The calendar has turned. The evenings are starting to become a bit cooler, leaves are clinging to the last vestiges of green, and school is back in session. It’s also the last breath of the regular baseball season before jumping into the October playoff frenzy. There are multiple reasons as to why we’re entering my favorite time of the year, and the fact that the World Series is right around the corner plays no small part in this feeling.
For those who followed along last year, you might remember my frenetic updates of the playoff races in MLB. I’ll be doing that again this year, updating every Thursday as to:
- where the races are standing
- who’s still in the hunt
- who’s dropping out
- who’s having the biggest month
- and which series over the weekend will be the most interesting/important to watch
Old Friends in Familiar Faces
That Jon Lester trade sure seemed like a good thing back in July. Now, however, the Oakland A’s have decidedly stumbled, missing Yoenis Cespedes, one of their most consistent offensive threats (who has been doing his thing in Boston, meanwhile). To remedy this, Billy Beane has taken a postseason flyer on White Sox slugger Adam Dunn, he of the walk/strikeout/home-run outcome that’s all but guaranteed when you pitch to him. A modern day Dave Kingman, Dunn has never played in the postseason, but should have a chance to this October. Indeed, he’s already homered twice since being traded, and could theoretically be the last boost of offense the A’s need to slide past the Angels and win their division. Alas, division titles aren’t won on paper — there’s a lot of baseball left to be played.
New Friends Boosting Their Team
The Baltimore Orioles are all but running away with the AL East, as I’ll examine shortly. This is in no small part thanks to the efforts of Nelson Cruz, who is still leading the league in home runs despite having spent a good amount of time on the disabled list. His 36 homers have come at a relative bargain price, and have helped the O’s build a 9.5 game lead in the division. Buck Showalter has his team playing as well as anybody in the game, and Baltimore will certainly not be a pushover come October.
State of the Races
Here, I’ll break down the division leaders, their won-loss records, their lead in the division, and their respective playoff percentages (how likely it is that they’ll make the postseason). In weeks to come, I’ll add in elimination numbers, although as of yet, only the poor Rangers have been kicked out of the division race – though their dessicated corpse still technically remains alive in the wild card hunt. Having said that, I’ll only be taking a look at teams that pose a serious threat to make the postseason. All apologies to fans of Texas, Houston, Minnesota, Chicago (Sox and Cubs), Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Colorado, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York (the Mets, anyway), San Diego (HODOR), Miami, and (big gulp) Cincinnati. My criteria at the moment is that you must be at least within five games of either your division lead or one of the two Wild Card slots. If you can’t manage that, you won’t be here – I have certain self-imposed column limits, after all!
Note: All standings and playoff percentages are current as of last night’s games. You’re welcome.
- Baltimore Orioles: 81-57, 99.6% playoff percentage
- New York Yankees: 71-66, 9.5 games back, 2.7%
As you can see, this race is all but over. The Yankees are struggling to stay healthy and to stay above water. This division is all but conceded to the Orioles, who should finish somewhere in the vicinity of 92 wins. Flap on, birds.
- Kansas City Royals: 77-61, 79.3%
- Detroit Tigers, 76-63, 1.5 games back, 47.9%
- Cleveland Indians, 71-66, 5.5 games back, 8.9%
At the opposite end of the spectrum, here we have the closest and most exciting division race. On one hand, you have the Tigers, winners of three straight Central Titles, limping towards the finish line. On the other hand, you have the Royals, victims of the longest playoff drought in American sports — their last postseason appearance was in 1985, when they won the World Series. That 29-year drought may yet come to an end if they can hold off Detroit, or eke out one of the two Wild Card slots.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 83-55, 99.6%
- Oakland A’s: 79-56, 4.5 games back, 98.0%
- Seattle Mariners: 75-63, 8 games back, 60.9%
The Angels have stormed ahead of the A’s, although given Garrett Richards’ injury, their rotation is anything but guaranteed. The A’s would love nothing better than to catch them and avoid having to play a one-game crapshoot against the respective ace of either Detroit or Seattle, where a certain Cy Young candidate is sure to make things interesting.
AL Wild Card
- Oakland A’s – +3 games up
- Detroit Tigers – even
- Seattle Mariners – .5 games back
- Cleveland Indians – 4 games back
- New York Yankees – 4 games back
Here’s where it gets interesting. Whichever team blinks and loses out on the immediate AL West slot will probably get the first Wild Card booking. The second slot is tightly contested, with the Tigers and Mariners scrapping it out. Then there’s the tortured Cleveland fanbase, which would love nothing more than to grab another chance at playoff relevancy. Lastly, you have the New York Yankees, in the middle of the long, slow goodbye to Derek Jeter, who would love nothing more than to send their beloved captain out with one last shot at a World Series title. To do so, though, they’ve got a lot of ground to make up.
