The Hunt for Red October: This Weekend in Baseball

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game 5

Welcome back, everybody.

Having essentially taken a summer sabbatical from the Recorder (you know, the pop culture column I helped found over a year ago), I feel that it’s time to get back to work. It’s been a great summer, full of theatre, farm work, and…..okay, maybe it’s hard to stay connected to popular culture when you’re living in the boonies of southwest Ohio. Nigh impossible, I might say. It’s almost unbelievable how quickly I fell back into the media stream upon my return on August 26th. (Case in point: while hanging out with friends and colleagues of the Recorder, the first question I was asked relating to anything popular was “Did you hear what Miley Cyrus did at the VMA’s?” In Ohio, I would have heard about that slowly, over a cold glass of Bell’s Oberon, on a patio, most likely three or four days after the fact. As it was, I immediately watched a clip of her performance with Robin “I’ve Really Been Doing This for Twenty Years, What the Hell is Wrong with You People That You Love Blurred Lines?” Thicke. My reaction: meh.)

With that being said, it’s the best time of the year to be a sports fan. Professional football has returned, with both the NFL and the BCS (See what I did there?…It’s been a long summer, you must understand. My humor will need a little bit of time to come back. Apparently, just like the Longhorns’ run defense.) going strong, things happening in NASCAR, Floyd Mayweather fighting the Ginger Sensation (Real name: Canelo Alvarez, which is a convoluted anagram of Satan’s Spawn.), and above all, baseball.

What I’ll try to do for the next three weeks (good GOD, we’re almost halfway through September already!) is to provide a good weekend forecast for the baseball teams with the highest percentage chance of making the postseason. For some, this will be a rather boring recap (See: NL East and West). For others, this should be essential reading as the races go down to the wire. (See: AL and (gulp) NL Wild Card.) If you don’t give two shits about baseball, then you should probably stick with what you know, which might be large, overcompensated men running into each other until their brains turn into KY-Jelly. (You know who you are)

Without further ado, let’s begin:

NL EAST

Current Standings:

  1. Atlanta Braves – 88 – 58, 99.9% chance of winning the division
  2. Washington Nationals – 77 – 69, 11 games back, 2.6% chance
  3. Philadelphia Phillies – Oh God – Are You Kidding Me, SO FAR BACK, 0.0%
  4. New York Mets – Worse Than – The Phillies, 0.000%
  5. Florida Marlins – HA – HA, HA HA BACK, -93.2%

Okay, so maybe this one’s a little bit of a surefire bet. Let’s just say that anyone going to Vegas to place a bet on the Braves clinching the division would be laughed at by all the bookies. (ALL the bookies) Having said that, the Braves might be the best team that nobody (and I mean NOBODY outside of Ted Turner and Chipper Jones) has been paying any attention to, though for somewhat good reasons. Freddie Freeman is a stud, but this is a lineup that has given almost 800 at-bats to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, both dwelling well below the Mendoza Line. The starting pitching has been serviceable, though it’s always telling when your best pitcher is your closer. Even if Craig Kimbrel might be the best relief pitcher in the National League. They have benefited from the mediocrity of the rest of their division, and should be exploiting this weekend’s contest with bottom-dwelling San Diego to reach 90 wins quicker than anyone else in the NL.

We’ll deal with the Nationals when we get to the Wild Card. Speaking of, we’re jumping the NL Central to get the AL West out of the way.

NL West

Current Standings:

  1. LA Dodgers – 86 – 60, 99.9%
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks – 73 – 72, 12.5 back, 0.1% (Yes, you read that right, 0.1%)
  3. Colorado Rockies – Not – Even, Funny Bro.
  4. San Diego Padres – See above
  5. San Francisco Giants – Hey, remember when we won the World Series? We don’t either.

The NL West has been, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up since the Dodgers went on something like a 150-2 tear in mid-June. Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks have been scrappy (I know that word’s supposed to conjure images of a tough team that takes no guff from anybody, but in this particular instance, I can only think of Scooby-Doo’s annoying nephew who could be foiled by picking him up, holding him at arm’s length while he kicked and screamed, and then dropped into a trash-can. In related news, for anyone concerned about my future parenting skills, you can rest assured that this will be my method of dealing with all of my children when they are two-years-old and prone-to-tantrums. The Dodgers will put the final nail in the organic redwood coffin of the Giants this weekend in a three game set at Pac-Bell Park, a weekend contest marked by how many people are more avidly tuned into the 49ers at Seattle this weekend.

