Assessing the races (or lack thereof) with one month remaining (cont.)
AL Wild Card
Leader: Red Sox, 77-54.
Contenders: Rangers, 74-58, 3 1/2 games behind; Rays, 71-60, 6 games behind.
The Red Sox lead the Rangers by 3 1/2 games. Just like they've done with the team they're chasing in the AL West, the Rangers have been excellent against Boston this year, beating them seven of nine. But unlike with the Angels, the Rangers don't get to play the Red Sox again, so they will need some help if they are to reach their first postseason in 10 years.
If there is anything to the idea of knowing how to win when your season is at stake -- and both teams believe there is -- then that is a huge edge to the Red Sox, who have been in the postseason five of the past six years. The Rays still have five games left with the Red Sox, but they already trail Boston by six games. Knowing they still have to play the Yankees seven more times as well, they can't afford to miss any opportunities to make up ground head-to-head with the Red Sox.
Predicted wild-card winner: Red Sox.
NL Wild Card
Leader: Rockies, 73-59.
Contenders: Giants, 72-60, 1 game behind; Braves, 70-62, 3 games behind; Marlins, 68-64, 5 games behind; Cubs, 66-64, 6 games behind.
In all likelihood, the Marlins and Cubs are just about out of time and have too many other teams in front of them to make a serious playoff push. If the Cubs can survive a 10-game road trip in mid-September that includes trips to St. Louis and San Francisco, they'll get an easy finishing slate by hosting the Pirates and Diamondbacks. But they'll have to have made up some serious ground before then to have any kind of realistic chance.
The Marlins appear to be running out of steam after a sudden, historic burst of offense carried them to within a few games of the lead just two weeks ago. But now their bats have cooled off, and Josh Johnson can't pitch every day. The schedule, too, is a major obstacle. After wrapping up their series with the Braves on Thursday, the Fish will have 19 road games and just nine home games remaining (and three of those homers are against the first-place Phillies, whom they also finish the season with in Philadelphia).
As things look right now, this race is probably going to come down to the Rockies and the Giants. They've already given us what was probably the Game of the Year a week ago in Denver, when the Giants got three runs in the 14th inning, only to see the Rockies come back with five in the bottom half, including a walk-off grand slam by Ryan Spilborghs. Then they gave us a taste of redemption, when the Giants rebounded from losing three of four in Colorado to sweep the Rockies in San Francisco. Now they need to give us what none of the other seven races seem capable of: a reason to be scoreboard watching all the way through the last game of the season.
The possible spoiler in the wild card to a wild west showdown is the Braves, who have moved to within three games of the lead. The starting pitching certainly seems capable of keeping them in games the rest of the way, but like the Giants, they suffer from a lack of quality bats. Beyond Brian McCann and Chipper Jones, where is the consistent offense going to come from, and will it be enough to jump not just one team, but two? Those are significant hurdles, but the Braves have positioned themselves well to stay in the race until the end. In fact, the schedule might be more favorable to them than either the Giants or Rockies the rest of the way. The Braves have just 11 games remaining against teams over .500. They also get to play the Nationals seven of their last 10, including four straight in Atlanta to close the season.
Predicted wild-card winner: Rockies (I just can't see the Giants scoring enough to win a playoff spot. Margin of error is way too small.)
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