Pennant races? Maybe the wildcard will deliver

We are on the cusp of what traditionally works out to be some of the most dramatic, tension-filled moments on the sporting calendar.  With exactly five weeks of baseball left, this is the time of year that hotly contested division races get decided.  Except not this season.

No, the six divisions of MLB are essentially wrapped up with 30-odd games left to be played.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the standings.  Without the New York Mets in the mix to pull off their annual collapse, the six division leaders look to be solid locks at this point.

With leads ranging from a minimum of 4.5 games (Detroit) up to 10 games (St. Louis), you can start printing playoff tickets for the Yankees, Tigers, & Angels in the American League and defending champion Phillies, Cardinals, & Dodgers in the National League.

Call it flawed if you wish, but the introduction in 1995 of wildcard winners to go along with the creation of the MLB Divisional Series is probably the greatest legacy that Commissioner Bud Selig will leave behind.  And for this season, at least, it’s all that we’ve got to follow.


Entering today’s play, the Wildcard standings look like this:

American League
Boston (76-54)
Texas (72-57) <3.5 games behind>
Tampa Bay (70-59) <5.5 games behind>

National League
Colorado (72-59)
San Francisco (72-59)
Atlanta (68-62) <3.5 games behind>
Florida 68-62 <3.5 games behind>
Chicago 65-63 <5.5 games behind>

While these ballclubs are clearly a notch below the division leaders today, it cannot be overstated that the goal is to make it to the playoffs by any means necessary.  After that, anything is possible as World Series Champions in 1997 (Florida Marlins), 2002 (Anaheim Angels), 2003 (Florida Marlins), & 2004 (Boston Red Sox) have successfully battled to the top from the wildcard position.

Handicapping the wildcard race in the American League, Tampa Bay has the most favorable schedule of the three contenders with 18 of their remaining 33 games at home.  The Rays also have the opportunity to make up ground quickly with six games against Boston and three more against the Rangers. 

That being said, it is very difficult to see Boston letting their 3.5 game lead evaporate with 20 of their remaining 32 games against teams with sub-.500 records (including the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore, Kansas City, Toronto, & Cleveland).

In the National League, there is also a team with a decided home-field advantage heading down the final stretch, but in this case it is the team sharing the wildcard lead, Colorado, currently tied with San Francisco.  The Rockies have an astonishing 19 of 31 at Coors Field, and with a non-threatening set of teams like the New York Mets, Arizona, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Milwaukee making up the bulk of those games, you’ve got to like their chances.

Should Colorado falter, the darkhorse is probably the Atlanta Braves, aiming for their first postseason appearance since 2005.  Atlanta’s 32 games are split evenly home and away, but with the exception of three games on the road at St. Louis and three at home against Philadelphia, there are no other playoff teams on the schedule.  Furthermore, with seven games scheduled against Florida, the Braves have the opportunity to severely damage the hopes of one of their strongest competitors in the wildcard chase.

Again, I’d be hard-pressed to pick anyone other than the Rockies at this point, but keep in mind that Colorado will be visiting the NL West division-leading Dodgers on the season’s final weekend while Atlanta will be at home against the sorry Washington Nationals.  So, hope reigns in Hotlanta as the eternal Bobby Cox manages the troops to the finish line.

The bottom line is that an exciting September is likely to translate into a stellar October of postseason baseball.  Should the division leads hold and the wildcard races fizzle out, the lack of drama down the stretch is certain to mute excitement for playoff baseball anywhere except in the cities with teams representing their fortunate fans’ championship aspirations.

So root for the Red Sox and Rockies to run away with the wildcard leads if you must, but I’m just hoping for one of these other teams to catch fire and make it interesting for all baseball fans at large.

And, if not, well…there are literally hundreds of other games taking place in September and October on the gridiron that will go a long way to compensate.

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~ by acm213 on August 31, 2009.

One Response to “Pennant races? Maybe the wildcard will deliver”

  1. […] is not enough Well, the major league baseball pennant races turned out to be pretty much everything that we hoped they would not be as far back as five weeks […]

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