MLB Week in Review
by Jordan Adams - 07/24/2006
Two weeks into the second half of the season and the true playoff contenders are rising to the top of the surface. Division races are heating up while the wild card groupings look to be headed down to the final weekend of play, especially in the National League. Coming into Sunday, four division leaders are on top by less than five games, including both West divisions with three teams each separated by one game or less. This MLB week in review examines the division leaders and the rest of the potential teams that could possibly take part in October's annual classic.
Whether or not baseball fans like it, the Detroit Tigers are making the playoffs, and they will likely have home field advantage (Thanks to Michael Young). This year's rendition of the '05 White Sox, the Tigers too could be in line for a magical year that could finish by hoisting the World Series trophy. At 66-32 they currently hold a 6 ½ game lead on the defending champs and have not had a losing week since the end of May.
Boston Red Sox
The three-legged AL East race is currently led by the Bo Sox and they seem to be that division's most complete team poised to march into October. Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling are the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball -- combining for 24 wins -- while David Ortiz is atop the league in home runs and RBI and is the frontrunner for AL MVP. Anything is possible with a small three-game margin over New York and five games above third place Toronto, but Boston is in line for its first division title since 1995.
Currently on top in the roller coaster AL West, Oakland will be in a dogfight all year for the automatic playoff spot. The wild card is not coming from this division, so all four teams know that the division title either makes or breaks their year. Oakland could find themselves in first come September, but no true division leader has stepped up so the A's could easily find themselves on the outside looking in if they are not careful.
New York Yankees
Despite finding themselves only three games back from the Red Sox and just 2 1/2 behind Chicago for the wild card, the Yankees' postseason chances look much better statistically than if common sense was applied. The starting rotation is showing its age, negativity is surrounding this club due to the A-Rod mess and still the team is missing two of its better hitters in Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matusi. Yes, young players like Melky Cabrera, Andy Phillips and Nick Green are stepping up in the line-up but a certain swagger is missing from this Bronx club that has won the division the past eight years.
Los Angeles Angels
The most unexpected underachiever in 2006, the Angels will be a major player at the trade deadline, likely acquiring a big bat to help the offense. Los Angeles sits at 50-48 after Sunday's win, and despite the mediocre record, the Halos are one game back of first place in the division. Also to note is rookie hurler Jered Weaver, who become the first rookie in 25 years to win his first seven starts. He has been a rock in the rotation and an instant spark ever since getting called up from the PCL.
New York Mets
No question the Mets have been the best team throughout the season in the league and their 13 game lead in the NL East speaks loudly. No longer the Braves' division, New York now sets its sights on home field if they can reach the NLCS. Ten games over .500 both at home and on the road, the Amazins' have won eight of their last eleven games and should be in line to clinch the division much sooner than originally expected.
St. Louis Cardinals
At times looking extremely vulnerable this year, especially when the Royals darn near swept them at home, the Cardinals have regained a more focused approach as they hold down their first place NL Central spot. Albert Pujols leads the league in home runs and RBI coming into Sunday and he has a chance for the improbable Triple Crown. If the chalk plays its part in the playoffs, the Mets and Cardinals will meet in the NLCS. If that's the case, St. Louis better find a way to secure home field because its 24-22 record away from home won't get the job done.
Few would suggest the Reds would hold down the NL wild card spot in late July. At 52-47 they will take it, despite critics calling out the weakness of the league. Even if this team finds a way into the postseason, not many would expect them to make a lot noise against teams that have postseason experience.
San Francisco Giants
Only mentioned because they currently occupy the NL West's top spot by ½ game coming into Sunday. It's hard to imagine this team still managing to stick around, even if their division is the weakest in baseball. Barry Bonds has been inconsistent and the pitching has no big players outside of Jason Schmidt. However, no one can discredit them for getting to where they are as of today.
Arizona Diamondbacks/Los Angeles Dodgers/San Diego Padres
Any of these teams could sneak into the postseason with a good couple of weeks. Every seven days it seems like someone else is on top of this crazy division. Colorado was the surprise to start the season, then the Dodgers managed to get out front for a little while. Arizona had a short stint in first and then it was the Padres who claimed the top spot until the Giants leapfrogged everyone, even if only momentarily.