There was a time, not long before the All-Star game, when it looked like all three divisions and the wild card in the American League were sewn up. Two weeks ago, the Braves had opened up a big lead in the NL East and the Padres were starting to pull away from the field in the West.
As of tonight, with the exception of the Rangers, every race is hotly contested. Tampa Bay opened the day a half game behind New York in the AL East, with the PawSox still lurking. Minnesota has regained a lead over the White Sox, and while the Twins will hit circles around the White Sox, Chicago’s pitching could keep them in the race to the last day. The East has a handle on the Wild Card race, but after a win tonight, Boston’s reserves sit 3 1/2 games behind the Rays. Dustin Pedroia and Mike Cameron probably can’t make up 3 1/2 games, but they can make things interesting.
In the NL, Philly trails Atlanta by 2 1/2 games, which is more damning than it may seem at this point in the season, but with Oswalt in the rotation and Utley and Howard on the mend, the Phillies have to be the better team, right? If the Phillies can use off days in September to limit Kyle Kendrick’s exposure as much as possible, a Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels/Blanton rotation looks better to me than Hudson/Hanson/Jurrjens/Lowe, and we know the Phillies will hit more. This one’s going down to the wire.
St. Louis’s sweep of the Reds this week put a damper on the Reds’ postseason aspirations, but the Reds are still just one game behind and have a deeper lineup and a deeper rotation than the Cards. Even if the Cards do win every game Carpenter or Wainwright starts for the rest of the season, they’ll need a few more wins from the likes of Jaime Garcia (who’s been fantastic, but hasn’t seen a major league September) and Jake Westbrook to hold off the Reds (who need a little help from their own rookie starters, including Aroldis Chapman).
The NL West is still wide open, if only because the fourth-best team in the division has the lead at the moment. Colorado, which seems to have the most balanced offense and defense in the division, is probably done at seven games back, but if any team can make a run, it’s these guys, who clinched playoff spots late in ’07 and ’09. The Dodgers, at 7.5 back, look just as dead, but their offense is at least as potent as the Rockies’. San Francisco is running on pure defense and the hope that Buster Posey develops quickly and Pablo Sandoval finds last year’s magic. The Padres, meanwhile, need only to continue the unlikely run they’ve been on all season, somehow outscoring their opponents by 101 runs and winning 19 more games than they’ve lost.
The NL Wild Card may be the best race of all, with Cincinnati and Philadelphia just a half game behind San Francisco, all those teams within striking distance in their own divisions, and Colorado and Los Angeles within five games.
Just for fun, my predictions as of August 11:
1. New York, 101-61
2. Tampa Bay, 95-67, Wild Card
3. Boston, 93-69
1. Minnesota, 89-73
2. Chicago, 87-75
1. Texas, 93-69
1. Philadelphia, 93-69
2. Atlanta, 92-70, Wild Card
1. St. Louis, 90-72
2. Cincinnati, 87-75
1. San Diego, 91-72, wins one-game playoff
2. San Francisco, 90-73, loses one-game playoff
3. Colorado, 88-74
4. Los Angeles, 80-82