We're almost to September, which means we're about to see Christmas decor in store windows, Pumpkin Spice latté at Starbucks and a baseball pennant race of epic proportions — I know, they all seem to come earlier each year, don't they? I get so mad to see Christmas trees when we haven't even celebrated Halloween yet! Any-who…
Breaking down each race individually, let's take a look at the current facts and stats and determine who is most likely to come out of September alive.
All records and stats as of August 29.
Let's start with the American league Predictions!
AL East champion: New York Yankees (75-55) – 3 games up
AL Central champion: Detroit Tigers (69-59) – 2 games back
AL West champion: Texas Rangers (77-52) – 5.5 games up
Wild Cards: Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays
Contenders that will fall short: Baltimore, Oakland, LA Angels
You can't slow down Texas. They tore the cover off the ball in August, smacking in 159 runs — the most in the majors. That being said, the Yankees and Rangers are the class of their respective divisions, meaning the only real division race will likely be in the central between Chicago and Detroit. As of August 29, the White Sox (71-57) carry a slim two game lead over the Tigers (69-59). While Dylan Axelrod, Jose Quintana and Jake Peavy have been nice surprises in the rotation, Gavin Floyd and John Danks are both on the DL and have under-performed this year as a whole. Even with Chris Sale, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn leading the way, I can see a hot Tigers team catching them by the end of the month. The Tigers were 8th in baseball in runs scored for the month of August and Justin Verlander is just too good. Detroit will also end their season on a cakewalk schedule, playing both Kansas City and Minnesota twice.
The fight for the other wild card could come down to one series. And trust me, Baltimore, you have no idea how bad I wanted to pick you here…
The Orioles (71-57) are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in years and are still going strong down the stretch. For the month of August, Baltimore was sixth in baseball in runs scored against, with 94. They've played really well on the road this year, winning 35 games, which is fourth best in the big-leagues. And the O's also have the sixth most wins in baseball since the All-Star break. The only problem? The Rays have been that much more impressive.
Tampa's pitching has simply been lights out. While the Rays (70-59) are only 1 ½ games behind Baltimore in the Wild Card race and face a slightly tougher schedule down the stretch, I have to give the edge to a team that's had the best pitching in all of baseball in the past month. And when I say, 'best,' I mean light-years ahead.
All five of Tampa's starters sport a post All-Star ERA under 4.00, and two of them — Matt Moore and David Price are under 2.02. Their bullpen has also been phenomenal. There are only three relievers in all of baseball that have pitched at least 14 innings since the All-Star break and carry an ERA under 1.00 — and they are all Rays.
Baltimore plays at Tampa the last series of the season, meaning this Wild Card winner could be determined on the last night of the season — which based on 2011 highlights, is just how Tampa likes it.
And oh ya, I almost forgot. When it comes to the left coast, don't get your hopes up A's and Angels fans. Oakland probably has a tougher schedule than anyone down the stretch, playing LA and Texas twice along with Seattle — who has the second most wins in all of baseball since the All-Star break — twice as well. The Angels have to play Oakland, Seattle and Texas a number of times before going to Detroit and playing the White Sox at home.
Moving on to the National League predictions!
NL East champion: Washington Nationals (77-51) – 4 games up
NL Central champion: Cincinnati Reds (79-52) – 7 games up
NL West champion: San Francisco Giants (72-57) – 3.5 games up
Wild Cards: Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals
Contenders that will fall short: Pittsburgh and LA Dodgers.
With out without Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are going to get it down. How exciting for a franchise that hasn't seen a playoff push since their days in Montreal in the mid-90's. Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman round out one of the best rotations in the game. In the other divisions, the Reds can't stop winning and have a favorable schedule down the stretch, and the Giants will rely on their great pitching from Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain to take back their NL West crown.
Sorry Dodgers fans; all of that spending won't pay off, yet.
And Pittsburgh, I am ever sorrier. You haven't made the playoffs in 20 years and all of this is going to seem like one giant 6-month long tease. Considering the Cardinals' and Ray's deep playoff push last year while being 10 games out with one month to play, I'm not forgetting that anything can happen. Still, I'm taking the Braves and Cardinals for the Wild Card spots. Here's why…
The Cardinals and Braves not only have some of the best management in all of baseball, but they also have welcoming schedules down the stretch. Atlanta probably has the easiest, as they play New York, Miami and Philadelphia twice — all teams that are going nowhere. And while St. Louis is finishing off a tough round of series' in August, it gets much easier in September when they play New York, San Diego, Houston (twice) and the Cubbies. The only downfall is that the Cardinals end with the Nationals and Reds; two series' that could determine their fate. With stellar pitching and a healthy Matt Holliday and co., my money is still on the Cards, while Atlanta is only second to the Reds in wins since the break and have the best team ERA (2.60) in the past month within the National League.
With favorable schedules and dominant pitching, Pittsburgh and LA won't be able to keep up. Out west the Dodgers play San Francisco twice and play St.Louis before going on the road to play Cincinnati and Washington. Their case also doesn't help with an oft-injured Matt Kemp, who just hurt is knee.
All in all this is going to be a playoff race for the ages. With the first year of implementing the new Wild Card rule, in which two — instead of one — Wild Cards will be awarded per league and then will have to play each other in a one game playoff, the drama will be at an all-time high.
And just think, what if I'm wrong and we see the Pirates, Orioles and Athletics all get in? Crazier things have happened.
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