And Down the Stretch They Come…

By Blaidd Drwg

The NL has 4 of its 5 playoff spots finalized, with only the 2nd wild card still remaining. Even then, the Cardinals have a 3 game lead over the Dodgers with 6 games remaining, making it unlikely that the Dodgers will catch the Redbirds.

The AL is a different story – no one has actually clinched a playoff spot and it could be an interesting last week of the season. Going into Friday’s games, the Yankees lead the east by 1, the Tigers lead the central by 2 and the Rangers lead the west by 4. The wild card also has races, with the Orioles 1 game ahead of the A’s for the first spot and the A’s 2 games ahead of the Angels and Rays for the 2nd spot.

Here is how this is going to play out:
East:
Yankees have 6 games left – 3 at Toronto and 3 vs. Boston. They are in the best position to win the division since they play the two worst teams in the division and neither Boston nor Toronto is playing particularly well right now. As much as I know the Red Sox would like to spoil the Yankees playoff chances, I don’t think it will happen. I see the Yankees taking 5 of the 6 to win the division.

Orioles have 6 games left – 3 vs. Boston and 3 at Tampa.
Rays have 6 games left – 3 at Chicago and 3 vs. Baltimore.
The final TB-Baltimore series could really put a monkey wrench in the playoff chances for one of the two teams. Both the O’s and the Rays are hot and they both need to sweep their weekend series. It is entirely possible that both of these teams could make it to the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they do.

Central:
Last week, the White Sox had a 3 game lead in the division. This week, they are trailing the Tigers by 2.
The White Sox need to take at least 2 out of three from the Rays (they really need a sweep) and then sweep the Indians in their last series. Why? Well the Tigers benefit from the most favorable remaining schedule of all the contenders – the have 3 at KC and finish with 3 vs. Minnesota. That is going to make it very tough on the Sox.

West:
The Rangers are in the driver’s seat, but by no means have it locked. They play 3 vs. the Angels and 3 at Oakland. Basically if they take 2 out of 3 from the Halos, the Rangers win the division and the Angels go home for the season.

The A’s are playing the Mariners for 3 and then finish with the Rangers. They really need to sweep the M’s and hope that either the Rangers fell apart against the Angels or have won the division and decided to monkey with their rotation to get it set for the playoffs. The A’s are a longshot to win the division but are in a pretty good spot for a wild card, even with their all-rookie rotation.

The Angels just basically need to win out against the Rangers and the Mariners. It could mean that there is meaningful baseball played in Safeco field in October, just not for the Mariners.

My Prediction:
East Winner: Yankees
Central Winner: Tigers
West Winner: Rangers
Wild Card 1: Orioles
Wild Card 2: A’s

Depending on everyone’s final record and how the wild card standings finish, you could actually end up with this nightmare scenario:

Oakland wins the 2nd wild card and flies to Baltimore, arriving sometime in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday

Oakland at Baltimore for the wild card game on Friday if Baltimore ends up with the best wild card record.

New York at Baltimore for the ALDS on Sunday if NY ends up with the best record.

MLB has decided in its infinite wisdom that the team with the best record gets to play the wild card winner (great), but the series format is 2 games at the WC winner and 3 at the Division Winner. So, the Yankees might not know that the need to get on a flight to Oakland until late Friday night. As much as I hate the Yankees, I don’t understand how that makes any sense. It probably negates any advantage they gain from playing the wild card winner. Of course, this gets much more interesting if there is a tie anywhere and we need a playoff to determine the winner.

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