|Playoff Races Heating up||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 22, 2011
For a while it looked like this might be one of the most boring Septembers in baseball's recent history. The division titles were pretty much all wrapped up when the calendar changed moved past August, and the Wild Card leaders seemed fairly secure at that same date. Luckily, thanks to late-season charges by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, there has been a reason to turn on the television, or at least check the standings in the morning.
In fact it's turned into a pretty good September as every team over .500 is still at least mathematically either locked into a playoff spot or still in a race with six days left in the regular season. And while a couple of those teams can dream of stealing a division title, something mathematically still possible, the truth is pretty much all of those teams are chasing the Wild Card-leading Boston Red Sox or Atlanta Braves for a chance to visit the playoffs.
The team on the outside is last year's champion Giants, who finished last night 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta and two games behind the Cardinals for the last spot in the NL and have a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers followed by a tough three game set against Arizona before finishing the season at home against Colorado.
The Cardinals, a mere 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta, will be facing off against the soft underbelly of the NL with easy matchups at home against the Mets (1 game) and a trio against the Cubs before getting a final three game set at Houston to wrap up the season. If anyone has the schedule to make up games against the Wild Card leader it is the Cards.
For the Wild Card leading Braves it's a mixed blessing. The remaining six games feature three in Washington against the middling Nationals, but they wrap up at home with a three game set against the Phillies.
There are a couple of positives going into that last series - one, that the series is at home which should limit the power of the Phillies and two, that the Phillies will be resting regulars and setting up their playoff pitching so they shouldn't have to face more than five innings against any of the top Philly pitchers.
With the Cards having such a soft schedule, it will be up to Atlanta to secure their spot in the playoffs, as they certainly can't count on the Cardinals opposition to keep the Redbirds in check.
In the AL the Angels and Rays find themselves 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, and while the Angels could theoretically catch the Rangers for the division title, the 4 1/2 games they find themselves back (at the moment of this writing) makes that unlikely. Thus they'll probably find themselves in a closer race with the Red Sox whose September swoon has suddenly left them vulnerable.
For the Angels after the finale today against the Blue Jays on road, they'll have six at home against Oakland, and be forced to finish against the Rangers, the team they'd be chasing for that same division title. Expect few favors there unless the Rangers clinch that division earlier in the week and start setting up for the playoffs.
The Rays face off against formidable foes too -- four games against the Yankees (one on the road) and three more against Toronto, which should make for a rough stretch run. The good news for the Rays is that the Yankees have already clinched and have pretty much locked up home field advantage for the AL playoffs and should be more interested in getting ready for those playoffs than putting a full court press on against the Tampa nine.
The Wild Card-leading Red Sox have already had a brutal September dropping 16 of 21, including losing their last five, and are in danger of replacing the New York Mets as the posterboys for late season collapses. They'll finish the rest of the season on the road with tough matchups including three against the Yankees and three against the Orioles.
And just to add a bit of pressure for Red Sox Nation, they'll get to watch today, while the Rays and Angels both play and have a chance to make up more ground.
This race will make for a compelling week of baseball, one that will overshadow a good race in the NL, but one which certainly will lack the drama and competitive balance of the AL run down the stretch.