A September to Remember

And down the stretch they come…the MLB postseason race is looking like an old-fashioned horse race.

And it’s exactly what the MLB front office wanted when they added an extra wild card team, creating the one-game showdown known as the “Wild Card Showdown.”

For those diehard baseball (or those not that interested, yet, in football) fans, it doesn’t get any better than this. Especially with four out of the six division races going to go down to the wire; and that doesn’t even include the race for the two spots for the wild cards.

As of Monday evening, there are seven contending teams that are only separated by six and a half games in the National League. In the American League, six teams are vying for two wild card spots separated by six games or less. With about nine games left in the season, anything can happen.

National League

The Washington Nationals clinched their first ever playoff berth (as the Nationals) over the weekend, likely taking the NL East division title. The Reds and Giants both clinched their divisions as well.

Ironically, the two teams (Atlanta and St. Louis) that were battling until the last day of the season for the NL wild card last season are leading the wild card race this season. Sitting behind the two leaders are: Los Angeles (3 GB), Milwaukee (3 GB), Arizona (4.5 GB), Philadelphia (5 GB) and Pittsburgh (6.5 GB).

It’s hard not to go with Atlanta and St. Louis to finish out, especially with their tremendous pitching staffs and clutch hitters. But then there are also squads like Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Philadelphia that may surprise people. I’m already going to count out Arizona and Pittsburgh.

The Dodgers could be a very dangerous team if they want to be. With hitters like Kemp, Ramirez, Gonzalez and Ethier, the Dodgers can hit with the best of them. Milwaukee, well let’s just say that Ryan Braun may need some more help in order to get the Brewers into the playoffs this time around, especially without Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke. And just when you think the Phillies “dynasty” is over (trading multiple players away at the deadline), they come back from the dead. May I remind you that Philly still has three of MLB’s top pitchers in Halladay, Lee and Hamels. If the Phillies can get Utley, Howard and Rollins back to top form, they have a good shot of erasing a five-game deficit.

Wild Card Showdown:  Atlanta vs St. Louis (although I’d prefer to see the Braves vs the Dodgers)

American League

None of the three divisions have been clinched yet in the AL, as each race is separated by less than four games. The Yankees (East), Chicago White Sox (Central) and Texas (West) are holding down their respective divisions momentarily.

Just as the NL wild card race went down to the wire last season, the AL wild card was also won on the last day of the season. Everyone remembers the colossal fall of the Red Sox last year, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to make their third ever appearance in the postseason.

Well, this year the Red Sox are saving themselves the repeat embarrassment, eliminating themselves weeks ago. Replacing the Red Sox as the East representative in the wild card race are the surprising Baltimore Orioles, or as I call them, “The Fighthin’ Showalters.” Baltimore is currently only a half game back in the AL East race and is holding the top wild card spot in front of another surprise team, the Oakland A’s. Following the two wild card leaders are: Los Angeles Angels (2.5 GB), Tampa (3.5 GB) and Detroit (6 GB).

The Fighthin’ Showalters can’t seem to lose an extra-inning game and are playing stellar baseball with guys like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. I don’t see the O’s missing the postseason this year, actually, I see them taking the division over the Yankees by the slightest margin. This will likely leave the “Evil Empire” as a wild card.

Who will the Yankees be playing in the Wild Card Showdown on Oct. 5?  My answer to that is…the Los Angeles Angels. There’s way too much talent on the Angels for them to miss out on the postseason, especially with their remaining schedule (including six games against Seattle and three at Texas). On the other hand, the A’s will see the Rangers seven times in the last week, which will make it a difficult task to reach the postseason.

As for the Rays and Tigers: well, Rays fans, I don’t see your season extending into October as it did last year. For the Tigers, though, I personally like your chances for a division title. I told people at the All-Star break that I didn’t think the White Sox would hold on to the division and, sure enough, we saw parts of that unravel this weekend. The Tigers could gain some valuable ground with a split over Minnesota. But when it comes down to it, the Tigers are more postseason-ready and have the more manageable schedule.

AL Wild Card Showdown: NY Yankees vs LA Angels (would prefer not to see the Yankees in the postseason, but realistically its likely to happen)

Final Thoughts…

It’s crazy to imagine that the Baltimore-Washington D.C area could have TWO playoff teams. The same could be said for the Los Angeles area as well. If you know anything about playoff baseball, it’s all about who’s the hottest team entering the postseason as we saw last season with the streaky St. Louis Cardinals capturing the World Series as the wild card.

Even with the NFL season underway, my attention in the month of October will likely go to playoff baseball, especially with my fantasy football teams not looking so hot. Friday, Oct. 5 cannot come soon enough.

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