by Patrick Gustavson
With just under two weeks remaining in the hunt for the MLB Playoffs, over the half the league remains within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Though the Nationals are the only team to have clinched, it appears the division races are all but wrapped up, with only two divisions having a race within three games. The Indians, with the help of an American League record 22 game winning streak, appear to have a handle on the AL Central. Despite recent struggles, both the Dodgers and Astros have a big enough lead to where it seems they will win their respective divisions out west.
The tightest division race all season long has been the AL East. As of Thursday, Sept. 14, the Red Sox hold a three-game lead over the Yankees. While this seems like a manageable gap, the Yankees have been unable to capitalize on Red Sox losses, and have been chasing them since mid-June. Barring a late-season collapse, it appears Boston, carried by spectacular pitching, will take the AL East for the second year in a row.
The final remaining division race is the NL Central, currently paced by the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. However, their lead is only three games over the Brewers and Cardinals. The Brewers were in control throughout the first half, but have struggled to maintain their surprising level of play, but are still with a shot at making the postseason. They received a devastating blow, losing break-out starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson for the season. This will surely affect their aspirations.
Though in contention, this season could be viewed as a disappointment for the Cardinals. Injuries to key pitchers Adam Wainwright and Trevor Rosenthal, as well as major regression from former blossoming stars Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz, have left them on the outside looking in.
This division is more so up for grabs than the AL East. The Cubs play both the Brewers and Cardinals four times before season’s end, leaving the door wide open for a new king in the NL Central.
If either team is unable to capture the Central crown, they still have a shot at the second wild card. It seemed at one point that both wild cards had already been locked up. The Diamondbacks are currently five games in the good for the first spot, so it appears they will host the wild card game.
The Rockies still cling to the second spot. Once leading by five games, in July, their lead is now down to two and a half games. The team has relied on multiple young pitchers this year, such as Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. Innings limits are likely to affect the usage of these young players the rest of the way, so veterans Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson will be relied on to carry the load. If the rotation can keep it together, they could be heading back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
The AL wild card race remains the most compelling, with eight teams in contention for just two spots. The Yankees currently have a three-game cushion for the first spot, and are playing well, having gone 10-3 since being swept by the Indians. It would be a surprise to see them missed the postseason altogether.
However, all bets are off as to who captures the coveted second wild card. The Twins are currently in the driver’s seat, with a three-game lead over the Angels. These two teams have been perhaps the most surprising in the league, hardly expected to finish over .500. The Twins have been able to maintain their quality of play, despite losing all-star third baseman Miguel Sano, as well as trading starting pitcher Jaime Garcia and closer Brandon Kintzler at the July 31 trade deadline. The Angels should be commended for staying in the race while playing without superstar outfielder Mike Trout. It was the play of unsung heroes such as Andrelton Simmons and Blake Parker, that have kept them in the race. Now, with Trout back, the team can capitalize and snag a postseason berth.
It’s fair to say the next three teams in the hunt have all underachieved. The Mariners, under the guidance of second year General Manager Jerry DiPoto, made multiple acquisitions during the offseason, and it appeared this year would be their chance to break through. However, injuries have ravaged their starting rotation, being without their three best pitchers for portions of the season.
After a hideous start, the Royals returned to prominence just before the all-star break. They’ve cooled off a bit since then, and with five of their best players heading into free agency following the season, this is likely their last chance to contend.
The Rangers have been the biggest disappointment in the league. Massive let downs from typically reliable position players, and an unstable back end of the bullpen, have put them in position to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Though many playoffs spots are locked in, there are plenty of interesting races remaining, making for an intriguing final two weeks.