Friday, September 20, 2013

AL/NL Wild Card Race

AL/NL Wild Card Race Recap
By Scott Eastment (@SportsGeek02)
            As the dog days of summer give way to crisp, cool fall days, the hunt for October and the Major League Baseball playoffs has officially begun. During a 162 game season, it is rather easy for teams and their fans to get lost in the monotony and lose track of where they stand within their division. Having said that, when mid-September rolls around, each and every team and their fan base within 5 or 6 games of the second wild card spot suddenly springs to life as a sense of urgency swoops over them. The addition of 2 extra playoff spots by Bud Selig was a genius idea as it has brought several extra teams each season into the hunt for October. As usual, both the American League and National League currently have races that will likely come down to the wire. Along with this come many intriguing story lines for several fan bases. Here is a look at the current Wild Card picture in both the AL and NL as of September 19th, courtesy of CBSSports.com:


    AMERICAN LEAGUE
Team                   Wins       Losses      Pct.     GB
Tampa Bay             83            69          .546        --
Texas                      83            69          .546       --
Cleveland                83            70          .542      0.5
Baltimore                81            71          .533      2.0
Kansas City            80            72          .526      3.0
N.Y. Yankees         80            73          .523      3.5

    NATIONAL LEAGUE
Team                  Wins        Losses       Pct.      GB
Pittsburgh               88              65          .575        --
Cincinnati               87              66          .569         --
Washington            82              71          .536         5

The American League is certainly a much more intriguing race to the finish, with more big name teams in the mix, each of which has a realistic chance of playing ball into late October. This part of the season is what makes baseball so great, as every single pitch has such an enhanced meaning as opposed to the previous 150 games in the eyes of most fans. With the recent addition of an extra Wild Card team in each league, Commissioner Bud Selig has increased the buzz in several extra cities around the country as it means their teams still have a chance to play meaningful games in October. While the National League appears to simply be a jockeying for position party among the Central teams, the American League legitimately has 6 teams competing for two spots.

Getting down to brass tax, it is only logical to count out the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. With 12 games left, the Royals are 3 games back and must play 5 consecutive games against the Indians and Rangers, both of which are ahead of them in the standings. These games will undoubtedly determine the Royals fate, and if they are still around after they have to travel to Seattle and Chicago for their final 7 games. The Yankees have only 12 games to make up their 3.5 game deficit, and in that time they must play 3 against rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto, as well as 3 against the Giants and Astros. While this schedule is not particularly daunting, once again the 3 games against their division rival will likely determine the fate of the Bronx Bombers.

Next, the Baltimore Orioles have probably the most intriguing finish to the season of any AL contender, as 9 of their final 12 games come against AL teams currently in the playoffs. With 6 against the Red Sox and 3 each against the Rays and Blue Jays, the biggest question for Baltimore will be whether or not the Red Sox look to rest some of their starters, having clinched the AL East last night. The Blue Jays are seemingly mailing it in, but the games still must be played and it looks like it might take a bit of luck for the Fighting Showalters to make up their 2 game deficit. The Cleveland Indians are sitting pretty, only a half-game out of the final spot and with what appears to be smooth sailing for their final 12 games. After 2 in Kansas City, the Terry Franconia-led Indians have their final 10 games against sub-.500 teams (Astros, White Sox, and Twins), giving them the easiest schedule by far. 

The Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays currently hold the final 2 spots, and intriguingly will be playing each other in a 3 game series starting tonight. Both teams have more than half of their remaining games against playoff contending opponents, which leads me to believe only one of the two will be in the playoffs when the music stops. Regardless of what happens, this next two weeks will be action packed and riveting television for even the casual baseball fan, which is exactly what Bud Selig wants.

Currently, the National League appears to be all but wrapped up, with the surging Nationals simply having dug themselves way too big of a hole to catch up with either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Although having enjoyed a remarkable run against the dregs of the National League East over the past few weeks, the Nationals inability to sweep the Atlanta Braves this week, coupled with the Cincinnati Reds manhandling of the Houston Astros has left the ‘World Series or Bust” team 5 games out with only 11 to play. This brings up major questions in the District as GM Mike Rizzo has many decisions to make heading into the off-season. Who will he get to replace manager Davey Johnson? Was the late-season run a fluke, or was the rest of the season the flukish part? What is up with Steven Strasburg’s right arm? What do you say to Bryce Harper as he prepares for his second full season? Was Denard Span’s late season hitting streak really who he is or is he more of the man we saw in the first 75% of the season? These questions and more will haunt the Nationals front office as they watch this year’s postseason.

All in all, it’s been another year of controversy and accusations for Major League Baseball with steroid suspensions popping up left and right and the never-ending A-Rod story trudging along. Luckily, it is almost October, the time when baseball makes a name for itself with its unrivaled drama and incredible endings. Keep an eye on that AL Wild Card Race, it could be one for the ages, and do not count out the Washington Nationals just yet! See you in October. 

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