Last week I have my AL playoff team predictions, this week the NL.
In the East, it is simple: Washington is going win it. In the Central it is even more simple: the Reds have an 11-game lead over the second-place Cardinals. The West is equally unexciting. The huge trades the Dodgers pulled off have done nothing to help this team. If anything, they have made them more inconsistent. The Giants hold a 7.5-game lead.
But this is where the Wild Card has made the month of September so exciting — especially the last two seasons. As a baseball fan and as an analyst, I can’t stress enough how important the Wild Cards has become in keeping our game relevant to watch in the final month of the season. Not only for fans, but for players as well.
When I played, there were teams I was a part of that by the All-Star break had zero chance at making the Postseason. As for me, I never needed a reason to go out and play as hard as I could every time I walked on the field. But I would be lying if I said all players felt and acted the way I did. I played with many teammates over the years who, once the postseason wasn’t a possibility, didn’t have to take every pitch or every at-bat as seriously. What the Wild Card has done is force these types of players to do what they should do anyway. We were payed to play all 162 games to win.
I wasn’t the most talented pitcher to ever put on a uniform by a long shot. But the one thing I had a great deal of was pride — and an extreme hatred for losing! Now the Wild Card is forcing all the players to go out and play every game like its the last game they will get to play.
As for the Wild Card races in the NL, this is where the excitement comes in. There are 15 games left on the schedule, and there are five teams within 4.5 games of a Wild Card spot. The Dodgers are one game back of St. Louis, the brewers 2.5 games, Pittsburgh at 3 games, the Phillies at 4, and the D-backs at 4.5.
Had I written this blog four days ago, I would have said Philly would be the team to leapfrog the teams in front of them. They had won seven straight games and were heading to Houston (who at the time had won 45 games all year long) to play a four-game series. They promptly lost three out of four to Houston. So I believe Philly is done.
I think the great first-half story of the Pittsburgh Pirates is done as well. They are down to one game over .500 and are now looking at the possibility of their 20th straight losing season. Arizona I don’t think has the pitching to string together a streak of seven or eight wins in a row, and that is what it is going to take to win that final spot.
This brings us to St. Louis and Milwaukee. The Cards are not playing the kind of baseball this year that they did last year in September, thanks to very inconsistent pitching and offense. So I feel that the Brewers — who had every reason to fold up their tents and call it a year not too long ago — have done what every team and every player ought to do. They have played hard every night and are right now the team that I think has the momentem to over take the Cardinals. So I believe the five teams that will represent the NL in the Postseason will be the Nats, Reds, Giants, Braves, and the Brewers.
This would mean that the Braves would play the Brewers in a one-game playoff in the Wild Card game, which for me means the Brewers — if Fredi Gonzalez does what I think he should do, as he has the cushion to set it up this way — would have to beat Kris Medlen, who in my opinion is the best pitcher in the game at this moment! It may only be a great run he is on, but there is not another pitcher right now who can claim his team has won 21 straight games he has started!
As we sit here today, the American League division leaders are the Yankees, White Sox, and Rangers. The Wild Card leaders are Baltimore and Oakland.
Do I believe this is how the season will end up? NO!
As I look at the AL, I see a Yankee team that is beat up, an Oakland team that I think has been a great story, but ultimately are a little too young in their starting rotation to hang on to a Wild Card berth, and a White Sox team that is heaping a ton on two young left-handers in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to take them some place niether of them have been in their careers: pennant chase baseball. Sale has been great this year, winning 16 games, but he recently lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. I don’t think they will be able to hold off Detroit. The Tigers are too talented. I believe that the Tigers will win the Central.
Not a lot of question about the West. The Rangers will win that division.
The most exciting baseball in September will take place in the East. I think the Rays are the team that will win that division because of their pitching. The question for me is whether the Yankees and Baltimore be able to win enough games to stay in the Wild Card hunt? I think the Yankees will be able to, because they have been through it so much. I love what Baltimore has done this year. It has been fun to watch, but I think they may be a little too young right now.
The team I think will be will be playing the Yankees in the Wild Card game will be the Angels. I see a late push by them to get that fifth and final spot.
Next week I will address the NL.