- Washington Nationals: 79-59, 99.8%
- Atlanta Braves: 73-67, 7 games back, 44.0%
Early favorites to win the division, the Braves have stumbled for much of the year, having lost their best starter to dreaded Tommy John surgery before the year even began. With no one to really oppose them, the Nationals have entered into the argument for best team in the Senior Circuit, and are already taking hypothetical stabs at their postseason rotation. This race, and the AL East, are probably not going to be revisited unless either the O’s or the Nats collapse in the most dramatic way possible.
- St. Louis Cardinals: 76-63, 86.1%
- Milwaukee Brewers: 73-66, 3 games back, 52.2%
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 71-68, 5 games back, 26.1%
You had one job, Brewers. One job: win the division and let the Cardinals duke it out with everyone else. Seriously, it wasn’t hard. Just beat the damn Redbirds. (Editor’s Note: Don’t remind me. I’m proofreading this after ANOTHER loss by the Brew Crew. Hence this glass of whiskey. It’s not enough to salve the pain. Sincerely, the resident Brewers fan. — -J.)
This is a division that for years has been a perpetual dogfight, and this year has been no different. Hell, the Pirates could theoretically overtake everyone and win it all. However, the Cards are getting back both their All-World catcher, Yadier Molina, and pitcher Michael Wacha this month. That alone might be enough to solidify their latest division title. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go drink heavily. (Editor’s Note: Right there with you. — -J.)
Clayton Kershaw, Left Arm of GodLos Angeles Dodgers: 78-62, 98.4%
- San Francisco Giants: 76-64, 2 games back, 90.3%
If the Dodgers win their division, it will be because of Clayton Kershaw, who would pitch every day if his arm wouldn’t fall off. This is another close division race, and the rest of the Dodgers look anything but infallible. If the Giants can pull themselves together, they can make a run and steal the division right out from under LA’s feet. Now that’s how you make exciting rivalry games count in September.
NL Wild Card
- San Francisco – +2.5 games up
- Milwaukee – even
- Atlanta – 0,5 games back
- Pittsburgh – 2 games back
(Technically, the Marlins are 5.5 games back, but they fall outside of my criteria of being 5 games within either a division or wild card lead. Just know that they exist, that they are thoroughly mediocre, and that Giancarlo Stanton is the only serious candidate to take the MVP from Kershaw.)
As with the Junior Circuit, it’s entirely possible that whichever teams lose in the fight for the Central and West titles will automatically fall into the Wild Card slots, although this is where the Braves are still making noise. With Milwaukee plummeting in the standings like a stone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh storm back in. Think about that – both the Royals and Pirates could make the postseason this year. If anyone said that three years ago, I’d have laughed them right out of this website. Yay parity!
Big League Chew of the Week Award – J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Tuesday night, J.D. Martinez, rookie sensation, hit the game winning three-run homer to beat the Indians 4-2 on Tuesday night. With Miguel Cabrera’s power having dissipated slightly this season (only 19 homers so far, less than half of last year’s total of 44), both J.D. and Victor Martinez have stepped up to fill the Prince Fielder-sized void in the line-up. Boasting a slash line of .311/.352/.559, J.D. has performed admirably. The real Tigers player to watch, though, is Justin Verlander: will the former ace recover his magic in time for the postseason? Or have age, innings, and a drop in velocity done away with the one-time Greatest Pitcher on Earth?
Series to Watch This Weekend
3) Giants at Tigers — A rematch of the 2012 World Series, we now see both teams fighting for their playoff lives. A Saturday afternoon matchup between Madison Bumgarner and David Price ought to be particularly spectacular.
2) Royals at Yankees — Who knew that this would ever be compelling? The Royals will fight to maintain/retain their division lead against the hollow shell that once was the mighty Yankees. Royals ace James Shield, one of three prominent free agent pitchers this offseason, will toe the rubber on Friday night against
some bum the Yanks pull in from Grey’s Papaya whomever the Yanks decide is ready/able to pitch at that time. (Their rotation has been somewhat less than resplendent all season long – at one point, they were without all five of their original starting rotation. Such bad luck is typically reserved for the Browns Rangers.)
1) Cardinals at Brewers — It’s too early to make hyperbolic claims like “the division could be decided on this weekend if the Brewers don’t show up,” but… the division could be decided on this weekend if the Brewers don’t show up. I’m just saying. (Editor’s Note: And I’m just drinking. Heavily. — -J.)
It’s a whole new month, everyone. Gear up for the playoffs.