This is going to be one epic end to the Major League Baseball regular season. Both the National and American leagues should see photo finishes in multiple division and each respective wild card race. As anticipated, the implementation of the second wild card has paid dividends in terms of overall excitement for the sport. In its first year, it has already created tense races and a sense of urgency among some of baseball’s elite. I think this year will win over many naysayers for this two-wildcard system as it gives perennial underdogs a chance and pressures teams with slim division leads for the privilege of avoiding a one-game playoff.
The AL East race is one that many thought would be settled at this point, yet Buck Showalter and his scrappy Orioles are a mere one game behind the Yankees after New York faltered in August and lost a ten game lead. Baltimore’s combination of solid all-around pitching and timely hitting has made them an interesting team all year. Even if they miss out on the division, look for them to compete in the wild card game and give their opponent all they can handle. That opponent could be another surprise team this year in the Oakland A’s. In a formula similar to Baltimore’s, Oakland has pieced together an impressive pitching staff and has received clutch hitting from the likes of Josh Reddick and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. Barring the A’s unlikely takeover of the Texas Rangers for the AL West crown, Oakland should be one of the teams in that fierce wild card game for a chance to play in the ALDS.
The Chicago White Sox are currently clinging to a slim two game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the seemingly always-exciting AL Central. Both teams have powerful offenses but this finish should come down to starting pitching. Even though Detroit has perhaps the best pitcher in the league on their side in Justin Verlander, Chicago has the better all-around staff led by Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd. Therefore, I’d say Chicago will end up winning this closely contested division. Rounding out the American League, I believe the Yankees will indeed win the East (albeit narrowly) and Texas will keep their crown in the West. Oakland and Baltimore will play in the wild card game, one that should entice fans league-wide.
The National League division races are all but settled, but the wild card race is the hottest we’ve seen in years. First off, let me congratulate the Washington Nationals as they have just brought back postseason baseball to DC for the first time in 79 years. That is pretty impressive and this team is one of baseballs many feel-good stories this year. Five teams are realistically in the hunt for two wild card spots. Atlanta is safely entrenched as one of those teams, but the other spot is most certainly in play. The Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies are all in the hunt with St. Louis holding a 2.5 game lead with 13 games left to play. The Phillies are an incredible story and while their playoff chances remain slim, it is nothing short of amazing they are still in contention after their abysmal start and injury problems. If you also eliminate Los Angeles from the list due to their free fall in the standings, Milwaukee presents the most serious threat to unseat the Cardinals for that elusive second wild card berth. With relatively even schedule strengths, I’m predicting the Cardinals will maintain this spot and will play the Braves for the chance to play the presumptive number one seeded Cincinnati Reds. If you are a baseball fan in any capacity, it’s hard not to be excited (or anxious) about the next two weeks.