A major league baseball season is often compared to a marathon – 162 games where the standings can change at any point and time. Being in first place in April is as impressive and relevant as getting an A on an open book test. In other words, it is nonimpressive and irrevelant towards the season at hand.
The true excitement starts in September when the hunt for October gets tight. If your team happens to be in first or at the most a few games out come Labor Day, you have something to look forward to on TV every night. No more is baseball a marathon. It is now a sprint.
Taking a look at this year’s division and wild card races, there are a few that are really going to be thrilling roller coaster rides until October 3 when the regular season comes to a close.
Here are the division battles that are all but over at this point:
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST:
The Rangers hold a comfortable 7.5 game lead over the 70-70 Oakland A’s. It would take a momumental collapse by Texas for the sub-par Athletics to even think about playing into the middle of October.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:
This is the most overrated division in baseball as it sports four below .500 teams in Houston, Milwaukee, the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh. The Reds are six games in front of the surprisingly average Cardinals. It is safe to say Cincinnatti is going back to the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD:
The AL Wild Card will be won by the second place finisher in the AL East. Right now, Tampa holds a large eight game lead over the Red Sox. The only thing you need to focus on when it comes to this race is how the AL East plays out.
Believe it or not, I’m not including the AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL in the races that are over. Even though Minnnesota is five games ahead of the White Sox, it seems as though every year there is a play-in game for the winner of this division. These two teams only play each other three more times (September 14-16) this season. If Chicago can sweep that series and get the lead down to two games, expect a regular season baseball contest on October 4 to determine the winner of the 2010 AL Central.
So, since those are the races not to put all your energy in watching, here is more order from least interesting to most of the “sprints” to tune into as September nears its conclusion.
4. NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
The only reason this is fourth is because how the NL East and West pan out will largely determine the winner of the Wild Card. Atlanta has a one game lead over San Diego and San Francisco. However, Atlanta is only one game behind Philadelphia in the East and the Padres and Giants are tied a top of the West. The Rockies are 3.5 games behind the Braves in the Wild Card and only 2.5 behind the Pads and Giants. The Phillies and Braves don’t play anyone from the West while the Padres, Giants and Rockies don’t play anyone from the East. This is more than a coin toss to determine who will win. It’s a lottery drawing.
3. NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Despite being the only division with three teams still in the hunt, it’s the West…who cares. They’re all small market teams and the only reason the race is close is San Diego lost 10 straight games. If the Giants or Rockies win this division, it is because the Padres decided to bleep the bed when it counted the most.
2. AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
I would assume most would disagree that the NL East is a more exciting race to watch than the AL East. In this division, you have the two best teams in baseball all season battling it out for a chance to have home field advantage until the World Series. But the reason this is only the second most interesting race is in the end, no matter who wins this or the Wild Card, both of these teams will end up seeing each other in the ALCS. They’re the cream of the crop in the AL and the Divisional Round will make that evident.
1. NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
This race has so many different angles. There’s the Phillies angle of accomplishing the almost never exisiting feat of winning the division four straight years. Philly also has the angle of overcoming so many injuries throughout the season and still being in this position. The Braves can lean on winning the division in Bobby Cox’s last season as skipper. Not to mention, Atlanta is the team every one kept saying all year long is the squad that will enventually fall and become a non-factor. It’s September 11 and if the regular season ended today, the Braves would be playing postseason baseball. In addition, in the AL East we know both teams are going to be in the playoffs. Either Philly or Atlanta could choke in the next few weeks and be golfing in early October. The Yankees don’t always have to be the main focus of baseball fans. Every now and then the Bronx Bombers can take a back seat to something that is clearly more intersting.
Here’s how I think everything will pan out.
AL EAST: Yankees
AL CENTRAL: Twins
AL WEST: Rangers
AL WILD CARD: Rays
New York will beat the Rangers in the LDS, while the Rays will do so to the Twins. The Yanks will repeat as American League Champs in a back and forth seven game series with the Rays.
NL EAST: Phillies
NL CENTRAL: Reds
NL WEST: Giants
NL WILD CARD: Rockies
Colorado always seems to be that team that wins the gutch wrenching Wild Card spot. Atlanta will fall in the end and miss the postseason by a game or two. It will be a sad ending for Cox, but they’re luck over the past five years hasn’t been very good.
The Phillies will beat the Rockies in the LDS for the second straight year, while the Giants will take care of the Reds to move onto the NLCS. A matchup between the Phillies and Giants will solely come down to whichever starting rotation pitches better. Both are very good. Not to make this seem like a homer pick, but the Phillies will go back to the World Series for a third straight year.
They have revenge in their vains. They want it badly. You can see it in the way they pick it up in September. Last year stung and they’re hungry. Since the NL has home field advantage in the World Series, the Phillies will defeat the Yankees in a very exciting seven game series to regain their status as World Series Champions.
Again…not to seem like a homer pick. None the less, the next month and a half will be one heck of a sprint.