MLB offering mix of surprises and settled races as regular season nears close

(YouTube video courtesy ScuminattiDisclosure)

With three weeks to go in the regular season, there’s still much to be decided as to who will attend Major League Baseball’s postseason dance – while for some, it’s all over but the shouting.  Let’s take a look at where things stand in each division as of today’s morning standings.

American League East:  This race, folks, is shaping up to be a barn-burner, with three teams – the defending division champ New York Yankees; the upstart Baltimore Orioles, currently one game back of the Evil Empire and in the second wild-card slot; and the never-say-die Tampa Bay Rays, two games back of New York and one game off the wild-card pace.  The Empire and the O’s recently split a four-game set, with the Rays keeping pace.  Tonight the Empire visits their New England arch-rivals, the Boston Red Sox, for three games, followed by three in St. Petersburg against the Rays; while the O’s and Rays duke it out at Camden Yards for three games. Expect this one to go down to the last days of the season, with possibly one tiebreaker game necessary.  Prediction:  Rays and Orioles nose out the Yanks for postseason berths.

American League Central:  Another tight race, this time featuring the Chicago White Sox, who have finally managed to open up a little space between themselves and the second-place Detroit Tigers, now three games back of the Chisox.  The Sox and Tigers play the second game of a four-game set tonight at US Cellular Field, the outcome of which will go far in deciding whether the Tigers are contenders or pretenders.  The remainder of the schedule would be pretty much a toss-up; the difference being that the White Sox have four at home against the the Rays at the end of September, while the Tigers have a three-game set next week against the Athletics in Detroit.  Prediction:  White Sox hold off the Tigers, with this week’s face-off providing clearance for the Chicago Southsiders.

American League West:  Earlier this season, this division appeared to be decided, with the defending AL champ Texas Rangers looking as though they would run away and hide from the rest of the division.  Not so fast though!  The Oakland Athletics have quietly snuck up on the Rangers and sit just three games back of the leaders and hold the first AL wild-card berth; while the Los Angeles Angels, who are unlikely to make up enough ground to win the division, sit 1 ½ games out of the second wild-card slot.  The A’s took the first game of a four-game set against the Halos last night; however, Oakland has a rough stretch ahead in facing the Rangers for seven more games, plus sets against the Tigers and Yankees; while the Angels have just six more against the Rangers, as well as a set against the White Sox.  Prediction:  Rangers win the division, A’s squeeze by against the Angels for the wild-card slot.

National League East:  Another pleasant MLB surprise story resides here in the guise of the Washington Nationals, who are finally reaping the benefits from the impact of back-to-back top draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.  While the Nats will go forward into Washington, D.C.’s first baseball postseason since 1933 (and the franchise’s first postseason since the 1981 Montreal Expos) without the services of Strasburg, who was shut down last Friday for the season in a move that had been planned long before the season started, do not cry for the Nats just yet.  Washington’s remaining starters, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are all capable of lights-out performances, and John Lannan, who is expected to take Strasburg’s slot in the rotation, is a solid innings-eater despite struggling at AAA ball this season.  The Atlanta Braves, currently 6 1/2 games back of the Nats, appear to have a wild-card spot locked up.  Prediction:  Welcome back, Washington, to postseason baseball, along with the Braves in the wild-card.

National League Central:  With the departure of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from the NL Central to AL pastures, this left the door open for the Cincinnati Reds to step up and become the class of the Central Division; and the Reds have done just that; the Reds are a comfortable 9 1/2 games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals — the defending World Series champs, who hold the second wild-card position — after surviving a surprise mid-season challenge from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are now in third, 12 games back of the Reds but only 2 1/2 out in the wild-card.  The Reds have perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto back from injury, and are getting strong contributions from Jay Bruce, and pitchers Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo.  Prediction:  The Reds finish with the best record in the National League, and with that, home-field advantage, and the Cardinals take a wild-card.

National League West:  The San Francisco Giants have opened up a five-game cushion on the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers, who are just one game off the wild-card pace.  While the Dodgers have made wholesale changes to their starting lineup, these changes won’t help them find the playoffs, even with a three-game set in San Francisco to close the regular season.  Prediction:  Giants hold their serve to win the division over the Dodgers.


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