As we get entrenched in September baseball, we’ve narrowed it down to just a few teams that still harbor rational playoff hopes. In the American League we have Boston, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Chicago and Anaheim. Unless something crazy happens, Boston, Tampa and Anaheim are in and it’s a playoff for the Central division crown between Chicago and Minnesota to determine the fourth team. Either way we have two teams returning from last season’s October and two new entrants.
Over in the National League things are a bit murkier. The Cubs are nearly a lock and right now Milwaukee looks solidly in as well, though their lead on the Wild Card isn’t as sacrosanct as Boston’s is in the junior circuit. Arizona and Los Angeles are fighting it out for the West division and that’s a winner take all prize because the loser has no chance at sneaking in with the Wild Card. Between New York and Philadelphia in the East, there’s a slim, but not insignicant chance that both could get in if they rattle off some wins and Milwaukee falters. Six teams are still in it, three of whom joined us for postseason play last year.
Beyond that, what is still very much in the air are the playoff seedings. Back to the American League, the winner between the Twins and White Sox is likely to end up with the third seed, and because of the rule that the Wild Card team cannot play a team in its own division in the first round, Anaheim’s final record doesn’t matter at all (opponent-wise) provided they finish ahead of the Central champ. Instead, it all comes down to whether the Rays can hold off the Red Sox for the Eastern lead. If so, regardless of the overall record (again, provided it’s better than MIN/CHA) they’ll face the Central winner and Anaheim and Boston will face off. If instead Boston grabs the division lead then the Rays and Angels will square off.
In the National League, the Cubs are almost certain to nab the top overall seed and most likely the Brewers are going to nab the Wild Card, which creates the same conflict as in the American League and means the Cubs are off to face the NL West winner (which is actually better for them) while the Brewers will get the NL East champ. Of course, if Milwaukee stumbles and the Wild Card comes out of the East, then that team will head to Chicago and the NL East and West winners face off.
It’s worth pointing out that we’re going to be getting at least three new teams in the playoffs for this year which is a healthy turnover. For those teams that are now comfortably (relatively, no fan is likely entirely comfortable until their team has clinched) in the playoffs, these are the races worth following. As we all know, anything can happen in the playoffs and even more so, anything can happen in a best-of-five series.
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