Friday, September 9, 2016

MLB: Down the Stretch

It's September, and that means MLB pennant races. Although that's sort of an outdated phrase, since winning the pennant requires winning at least two post-season series. September these days is about the race to the wild card and division titles.
With around 20 games left, half the divisions are already just about wrapped up. In the AL West, the Texas Rangers are up by 8.5 games over the Houston Astros, and in the NL East the Nationals have 8 games on the New York Mets. Then there's the NL Central, where the Chicago Cubs have a 16 (!) game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals. It will take a collapse of epic proportions over the last few weeks for any of those teams to lose the division.

The AL Central and NL West aren't totally out of reach yet, but it's getting close. Cleveland leads Detroit by 6 games, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have 5 games on the San Francisco Giants. All those teams play one another several times down the stretch, so it's possible a miracle could happen. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

The real race to watch is in the AL East, where Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore are all clustered together at the top. There's a bunch of games left between those three teams, so it could go to any of them. I still think Toronto has the best chance, like I said back in May, but that's certainly nothing more than a guess.

Then we have the wild card races. I don't like the single-game wild card playoff much, since any one game in baseball doesn't tell you a whole lot about which team is better - it's more about which side has one or two players get hot that night. But I do love the race to those wild card spots at the end of the regular season. A whole lot of fans can get excited about their team's chances even if they're way behind in the divisional races. It's good for the game, even if someone does have to go home after just one game in the post-season.

If I had to guess right now, I'd say that Boston and Detroit will get the AL spots, and St. Louis and New York in the NL. But there are several other teams in each league that have good shots at those spots. If we're lucky, maybe the races will be extremely close and we'll get a game 163 or two. It'll be fun to see how it all works out down the stretch.

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