NL Central

Current Standings:

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates – 85 – 61, 99.7%
  2. St. Louis Cardinals – 85 – 61, 99.7% (The Recorder’s blog page won’t allow me to type 1A and 1B, so I’ve given the Redbirds the second slot because…P comes before S? The Pirates have earned it? Season series splits? I’M OBJECTIVE, GOD DAMN IT)
  3. Cincinnati Reds – 83 – 64, 2.5 games back, 98.0%
  4. Milwaukee Brewers – 63 – 82, 21.5 back, Eliminated
  5. Chicago Cubs – 62 – 84, 23 back, Eliminated

This has been the most exciting race in the National League all season long, if only because the three teams at the top absolutely LOATHE each other. (Particularly the Reds and Cardinals) There have been more changes in the standings over the last five months than there have been starting quarterbacks for the Buffalo Bills over the same time span – something like 57, last I checked. The two wild card spots are (I hope and pray) coming from this division, which will add an extreme level of animosity to the Wild Card round of the play-offs when it comes around. (We’ll deal with that in a second) This weekend, the Pirates get lucky with a home series against the basement-living Cubs, from whom they should at least take 2 out of 3 games. The Cardinals are similarly lucky with a series against the Mariners, although the starting pitching for St. Louis is starting to resemble the montage of the aftermath of the Lufthansa heist in Goodfellas, up to and including Chris Carpenter being found frozen solid in the back of a meat truck. The Reds, meanwhile, have a home series against the Brewers, who have all but thrown in the towel following the loss of resident steroids freak Ryan Braun. The results of this weekend should keep the standings relatively stable over the weekend, both for the division and for…

NL WILD CARD

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates, +2.5 games up
  2. St. Louis Cardinals, +2.5 games up
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Washington Nationals, 5.5 games back

Hey, wasn’t it only two weeks ago that the Reds et. all were 9 games up at least? Wasn’t this just supposed to be an NL Central dogfight to the very end? SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NATIONALS RIGHT NOW.

What happened was the Nationals starting pitching finally rounded into form, coupled with Jayson Werth remembering to hit like a competent baseball player and the return of phenom Bryce Harper from injury. While the Nats are pushing hard and the current Team Nobody Wants to Play in the NL, I still don’t think they can overcome the steadily inconsistent/consistent Reds or the 2013 version of We Sold Our Souls to the Ghost of Stan Musial St. Louis Cardinals, especially given that both the Reds and Redbirds have been playing something like .700 baseball of late and are starting to whip their postseason pitching into shape for their semi-inevitable Wild Card Play-In Game.

Then again, stranger things have happened. The memory of the 2011 collapse by both the Braves and Red Sox is fresh in the minds of every team in the standings, and given how streaky the Reds in particular can be (See? I told you I was objective!), there is definitely a chance for Washington to pull ahead. Check back next week following the week’s results of games.

Now, onto the AL.

AL EAST

Current Standings

  1. Boston Red Sox – 89 – 59, 99.9% postseason chance
  2. Tampa Bay Rays – 79 – 66, 8.5 games back, 45.8%
  3. New York Yankees – 79 – 68, 9.5 games back, 22.9%
  4. Baltimore Orioles – 77 – 69, 11 games back, 5.4%
  5. Toronto Blue Jays – 67 – 79, 21 games back, 0.1% (Cut to R.A. Dickey nodding and whispering “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”)

Both Eastern Divisions have been more or less settled at the top since about mid-August, though the Red Sox coming back into shape after a brutal New York series pushed them to the limits has helped. (Reason #43 Why Not to Piss Off Your Arch-Rivals By Deliberately Throwing at their Star-Crossed Third Baseman: It Might Just Come Back to Haunt You) The Yankees made a play of it on the suddenly-unthawed bat of Alfonso Soriano, who’s hitting like it’s 2005 all over again, but just have too much ground to gain on Boston at this point in time. The more interesting race is for the Wild Card, which will be determined in brutally succinct fashion over the next two weeks. However, I couldn’t let this segment pass without mentioning that this weekend’s series at Fenway between the Sox and Yanks could be the last time that Mariano Rivera, aka the Greatest Closer to Ever Play The Game, will pitch at Fenway. It’ll be interesting to see Red Sox Nation’s send-off of their longtime nemesis/man who helped contribute to the Greatest Comeback in Sports History in 2004, and that’s why it’s his picture that leads off this column. If you have to watch one series, watch Sox-Yanks.

AL CENTRAL

Current Standings

  1. Detroit Tigers – 84 – 62, 99.7% postseason chance
  2. Cleveland Indians – 78 – 68, 6 games back, 34.8% (That’s right, Indians fans, Cleveland has a better chance to make the postseason than the Yankees, which is why everyone reading this in New York just took a pull of cheap Scotch)
  3. Kansas City Royals – 77 – 69, 7 games back, 12.8%
  4. Minnesota Twins  – 63 – 82, 20.5 games back, Eliminated
  5. Chicago White Sox – 58 – 88, So Far Back, Eliminated

Just as the Tigers, behind the bat of Miguel Cabrera, have held onto the division lead for much of the summer, the order of the division has remained mostly stable. It wasn’t all that long ago that both the Indians and Royals were playing the best baseball of anyone in the nation. Alas, as with most .500 teams, everything leveled off. The consolation for the Indians is that both the Rays and Yanks look susceptible to collapse, but there may also be a chance within the division. The Tigers pitching has been stellar all season, despite an uncharacteristic “off-year” for Justin Verlander. (Saying that Verlander has had an off-year is true; it’s also true to say that an off-year for Verlander is something on the higher end of expectations for someone like, oh, I don’t know, Bronson Arroyo. Seriously, reverse their situations. Now drink heavily, Reds fans. Drink heavily.) Cabrera’s back/abdomen/body are starting to get achey after carrying the Tigers and Prince Fielder’s bulk on his shoulders all season long, and beyond Cabrera/Jackson/the Artist Formerly Known as Prince Fielder, Detroit’s offense has been particularly anemic, vacant, and abandoned of all hope. (Kind of like Detroit itself) If Kansas City should go into Detroit and take two out of three, it’ll at least make the race for the division title a little more interesting…a little….maybe….

