that a lot of people want to see them fail now that they are clearly vulnerable. It’s a rare time when betting on a very public team could provide value.
I just watched Baltimore win against Tampa Bay in 14 innings — yet another impossible result for an impossible story.
I would love for the Orioles to succeed, and I obviously can’t doubt what they have done. It’s a reasonable schedule down the stretch as well — 13 games against non-contenders.
This is their first winning season since 1997, though, so there isn’t a lot of experience to draw on. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on the Orioles, but there is a chance that the final series at Tampa Bay could be massive.
Tampa Bay and the Angels
I group these two together because they are both contenders, they both have the talent to get there, but they both haven’t quite lived up to potential.
The Angels have the easier schedule and the better talent. My bet is that the Angels will be in that one-game playoff.
The three division leaders have all but clinched. Washington will take the East, Cincinnati has run away with the Central, and San Francisco will repeat in the West. While there is no drama there the wild-card race is wide open:
The Braves have stumbled slightly lately, but they have six more wins than any other team in the hunt, so they are in command. They also have five more road wins than any other team, so they are poised to succeed.
They are heading to the postseason.
The Cardinals have experience, but they are missing a couple of big and obvious pieces from last year, and they have chosen the wrong time to get cold.
They have dropped seven of their last 10. They hold a wild-card spot as I write, but they won’t by the time the playoffs roll around.
This is a team I would look to bet against whenever it makes sense down the stretch. With 10 games against the Dodgers, Nationals and Reds there should be plenty of opportunities to do so.
When you spend as much as the Dodgers did you really had better hope you make the playoffs.
They have lost three straight now, though, and their remaining schedule is tough.
Can they get in? Absolutely. Do I think they are a favorite to do so. Not really.
It was a great run for the Pirates, but things have really gone off the rails recently. They have lost eight of 10, they can’t do anything right, and, frankly, they just look like the Pirates.
At this point their biggest concern shouldn’t be making the playoffs. It should be making sure that they finish above .500 after such a promising start. That accomplishment is still 10 wins away with 20 games left, though, so it is by no means sure to happen. In fact, it is sadly quite likely not to.
This is not a playoff team.
The Brewers have warmed up recently, and they have climbed into the hunt.
They are an absolutely awful road team, though, and that is going to get in their way here.
They have three games to gain on the teams ahead of them and a lot of teams to pass, and I just don’t think they are going to do it.
Look out world, because here come the Phillies.
The team that was so easy to write off weeks and months ago is finally playing like they can. they are healthier than they have been in a while. They have won seven straight, and they are above .500 and just three games out of a playoff spot.
The tail end of their schedule — Atlanta, then six of nine against Washington, could be tough. By then, though, Washington could be focused on the postseason. Before that they have Houston for four and three against the Mets.
They are sure to close the gap further in those games. I would have thought I was crazy for writing this a month ago, but Philadelphia will be travelling to Atlanta to play the first one-game wild-card playoff game in NL history.
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