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The playoffs are stating to come into picture, but the AL is still full of action in the season’s final two weeks. The Indians, Orioles, Yankees and Royals are all well within striking distance of the Rays and Rangers for a Wildcard spot. While five divisions are all but wrapped up, the Cardinals and Pirates are tied atop the NL West. And given the importance of winning a division and avoiding sudden death in the Wildcard game, a playoff game would be needed even if both teams make the playoffs anyway. Clearly, much remains on the line, so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Monday, September 16, before the day’s games:
The Braves are stumbling their way down the stretch, but still have a magic number of four to clinch the NL East. It isn’t good for you when you struggle to get things going against the Padres, but Atlanta can still throw some weight around, especially with other teams around them not on cloud nine themselves. It’ll be a dogfight all the way to the World Series, and Atlanta can at least make things interesting.
Rounding out the week with two wins over the Cubs have the Pirates in a tie with the Cardinals atop the NL Central. They also swept a road series against the Rangers to start the week. That’s some good mettle to show at this time of year, especially when the Dodgers are having a tough time gaining any momentum. It’s not impossible for LA right now, but things are definitely going Pittsburgh’s way in this match-up.
The Cardinals are hanging right in there with Pittsburgh’s charge. The problem is that Cincinnati has fallen 3.5 games back off that pace, and is nearly out of time. Without being able to sustain momentum, even short-term, Cincinnati will have a difficult time in this game, and even if they make it by, won’t make it much further.
Following a sweep of their arch-rival Yankees, the Red Sox are riding high. Their 50-25 home record is the best in the AL, and they get excellent production all throughout their lineup and from their pitching staff. They would still feel better if they had perfect health going into the playoffs, but with the NL’s generally lower road records and their AL competition a bit iffy, Oakland looks to pose the biggest threat to Boston right now.
Oakland has won five games straight, while Detroit has inched closer to a division title with series wins against the White Sox and Royals. Still, they’ve had a tough time even with their best arms lately. With Oakland on a tear and getting to face Detroit’s best arms in Oakland, the As have a decent chance to exact revenge from last year, especially if they can drive up pitch counts a bit.
The Rays have been struggling, but the Rangers have lost their last six, nine of their last ten, and 11 of 13. With the Rangers in such a tailspin, the Rays have got to be loving it. Even so, the Red Sox love it more.