Cut to Terry Francona nodding and whispering “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”

AL WEST

Current Standings

  1. Oakland Athletics – 85 – 61, 99.7%
  2. Texas Rangers – 81 – 64, 3.5 games back, 78.8%
  3. LA Angels – 70 – 76, 15 games back, 0.1% (Cut to Mike Trout sighing, hanging his head, tightening his cleats, and then going 6 for 4 with 7 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and three diving catches in a game LA loses 15-12. At least, that’s what its felt like all season.)
  4. Seattle Mariners – 65 – 81, 20 games back, 0.1% (Somehow. SOMEHOW.)
  5. Houston Astros – 5 – 157, all the games back, Triple-Eliminated. (Just kidding, Astros fans. Just kidding.)

The weekend series of Oakland at Texas is the one that will have the most to say about ultimate division standings, as the two teams have flopped back and forth several times over the past month. Should Texas sweep at home, the A’s are on shaky ground. If Oakland can somehow take two out of three against a team that plays better on the road than in their home ballpark, then the division should be set. In the meantime, Texas/Oakland are so far ahead of the mish-mash in the Wild Card standings that whoever loses the division can rest assured of a postseason slot. They’re both going to make it.

I’m sure it’s mathematically possible for Seattle and LA of Anaheim to make the play-offs, though the only scenarios I can imagine are if King Felix and/or Mike Trout turn into the robots from Pacific Rim crossed with Michael Myers and slaughter every team in their path, forcing their way into the playoffs along with any team left standing. If that scenario should happen, by the way, run. Run far away.

AL WILD CARD

  1. Texas Rangers, +2.5 games up
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. New York Yankees, 1 game back
  4. Cleveland Indians, 1.5 games back
  5. Kansas City Royals, 2.5 games back
  6. Baltimore Orioles, 2.5 games back

And here is where it gets interesting.

The hottest teams over the last 10 games, at this exact moment, are the Yankees, Indians, and (gulp) Royals. The not-so-hots are the leaders, with Texas limping along at a 2-8 pace.(Huh, I guess I should do my research more thoroughly before I write my columns. Oh well) Basically, everything I said about the winner of the AL West one paragraph ago should be tossed out the window. If Texas loses 2 out of 3 at home, it’s entirely conceivable that they could be passed this weekend by not just one but two teams in the chase.

Consider this:

  • The Rays get a gift-wrapped series against the Twins in Minnesota, though they’ve also limped along at 4-6, and the Twins may have shifted into “who’s gonna play here next year” mode. If they drop two of three, they’re in serious trouble.
  • The Yanks are playing three against the Red Sox, who will surpass the “eff-you” mode they’ve been in all year and go into “SOOPER-DOOPER-EFF-YOU” mode as they look to clinch the division. However, should they decide to go easy against their ARCH-RIVALS in their HOME BALLPARK, THEREBY ALLOWING SAID ARCH-RIVALS A BETTER CHANCE TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS (which is a thing that could happen?), the Yankees are right there in the thick of it.
  • As mentioned, the Royals go into Detroit, which will be the most effective way of finding out if this team is for real or not. The last time anyone said that, however, the Royals went 1-4 against the Tigers, bringing an end to their hot streak. But then again, it’s a long season, and Miguel Cabrera is (I know it’s hard to believe this) human, after all.
  • Meanwhile, the Indians get three cupcake games in the wasteland known as U.S. Cellular. If Boston beats the Yankees and/or Oakland smashes Texas, and Francona doesn’t manage his team into the ground, there is a chance for the Indians to surge into the second Wild Card slot this weekend.
  • Baltimore travels to Toronto this weekend, which hasn’t completely thrown in the towel as they push for some respectability this year after an off-season fleecing of the Miami Lampreys. (I refuse to call them Marlins until they prove a dedication to fielding anything other than a Triple-A Team) They’ll probably split the series, as they’ve done all year long. The Orioles were a nice story last year, and are still TECHNICALLY in the mix, but there’s too many other middling teams for them to pass, barring a 2007 Rockies-style surge that obliterates everything in their path.

Which is the beautiful thing about September, as well as the addition of the Wild Card. If Kansas City goes on a hot streak, for example, the longest play-off drought in professional sports (23 years!) will end, in the same season, no less, as the end of Pittsburgh’s 20-year stretch of losing. Or the Indians could get hot and find new ways to break hearts in the Cleve! Or the Nationals could take advantage of a team with streaky hitting and questionable offensive output and pass THEM in the Wild Card standings…

Forget I said that entirely. We’ll check back in in one week and see where we stand.

(See? I CAN be objective!)

(Sidenote #1: As I publish this, I find that the Indians won today, 3-1, against the White Sox. Every game counts. Every. Game.)

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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