College football starts next week, until then let us take a look at the Major League Baseball playoff races as the season winds down.
American League: In the AL East the New York Yankees have been on top of the division since mid-June but their pitching has taken a hit lately with several starters going down due to injury. The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now and the upstart Baltimore Orioles are slowly falling off pace. I think Derek Jeter and the Yankees will hold on to the top spot despite the ridiculous insinuation by Skip Bayless that he is using performance enhancing drugs.
Before the season everyone thought the Detroit Tigers would run away with the AL Central ( see here for proof ). Now, on August 24th, the Tigers are fighting tooth and nail 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox. I am a huge White Sox fan and I’m originally from Chicago, but it scares me when they get swept by Kansas City and then turn right around and sweep the New York Yankees. If the Tigers powerful lineup can’t support Justin Verlander and the rest of their staff, Detroit may not have enough in the tank to make the charge needed to overtake the White Sox, they may not even make the playoffs as a wild card due to the great play by Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore.
The American League West was another easy one to pick preseason but only half of the expected teams are in the running. The LA Angels made a huge splash in free agency landing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson giving them and the Texas Rangers the nod as division and wild card teams. Pujols got off to a very slow start and the Oakland Athletics have been playing consistent baseball all year, currently putting the Angels 8.5 games out of first. Much like the Tigers, the Angels are in danger of totally missing the playoffs as the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers are running away with the division.
Prediction: In the end I think our current division leaders hold on to make the playoffs: the Yankees in the East, the White Sox in the Central, and the Rangers in the West. The wildcard spots are a little harder to figure out, although it looks like Tampa Bay and Detroit are playing the best late-season baseball.
National League: The East division has been fun to watch this year. The Miami Marlins landed a lot of star power in the offseason but they haven’t produced. The New York Mets had a huge surprise in R.A. Dickeys performance this season but have not had the rest of their team back him up. Another team with great pitchers is the Philadelphia Phillies. Their team has struggled all year and they will not finish above .500. The division race has boiled down to the team that had the worst meltdown late season last year, the Atlanta Braves, and the young team that has given up the fewest runs in the major leagues, the Washington Nationals. At this point in time the Nationals hold a 6.5 game lead and are showing no signs of slowing down. Even with the talk of holding staff ace Stephen Strasburg out several starts to rest him for the playoffs shouldn’t give the Braves enough rope to get back into the race.
The team that no one talks about is the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have been battling for the division lead since the season started and have so far outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals and the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. With their solid pitching staff and smart bats, the Reds have nothing to worry about holding a 7 game lead.
The National League West is still up for grabs. Obviously the Rockies are horrible and the San Diego Padres are too young (even though they might compete in 2-3 years). Arizona is a team that is where the Padres want to be next year or the year after, just a hair over .500 and not too far out of the race for the West. I’m sure the fact that former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Diamondbacks, Tom Garfinkel, is now the president and C.O.O. of the Padres has something to do with it. This race boils down to 2 rivals: the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams have been plagued by off field problems; the Giants with their star Melky Cabrera’s steroid suspension and the Dodgers with their star Matt Kemps injury. Both teams are playing well on the road and that is what is keeping them alive right now.
Prediction: Washington and Cincinnati are too young and too strong to lose their leads and will take their divisions, the East and Central respectively. The Giants just swept the Dodgers, but I think LA will make a push as we enter September and take the West in a close race. The wild cards will come down to Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves and potentially the loser in the NL West race.
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